Stellazine has moved to

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Brenda Milis, Director of Photography at Men's Health

When I met Brenda Milis at ReviewLA 2008 I was thrilled by her smarts and sense of humor. In the year since she has not only had a son (Jacob Strummer), but been named the Photography Director of Men's Health, where she has helped create one of the few visually compelling magazines still around. With her husband, Eric Miles, a dealer in rare photography books, Brenda is planning a blog to discuss both commercial and fine art photography. I can't wait for that dialogue.

Tell me a bit about your photo background
I got my B.A. in Art History at UC Berkeley. I knew even way back then that I wanted to make my life all about looking at and studying images, and talking about images that other people made. My second go-round of graduate studies was at The New School of Social Research in Gender and Media which was as much a way to get to NYC as it was to see if I wanted to stay in academics.
By that time my early devotion to painting had completely given way to a passion for photography and its history. I landed my first internship (work for free, learn lots) at Jane magazine, which I loved from the very first day. I knew that I had finally found something I wanted to do for a living. I’ve been a photo editor ever since.
In 2003, I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico to work for Rob Haggart at Outside Magazine and then came back to NYC a few years later to work for Laurie Kratochvil at Men’s Health.
As lovely as Santa Fe was, I missed New York like crazy. I missed the photographic and arts community. As much as it’s great to read people’s photo blogs, it’s never as good as going to a gallery opening, a museum show, and to be around other people who share your love of photography.
After a little over a year here at Men’s Health, Laurie left the magazine and I was eventually promoted to Photo Director.

What is the best thing about your job?
Besides getting to look at photography most of the day you mean? Ultimately, I’d say that the best thing about my job is its balance: It’s equal parts creativity, collaboration, and organization. There’s a lot parts to my job—a photo editor wears many hats so it does't get boring. I think you also have to be pretty darn social because you talk to many, many people every day.
There is a lot to planning photo shoots and you better dot all your “I”s and cross all your “t’s to make sure the shoot goes smoothly since even the best planned photo shoot can derail. You manage tons of details and tons of personalities. It can be draining but very rarely is it boring.

Tell us the story behind this:

I had been trying for weeks to get a shoot date with then-presidential candidate Barack Obama for our November ‘08 cover. Since I had no shoot date, I had no photographer booked and I was nervous because I knew it would be a last-minute scenario.
Sure enough, I was stuck on a runway in a huge thunderstorm for over 5 hours at JFK on a Sunday afternoon, trying to get to LA when I finally got the call from Obama’s camp giving me a date for the shoot-I had to find a photographer on the spot for two days later and give them all the info within the next several hours. Being stuck on that runway turned out to be a blessing, because I had only a few hours to pull the shoot together and had to do it immediately. If I’d been in the air on the scheduled flight, I would have missed that call and missed the tiny window of opportunity in Obama’s crazily hectic schedule!
Got in touch with Frank Ockenfels’ rep, Carol LeFlufy and booked Frank right away. I knew that the photographer would have less than 15 minutes with Obama so Frank was a great choice because he can make so much out of the most minimal of time and resources.
This collage is signature Frank and so effective in presenting Obama to the reader, revealing both his warmth and seriousness simultaneously.

What do you wish photographers knew about your job?

Interesting question. The first thing I think of is that I want them to know that I am their advocate. As much as I work for a magazine and represent the magazine, I am working with them because I respect their work and want to make sure that they are happy with the way it’s running in the magazine.

Do you have drop offs for portfolios?

Yup-anytime. People don’t send over portfolios much these days. It’s all web-based.

What is your pet peeve about photographers?
Don’t have any.

Tell us about this Nigel Cox photograph

Nigel rocks. I love being able to make pictures that are unappealing sometimes-a good photo can be gross!. We had loads of fun getting this shot. My only regret is that we weren’t allowed to run the shot that had a real, giant cockroach in it that Anne Koch, the set stylist, found in the hall! Too gross for the magazine, but soooooo right in the pic!

Whose work do you love/follow?

My imagery interests are extremely varied and I know hundreds of photographers’ work, so oddly enough, this is kind of tough to answer. I have a huge stable of established photographers whose work I love in my head, but I’m constantly bookmarking "up and coming" photographers as well.
My own taste runs to very personal, rather softer work which might be characterized as feminine, yet I have made a living for some years now producing images for men’s magazines. The first names I think of are Jessica Backhaus and Rinko Kawauchi, which immediately reveals my personal taste for beautiful images of mundane moments.
That’s a peek at Brenda the person, rather than Brenda the photo editor.
As for Brenda the photo editor, my biggest superstar photographer crush is on Peggy Sirota. She makes it look so easy and it always looks exactly right—spirited, fun, alive.
Martin Schoeller is great (his travel and environmental work I much prefer to the big heads). So is Dan Winters, Christopher Griffith, Horacio Salinas, Andrew Hetherington, Brian Finke, Chris Buck (so humorous and clever and again, someone who makes it look so effortless, tho’ of course you know he’s an extremely thoughtful shooter), Alex Tehrani, Cass Bird, and Jake Chessum.
If I still worked for Outside mag, I’d hire Jake Stangel (of Too Much Chocolate photo blog) in a hot second.
Some photographers very much in my head and heart right now which will appear to be a completely random assortment: Adam Krause, Rachel Hulin, James Pomerantz, Todd Deutsch, Gabriele Stabile, Michal Chelbin, Aya Brackett, Susana Raab, Amy Stein, Jason Florio.
I’m a huge fan of Joachim Ladefoged’s and Ben Lowy’s work. Great compositions both, and Ben’s colors are to die for.
Also on my mind lately--I love the way LA photographers shoot these days in general---a softer, looser look than those on the East Coast. I’m particularly enamored right now with several couples who shoot together: (Jessica Haye and Clarke Hsiao), day19 (Jeremy and Claire Weiss), as well as Nick and Chloe---what’s going on here with these couples!?
I am an avid fan of Jen Bekman and her 20x200 work helps keep me on my toes with up and coming new photographers (and puts pictures on my walls, thank you!); I also pore over magazines (call me old fashioned if you will) which is honestly still the most fun.
So now you have a slightly terrifying glimpse of how my mind jumps from one photographer to the next, person to person, genre to genre! It’s both great and distracting to be involved in assigning so many kinds of photography.

And finally, any advice for photographers?
You need to know how to market your work. Period. But if your work isn’t strong, the marketing won’t help.

Labels: , , , , , , Digg it Facebook MySpace Slashdot Technorati Stumbleupon Twitter

Monday, August 24, 2009

Picturing an Ethical Economy Photo Contest

Trinity Wall Street, the historic Episcopal parish of Trinity Church and St. Paul's Chapel near Ground Zero in Manhattan, announces a call for submissions for Picturing an Ethical Economy.

The exhibition asks photographers to consider:

What is the current state of capitalism and its consequences?
What signs of alternative thinking about economics are visible?
Are there examples of ethical economies currently operating in the world?

Submissions are open to professional and serious amateur photographers from the U.S. and around the world. They will be judged by Bob Shamis, independent curator and former curator of prints and photographs at the Museum of the City of New York.

The exhibition will be on display at the Trinity Church Museum, and online January 25–April 5, 2010. It is presented in conjunction with Trinity Institute's annual theological conference, Building an Ethical Economy: Theology and the Marketplace in January 2010.

Click here to submit and view entries. Submissions accepted via this website between August 15 and October 15, 2009

Labels: , , , , , Digg it Facebook MySpace Slashdot Technorati Stumbleupon Twitter

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Corinne Day Seriously Ill

Noted British fashion photographer Corinne Day is seriously ill, and needs urgent and incredibly expensive medical treatment in Arizona. To help her pay for this, a group of her friends and supporters have issued a limited edition print of an image she shot in 2001 of Kate Moss. There are 500 available, and they can be bought for £100 each by emailing
The prints are not to be resold.

Labels: , , , , Digg it Facebook MySpace Slashdot Technorati Stumbleupon Twitter

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Cove-Flipper Meets The Bourne Identity

I went to see “The Cove” yesterday and it is still haunting me. It is educational, powerful, thrilling and heartbreaking all at the same time, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Go see it and take action, whether you’re a still photographer thinking about filmmaking or you just care about this planet we live on. GO SEE IT!
Here, in Part 2 of my interview with Louie Psihoyos, he talks about the extraordinary lengths taken to bring this story to light. “The Cove” is an environmental thriller with the ending still to come.

What lead you to filmmaking?

Jim Clark was interested in photography and started Shutterfly, a way to share and print your photos over the web. He told me he wanted me to teach him how to be a good photographer. I told him I would teach him how to be a great photographer if he taught me how to be a billionaire. It was then I had a deeper look into the mind of not just a genius, but one of our generation’s visionaries. Jim did in fact did become a great photographer but got sidetracked on another creation of another enterprise. I’m not much richer but I am a lot more fulfilled, because of the non-profit business Jim helped me set up.
Jim and I like to dive and we started going around the world on dive trips together on Hyperion. I had some of the most remarkable times of my life diving with Jim. He was miserable with the quality of commercial underwater housings and cameras--even the Hasselblad--so he built the best underwater camera ever made by an order of magnitude. David Doubilet came diving with us and declared it the holy grail of the underwater camera. Unbelievable detail. It’s a 65-mega-pixel back on a view camera with the unbelievable optics.
We dive with rebreather teams so we can stay down for up to three hours at a stretch and not have to worry about bubbles or decompression obligations. We take up to 12 lights and light up the best-preserved reefs, in the most remote parts of the world, like a movie set. Places like Papua, Andaman Islands, Silver Banks. The results are stunning. Jim doesn’t do anything halfway. But as he would take me around to places he loved to dive some of them were disappearing, or they were completely gone. Bleaching, dynamiting, and overfishing were taking their toll. On our third trip to the Galapagos we were witnessing illegal-long line fishing in the marine sanctuary, and mother ships waiting for illegal catch in the Cocos (in Costa Rica), another marine sanctuary. Jim said somebody should do something about it and I said, “How about you and I?”
Jim came up with the idea of starting a non-profit we call The Oceanic Preservation Society and our mission statement is pretty simple, “We’re not trying to save the whole planet – just 70% of it.” We use films and the epic underwater camera to inspire people to help preserve the oceans. Jim’s only words to me setting out were, “Just make a difference.”
Early on I received some advice from one of movie making’s most successful directors Steven Spielberg. Jim’s family and mine were on vacation down on his boat in the Caribbean and Spielberg was next to us on vacation with his family. Steven and Jim had this symbiotic relationship with the success of their businesses – Spielberg used Jim’s SGI computers to create many of his filmmaking successes. However the two had never met. Spielberg had a son that was about the same age as one of my kids and they started doing sleepovers and he wanted to know about the father of his child’s new friend. I told him I was a still photographer but getting into filmmaking and he gave me this advice from working on Jaws, “Never make a movie that needs to use boats or animals.”

So how did “The Cove” come about?

Nearly everything I was about to do with the Oceanic Preservation Society would involve boats and large uncooperative animals. To make a successful debut even more improbable, for my first subject I picked a secret cove in Japan, a seemingly impenetrable natural fortress protected by spiked gates, razor ribbon, guards, motion sensors and after I arrived, 24 hour police surveillance on our crew. There were people in The Cove who would have every reason to kill us if we were discovered.
I pulled together an elite team of activists, pirates, and special effects wizards who used military grade hardware to help penetrate a secret cove in the Japanese National Park where they do nasty things to dolphins.
The first thing I did was do what Steven Spielberg does much of the time when he makes movies, I called on the services of George Lucas. One of my first assistants at National Geographic went on to become the head mold maker at Industrial Light and Magic, (ILM), which is now called Kerner Optical – they are the 3-D division to Lucas’s CGI division – they make real props as opposed to digital ones. I showed them pictures of the cove and they created these ingenious fake rocks to hide high-definition cameras and microphones. To set underwater high definition video cameras and microphones, I enlisted the help of my friends Mandy-Rae Cruickshank and Kirk Krack, world class freedivers. Mandy has won 7 world championships in her lifetime--she can swim down to nearly 300 feet on one breath of air and come back on her own power (that's her in the image at the top).

Jim Clark’s right hand man is Simon Hutchins, a former electrician for the Canadian Air Force. He helped create a fleet of unmanned drones with gyro-stabilized high definition cameras. Charles Hambleton has been my assistant for the last ten years and he has nerves of steel and a heart of gold--he’ll do anything. On one assignment we did for the owners of the world’s tallest building, he stood atop a steel ball at the top while the building swayed in the wind. Charles was an activist in the town we both lived, Boulder Colorado, which was down the road from Rocky Flats where they made plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs. Charles was arrested twice on the same day for protesting there – he’s a bit of a pirate. In fact, he was working on the Pirates of the Caribbean teaching pirates how to act like pirates for Gore Verbinski’s films when I called him away to be a real pirate for the making of my first movie.
Charles became OPS’s director of Clandestine Operations and it was his idea to bring a thermal camera to detect if there were guards in the cove. Nothing can hide from a thermal camera, if it has a pulse the camera picks it up – it’s like watching a print coming up in the developer for the first time – it’s like a magic trick. It was a military grade thermal camera, illegal for civilians to bring out of the U.S. and not designed for shooting video. Charles thought it would be interesting to shoot a making of for the DVD extras and rigged up the thermal camera to shoot video. That camera became the basis for much of our covert footage that became the heart of the film. So the “making of” became a major part of the movie and added this thriller component that makes this wonderful hybrid. Rolling Stone Magazine called it “Bourne Identity meets Flipper.”

Tell me about “The Cove”
This first film that I directed and shot with the OPS team is called The Cove and it’s been winning awards at International Film Festivals around the world. We won at Sundance, Sydney, Seattle, Toronto’s Hot Docs, Silverdocs, Maui, Nantucket, Blue Ocean, Galway etc… mostly audience awards – people like the film. It’s a feature documentary that plays a lot more like a thriller.
The Cove is perhaps one of the most beautiful underwater films you will ever see but there are images that will forever burn your retinas, like a Hieronymus Bosch painting came to life. We fell into an incredible story by luck, and the sheer tenaciousness of our team ; this incredible group of editors, producers, writer and composer that Jim helped bring together.
The big difference in still photography as opposed to shooting movies is you need a large crew. The director John Ford said that making a film is like painting a picture with an army. With The Cove, we needed an army of pirates because the story we took on would have deterred any traditional fiImmaker.

Is filmmaking your new direction? Are you still shooting still images?

I don’t want to disparage still photography, I certainly couldn’t have pulled this without working as long and hard as I did in this field, but I feel like I’ve been wandering around in the wilderness in comparison to filmmaking. Film is the most powerful medium in the world, the ultimate weapon of mass construction. I have been shooting at the top of my profession for nearly 35 years but I’ve never seen whole theaters of people crying then laughing then cheering and then raising up to give a standing ovation. But this happens routinely with The Cove.
The Cove is a story of one man’s quest for redemption wrapped around several larger parallel environmental stories. Ric O’Barry, the trainer for original TV series Flipper took me to Taiji, Japan where most dolphins for the swim with dolphin programs and dolphin shows are captured. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot but I believe what makes the film powerful and what makes it resonate with audiences is that the film proves that one person can make a difference and that a like-minded team can change the world.
I still love shooting stills but I feel I’m in the save the world business now. I really think we are one of two generations left that has a chance at saving the planet from human destruction until it’s too late. Ocean acidification, from the burning of fossil fuels and overfishing is destroying the marine environment at such a ferocious clip that it may already be too late. But I believe film and it’s co-conspirator music may be the last chance we have to galvanize the best of humanity together to save it from the rest. If you don’t believe it’s possible, you haven’t seen The Cove.

What’s next for you?
Another feature documentary, this one on the sixth major extinction in the history of planet, the one we’re in the middle of now which for the first time is caused by a single species – us – rather than some cataclysmic event like a meteor but just as devastating. The challenge of course will be to make it hopeful and uplifting and provide solutions rather than point out all the problems - and to make it more humorous rather than a tragedy. It is kind of funny because the solutions are so simple that all we have to do is embrace change rather than greed.

For times and places where you can see The Cove go to:
And to take action to end this brutal practice go to:
Take Action

Labels: , , , , , Digg it Facebook MySpace Slashdot Technorati Stumbleupon Twitter

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Louie Psihoyos: There Is No Box Pt.1

Master photographer Louie Psihoyos spent 17 years traveling the world shooting for National Geographic. He has won numerous photography awards, had a bit role in the Stallone movie, "F.I.S.T", and if all that wasn't cool enough, has a small, embryonic carnivorous dinosaur named after him.

Louie has written books, been the subject of books, and was a main contributor to the "Material World Project" a U.N. sponsored traveling show of family portraits depicting 40 families from different countries with their material possessions. He's also a great guy, and when I asked if I could interview him about his career and his new film, "The Cove," he readily agreed.

I've split the interview into two parts. In this, the first part, Louie talks about his photographic career. In Part 2, which will be posted on Thursday, he talks about "The Cove" and the guerilla filmmaking used to bring the story to light.

Tell me how you came to photography and your background
I wanted to work for National Geographic since I was about 6 years old when I first saw the magazine at my mother’s hairdresser’s shop. I remember seeing these photographs by Jim Blair of Easter Island and they blew my little mind away. The hairdresser let me take those issues home and I think I still have them. Everyone wants to work for National Geographic but they think it’s just a dream. I dream too but I guess I don’t know the difference between a dream and reality. I figure you can live any dream you dare to make real.

I applied to National Geographic for an internship in 1979 and the director of photography, Bob Gilka, wrote me nice hand written note saying that internships were for photographers not good enough to get a job and I was good enough to get a job--good luck kid. It was a bittersweet compliment that left me heartbroken. The magazine took three photography interns every year, two by portfolio, and the winner of the college photographer of the year. I realized I would have to win the contest in order to work there, so I applied myself and the next year I won first place in every category of the contest-- Gilka had to hire me.

I did a black and white story for them, “The New Energy Frontier” that they liked and Bill Douthitt, who at the time was a layout editor, told me that if I wanted to get a real job working for them the only way to do it was to propose a story.
Bill Douthitt has a wicked sense of humor, which I really appreciate, one of the cleverest human beings I know. National Geographic is renown for their relentless optimism. At the time they could make war-torn Rhodesia look like a place you would want to move to and raise your kids. They were doing stories like, “Walk Across America,” a search for the real America and Bill and I would think of these imaginary take-offs, like “Bulldozer across America” and then think of how you would really photograph them--like the bulldozer operator studying road map by lantern light at dusk with Arches National Park in the background. One of my favorites was “Our friend the Maggot – Life Goes On Inside a Corpse.” You get the idea of our sense of humor.

We were in the lunchroom at National Geographic which at the time had just opened up to women--I guess they thought that was pretty progressive. The magazine was doing stories on commodities like Gold, Platinum and Diamonds and Bill, watching a cleaning person said, “How about a story on trash?” And I said something like, “You could have scientists studying the garbage like it was some ancient civilization.” And Bill said that he just read about an archeologist on Mayan culture, Bill Rathje, who studies modern trash. He said you could photograph artists using trash for art, and I said I just read about a whole colony of trash artists in Northern California who use nothing but found objects for their materials. At some point after about the sixth stupid idea we stopped laughing and I wrote up a proposal and I became the first new photographer National Geographic hired in more than a decade.

Of course that meant I had to spend the next 9 months traveling around the world in the most disgusting environments in the world trying to make garbage look beautiful if not interesting. And then I developed a loathsome reputation for being known as the guy who could make any miserable story interesting. The trash artist made the cover. I actually own the work and the artist was my best man when I got married.

The Smell story was a story that nobody thought could be photographed. How can you shoot a smell? That fact that nobody knew how to photograph it was appealing to me. At that first story meeting Bill Garrett, the managing editor said to me, “Louie we like your work but it might be a bit too sophisticated for our readers. National Geographic has the highest demographic for any popular magazine but it is still only has a readership average of the 12th grade.” I said, “Then let’s take them to college.”

There are two schools of popular thought with the media, shovel readers what you think they want or raise the conversation to a higher level. After the story was published, by readership surveys, it became the most popular story in the magazine’s history ever shot by a single photographer.

What about your influences?

My influences for lighting came from the great cinematographers. They were the people I looked up to at first because they had very complex discussions about how they achieved mood with lighting design. I began traveling like a small movie company – one story I did on the Mesozoic – the mid-life of the planet for National Geographic, I had 44 cases and six carry-ons and just one assistant. We were going to places like Mongolia and Patagonia lugging all this gear around. The theory there was that I could never have an excuse for bad lighting because of available light. I subscribed to the adage that available light was all the light you could carry.

After National Geographic I went on to work for Fortune magazine where, about 12 years ago I met the serial entrepreneur Jim Clark. We became best friends after I photographed him standing at the top of the world’s tallest mast on the boat he was building, called Hyperion. He created three billion-dollar industries from scratch. The first was Silicon Graphics, while teaching at Stanford – he designed the first 3-D graphics engine, which made it possible to design objects in 3-D in real time, making movies like Jurassic Park possible. The day he quit that business he started Netscape, the first commercial Internet browser. The third billion-dollar company he created--WebMD--he joked was created to prove that the first two weren’t flukes. I actually used that valuable resource last year to save my mother’s life when I proved to her doctors that they were over medicating her with conflicting prescriptions.

Any advice for new photographers?
The only advice I would have for a young still photographer would be to forget all advice and follow your passion with a passion. The Universe has a strange way of supporting lunatics like us that refuse to live inside the box.

There is no box.

Labels: , , , , Digg it Facebook MySpace Slashdot Technorati Stumbleupon Twitter