Despite all the time, effort, and money I’ve put into photography, I have never considered myself a professional. While I did make money from it, it was never enough to be my main source of income, and there was a bit of fear that my love and passion for photography would drown in the burden of work, as often can happen when you get paid to do something you do just for the joy of doing it.
Big Me Little Me
Sometime in early 2007 I was creatively bored and feeling eager to try something new with my photography. I had the random idea to attempt show what it would be like if I were an oversized large-man trying to live a normal life. After 17 photos of varied quality (some were far better than others), I had an idea to try the opposite, me as a tiny fellow. When I had explored any idea I thought was worth exploring and having fun with, I ended the series with 25 photos in February of 2007.
Jump ahead 6 years and I get an email from someone at Yahoo! (who had recently purchased Flickr) inquiring if I would have interest in coming to New York to be interviewed about my photography; specifically my Little Me Big Me series. So they flew me out to, put me up, and had me come into their studio to film an interview with me.
I remember getting on the elevator and seeing a very small woman who looked familiar. It was Taryn Manning who played “Pennsatucky” on Orange Is The New Black. I suppose she was being interviewed. Anyway…
The interview was great. I thought I’d be more flustered or nervous but was able to talk about how I approached photography and creativity as a storytelling medium. All in all, very surreal to have such a high level of attention for something that wasn’t even my career.
Everyday Occurrences Of An Aging Superhero
There’s no simple way to describe how I got into photography, or the strange and random paths of exploration I found myself exploring. But here it is: beard growing contest. That’s right, I became a photographer (more or less, see above) because of an annual online beard growing competition called Whiskerino in 2005.
Part of the “rules” of Whiskerino was to go from clean shaven at the beginning of November and grow a beard until the end of February, and in order to document that you were in fact growing a beard, each participant must show their beard in the form of an upload photography of your face and beard. Suffice to say, just taking a picture of your face regularly (it wasn’t required daily, but at least weekly or you would be put into the Hall of Shame) would get tedious. To incentivize activity, members could vote on each others beard, and there would be a daily King Beard. Things would get competitive, and people got creative with their photos. And a pattern that began to develop (pun intended) was a love of photography — which is where my expensive passion started to blossom.
I bought a Canon EOS 20D, several lenses, and began using my creativity in a new medium. I was not good in the beginning. But progressively got better over the weeks and months. And by the time the second round of the contest began in 2007 I became more confident and experimental. And in the last month of February, I bought a Captain America costume (mind you, this was in 2007, a year before the first Iron Man movie, before the entire Marvel universe even began!), created a strange motif of elements, and birthed a series I would call “The Everyday Occurrences Of An Aging Superhero”. And it took off.
The series got picked up in all sorts of ways, getting linked and linked and linked all over — Complex, Flavorwire, MyModernMet, etc. I was not expecting such a response. It even spawned the first film short of my friend and director Motke, called “The Once Mighty” (which I co-produced, co-wrote, art directed, and starred in). You can watch it here if you’d like. It’s not bad, but also not great.
For a period of about two years I had the chance to be a press photographer for the NFL, specifically with the Cincinnati Bengals. As a decent fan of the team, and avid photography, I thought this would be fun — how many people get to say they’ve been on a pro football field, amongst the players, hearing the grunts and groans, feeling the impact of their speed and strength. So when my friend C. Trent Rosecrans (sports writer, receiver of infamous rant, magnificent beard grower) asked if I’d be interested in taking photos for his new venture he was calling CNati. The chance to be on the field, doing something I loved, with a more artistic flare was too great an opportunity to pass up, so obviously I said yes.
So what was it like being an NFL photographer? For one, I did not feel like I belonged — other than that I was a white man. All the other photographers had several cameras bodies, various tripods and monopods, a veritable feast of insanely huge zoom lens, all given to them from their respective news outlets. All I had was a slow shutter 1Ds with a few zoom lenses (16-35mm, 35-70mm, and 70-200mm), which I had to swap when I felt like it (rather than have a camera body for each). But this forced me to get creative, to not just cover field action, but cover the players, their interactions with coaches (like this shot of Mike Zimmer absolutely verbally destroying a disinterested Tank Johnson, which is easily my personal favorite from my entire time shooting).
For every home game I was mailed a photo pass. Then early Sunday morning I’d arrive at Paul Brown Stadium, flash my pass to security to gain access, and proceed to the bowels of the stadium to check-in at the photography room (which was across from the player locker room) — where I would get a red vest, leave my laptop, and setup my camera gear. Then I’d travel upstairs to the press level and grab some breakfast, where’d I see people like Boomer Esiason, Phil Simms, Brian Billick, Joe Buck, etc, eating piles of eggs and bacon. After that I’d wander a bit, and start to make my way to the field.
It was very surreal to have that much freedom around something that felt so removed and distant. To have players that close. To hear what they were saying. To watch and hear them violently slam into each over and over. And I did all I could to capture my own personal wonderment in my photos, a true fan delivering what all fans would love to witness.
When the game began, I frantically moved around, vying for spots on the field to get angles and coverage, strategically using lenses for the situations in front of me. During halftime I rush to find the best photos and send a few to Trent to update his coverage. And quickly grab lunch; a few Cincinnati style chili Cheese Coneys, which was provided for free in the room by Gold Star Chili. I do not love Cincinnati style-chili, despite having it numerous times. But I was hungry enough to power through a pound of cheese and a bad hot dog. There was not much time to do all of this before quickly getting back on the field and repeating my dance.
By the time a game was over, I was exhausted and exhilarated. I packed up all my gear and made my way to the press box area to finish finding and editing photos, uploading them, and providing a link to Trent for his story, all while looking out at an empty stadium, a vast and desolate cathedral worshiping the excesses of American exceptionalism.
While it only lasted for 2 years, it was truly an unexpected and unimaginable experience that few people ever get to witness or partake.