Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Athens, GA




Three postcard pics taken the morning of July 26, 2009 -- the last time I visited Athens, Georgia, my former home for 11 years. We were passing through and stopped for a day there on our way to Asheville and other stops. As I remember it, North Georgia was experiencing a pretty oppressive heat wave at the time; the temp hit 100F this day in Athens. These were shot from the downtown parking ramp with my old Canon 40D, state-of-the-art at the time, but with a cropped sensor view that I never got used to; weird color anomalies somewhere in the cyan range that got worse the more I used the camera; and it summarily croaked on me after only shooting about 10,000 frames. The one interesting thing it did was create strange pastel-like colors when used with a polarized filter, like these photos show, almost looking like old hand-tinted postcards. I guess you could say this was from my put-the-tallest-thing-at-left period.






Monday, August 15, 2016

120 Film Series: SWLA Cypress and Oaks

The pick of the litter from the film results of the recent trip to southwest Louisiana turned out to be oak and cypress portraits. For whatever reason, that appears to be what was grabbing my eye when it came to trying things for film. The remainder in the roll were either underexposed brackets or overexposed wetlands shots, better caught on digital this time around.
Looking them over I silently said "oh shit" to myself when Richard Sexton's Terra Incognita popped into my head - the collection that has a lot of really awesome live oak porn - but that's in black and white, and Sexton's photos are mostly on the Mississippi coast, with none at all from my personal haunts of Cameron and Vermilion parishes.
The tricky part for me with film photography under giant live oaks was what to expose for. It always ends up having to be a compromise; something is always going to be a little blown out or underexposed, and that's the challenge. (The other challenge is composing with a backwards image in the viewfinder.) With no photoshoppy "shadow removal" or "adjust highlights" or other magic gizmos to toy around with in post processing, once you click the shutter, there it is. Notice the difference in the photo taken under oaks of the two decaying structures - the sun momentarily ducked behind a small cloud, and it was the easiest shot of the day to make, with no heavy shadows and light to worry about. I took a break on Rutherford Beach and made the one seascape; the clouds here eventually became the massive supercell that blew around 3PM later that day. For some reason I was moved by the view of the front door of the camp I stayed at - reason enough for a photograph. The photo at top looks toward the Cameron coast from inside the oak canopy of a small cheniere. The film is Kodak Portra 160; photographs were made in Lake Arthur, Lowry, Creole, Rutherford Beach, and Avery Island.











Friday, August 12, 2016

Lake Arthur & Cameron Parish


Some digital captures here from last week's trip out to southwest Louisiana, which went pretty well. 120 film results should be up here in a few days or so, but here's some digital junk I got when not looking through the twin-lens. This trip had stops in both the Lacassine and Rockefeller wildlife refuges, as well as towns and locations in Cameron Parish west of Calcasieu Lake. I stayed in Lake Arthur, in a lakeside camp loaned by friends. It felt so good to make the drive on LA82 from Creole, around Pecan Island and up to Kaplan that I did it twice. The stretch of LA82 that runs west of Pecan Island through the Rockefeller refuge area to Grand Chenier (about 30 miles) is casually referred to as Louisiana's "outback." It's nothing but you and the road running through completely undeveloped, raw coastal prairie and wetlands. You will notice the increasing abundance of clouds, as the tropics are really lit up at this time of year. These results all show one supercell, first seen in the fourth frame below, that started in the Rockefeller refuge and kept growing, eventually dogging me the whole afternoon. It drifted north, catching up to me at Gueydan (5th frame below); I then had a pretty scary both-hands-on-the-wheel drive west through a part of it to get back to Lake Arthur, where the photo at top shows what it looked like from the other side. Film results coming soon.










Friday, August 5, 2016

Southwest Louisiana Trip



I'm off on another return trip to Cameron and Vermilion parishes to continue the 120 film series, staying in a "secure, undisclosed location" somewhere in southwest Louisiana. I've been playing around with Google Earth for the past week plotting some new spots to check out that I haven't seen before but are definitely accessible by road, deep in middle of the unoccupied Cameron prairie. Though these roads appear to be dirt or gravel, they are marked as parish roads, so they are publicly accessible. Though most of Cameron Parish is checker-boarded by a grid of roads of all grades, many of them are private, or are only there to access private land or oil wells. However, any road that is named or marked with a parish number is public access, even though many of them dead-end in the middle of nowhere, somewhere deep in the vast, sparsely populated cheniere plain. The above photo, from summer of 2014, shows what on maps is called Parish Road 217 near Grand Chenier, but publicly it's also marked as Pumpkin Ridge Road. Anyway, hopefully in a few weeks I'll have some results up here from this present trip back to one of my favorite places.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Holly Beach Video


Sometimes when I am out on photo hunts I will pause to make random video shots. For purposes of relaxation or escape, I made a three-minute shot of the surf at Holly Beach, LA in June of 2014. I threw a snippet of Brian Eno's "Neroli" on as a soundtrack to mix with the sound of the waves. Don't expect anything to happen. Just have a three-minute moment of Louisiana zen.

Holly Beach, Louisiana (II)



Saturday, June 4, 2016

Grand Isle Archives

Celebrating more than fifteen years of having the Grand Isle area as one of my main photographic haunts, here are a few images from the archives. All of these are available as signed open-edition archival prints. Please inquire through my website if you are interested in acquiring one. www.matthewwhitestudio.com











Friday, May 27, 2016

Grand Isle LA 120 Film Series





















Here are seven decent results from a recent trip to the Grand Isle area to add to my 120 film series. I've been photographing Grand Isle for almost 15 years now, and it's gotten to the point where I know the area so well I can make a list of what I want to get (or try to remake) before I head down. Although I'm guaranteed to always stop and get stuck in the cemetery at some point during the day, and indulge in a few more gratuitous highway shots, on this outing I had the good luck and good timing to bump into Mr. Pat Landry, 78, who represents the fifth generation of his family that has lived year-round for life on Grand Isle on the same plot of land -- a tree-shaded area somewhere around the center of the island. With no questions asked and no hesitation, Mr. Landry kindly allowed me to photograph his property, which produced the photograph at top that turned out very nicely. I also struggled for nearly an hour getting the camera into a position where I could get my favorite view of Cheniere Caminada, this time on 120 film and in square format; a different remake of the digital original that is currently hanging at Good Children Gallery in New Orleans. After all these years I still get antsy if I haven't been to Grand Isle in a while, and I still dream about having a little weekend home down there some day. There's no place quite like it.  (Click photos for large view.)






Thursday, May 26, 2016

Grand Isle


Spent the day in the Grand Isle area with the twin-lens, shooting 120 film, the results of which will be posted soon. These two digital captures were taken on old LA-1, now a dead-end spur, between Port Fourchon and Leeville, no longer in use as a through-highway as the elevated toll road has taken its place. It was a beautiful day.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Wetlands Art Tour III



Three of my photographs, including the above, Port Arthur, TX (2007), are hanging at Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude, as part of the third Wetlands Art Tour, through June 2nd. The above print is fairly well-traveled around Louisiana, and did hang in Philadelphia, PA for a season, after it won a prize in the Print Center's annual competition. The photograph was taken from the shore of Sabine Lake in the summer of 2007, looking toward the refineries on the western side of the city, which has seen a marked decrease in population after unusually high rates of cancer and respiratory disease were discovered among the population. People who still own homes here are pretty much unable to sell them; after all, who wants to live next to a petrochemical refinery? Plenty of people did before the health hazards were discovered. The bridge at right serves TX-82 and connects the city with the Louisiana state line, becoming LA-82 crossing Sabine Pass. The above print is framed at 22 x 26 and printed with archival ink on extreme high-grade cotton rag paper. Please inquire if you are interested in acquiring this print or any of my work seen on my regular website.
Here's more info on the Wetlands Art Tour and Good Children Gallery, which I definitely recommend
checking out:

http://www.wetlandsarttour.org

http://www.goodchildrengallery.com







Friday, April 1, 2016

Pilottown, LA


Some of my photographs of from The End of the Great River were used by the New Orleans Times-Picayune in a recent write-up and photo gallery on the history of and demise of Pilottown, Louisiana.
Titled "Pilottown: Then and Now," my photos from 2005-2010 are seen alongside photos from 1938 by Russell Lee, on assignment from the Farm Security Administration - one of Roosevelt's many New Deal programs. I'm very happy to be in Mr. Lee's company for this photo essay.

Pilottown: Then and Now

When I visited Pilottown in January of 2005, I had no idea I'd be most likely the last person to make any photographic record of the location before Hurricane Katrina wiped it out later that year. At the time of my visit, both the Associated Branch Pilots and Crescent River Port Pilots operated out of Pilottown, and I was told there were four or five permanent residents left, who mostly earned their keep by assisting the river pilots with various errands and small construction needs. (At its peak in the 1950s, there were over 200 permanent residents including families with children; there also was a one-room schoolhouse and a post office.) There were about 30 active dwellings along the concrete pier, and around 20 derelict structures -- some of the former full-time homes for river pilots and their families, along with trappers and fishermen. The active structures had over time become weekend fishing camps for those who maintained them, but I did meet one permanent resident who lived in a very run-down and shabby-looking camp. He was burning his trash off the pier, and when I asked "Would you mind if I took your picture?" he replied angrily "Yes, I would." I remember saying "OK, asshole," as I continued walking past him. Although I am sure he had some claim to the property he was staying in, he certainly wasn't taking very good care of it, and I suspect he was more or less hiding out there, living without electricity or running water, and my reply to him was borne of the fact that although I respect other people's privacy when photographing, and though I enjoy periods of solitude as much as any other man, I'm often annoyed by people whose need for privacy is so great that it borders on insanity; in their view, it seems everyone is out to get them. I don't know what happened to this man, if he's still alive, or if he made it out of Pilottown before Katrina hit.

I had a much better time with the Associated Branch Pilots. As I approached the their headquarters, a pilot sitting on the front porch stood up and shook my hand, saying "I'm Buddy. Welcome to our island." He invited me and my stepson in, where the pilots offered us a good lunch and told us about how they've operated on the river for over 100 years. Walking along the mile-long pier, shooting three rolls of black-and-white film that day, I was overjoyed, absolutely in a dream. Palm trees lined portions of the pier, the railings strung with Christmas lights. As I walked along taking photos, I imagined what a simple, care-free existence living here must have been in the early 20th century, in a place that once boasted of having no cars, and no crime.

None of the remaining permanent residents returned to Pilottown after Katrina. With the exception of the Crescent Pilots station and the miraculous sparing of the remnants of the old general store, nearly every structure on the island completely vanished in the storm. Some of the pilots rode out Katrina in their headquarters, seen in the photo above. Although this structure survived hurricanes Betsy (1965) and Camille (1969) without a hitch, Katrina's surge actually lifted it up off its pilings and pushed it back about five yards from where it normally sat. I was told that the pilots riding the storm out on the top floor were terrified by being able to feel the house floating up and slamming down on the pilings during the storm's peak. Though it was apparently a very hard decision, the Associated Branch Pilots decided to relocate upriver to Venice, ending their 100-plus year residence at Pilottown, citing constant problems with communications and the logistical difficulties of being in such a remote location, along with the increase in hurricanes hitting the mouth of the river. The Crescent Port River Pilots still remain in Pilottown, along with one solitary camp that was rebuilt after the storm. No others have been built since. Hurricane Katrina forever changed the traditions of pilotage on the Mississippi River, and erased one of the most beautiful, mysterious, and intriguing places I've ever visited. Pilottown will never be the same.






Sunday, March 27, 2016

1099 Economy Skewed Against Photographers

I detest the "sharing economy" so much, I decided to share a letter with you where I recently turned down yet another offer of 1099 "employment." The set-up is that a large company with operating capital in the tens of millions offered me a position photographing hotels run by a large global hospitality chain.

Although the person who offered me the "job" said there were over 200 hotels in my region (LA, MS, AL, AR) that needed to be covered, they would not answer my questions about how many photographers they planned to hire to complete this task, which to me was a clear indication that not all of the 200+ hotels would be mine to photograph; that they planned to over-hire photographers in my region in order to have the hotels photographed as quickly as possible (i.e. by the end of this coming summer), and then drop everybody like a hot brick as soon as their contract with the hotel chain was satisfied, while the company made off with high profits, but paying photographers a so-so fee with no taxes taken out or benefits provided -- and of course, no guarantee of future work nor the obligation to find future work. Also, as is the standard with 1099 sub-contracting, the employer has no obligation to pay overtime nor sick leave, nor accrued leave nor paid vacation time. If you are injured on the job, if your car blows a tire on the job, it's all on you; the employer has no responsibility beyond paying an agreed-upon wage. If you're sick, no pay. If you get stuck in traffic on the way to the job, you don't get paid. Photographers wouldn't even be paid for the time it takes them to drive to the property they're shooting, regardless of how long it took. Photographers were also required to place all business expenses on their own credit cards for reimbursement, which automatically disqualifies any photographer with poor or limited credit, which follows the premise that having limited income or bad credit counts against you when looking for good-paying work. There is no recourse or system for lodging complaints. It's all 100% geared to serve the employer, all at the expense of the worker.

Making the offer even more skewed in favor of the employer was the requirement to purchase about $1200-2000 worth of photography gear to meet the standards of their system -- gear that I would normally rent and charge to the client for a high-end commercial shoot: three separate flashes with diffusers, stands, and remotes for all, plus a very expensive fisheye lens, as my own wide-angle lens did not meet their specs for virtual tour photography, and if you didn't do virtual tour photography as part of the assignments, you would not be offered as much work as other photographers who already owned a fixed 15mm Canon or Nikon lens that costs around $700 (and not many do since they are used so rarely in day-to-day photography). Rather than purchase the equipment in bulk and allowing photographers to use the gear, they choose to charge a lower rate to clients for photography, and force the photographers to pay the company expenses. After thinking about things for a few days, I ended up so bothered by such a ridiculous offer being dressed up in doublespeak like "freedom" and "flexibility," that I decided to decline their offer while stating my specific reasons in detail, which sum up my general views about the so-called "gig economy," which to me seems like just another scam where corporations shift all their tax burden and operating costs onto the very people who work for them. It's tough enough being freelance; it's even harder when companies don't even offer anything resembling a real job anymore. The entire purpose of the company setting up photography shoots in the manner they chose appeared to be to increase the net profit for a small circle, by using a temporary workforce who reluctantly agreed to work for mediocre pay, a startling lack of benefits or incentives, and absolutely no chance of job security, regularity, or longevity. Kind of a pay-you-then-go-away deal. It seemed like the model was to use a handful of photographers for the summer and then get rid of them as soon as possible, while telling them the company offered "freedom" (read: no job security) and "flexibility" (read: expendability). Almost needless to say, the job recruiter never replied to the message below, which only proves to me that I made a good point. Although the "job" I described here might work out OK for a college student looking for a temporary summer gig, as a real bona fide job it was nothing.

Thanks to the 1099 economy, there is no longer any shared sense of obligation between employer and worker, and these as-needed "gigs" seem to be getting shorter and shorter, while companies treat their work force like a disposable light bulb that can be turned on and off as needed. I have absolutely no desire to do work for any company whose very first thought is to pawn their business expenses and tax burden off onto their work force, whom they already consider soon-to-be-terminated expendable cogs in a moneymaking enterprise.

After looking over the lists and requirements, I am afraid I will have to decline the offer to work for _______. 

The main reason is the 1099 factor. I thought the job description and pay rate were excellent -- I love photographing hotels as well as traveling regionally -- but being designated
a sub-contractor means essentially that I would be part of an "as-needed only" workforce, which does not justify having to purchase close to $1200 worth of gear to meet your requirements, or letting go of other income streams that I would have to do to be available for at least two weeks per month. 1099 employment only lasts as long as it's convenient to the employer, and I need a more secure offer of work from a company that wants me to
stay long-term, and doesn't consider me expendable from the get-go.

As I told you in our conversation, I had previously signed on as a sub-contractor with two other companies that provide photography for rental properties, and after having only
two work orders, I have not received a single work assignment in almost two years, despite both companies assuring me up front of plenty of work. I understand what you said about close to 200 hotels needing to be shot, but after that dried up, I'm sure things would drop off considerably. 

My previous position with _________ had a very similar model to the one you described to me; however, I was given employee status along with benefits, and necessary
camera gear was often provided to me at no cost, aside from owning a decent camera body and flash. I was fully insured for all travel, and also gained benefits from hotel chains I stayed
at and frequent flyer miles with airlines I used.
As a sub-contractor with ___________, my travel would not be insured, and I would be likely to incur a sizable tax liability since you would not be taking taxes out of my paychecks. 
This is part of a growing trend that I am not necessarily in agreement with, where companies more or less shift their tax obligations (1099) and operating expenses (gear requirements) 
onto their workers. 

I probably would take the position if I was granted actual employee status with a monthly guarantee of work and benefits or incentives, with a contract guaranteeing employment for at least five years with a buyout clause if the company folded or was sold. 
If in time you'd care to make me a similar offer, I will consider it. 




Friday, January 22, 2016

Recent 35mm B/W Outtakes


These are a few random frames from tails of black-and-white rolls of 35mm film shot this past autumn; shots that didn't fit into other projects or done to kill the end of the roll. They tend to add up! The film is Agfa APX100 with a medium-yellow filter. Locations are New Orleans and a few from lower Plaquemines.