“The way is beautiful…but maybe it is heavy”

I find it hard to know where to start when so very much has transpired in the last several months.  It all started with our leaving our home in Japan, via a whirlwind of visitations across Texas culminating with our move into our beautiful and exciting new house in Italy.   

The gear is finally unpacked, the Profotos are charged, the Drobos are plugged in and I am once again on the road.  Two days ago I loaded the car with camera, climbing, and camping gear and took off on a crushing 14hr drive to Rodellar, Spain to essentially return to work.  I came to shoot with world class Adidas climbers Sasha DiGuilian and Dani Moreno on beautiful, mighty Spanish walls.  Sasha, following her win at the Spanish Championships in Gijon last weekend, is working on what would be the first female ascent of a powerful 8c route. The first day went without a hitch and both Sasha and Dani are amazing to watch and even more inspiring to photograph.  We tentatively have all week to shoot and push it but now however, we are stuck.  We are in a holding pattern as the rain curse, which has followed me since I landed in Europe, follows me.  With a forced rest day I was able to edit a bit but for the most part I am just itching to get back on the rope and behind the lens. 

After the cursing of the sky and the lamentation over a lost day of opportunity we spent last night eating a beautiful meal at the Refugio and I found myself content with the realization of my wilderness office and my assignment.  I often talk about the gratitude I feel towards my subjects and my career but it is something truly difficult to convey with words of appropriate weight.  Hanging 90 meters of the valley floor watching one of the sports most talented and accomplish athlete’s crossing over the lip of the cave with grace and power and being there to capture that feat is still, to me, a wonderful gift.  As a photographer and I would imagine professional athletes we find ourselves fighting for days like these, through the rain days and in-between assignments.  When however, you finally get on the rope or behind the lens it all becomes fluid and right.  Like my Italian climbing partner says, “The way is beautiful…but maybe it is heavy” but the weight, the difficulty is so very worth it. 

As I type I am watching the sun fight through the clouds, time to go see if the rock is dry.  More to come.



Daruma Fair

The Japanese New Years Break ended and with it the throngs of people pouring through temple grounds.  However, before it ended I made a visit to the local Haijima Daruma Fair.  I have noticed Daruma dolls, also known as Dharma dolls, at temples and even gifted one but this visit brought more understanding about the doll and its cultural significance.  The doll is a papier-mache hollow figure modeled after the "Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism."  The dolls are typically a red painted bearded man (Dharma) but vary in their price, color, and even actual hair or facial expression details.  I always believed the doll was a toy but had it explained to me in a greater detail at the fair.

The dolls is purchased blind if you will, meaning there are no irises painted on the eyes.  They Daruma are considered a powerful talisman for good luck and used to encourage this luck throughout the year.  First, you craft a wish or goal followed by painting the first iris on the eye.  Once your goal or promise is achieved you may then complete the Daruma and paint in his other eye.  The larger the Daruma the more important, powerful or difficult the goal and vice a versa.  At the end of the year people bring their completed dolls to the temple grounds to burn them and to purchase the new luck for their goal or resolution.

I know many people who love making to-do lists and feel great satisfaction crossing items of the list once accomplished.  I even know people who write achievements on the list they already finished for the sheer satisfaction of crossing it off.  If I am honest, I am both of those people.  The dolls were not my goals nor my wishes going into the fire but there was something much more visceral and symbolic than my extra lines crossed through a to-do list.  I like the idea of a physical manifestation of your goals to keep you visually accountable to your intentions.  As a result, I picked up a Daruma for myself and already gave him a wink for this year.  I will be planning my own bonfire this time next year on a Dolomite camping trip perhaps heres to him going up in flames.

If your interested in creating your own conflagration of achievement I know my buddy at Unique Japan can ship the dolls worldwide.

New Years Shishimai

2013 is upon us and after I a non-eventful New Years Eve, 2 and 4 year olds need their sleep, I headed out on the 1st to see if I might find local images at the temples.  New Years and New Years Day are arguably the most important holiday in Japan, though you might think otherwise if you have ever tried to drive during golden week, so I went feature hunting.  Unfortunately, the local temples here in Fussa don't see the two million visitors that Meiji Shrine sees on the first day of the year.  Knowing I could not make a trip to the city I thought I might find a quiet image locally as people made their important trips to get their Omikuji (years fortune) or make their first prayer.  After my third visit to a temple and still nothing impressive I heard drumming in the distance and headed off to find the source.

Instead of temple imagery I found a Shishimai ceremony going from house to house driving out evil spirits with lion dances.  I am told this is a rare site in cities these days, I was just happy to have found something to play with.  I only caught their last three houses and never quite caught the quintessential lion image I wanted.  Imagery aside, I love the idea of waking on the first day of the year to the sound of drums and flutes and a lion costume undulating and chomping his wooden jaws in my home or business consuming evil spirits in the air or even nibbling them off of me.

I did not make resolutions this year.   It is going to be a big year for my family and business as we prepare to move and start another chapter of adventures and images but whatever the year brings I am happy to have had it ushered in by a lion dance and the sound of early morning japanese drums.

Good Luck to all of you in 2013,  it should be amazing!

Jesus in Japan

Christmas is over but hot on its heals is a Jesus story in the new copy of the Smithsonian magazine.  Inside the January issue is an article accompanied by a couple of my images from a story they sent me on during the summer.  This gig was hands down the strangest matsuri (festival) I have attended in Japan.  The Christo Matsuri is a celebration upon the alleged burial ground of Jesus Christ.  As folklore would have it Jesus of Nazareth settled in the north of Japan with a wife and three kids as a garlic farmer and died at the age of 106.  The entirety of the convoluted lore is a humorous read and I wont try to convey it here, grab a copy of the magazine.

The early morning festival itself lasted all of an hour beginning with what appeared to be community awards and culminating in a group of female dancers doing traditional dance around the burial site.  After the official ceremony people mill around for snacks and a visit to the one room museum on site and then it is over.  As quickly as everyone arrives they pack it up and head down the hill until next year.  While the festivities did not yield powerful imagery I thought I would share out of the sheer respect for the kitsch of it all.

Made in America - Crashed upon Globally

I am currently working on a set of personal/campaign images for Organic Crash Pads and was lucky enough to spend yesterday working with the wonderful and powerful Akiyo Noguchi (2009, 2010 Bouldering World Cup overall champion. Second overall in 2011, and again in 2012.)

Akiyo-chan drove over two hours from Yokohama to meet us in Shirotai, she spent almost two hours getting into makeup and then proceded to pose while hanging on a V7-8 as if it were a ladder.  As photographers we are all gifted our career by those who are willing to stand in front of our cameras but yesterday I was humbled watching Akiyo work to create our images. O-sama, domo arigato gozaimasu.

Other people who must be thanked are my wonderful makeup artist/wife and friend Nobu-san for allowing us into his gym to do makeup before heading into the mountains.  Incidentally, Nobu is also part of this project.

One of my favorite memories from the day came at the end, when we returned to the gym to remove makeup.  Our 9 year old climbing friend Nana was there and when she realized who was coming in you could see here through the door jumping up and down as if Christmas arrived early (that is probably not a culturally appropriate analogy but lets roll with it),  truly adorable to watch her giddiness around her idol.  Akiyo was lovely and gracious signing her chalk bag and posing for pictures, class act.

More shoots to come and Obe-san as soon as your new pad arrives your next!  For now, here are some more images from our amazing day in Shirotai with Akiyo-chan.

Failure as Teacher


I had an opportunity last night for a new photographer who has asked on a couple occasions if he could help out during a shoot.  My job was a dramatic last min “URGENT,” “ASAP” request to shoot video of Tokyo streets bathed in their famous neon onslaught.  I mistakenly assumed this would be a straightforward job and one that would welcome an extra hand either behind the wheel or on camera.  However, while the night unfolded and I continued to receive emails I soon realizing the job had very exacting parameters.  My assistant was unable to make his schedule work and initially I was disappointed at the loss of a second hand but as the night progressed I was relieved he was not present for what turned into an epic failure on all fronts.

Let me first convey I have not always brought back “The Shot” from an assignment or project but I have always brought back  “A shot.”  In fact it is a point of professional pride to be counted on as the guy who will never return empty handed.  This self-imposed code is likely a remnant of my newspaper days.  For example, if I was sent to a crime seen with no access, at the bare minimum I was expected to capture the crime scene tape with the house in the background.  The career suicide accompanied by an empty handed return was not an option, at least not in my mind.  That said, last night I came back with no more than four takes, all of which are essentially useless to the client.  I came back empty handed!

Granted, I got this request at 11:30pm the previous night and left at 4the next day for Tokyo not even sure the job was a go.  I was still getting brief updates and changes until 10pm the night of the shoot including frame rate changes, panning direction, and blocking timing.  I had minimal scout time and no street permit, chase car, assistant, or their desired camera.  This was all being done on the wire across large time differences and yet that’s the job.  It’s not the way I like to do my job but I would make it work. Then Tokyo stepped in, as it often does, to enact its pound of flesh.

I needed a neon rich environment.  That meant I needed a busy street, but I was also tasked with an important 4 seconds clearance behind my car before pulling into the hero spot.   I drove all over town looking for this and the only way I could do it without shutting down a lane was to wait for the streets to empty.  I figured by 11:30-Midnight I would get my window.  What I did not count on was at the exact time when people are rushing to catch the last train out of the city they begin turning off a large number of the lights and neon signs I needed for the ambient light.  What on the scout was a glowing bustle was now a black hole.  Ok, so we can work with this, change the setting and do what you can.  But the city was not done with me yet.

A brutal logistic of driving in Tokyo, it is no joke to reverse directions, you can go a long way out of the way to get back to your start spot.  By the time I finished my second run and returned to the start spot night road construction and traffic sprung up.  There would not be a clear shot or my much needed 4 seconds till five in the morning.  I was scuttled and headed home at 2:30 with my tail tucked between my legs.  I failed.

Driving home I initially thought it was serendipitous the assistant did not make it.  Then I took a step back and thought about the powerful lessons to be found in the failure. The necessity for quality scouting is invaluable.  Knowing what your scene will look like when you intend to shoot, how it will look through camera, does the client approve, what environmental elements might hinder your shot, can you work around it, the list is long.   Quality communication with the client, agency, Production Company is also so important.  Knowing what everyone needs from the shot and what you need to do technically to achieve it.  Having the right team to support you if and when things go wrong.  This includes everything from your on set team to your agent, agency and even the shoot insurance or back up shoot day.

I don’t know what the time or budgetary constraints were on this job, I was a last minute band-aid and in the end it just seemed like I could not get a break.  It would however have made a good teaching aid and reminds me about some production aspects to look out for in the future.   Everything helps to ensure that this is the last time I come home empty handed.

Rising Sun


I finally secured a break in the Japanese rainy season to begin a project I’ve had on my board of “Ideas to Shoot” for a long time.  The images are part of a campaign concept I pitched to an outdoor company whom I love.  They are a small but prolific boutique shop that crafts fantastic custom work and so I wanted the individuality of the user experience to come across.

I wanted to share this photo of the model and my good friend Nobu san who was kind enough to sit for 4 hr in makeup and then let me drive him into the mountains looking this way.  We almost got in an accident laughing at the reaction of two girls at a bus stop whom Nobu surprised.  Thank you Nobu you are so gracious and amazing.  Know I have a bottle of single malt with your name on it.

I am leaving in 9 days for an epic adventure into the backcountry of the Weminuche wilderness with my father and brother but when I return I am excited to finish this project with the other four other athletes here in Japan.

Pink on the Wind

It is always with a mixture of melancholy and spring anticipation that I watch the pink succumb to the wind and yet the Sakura have all but dropped.  We never did get to throw our own Hanami party this year but I  thought I would share a few images from a short evening I spent last week in Ueno park prior to its soggy rain out. Regardless of the rain I had a wonderful evening and I would like to say thank you to everyone who invited me onto their tarps, fed me and kept the beer and sake flowing.

Crushing Xmas

My family is here in Koh Tao, Thailand for Christmas vacation and while the trip is fundamentally very Thai, those of you who have traveled here will know what that means, we are having a wonderful time together and for Christmas Eve I was even able to get away and shoot a Muay Thai match.  I have always wanted to shoot one of these bouts and while I would have preferred to shoot with more lighting then a couple fluorescent bulbs, definitely with strobe and in the heart of Bangkok it was still great fun to hear the Yuletide roar of the local crowd go up in response to the dull thud of foot and knee crushing abs and ribs well into the night.

Up again

Finally got up in the plane again for a dusk flight over Tokyo only to discover the winter air is a true trade off between crisp visibility and turbulence.  If anyone with experience using gyros or other suggestions for shooting a city at night from above I would love hear from you before I give this another shot.  Here are a few images that were not soft, though the noise at 1600 on the 5D Mark II is a bit disappointing.


While the world marveled last week on its new population of 7 billion people I decided I needed a way to illustrate our new vastness.  This quoted text from Wikipedia seemed like a good place to start.

"The Greater Tokyo Area is a large metropolitan area in Kantō regionJapan, consisting of most of the prefectures of ChibaKanagawaSaitama, and Tokyo (at the center).  A 2007 UN estimate puts the population at 35,676,000,[4] "  (The current number 37,730,064.)  "making it the world's most populous metropolitan area by far. It covers an area of approximately 13,500 km² (5,200 mi²),[5] giving it a population density of 2,642 person/km² - which is somewhat more than twice the population density of Bangladesh. It is the second largest single metropolitan area in the world in terms of built-up or urban function landmass at 7,800 km² (3,000 mi²).[6]"

Japan is approximately the size of California in land mass but still manages #10 on the most populated countries list and Tokyo's population is close to the entire population of the Roman Empire (AD 300-400).  It will be interesting to watch how the world adapts to the new space, agricultural, and industrial challenges of a planet hosting this level of human diaspora.  The following aerials attempt to illustrate the sheer sprawl that is greater Tokyo.  From the air I could view the population horizon in a manner impossible from the tight-knit street level of the city. I  scheduled a future dawn flight, even though my pilot informed me the city has yet to return to its full force illumination in the wake of last years tsunami and subsequent power shortages.  For now this hazy mid-day flight was an amazing glimpse at the worlds largest city and possible a sign of things to come.