Art, artists, creativity, Culture, Design, People who have influenced me, Portraits

Like a Good Bonfire

Actor, Costume Designer, Disco, Geoffrey Holder, NYC, New Yok, New York City, Photographer, Stage Director, Studio 54, Tony Award Winner, Winner of Guggenheim Fellowship, artist, dancer

Geoffery Holder Studio 54, New York NY

Passion personified, that’s the impression I had of Geoffery Holder when I photographed him at Studio 54.  He lived around the corner from my NY apartment and each time I saw him in the neighborhood I had the same response, I was in the presence of power.

When I heard on NPR that Geoffery Holder was listening to one of his favorite artists, Bill Evans moving with the music, expressing life and  his love of art at the moment of  his passing on sunday, I thought that seems about right.  He was full of life and creativity.  He expressed that passion with his last breath.

“When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.”  Shunryu Suzuki


Nomads,Nomadic,Bedouin,Bedu,Saudi Arabia,Al Murrah,Portrait, people,

Murie bin Mohammed Al Murrah brought us a bag of truffles from the Empty Quarter. Dahana Sands, Saudi Arabia.

The Bedouin of Saudi Arabia are one of the world’s most unique nomadic people.  They survive in the Arabian deserts under some of the harshest conditions in nature.

The Al Murrah Bedouin tribe attracted my attention because they have lived as nomads in Arabia with an unbroken bloodline for 5,000 years +.  I figured such unique people would have important insights into human relationships.  I was right.

Leading Saudi families in government, business, judicial and academic communities have sent their young children to live among the Bedouin for similar reasons.  King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Sa’ud, the monarch who unified the Arabian tribes and created the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, spent time with the Al-Murrah in the southern deserts of Saudi Arabia.

When I began my documentary photography career I decided to study the Bedouin in Arabia, specifically the Al Murrah tribe.  This modest collection of images is from a library of over 25,000 images.  They are the subject of the book BEDOUIN which won the Pershke Price “Best Book” award and Gold Prize for the “Best of All Things in Print”.

To see more images of the Bedouin visit

Culture, People who have influenced me, Portraits, Saudi Arabia, Travel

BEDOUIN of Saudi Arabia

Nature, People who have influenced me

Neil Armstrong, thank you.

Full Moon, Blue Moon

August 31, 2012 Blue Moon

Neil Alden Armstrong an astronaut and first man to walk on the moon was laid to rest yesterday, August 31, 2012.  Coincidentally last night was a “Blue Moon” (a second full moon during the same month).  My sense of wonder was inspired by Neil Armstrong.  Thank you Mr. Armstrong.

People who have influenced me

Bill Stettner


Bill Stetter

Bill Stettner and Wayne Eastep on location in Egypt.

Perhaps the refusal to cut down a tree blocking an advertising shot for RJ Reynolds in Egypt, the dismissal of an over zealous dog handler in Central Park on a shoot for Polaroid, or not requiring a 6-year-old to eat spam on a photo shoot for Hormel show something about Bill Stettner’s humanity. Bill was a highly sensitive and complex person.

I was fortunate to work with Bill at the peak of his commercial photography career.  I assisted him on 250 jobs and saw the professional and the person behind the camera: a man with a terrific sense of humor, a remarkable awareness of the mechanics of image making, business acumen and ethics of the profession.

He was human with the good and bad.  He had a temper and could be impatient.  He had the ability to be direct in a way that at times felt abrupt. He was funny very funny.Advertising Photographer, Bill Stettner

Toward the end of my two years with Bill we had a conversation about what I might do with my career, as an “artist” I wanted to talk about the aesthetics of photography.  Bill cut to the point and asked me, “What kind of lifestyle do you want?” I wondered out loud what that had to do with photography and he responded, “Everything. Look, if you create a photograph for an editorial story you’ll get paid $500. If you create the same image for corporate communications you’ll get paid $2,500, create the identical image for advertising and you’ll make between $5,000 and $10,0Advertising Photographer, Bill Stettner00 dollars. If you want a family, to own your own home, go out to restaurants and have a nice car, you’ll need to shoot for advertising or corporate assignments. If you are ok with living a low profile life then you can do editorial or fine art work.”  Thirty years later as a professional photographer I can affirm that Bill’s advice was sound.  I wanted the “good life” and I wanted to do documentary projects, so I built a business that combined commercial and personal work, not an easy thing to do but worth the effort.

Bill had a director’s ability and paid  attention to everything on a shoot, both human behavior and physical details. I remember many times being sent to the print collection at the New York Public Library to research a specific time or place. Bill was intent on getting the hat, car, soda can, the hairstyle and every other detail as authentic as possible.

One assignment comes to mind that will illustrate this attentiveness.

Bill Stettner, photographer, Kentucky

Bill Stettner shooting in Louisville, KY.

We were creating an album cover for Columbia records.  The layout indicated a Victorian house with picket fence, mailbox and sidewalk.  Bill commissioned a model maker in New York to build the Victorian house to scale.  The model stood about thirty inches tall, included interior lights that worked, a one inch tall tricycle with pedals that turned and a mailbox with an envelope inside addressed to the artist c/o Columbia Records 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

I asked Bill why make the doors and windows open, the lights turn on, the tricycle work and place an envelope inside a closed mailbox with a handwritten address.  Bill answered, “The purpose of the image is to tell a story. As photographers we must go inside the story and illustrate it with authenticity. The intention of our effort and the energy we put into the picture will inform the final photograph in a way that the viewer will believe .”  I was at an impressionable phase in my career and took that advice to heart.  The advice has caused me a lot of extra work, but I believe my images are more authentic as a result.

Bill Stettner was a storyteller.  He told stories, often very funny stories, better than anyone I’ve ever heard.  That’s saying a lot because I grew up in the South where storytelling is a way of life.  Time and again he  helped a person who was self conscious in front of the camera relax and open up as a result of a story he told.  He had a love of the story and great sense of humor.

Photographer Bill Stettner and Photo Assistant, Wayne Eastep

Bill Stettner and Wayne Eastep on location at the pyramids, Giza, Egypt

Bill was one of those photographers who worked for years to secure photographers rights and protect artist’s copyright. He was ambitious and competitive but he was also generous. He was

effective in  strengthening  the profession of photography. He made my career  possible because he gave me my first chance to work as a photographer.  His plain talk and straightforward advice that I actually took to heart has helped me have a career that provided a good living for my family and a fulfilling life as an artist. Not only does Bill’s memory live on in my heart it is manifest in my creative and professional life. With gratitude I honor Bill Stettner.

People who have influenced me

Ernst Haas’s influence on my way of seeing


Abalone Shell, ©1970 Ernst Haas

1971:  The Creation, a book of photographs by Ernst Haas, transfixes me. The images are part meditation and part creative expression. After studying the photographs for days, I became aware of a new way of seeing.  These images go beyond the descriptive to explore a subjects essence.  THE CREATION cover is less about the abalone shell and more a metaphor for the universe. The shapes and colors suggest the swirl of planets and stars.  Having an image trigger associations like this has never happened for me before.  Ernst’s images plant the seed in my imagination of merging poetry and pictures, and eventually draw me to photography as a profession.

Five years passed before I took action to become a photographer.  The path I chose was an apprenticeship with Burt Glinn at Magnum.  During this time I had the honor of meeting Ernst Haas and over the next two years came to discover his grace, style and humanness.  When I started work on my first book, Bedouin, Ernst generously shared the following advice with me and that guidance proved to be sound and  I’ve continued to follow.

Read poems by children from the culture you’re studying, look at their drawings. Children show us a world drawn from their intuition.  Do not make an outline because it will become a structure that will define your process.  Simply start working and making photographs.  People around you will say, “Oh, you’re interested in that, well let me show you this.”  They will develop the story and it will have a natural progression.  Make sure you wear comfortable shoes.  If your feet hurt it will distract you from the experience.

Geraniums, Long Island  ©1961 Ernst Haas

Todd Weinstein, Ernst’s longtime assistant, told me a story about preparing contacts from Ernst’s photographs of World War II refugees.  Todd was making contact sheets from the two and quarter negatives and noticed he was placing one frame at a time on the contact frame and not a strip with three or four frames as is normal.  He asked Ernst why there was only one frame and where the rest of the images were.  Ernst answered,  “That’s all there is.  We couldn’t take a lot with us (when moving from the war front to safety) so I selected the one I thought best, cut it out and left the rest behind.”

Ernst had a creative courage that enabled him to trust his instincts.  He would embark on a project without a client funding the work.  There would be a basic idea, but no production plan or outline organizing the subjects.  He trusted the idea that the subject would show itself and share with him what needed understood.  Rather than imposing a preconceived idea he was open to discovery.

Ernst Haas









© Todd Weinstein 1986

Jay Maisel shared with me Ernst’s admonition, “One should move around freely and have fun, and if it isn’t fun then don’t bother.”

The style of Ernst’s work reveals a sensitive and intimate humanity.  His images were not simply documents of a person, place or object.  He photographed in a way that revealed humanity in a gesture or glance.  The essence of beauty is expressed in his photographs of a flower. When photographing a storm on the ocean he is putting us in touch with the power of nature.  His study of an abalone shell is not an image of natural history; it is a meditation on the mystery of creation.

Ernst Haas gave us an example of what we can create if we trust that fragile and powerful place within our mind called intuition.  We see best when we are open and responsive to the wonder of the world, as we were as children.  His example calls us to stop doing so much and start being.  Simply be still and see.  When we are in that frame of mind the subject will open and show something of itself to us.  What we learn will inform our images and what we create will be worth sharing.

Early portrait, Munich      © Ernst Haas Estate,

Motion study of horses by Ernst HaasWild Horses, Nevada,   © 1957 Ernst Haas

To see more images by Ernst and learn about his life and contribution to photography visit the ERNST HAAS ESTATE

People who have influenced me

Nothing new under the sun?

Manuscript illustration

15th c. manuscript illustration, Kazakhstan

Solomon declared long ago, “there is nothing new under the sun.”  This statement is only partially accurate.  Granted the human condition today is similar to the way it was in Solomon’s time.   However, our study of the laws of nature teaches us that each day under the sun things are new and renewed.  What is new is how we each experience life.  Seeing is one of the glorious ways we observe life.

I see in a unique way.  There are many who’ve informed  and influenced the way I see and think about all the wonderful new things and people under the sun.  Continue reading