Monday, December 29, 2008

So Much Snow

Yeah, I'm getting tired of all these snow posts, too, but come on! We got hammered. This is a picture from the Saturday after Christmas. At that point we had - no joke - 14 inches of snow in our back yard. Sunday was the first day in over a week that we were able to use our cars to get out. Before then we would just walk to the store.

Of course, if you were to go two blocks away, onto a main street, it was actually rather clear. But there was no way, even with chains, that we could get there. Two lousy blocks.

But we made it through. The only casualties were the missed days of work and a nasty cold. I'm really hoping that there is no more heavy snow this year. I've got cabin fever enough to last all year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow Day!

It's supposed to be a rare occurrence here in Seattle. But this past year - actually for the past two to three years - snow has become a part of our winter experiences.

Ugh. I hate snow.

But here are some pictures from the past couple of days. Our dog bounding in the white stuff. Suzette and I on our way to the store. And some poor schmuck who tried to make it up our hill and...well, obviously they didn't make it.

Stay warm!

Happy Hollidays!

It's been an amazing 2008. From assisting on incredible shoots across the state, to finally seeing my own images in print, it's been a time of dreams fulfilled, and new dreams taking over.

So many of you have made this year possible - both personal and professional - I can't begin to thank each of you. Just know that my wife and I think the world of you, and wish you and your families all the best in the coming year.

Happy Holidays!

- Zech, Suzette and Bailey (Franken-dog) Johnson

Five Tips for New Models

One of the joys of being a photographer is the opportunity to work with a number of aspiring models. Because they're new, many models simply don't know how to act before and during a shoot. Here are a few tips that can make the difference between a successful shoot,and never hearing from the photographer again.

1 – Be on time. I can't stress this enough. In many projects the photograph is just one small part of a huge marketing effort. If you're late, and the photographer is standing around twiddling his thumbs while simultaneously trying to convince the art director that everything is under control, you're not just hurting your own image, you could very well be costing companies thousands of dollars. Even if you don't care about your reputation, you've got to care about the bottom line.

2 – Read your model release. Sure, it's written in legalese, but that doesn't mean you should take a few minutes and read it. A good photographer will be happy to explain any part of the release you don't understand, and be willing to work with you if you don't like a section. Remember, if you cross something out, both parties (that means you and the photographer) have to initial the change, or it doesn't count.

3 – Listen to your photographer. This isn't just about standing in a certain way, or lifting your chin to catch a better angle, this is about everything. If the photographer makes a point to tell you that it's going to be a cold and you should bring a coat, don't show up wearing a thin, fleece wrap. Bring a warm coat. If they tell you not to go to a certain area of the location, you'd better not be found after lunch poking around that back bedroom with the police tape across the door. (True story.)

4 – Stay on your mark. There is nothing – and I mean nothing – more frustrating than telling your model not to move while you adjust a light, and when you get back to the camera, the model isn't even in frame any more. Modeling is hard work. Standing in the awkward positions you have to be in to look right on film is physically and mentally demanding. But that's the model's job. When someone says, “I've almost got it. Don't move,” for crying out loud, don't move!

5 – Enjoy yourself. The more you relax, the more fun you project to everybody around you, the better the the pictures will be. Nothing contributes more to the artistic success of a shoot than the attitude of the people involved. Honestly, there are about a million worse jobs in the world than modeling, so have some fun with it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Catching Up

Winter has firmly set her grip upon the Pacific Northwest, and with the onset of eight-hour days of sunlight (if we're lucky), endless gray skies and bone-chilling rain, I figured I had better take a little time to catch up.

It's been WAY too long since my last post, and good things are happening all around. Magazine work is coming in, and what's more interesting is the amount of jewelry work I'm getting. Not that you'll hear me complaining. I love shooting jewelry. There's something about the time and care it takes to really make a piece (or pieces) shine in their best light that appeals to the puzzle-hound in me.

Here are some recent pictures to let you know what I've been up to.

This first image is from jewelry designer Camilla Rich (aka. Reba Bennett). She's a fantastic designer from Seattle who recently had a sold-out show at Clutch, Seattle's premier high-end handbag store. (Yup, high-end handbags. With all the drooling my wife was doing, I should have brought a mop.) Congrats Reba, and I'm looking forward to our next shoot.

We move from the beautiful to the tragic, as here I am, celebrating my - gulp - 36th birthday. Man, I am SO old! It was a great evening. Thanks to all my friends who came out and partied it up into the wee hours. Especially huge thanks go to my friends Jef and Molly. Molly was about 8 1/2 months pregnant and looked like she was going to have the baby at any moment. (Happy news! She had her second daughter just over a week ago, and everybody is doing wonderfully.)

I had my share (and several other people's shares) of the grain and the grape, which just reminded me - again! - that I am not 21 anymore.

Finally, here's a shot from a recent shoot I did with a couple of friends. Rosalie and Pixie Z are two really fun women who wanted to do a series based on different styles of burlesque. We started in the 20's in Germany, and are going on from there. They were huge troopers. Working in my very cold garage-studio and only complaining a little bit. Can't wait to see what happens next!

There have been lots of other stuff going on. I'm amazed at the number of meetings I have in the next few weeks, meetings with art directors, big-name catalog retailers, models, a dominatrix (for photo purposes only, I can assure you), and a few others tossed in for the fun of it.

This time I won't wait two months to post about it. I promise.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Meet Big Strobie

After a very long weekend of building and sewing and swearing (oh, so much swearing), I actually managed to finish up my new soft-box. The first few test shots show a big, beautiful, soft light that I can't wait to put into action. All it took was about 50-bucks of materials and that special phrase of the eternally damned, "How hard could it be?"

Of course, the subject matter of this particular shot doesn't help show things in their best...uh, light, but you get the idea.

It's big. It's a strobe. It's Big Strobie.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

This is not Project Runway

So I had a bright idea: I'm going to build my own soft-box. It shouldn't take much, I thought. A little wooden frame, perhaps a foam-core casing....No, wait! I'll do it out of shiny fabric. It will be cheap, take me an afternoon to make. No problem!

Ugh. Here's a picture of me slaving away on my sewing machine, three days later, wondering how I got myself into this mess. It's too bad my strobes are old and strange and don't take any speed-ring known to photography (which means no pre-made soft-boxes for me), but damn it if I'm going to let that stop me.

It actually came out pretty cool. I sewed myself a pyramid shaped box with silver on the inside. The frame it gets attached to is solid and is designed to clamp onto a C-stand. Tomorrow, I'm going to attach the diffusion material and give it all a whirl.

Keep your fingers crossed. If this works, I'm going to make more specialty lights.

If photography is the art of shaping light, might as well make the lights you use as individual as possible.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

How not to make a website

Websites are such a pain. I tell you, I've been working on my website like crazy these past few weeks. Of course, like the big control-freak that lurks deep within all artists, I was building my site from scratch. This wasn't the first time I've created a website, but this was going to be the biggest, baddest, best website ever. That was the plan, at least.

It's amazing how fast frustration can build. One moment you're coding an external asset pre-loader with full XML functionality, and the next thing you know you've turned your flat-screen monitor into a Frisbee.

After countless stops and starts and more than a few "Why the h$*@!! isn't this working?", I finally had to admit defeat. I spend my time making images, finding new visual metaphors that help people promote ideas, and through those ideas, their products. I'm not a programmer. Not anymore.

So I've purchased a really nice template. I'll spend the weekend kicked back with a cup of coffee, working on which images go where, and generally not worrying about how it works. And by the end of next week, the new site should be up and running.

Someday down the road I'll hire some nice young web-design firm to make me something ultra-cool. Some place with a one word name like Stun or Volume. They'll be nice, and young, and oh-so-hip, and knowing what I know about websites, I'll probably be their worst nightmare. I apologize in advance

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


My wife and I managed to get away for a weekend just before our dog Bailey had major surgery (see below), and it was wonderful. A simple overnight at Lake Boardman, a very pretty Alpine lake in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest about 30 miles from Granite Falls, WA. That was, until the worst campers in the world (that would be Suzette and I) decided we wanted to visit Island Lake. On the map it's just a short .8 miles from Lake Boardman, and all you have to do is follow an outlet stream.


It turns out that Lake Boardman is ringing by dense forest and steep and slippery granite slabs that plunge 90-degrees, straight down into the lake. But not before slicing you ankle to knee on their knife-blade craigs on the way down. There is no easy way to Island Lake from there.

Gotta love nature.

After half an hour of Lewis-and-Clark-meets-Laurel-and-Hardy-tramping-through-the-woods, we found a beautiful clearing at the base of an old rock slide and made camp.

I tell you, those hours spent climbing around and over the scree, watching the hawks dive for fish, were just the thing I needed. We all know it: There's something very special about being away from everything. The farther away we get, the more profound the experience.

And we managed to find BarcaRock, the most comfortable rock in the world.

Is there anything sadder...

Is there anything sadder than a dog in a vet's cone? I think not.

Our Bailey had a couple big lumps removed*, and now she looks like this.

I really feel for her. It must suck, having this plastic Elizabethan collar banging you in the ears every time you turn your head.

"Hey, is that food?" -Whump!- "Dammit! I hate this thing!"

I don't blame you, Bailey. And if it's any consolation, we hate it, too.

* There were two fatty lumps removed. One on her left chest, which you can see in the picture. That one created an incision about two and a half inches long. The other lump, on her rear right leg, was about five inches long, and looked like Igor had lifted a few steins before picking up the scalpel. (If you really, really want to know, click here. Don't say we didn't warn you.) The wounds are healing up nicely, but we're waiting to hear the path report on on the lumps.

Monday, September 1, 2008

When it rains.....

No, this isn't another grouch-fest about Seattle's weather. If you must know, the weather sucks, and I'm getting tired of all the grey, blah, blah, blah. It's Seattle. What do you expect?

Actually, this is the one blog post I'll probably ever write where I outright brag. You see, this is me celebrating my first double-issue month. I've got photos published in the September issues of both Seattle Magazine and Seattle Metropolitan Magazines, which is awfully cool.

I'm supposed to be happy that, just one year out of school, I get a month like this. Don't get me wrong. I am. But I'm more aware than ever of the commitment, the energy and the creative drive it will require to make the push to the next level. You know what does make me happy? The fact that I know, really, deep-down know, that I have that commitment. I have that energy. I have that creative drive. And what's more, I have the mad skills to pull it off.

Maybe when I have a three magazine month I'll extol my (limited) virtues again. Until then, can you believe that it feels like February out there? Did I miss it? Where was summer? Hello? Is this thing on?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Zech Johnson, Butterfly Wrangler

Well, maybe not exactly a "wrangler," but I did spend a very nice afternoon at the Woodland Park Zoo's Butterfly Pavilion, shooting lots of the pretty critters and working with Melissa, one of my favorite models.

In case you're wondering, no, the butterflies did not actually land on the book. Not that I didn't try. I surreptitiously grabbed some juice from the feeders in the area and rubbed it all over the top of the book, but that didn't work.

At one point I was able to get a butterfly on my finger and tried to move it onto the book, but again, no luck.

Finally, with a deep sigh, I realized that the only way this shot was going to happen was in the magical world of Photoshop.

Do check out Education First. They're a great charity which helps underprivileged youth with college scholarships and I'm happy to have worked with them for two years now.

Wonder what I'm going to do next year? Wrangle allilgators?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Finger Puppets!

While strolling through the Lake City Pioneer Days street fair, my wife stumbled across some hand-made finger puppets.

Who doesn't love finger puppets?

Are you a good Spiderman? Or a bad Spiderman?

Only the Lion knows . . . .

. . . . and Grover isn't saying a word.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Seattle's Got the Blues

Once a year, right around summer time (all three weeks of it), the normal quiet of Seattle is exploded by the sounds of six F/A-18 Hornets blazing across the sky. The Blue Angels are back.

What I find interesting is how the Blues are received in this very liberal town. While I have several friends who dislike them intensely - calling them symbols of American military force and hubris - for the most part, the entire city welcomes them in.
Starting Thursday with their practice runs (here's one of the shots I managed to get this morning), and continuing through the official shows on Saturday and Sunday, all things Seattle are celebrated throughout the city, and the city, for the most part, let's its hair down and starting shaking its groove-thing.

Funny enough, what most Satellites like about the Blues isn't necessarily the planes themselves, it's the fact that when they're in town, the hydroplanes aren't far behind. Huge boats powered by long-defunct Russian helicopter engines, throwing 60-foot rooster-tails behind them as they skim over the rough surface of Lake Washington at 120 miles-per-hour. Now THAT'S power!

Yes, Seattle is strange. We love the Blue Angles - with all their noise and power - because something even noisier and more powerful is just around the corner.
And isn't that an apt metaphor? This town seems to consistently look past the good thing they have in the right now, and instead focus on something in the future that may or may not be better.

For me, I love the Blues. It makes me think of what America - and yes, even the City of Seattle - could be. Classy, precise, polished, and so very, very noisy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Prophet in the Park

Every now and then a happy accident occurs. A perfect confluence of events that leads to something wonderful. Last night was one of those happy accidents.

Yesterday, while sitting around, working on my new website (should be done by Aug. 1, keep your fingers crossed), Chuck Prophet came on. For those of you who don't know Chuck, he's a wonderful performer/songwriter that plays some great rock 'n' roll with a slight country twang.

Anyway, his song Summertime Girl came on and I thought, "Wonder what he's up to? Maybe he'll play Seattle soon." A quick search of his website showed that he was playing nearby. Very nearby. In fact, he was doing a concert in a park about 20 minutes away, and the show was tonight! Best of all, it was free! Free, I tells ya!

My wife and I packed up a picnic dinner, slathered on the sunscreen and went out for a wonderful evening. The Mayor of the City of Kenmore gave a thankfully short speech about supporting the concerts in the park. Then a brief introduction and away he went. The weather was beautiful, the crowd friendly and into the music, and Chuck Friggin' Prophet was playing while I sat eating brie and baguettes.

Here's a simple snap of the man himself as he was leaving the stage.

Thanks to the City of Kenmore for having these great shows, and thanks to Chuck Prophet for being so damn cool.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Has it really been a year?

It was a beautfiul July 4th at J & M's place on the lake. The weather just barely cooperated, amazing food was eaten, and many, many things were blown-up. My wife and I managed to find a dog sitter, so for the first time in the half-a-dozen years we've been going to this particular get-together, we were finally able to stay the night.

It should be noted, for the record, that in our exuberance towards getting on with our dog-free weekend, my wife and I managed to forget our tent, our sleeping bags, and all my camera equipment. I did, however, have several light-stands and a heavy-duty tripod with me. Always be prepared, that's my motto.

Throughout the day, people around the lake were setting off fireworks. BIG fireworks. Explosions that rattled the ice-cubes in your drink were common. But as soon as the sun went down, all hell broke loose. Monster shells filled the sky with color. The windows shook. The edge of the lake was ringing with fountains of sparks. It was like being inside a firework.

I did manage to get some pictures using a point-and-shoot I keep in my car, and as I was editing them, I was struck by the fact that it had been a full year since I had seen several of the friends who were at the party. Since the last 4th of July, in fact. I have been so consumed by my work, consumed by trying to find my place in the wonderfully screwed-up world of professional photography, I have very nearly cut myself off from all the great people that make up my life.

I'm not exactly going out on a limb here, but as I see it the first year of a business is the most important, as what you're really doing is gaining the mind-set needed for the challenges of what comes next. All in all, I'm doing pretty well. But it's high time I get off my butt and start making some phone calls. Gotta party sometime.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Reshoot? You bet!

There are two words that strike fear in the heart of every photographer: Re Shoot.

It's not just the extra work that makes us crazy, it's the implicit notion that what we shot was not quite good enough. That we failed in our mission to make something beautiful, no matter what was presented to our camera lens.

I hate to say this, but I was recently asked to do a re-shoot. Not because the pictures I provided weren't wonderful, but because I failed to go to the exact place they mentioned in the article.

Yeah, this sucks to say, but I screwed up. So I packed it all up again and shot what I should have shot in the first place. And the stupid thing is . . . the thing that really gets my goat ... if I owned a goat, which I don't . . . is that the second best picture of the bunch was taken during my "reshoot." That's what you're seeing here.

Which is usually the case, when I think about it.
  • You do something once, it's good.
  • Do something again, it's better.
  • Do something a third time and it sucks.
  • But....If you hang on and do it one more time, magical things seem to happen.
If you want to see the best picture of the shoot, you'll just have to check out the September issue of Seattle Magazine.

Until then, I think I'm going to reshoot something I took a year ago.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Happy birthday, beautiful!

It was a lovely day. My beautiful wife turned another year younger (or so she claims....) and we celebrated the best way a broke photographer can: by taking a trip to the beach!

After a lazy morning we made our way to Golden Gardens to check out the lowest tide of the year. It was pretty low, alright. People were out poking at the exposed anemones, kids were taken out of school ("Look, Johnny. Seaweed!"), and my wife was nearly stranded on a spit of land.

After that it was lunch at Ray's Boathouse, who get major props for treating us so nicely, even if we did smell like barnacles.

Happy birthday, baby! Here's to another kick-ass year.

Monday, May 26, 2008

98% Chimp Rides into the Sunset

It was almost ten years ago when I first met Scot and Jef. I was living in the caretaker's apartment of a church and Scot worked at the Grand Illusion, a teensy-tiny independent movie theater just next door. Jef came around with another friend and started playing music. They were the core of the first group of friends I made in Seattle.

Jump ahead a few years and Jef and I are living in a house with a bunch of other guys. Yup, it was that sort of place. Where women would either run away screaming, or just get sucked under all the garbage, eventually to be eaten by wood ants. Still, Jef and I began writing songs together, and soon, Scot came in to play the drums.

We were together for about two years in total, and during that time Jef and I probably wrote 70 songs, if not more. I've played in many bands in my life, but it was never easier or more fun than with Scot and Jef. We even managed to play the OK Hotel just a week before it was destroyed in an earthquake.

Life goes on, though. Now days, Jef is happily married with one cute kid and a second on the way. And Scot is just about to move to England. Life may change, but our friendship will always remain strong. (Hallmark, can you read this? Seriously, it's like the front of a greeting card.)

We were 98% Chimp. And so are you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It's the hottest day of the year....Let's have a photo shoot!

There are any number of things to do during a sunny, hot day in Seattle. Rent a canoe and explore Lake Washington. Dance in the fountain at the Seattle Center. Rarely, if ever, does anybody say, "It's 91-degrees outside....Let's have a photo shoot....About baking bread!" And yet, that's exactly what I did.

It was almost inevitable, really. After a week and a half of planning, after a very long day spent kneading and rising three separate types of bread, the day when we're going to be on camera and in front of hot lights and standing in front of a 500-degree oven would be the hottest day of the year. Yeah, me!

But my models, Andrew and Jane, were wonderfully good sports. And even Jane's beautiful daughter got into the act.

Thanks to all who helped make this shoot come off so well. Walter Hodges, my wife Suzette, all the little people (Mickey Rooney and Michael J. Fox)....

Next time we'll do a big shoot about freezing to death. I guarantee it will be the coldest day of the year.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Zech Johnson. Puetz Customer.

As I was saying....

I was diligently practicing what Jay Ellingson from Interbay Golf has be
en trying to teach me -- "Widen your stance. Slow down in the take away. Relax through impact until you reach full extension" -- when George Howell from KOMO news showed up, camera man trailing just behind.

I was on camera for a good five minutes, swinging away, sweating like a DC Congressman on Oprah. They ran a mic up my sweater (no, I didn't get felt up. George was a perfect gentleman) and asked me a few questions. Holy crap, is it scary trying to talk intelligently about major social issues while you're trying to hit a golf ball.

And they cut my favorite sound bite, jerks.

George: Is there enough room to build a prison here?
Me: I can't speak to that. After all, you can always build up.

They misspelled my name, too.

I now have 14 minutes and 38 seconds of fame left. Better use them wisely.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I Got Bumped Off the 6 O'clock News

So I'm swatting balls on Aurora Ave....Wait, that doesn't sound right. Let's try that again.

I was at the Puetz driving range in north Seattle practicing my swing (better? still a little gay?) when I notice a very well dressed man looking at me like I'm some piece of meat. This is Aurora Ave, after all. Then I notice that there's another, much less better dressed guy lugging a huge HD camera and monster tripod around.

"Ah, ha!" I exclaim (not really). "It's one of them there news shows I've heard about. Wonder why they're.....Oh, dear God. No! They're going to want to shoot me! And my wretched golf swing!" And they do. George Howell of KOMO was very nice. Asked if I wouldn't mind them shooting me while I hit a few.

I spend the next ten minutes under the unwavering eye of that blasted TV camera. My heart's thumping at 9,000 miles an hour. I'm thinking, "Everybody is going to see this. I'm going to look like a fool!" But I manage to hit it pretty good while they film. Even put four in a row into the big net I was aiming at.

At one point the camera man went ten yards on to the range and, like an idiot, stood just to my right! This is really, really dumb. Darwin Award kind of dumb. See, the most common mis-hit in golf is called a slice. It goes to the right. But whatever. It's not my liability. I'll gladly climb a tree and shimmy out onto a half-rotten branch dangling over a precipice looking down at the Snake river
150-feet below, but ain't no way, no how, I'm standing ten yards down the driving rang just to the right of a non-professional golfer. Hell, I won't even do it if Tiger Woods. Well, maybe him. But I'd wear a helmet. (And a cup.)

After near medical coverage of my swing (last time I had to pay a guy $200 to do that), they slapped a mic on me and dropped the bomb. "How do you feel about this Puezt being considered as the site for a new prison?"

"A what!?!"

Let's just say that I wasn't the most eloquent I've ever been.
And they wanted me to talk while I hit balls! I can barely watch Wheel of Fortune and remember to breath at the same time. How am I supposed to answer questions about zoning and the impact on the neighborhood and the serious issue of prison overcrowding verses the difficulty of placing those prisons. How, I ask you. How am I supposed to answer this stuff, not sound like an idiot, and remember to hinge my wrists when I reach three o'clock in my backswing? How?

Long story short: It was supposed to air on the 6 o'clock news. It didn't. As far as I can tell I was bumped by this dog who got wedged inside somebody's truck. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Golf My Way.....Badly

So I have an obsession. (No, really?!? Quiet you!) It involves hitting a small, white ball with an oddly shaped stick until you eventually roll it into a hole cut into the ground several hundred yards away. Strange, I know. But I'm not the only one who's hooked by golf.

Every time I'm at the driving range I'm always surprised by the sheer diversity of the people trying to get the hang of this most frustrating game. White, black, Hispanic, Native American, old and young, torn jeans and expensive golf clothes, men, women and others. They're all there. All hacking away, fighting their slice, and wondering how in the heck Tiger Woods can hit it that far.

A lot of people I know think I'm crazy for liking golf so much. After all, it's not very hip. But inevitably, if I can get them out for a round at the Green Lake Pitch 'n' Putt, they finish with a smile on their face saying, "What the heck. Let's go around again."

That's when I start playing for money.

Monday, April 28, 2008

When 300mm Just Isn't Enough

I'm very lucky to live in a house with a huge back-yard. Well, I say I'm lucky, but when I'm only halfway through mowing the lawn, and there's still an hour of work to go...Let's just say that I enjoy the yard when all the junk is taken care of.

Still, it's awfully fun to be able to shoot all the different birds that call our back-yard home. We have the obvious suburban bird life: crows, sparrows, chickadees. But we also have a few surprises. Woodpeckers are a huge neighborhood problem, but they are awfully fun to watch as they try to bang their way through aluminum siding. (Is that cruel?) Once a beautiful barn-owl came out of nowhere and buzzed my wife and my heads.

But the hardest bird to photograph are the teeny hummingbirds, just like the one in the picture here. It had been sitting on a the branch for a good five minutes, which, I gather, is about twenty years in hummingbird-time. I was able to get my camera set-up and my big 300mm lens on it. But the dang things are so tiny that even with that huge lens (and even with the 1.6x conversion factor my 40d provides) it was hard to get a good clean shot.

One of these days I'll get a real lens. Something about 600mm long. Maybe then I'll be able to to fill the frame with these little buggers. Until then, I'll keep snapping away. Who knows? Maybe one of them will land on my lens and I'll get a close-up of the underside of a hummingbird.

Now THAT would be a picture!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Beautiful Bread

Is there anything more wonderful than a fresh baked baguette? I don't think so. Hundreds of years of tradition come together in the baker's use of water, flour, yeast and salt. Rich, sweet, almost nutty in its flavor, with monster holes and a cracking crisp crust, nothing beats fresh bread with a little bit of sweet cream butter.

I've been baking bread at home for about three years now and tried tons of different recipes and approaches to making bread, but the
Pain a l'Ancienne pictured here breaks every rule in the book.

"Yeast needs warm water to thrive, right?" Wrong. This bread uses nothing but ice cold water. "But it has to rise in a warm area. That I know is true." Nope. Straight into the fridge with this stuff. And it doesn't even get a normal rise in any sense of the word. And it's a huge pain the butt to work with. It's wet, and sticky, and oozes every which way. And yet...

And yet the bread is amazing. The best French baguettes I've ever made, by far. I even love the goofy, rustic shape.

Honestly, do we really need another metaphor for the fact that just because something is difficult doesn't mean it's not worth it? I didn't think so.

Oh, the
Pain a l'Ancienne comes from Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice." Great book with amazing photography by Ron Manville.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

What's Easy is Hard

I spend a good amount of time talking with other photographers and artsy-types. Most of the time we yap about normal life stuff. How's the family? Did you see the latest Judd Apatow movie? Does this mole look dangerous to you? Eventually, inevitably, we start talking shop.

When you're around a like-minded group, this can be very cathartic. The sense that we're in the same boat (leaks and all) is palpable. Commiseration about a lost job comes just as easily as congratulations for signing the big contract. We know the long, solitary hours needed to create. And we know the deep sense of satisfaction that only comes when you finish a major project.

But sometimes the differences come out as well. If you want to provoke long, thoughtful pauses, and are willing to wade through a sea of "Umms," "Ahs," and "Good questions," just ask an artist, "Do you enjoy the process of creation?"

For most of us, the answer is, eventually, "Yes, I do enjoy it. But it's very hard work." Boy, howdy, is it ever. There are days when the last thing you want to do is sit at the computer and edit yesterday's shoot. After all, you've already done the job, right? Or, worse yet, you've edited it and sent it to the art director, only to have them say, "It's good, but we decided to try something different. Can you reshoot?"

I mention this because I just spent the last three hours story-boarding a new project. (A children's book, if you must know.) And as much as I enjoy being an artist and letting the creative juices flow, most of this afternoon was like pulling teeth. Every line had to be examined. Every frame thought through. Where does this character go? Will this layout work with the text? How in the world am I going to shoot this?

Yes, it was hard work, pulling ideas out of the either and putting them down on paper so I won't forget them. (Memory like a steel-sieve.) But I finished all twenty-eight panels. And I feel good.

That is, I'll feel good for about an hour. Then I'll realize that I've only just started; barely scratched the surface to be honest. It's going to be months of location shooting, creating models and working in the studio, until this project is done.

But I know that I have good people around to help me through. When I'm so sick of the project I can barely look at it without cringing, when it takes all my willpower to sit down and do one more edit, when, three-quarters of the way through, I get a better idea and have to change everything that's come before, then I'll lean on my friends and family. They're there for me, and they know the awful truth: Art looks easy. Creating art is hard.

Friday, April 18, 2008

April Snow

For years I used to tell people that Seattle had the best weather in the world. Sure, winter was quite rainy, but all it did was clean the streets and turn everything a lush green. But the past few years are making me change my tune. I'm talking about snow.

You should probably know that I hate snow. Just despise the stuff. After graduating from a Michigan high school, I immediately moved to Arizona. No more scraping my windshield each morning. No more dangerous walks across ice rink-like parking lots. Good by ice-dome, hello sunscreen!

But my heart was in Seattle and I knew I would return. But not to snow. Not in Seattle. And for God's sake, not in APRIL!

Did I mention that I hate snow?