Shapeshifting – Creation of The Bookworm Cinemagraph


Behind the scene prep

Shapeshifting – On the surface it may seem to be a simple task – like animating the ocean waves or blowing hair – but when planning out a cinemagraph, you may find that what you plan and what you end up with morph many times in the process.

SetUp – Take ‘The Bookworm’ for instance. The scene was set for a different cinemagraph idea but while gathering props, I noticed Sherman’s rustic dictionary tucked away in a corner and thought it would be cool to add this to the set. A few more props picked up around the house – spectacles, journal, pen, and magnifying glass – and the set had morphed again. After a few more adjustments and a fan added for movement, the camera rolled.

The Bookworm

Sherman caught me trying to balance the books – a herculean task I might add – and captured me with his Sony A7RII. We decided to turn it into a cinemagraph. I guess I look like the proverbial bookworm! Click on the image to view cinemagraph.

The Outcome – It’s never quite as simple as expected. We added a clever caption and voila – The Bookworm was born!

Click on the image to view the cinemagraph.

Pussy Power – One Man’s Perspective on the Women’s March on Washington

Janet and I attended the woman’s March in Washington DC to protest the Trump Administration’s insane and inept position on just about everything. As a male in the midst of close to half a million women, it was indeed a transformational moment for me. To be honest when Janet told me about the march and asked if I would accompany her to Washington, I was less than enthused. This was a women’s march and I didn’t see a place for males. I was downright dismayed at the election results but I wasn’t really ready to head to DC to protest like back in the civil rights movement. I had my reasons, or so I thought. I was older and more mature now and I felt protesting was the purview of the young. Besides I didn’t want to be the only male on the bus heading to DC for a 5 hour drive there and back. So I said I wasn’t going. Didn’t need too. It’s for women only. Too long a drive. Other men are not going with their wives. Too far, have fun.

I saw the look on Janet’s face and I thought well I’m still not going. A few days later she’s buying yarn and knitting. I haven’t seen her knit in a number of years. In fact I teased her about how strange she looked with knitting needles in her hands. What was that all about? “We’re wearing hats to the march, Pussy Hats.” I choked down a laugh as I asked what in the world are you talking about. Pussy hats? Yes, and I’m knitting one for you too. Oh no, I’m not wearing one of those things. On my head? Are you nuts? Janet looked at me with consternation and said yes I was and told me that I was going with her. It’s too important and we have to make a statement. Take a stand. Well, I was all for taking some kind of stand. I hadn’t been part of a protest in decades. But I’m still not going, especially if I have to wear one of those pink pussy hats. Where the heck did that idea come from? This was definitely a women’s march not a place for men. So that’s it then. I’m not going.

A few days later Janet asked me if would take a photo of her in her newly finished pussy hat, which, to be honest looked kind of cute. So I did. She and the dog sat for a few snaps. So then Janet says she’s starting mine and I can have it customized. Well they looked cute and certainly would be warm. Heck I could just wear one around the house and not turn up the heat. Yeah that made sense – save on the heating bill. Okay make me one but not all pink. How about gray and pink or some such combination. Janet was on it. But did I mention I’m still not going to the march? I don’t want to be the only guy on the bus. Too much female energy. It’ll be weird. They’ll look at me with disdain. I’m not going.

Before I knew it my hat was done and I was presented with a gray knit hat with streaks of pink laced throughout. Not bad. In a mostly humorous tone I said let me try it on. It fit snuggly and was definitely warm. I could wear this thing around here and be done with it. I told Janet I still wasn’t going to DC but perhaps I would go to the New York March. Yes that’s it — the New York March was here at home and easy to get to and would be just as effective. And there would be men there for sure. I was going to the New York March. Besides she was now having major issues securing the bus which, with less than two weeks to the march, because she couldn’t get enough committed riders. We’ll go to New York instead and I’m on board with that.

The date was getting closer and I was actually wearing the hat around the house keeping toasty watching Janet deal with the uncertainty of the chartered bus and having enough people to make the trip. Lots of anxiety for her. A funny thing happened wearing my “customized” pinkish pussy hat. I felt connected to something bigger, more important than me sitting for a 5 hour drive. I was part of something I hadn’t felt in a very long time. Then the bus fell through. Cancelled. Well that settles it then. Done. But suddenly I realized I was disappointed. I actually wanted to go. I watched Janet and her sister grapple with the uncertainty of our circumstances and began to see something unique about how they worked and more importantly, they believed that they had to find a way to Washington. With just a few days to go before the march, they had a 12 passenger van. We were back in business. I was quietly excited as I watched people sign up to be in the van and I even got my daughter Michaela to join us. So I would be the only male in the van. Ugh, not good and I was having second thoughts. I can’t back out now but then Henry, Janet’s son, said he was on board. Well that was it. If Henry’s going too, then lets do this!

It was 3 AM on Saturday morning and we were up and heading out the door. Michaela had come up the night before and I was looking forward to the sharing this very important day with my daughter. Sleep ruled the moment but there was a quiet anticipation as we boarded the van greeting each other with groggy excitement. A few hours later we stopped for a bathroom break at the Clara Barton rest stop on the NJ Turnpike. It was wall-to-wall women in pink hats. It was sight to behold. It was a quiet controlled chaos if you could call it that. A quiet shared purpose that permeated the place. A pre-cursor of what was to come.

The cloudy weather engulfed us but the threatening rain never arrived. The spirit of the event erased any gloom from the weather. I spent the day walking and photographing the scene at the National Mall and Washington Monument. I had never seeing so many women in one place — peaceful, focused and determined to be heard. And of course there were other men there, but the women ruled the day. There were posters and signs, many somewhat vulgar referring to Trumps attack on women’s “pussies.” I thought maybe this is how women are with one another, perhaps in the locker room away from men or just being with one another. It was such a different energy than any male event I had ever participated in. It was embracing. It was endearing. It was powerful in so many respects. I had to just melt in and observe and get the whole gender thing out of my head and be a part of something historic. It was an amazing, amazing event. So many people sharing a common purpose and showing the world how they felt and not being silent or afraid.

It’s so easy to fall and be trapped into long entrenched stereotypes about gender and place. I can’t say I’m free from that. It swirls around us daily. We’re trying to change it across the globe, but the struggle continues. The Women’s March on Washington allowed me to step into another realm that I felt privileged to witness and be a part of. I came away enlightened with fresh perspectives and refreshed outlooks about myself and my relationship to women, and in a way to all creatures. It pulled me out of myself and opened me up to the world again. It turned into a 24hour day as we got back home at 3 AM Sunday morning exhausted but energized. And yes I wore my “Pussy Hat” on my head the entire time.


Umbrellas of Unity Photo Shoot

Each and every year VisuaLiving tries to give something back to the community in a humanitarian way. We ended 2016 with two such projects —  the Umbrellas of Unity Initiative through WestCop and the WestHelp Homeless Shelter Family Portraits.

Umbrellas of Unity is an initiative, created by Ellen Pospishil and supported by the Westchester Community Opportunity Program, fostering unity in the face of the many divisive attacks against minorities. UoU wants to engage in a positive conversation on how we can all work together to foster compassion, openness and equality and resolve the hateful negative attitudes the divide us.

VisuaLiving offered a variety of creative services from creating their launch video, portrait photography, and interviews as well as a website and Facebook page. Sherman and I spent a Monday videotaping everyone who was in the video. Next we took individual portraits to use with their personal interviews. We have used these photos in various ways to promote Umbrellas of Unity. Toward the end of the day we gathered up all the employees with their umbrellas and went outside for a crowd picture. It was a wonderful experience bringing everyone together to smile and laugh and work together for this project. You can see a timelapse of this at the end of the launch video.

Stay tuned for our post about the shelter portraits — another very moving project.

Mysteries of the Mysterious


After laying low from the 104 degree midday heat – it was an unusual heat wave for Death Valley in early April – we decided to head North to Scotty’s Castle around 4. Unbeknownst to us the Castle was closed and as we arrived, the guard was locking the gate. We sat for a while trying to decide whether to risk the ride to the mysterious Racetrack in our rented Chevy SUV, but it would be another couple of hours to drive the 26 miles in and we had no cans of fix-a-flat with us. We were advised earlier that morning by an old-timer to make sure we had a 4-wheel drive jeep and plenty of cans of fix-a-flat before heading down Racetrack Valley Road.

20140416_DEATHVALLEY_1315-Edit-Edit-Edit-EditWe opted for Ubehebe Crater instead. Although the crater was on our radar, it was not in our plans, but it was only a few miles uphill from the Castle. Within three miles of the crater turnoff, there was a dramatic change to the terrain. The earth turned black spotted with light grey sage brush. It was definitely strange looking and as we circled around the crater climbing higher, the landscape became more desolate and surreal. Our timing couldn’t have been better. It was prime golden hour with the clouds shaping up for what turned out to be a spectacular sunset.

As we explored the terrain on foot, we were just awestruck by the jaw-dropping, desolate beauty of our surroundings. The few visitors we encountered were packing up to leave and we found ourselves being the only two souls up at the crater. Or so we thought. As the sun dipped behind the peaks, a young man came upon us out of the semi-darkness after having just finished walking the perimeter of the crater. He was an intrepid traveler exploring the country on his motorcycle before heading east for a summer gig. He regaled us with stories of his adventure on the road solo, sleeping in a hammock hung between his motorcycle and any available tree trunk. He was filled with salt and grit from his time on the road and embodied the spirit of the crater with a twinkle in his eye and a wry grin. After a engaging conversation, he bade us farewell and headed off into the night. As it turned out, it wouldn’t be our only encounter with this lone traveler.

With darkness upon us, the wind kicked up and the stars emerged. The gusts were swirling all around us so much so that we had to anchor our tripod and chairs to our vehicle’s bumper. Using the SUV as a barrier, we decided to stay until the moon rose, about 3 hours later. The sunset was humbling. The Milky Way was even more humbling. The wind was intimidating and, in typical Southwest fashion, speaking to us – this time in a low roar. It made the atmosphere, the aloneness, and the blackness all the more mysterious – even a little unnerving.

We headed south through the moonlit darkness back to Stovepipe Wells with the intensity of the experience still reverberating through us. Hours later, over a very late meal, we silently contemplated the mysteries of the heavens and our relationship to it.

FYI: Ubehebe Crater is 1/2 mile wide and 777 feet down at its deepest. It is estimated to be from 2000-7000 years old.

That special image…

We all have an image that stands out among the thousands of images we have taken over the years. For me one such image is a shot I took about 12 years ago in Lower Antelope Canyon. If you’ve ever been to the slot canyons on the Navajo Reservation just outside Page, Arizona, you know just how unique and surreal the landscape is. As you approach the curved slit in the earth and climb down into the canyon, you have no idea about the underground world you are entering.  The environment is mystical, magical and a bit unnerving, especially when you’re the only people down there. We were fortunate enough to be there before you needed a tour guide.

I was already a little out of my element just being on the reservation, but the play of light all around had my head spinning.  Sunlight was filtering down the curved sandstone walls making magical, constantly changing patterns and shadows in many subtle shades of color.  We were awestruck shooting film and experimenting with digital.  As I snaked my way through a two-foot wide crease, I turned around to see the composition framed before me. I only had a 3MB Fuji point and shoot in my hand but I fired off a few frames. The “Womb” shot, as we called it, had us coming back to it over and over. It’s a terrific example of a serendipitous moment and the every-changing magic in the slots.

Carved from Navajo sandstone over the course of thousands of years, Antelope Canyon is truly one of mother nature’s finest works of art – a sacred space to be cherished by all who experience its wonderment and spiritualit

Saturday’s pro bono shoot

Once or twice per year we do pro bono work for a non-profit organization that sits close to our hearts. For this last shoot we selected an organization out of Brooklyn called Enlight10, whose mission is to ensure equitable college-planning opportunities for inner-city youth. They wanted corporate portraits and group shots for their website and/or any additional collateral they may create to promote their mission and organization.

After securing a make-up artist and setting up our studio space inside and out, we invited the team up for a 9 a.m. photo shoot. We expected the shoot to be at least a half day, but as is often the case, it lasted almost the entire day. It was, however, a great day filled with laughter, good conversation, and food.  Now we are going through the process of reviewing and selecting from 600+ photographs.

Pro bono work can be very rewarding but it can also be very draining so you need to be selective on what organizations you choose to help and exactly what services and deliverables you will provide. We found a helpful blog post from Crystaline Randazzo on setting limits for your pro bono work.

One last word of advice — when doing pro bono work, treat this assignment like you would any other paid assignment.  Outline the scope of effort, make a list of the deliverables, and make sure that everyone is on the same page. The unexpected will happen so good preparation and planning will always help ensure a smooth shoot.

What it all means

It was mid-May almost two decades ago when we first experienced the magic of the American Southwest. After a particularly hectic year, we fled our urban surroundings in the Northeast and headed west for an extensive photo excursion. Our goal was, of course, stunning photos. But we were also hoping to leave some of the angst and chaos behind and connect with the spiritual energy of the land.

Something profound happened to us on this trip. Life cranked way down and a stillness permeated our souls. We began to feel the exchange of human connection with all things living, including the spirit of the land. We found a sanctuary of quiet beauty in the sacred lands of the Native Americans, and opened up to the spiritual world surrounding us. Experiencing the energy fields of Shiprock, the ghosts of Antelope Canyon, the utter stillness of Canyonlands, and the spirits of Monument Valley were life altering for us both.

This infused in us the desire to have a transcendent experience wherever we looked. VisuaLiving Media became an outgrowth of that philosophy. We wanted to move beyond the every day mundane, see beyond the visible, and apply this “vision” to all of our projects and collaborations, allowing for as much creative expression as possible and even breaking new ground.

VLM will always be looking for that magical moment, the one that’s hidden in the shadows or right before us in plain sight waiting to be discovered. We’ve slowed the pace down, and not because we aren’t 30 anymore, but to allow us to recognize and receive the gifts that are before us each day.

A Trivial Question: Photoshoot or Photo Shoot?

I was writing up a blurb for the website today using the word(s) Photo Shoot. I wrote it out as one word then two but wasn’t sure which was correct. So I did what we do now – I looked it up on Google. Both are correct, but like most things photography-related, this word has changed form as well in the last decade. Specifically, the compound version of Photoshoot took off in 2013. Ten years earlier it was non-existent; it was two words Photo and Shoot. And for a very short while in between, the hyphenated version Photo-Shoot was popular.

As the world of photography transitioned to digital, the words that accompanied it transformed as well. No longer are words like Ektachrome, Tri-X, twin-lens reflex, Rodinal, Hypo, or push processing the language of photography. We have evolved into a new language filled with Megapixels, Raw Files, Full Frame CMOS Sensors, Compact Flash, Workflow, Image Processors, In-Camera Editing, and, of course, Photoshop.

So when you schedule a session in which you, the photographer, are going to take pictures of a person or a group, you can call it either a Photoshoot or a Photo Shoot. The choice is yours. Not quite as daunting as all the other choices you are faced with in the world of digital photography.