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Who Will Save Your Soul

Jewel in her Volkswagen Van.

Entertainment Weekly, February 2015, photo by Steve LaBadessa

In 1996 Jewel wrote a song, “Who Will Save Your Soul,” a thoughtful poem about the struggle of life and redemption.  The song later brought her national attention as well as a Grammy nomination.  On assignment for People magazine I was asked to make a portrait that illustrated her story.

Jewel’s home was located in an urban section of San Diego. On my arrival Nedra, Jewel’s mother, directed me inside. Jewel, raised in Alaska, shared a home with her mom.

I photographed Jewel in three different settings; surfing, painting on a canvas and sitting in her ’67 Volkswagen van. The van seemed the most comfortable location for her. She used the van to travel to gigs and it served as a place for her to sleep for out-of-town performances.

In the Volkswagen Jewel started to sing, “Who Will Save Your Soul”. Her voice was passionate yet soft. I was awestruck by the private concert that transpired. Passersby didn’t seem to notice the chart-topping singer songwriter was performing on this narrow street.

Jewel was unpretentious in every way. There was no hair and make-up stylist. She was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. She didn’t even wear shoes. Photographing Jewel was one of my favorite celebrity shoots of all time.

The van photo has achieved iconic status. Every few months I get a request to use the photo on-line or in a publication. Several months ago I got a call from a photo editor at Entertainment Weekly. She remembered the photo. She wanted to use it as the opening spread for a dedicated issue about Jewel. She said it was a beautiful picture that symbolized Jewel’s humble beginnings. That’s how I remember it too.

South Florida – Very Hot and Very Cool

South Florida is unique. It has a mix of US and Latin cultures. It has warm light and cosmopolitan people. Walking around you see 50’s Art Deco styling everywhere and yet it embraces all that is modern. I love it.

I was in South Florida last week on assignment. On my down time I captured these images in the Naples area.

Woman on the beach in South Florida

Warm evening light covers a woman on the beach in South Florida

Three boys show off salt water at the Naples Pier.

Showering off at Naples Pier

Storm clouds building in the afternoon heat.

Storm clouds building in the afternoon heat


Playing paddle games on Naples Beach

Playing paddle games on Naples Beach

Palm trees, cars and architecture

Palm trees, cars and architecture

Silicon Valley meets Wall Street

A good photograph like a good book contains conflict. However, the conflict in a photo is visual, your eyes bounce off the conflicting elements as they explore the image. To communicate the idea of an IPO, Silicon Valley meeting Wall Street, I found using conflicting elements would be my best approach.

While planning the shoot, I decided that for each high tech item I added to the image I’d put in a corresponding Wall Street element. A cigar is offset with high tech Google Glass, a conservative suit is made new with a pixelation filter, and the model’s youthful face is framed with slicked back hair.

This photograph was turned into a visual soup of props and styling that tell the story.

Wall Street meets Silicon Valley, the IPO

Wall Street meets Silicon Valley

Something Splashy

Luka Fineisen

Recently I photographed Luka Fineisen for the cover of a European magazine. She’s a hot new German artist whose work explores how art can exist in liquid and gas forms.

I like working with artists because they bring an interesting set of parameters to a shoot. With Luka I knew my portrait would need to show her and at the same time demonstrate how liquids or solids can be seen as art. It was a fun challenge.

Prior to the shoot Luka and I spoke everyday for 2 weeks, bouncing ideas off each other. We thought about using a fog machine in new ways. We talked about covering her in paint. In the end we decided on this concept: dripping a bucket of paint into her hand and capturing the moment in midair. Because artists create work with their hands, the concept had a double meaning. It seemed fitting. The magazine loved the creativity involved and that it represented Luka’s style.

Having the concept in mind was great but the execution of the shot was another matter. I used a high-speed camera to freeze the paint in midair. My assistant, who was dripping the paint, needed perfect aim. How the paint would splatter after hitting her hand was the great unknown. I knew if all went well I would only have a few attempts to make the shot. After four drips Luka ran out of clean clothes and the set was covered in paint.

The concept worked surprisingly well. Liquid appeared solid for a brief instant. My camera captured the moment permanently. The shutter speed was 1/8000 of a second. That’s all the time this picture existed. I had my cover shot.

A photo of the set is below.

To see more of my work visit,


Making a Robot

Woman Robot photo illustration

Female robot photo illustration

I shot this assignment for a story about the film, “Her”. The film directed by Spike Jonze dealt with the idea of humans and computers having relationships.

Turning this model into a robot required a lot of skills. The make up stylist was a huge help adding white make up to the model’s skin. Using a wig to make the model’s hair look too perfect made her robotic. Finishing the shot required many hours of Photoshop, adding details and enhancing the colors.

You can see the before and after pictures.

High tech looking female robot

Female robot before Photoshop


Real World Parenting

Dad calming crying infant daughter.

I felt like a reality show cameraman as I photographed three families for a slide show on parenting. Each shoot lasted about 14 hours. I was never more than a few feet away from my subjects. When mom was feeding her baby I was hovering over her with my camera.  As her child napped in the crib I was shooting though the bars. Dad was never out of my sight as he tried to comfort his inconsolable child.

My assignment was to capture the highs and lows of being a parent. Here a few of my observations of the families I photographed.

To see more of my work visit,

Mother breast feeds her infant early in the morning.Dad holds the newborn while mom receives baby gifts.Mom and dad play with their infant son at home.Dad holds the newborn infant. Mom recieves gifts from a family friend at home.

I Want My Mama!

Baby ExamThe only thing worse than a visit to dentist’s office is a visit to the doctor’s office. No one likes being examined, poked, or prodded.

Recently, I had an assignment to shoot a series of wellness exams. The photos were supposed to be content babies being examined.  As the shoot progressed, I couldn’t help but notice some of the most interesting photos were the outtakes.

For this shoot I had 3 pediatricians on set. They did their best to gently perform the exams, but these babies they don’t play fair. They squirmed, they cried, and they grimaced. Their overriding sentiment was, “Enough of this. I want my mama!”

Babies at pediatrician's office

Crying baby at doctor's office

Wine, wine everywhere, but not a drop to drink

David Del Dotto

My assignment was to photograph 9 wine makers in Northern California. As I made initial contact with my subjects I came to realize they’re all humble men. On the phone several of them referred to themselves as simple farmers who grow grapes.

Over the course of the project I found them to be anything but simple farmers.  They’re all very sophisticated men. Collectively they’re some of the best wine makers in the world. In addition, they’re a quirky set of characters. They all have unique backgrounds. As a photographer I couldn’t imagine a more interesting group of personalities to photograph.

Jayson Pahlmeyer

David Del Dotto of Del Dotto Vineyards was a surfer in Hawaii when he bought 17 acres in Napa. He purchased the land because he thought it was beautiful. He never intended to be in the wine business. Now, he is one of the most well-known vintners in Napa.

Linda and Lester Schwartz of Fort Ross Vineyard came to the US from South Africa. They strongly disagreed with the government’s policy of apartheid. In good conscience the Schwartzs couldn’t stay in South Africa. In 1976 they bought 970 aces of land in California. Without guilt they grow pinotage grapes and produce wine native to South Africa.

Donnie Schatzberg of Precious Mountain Vineyard lives off the grid in a house he built. His vineyard is perhaps the most isolated of all the wineries I visited. I guessed Schtzberg hadn’t seen more than 4 human beings in a month. He looked like a mountain man out of Central Casting.

Jayson Pahlmeyer of Pahlmeyer is a lawyer turned wine maker. He’s lighthearted and kept me laughing throughout the shoot. He’s a bit less humble than most of the vintners. He insisted he was the best looking guy I photographed on this project.

Donnie Schatzberg

I spent 3 days driving up and down mountain roads shooting these portraits. The schedule was hectic. Each shoot involved a quick location scout, equipment set up, and then a shoot. I’m sad to say there was no time for even a sip.

To see more images from this shoot visit

Long Tall Sally

Photograph of a 50's model

50's photograph

I was putting together a short series of 1950’s fashion shots and struggled with the idea of a storyline for the shoot. Typically the 1950’s are idealized. It was seen as an era of happy homemakers baking apple pies and wearing poodle skirts. If there was a point in time when all was right with America it was the 1950s.

Photographically, I didn’t feel a happy housewife was the way to present these fashions. The shoot needed a modern spin. I decided to applied my 21st century sensibility to the 1950’s fashion spread. I thought a sexier look at 1950’s would relate to today’s readers. The client loved the concept and all the feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

50's model50's fashionSally 2

The Road Less Traveled

unicyclist San Francisco

I shot an advertising campaign for BikeOne unicycles. The concept of the project was anywhere you ride a unicycle is, “the road less traveled”. The shots were a mix of realism and fantasy which is what I like. To get that, I put together the final compositions in Photoshop. The subjects were shot separate from the locations.

After showing a couple of the finished photos to one of the unicyclists, he commented, “the pictures look great but they aren’t real practical”. This got me thinking.

In my head I tried to imagine a cowboy riding a unicycle down a dusty road in Reno, Nevada. Cowboys just aren’t unicycle types. The follow-up question to this picture is, “Would the cowboy be rounding up some cattle on a unicycle.” Sounds dangerous, but it’d be fun to watch.

Then there is the Maui photo. Maui is more of a surfer town than a unicycle town. I start to think about the occasional volcano in Hawaii. I can’t imagine a unicyclist trying to out run a lava flow, not very practical.

Then I think about the San Francisco shot happening in real life, someone pedaling to work on a unicycle. A lot of people in this town bike and some don’t even bother to put on clothes. This one could definitely happen in real life. Maybe these pictures aren’t so crazy after all.

Are these images a good use of Photoshop?

Unicyclist in Reno

Unicyclist in Maui