My grandfather, Louie Wise, owned a scrap metal business after WWII called Wise Metals in Baltimore. He died suddenly of a heart attack when my mom was 16 and the business was sold. Perhaps in a cosmic way, Louie passed his love of metal on to me as I was dreaming of becoming a metal sculptor. After learning to weld, it didn’t take long to realize breathing soot was not good for my longevity. But, my dad bought me a Sebastião Salgado coffee table book and I found myself struck by the silver gelatin quality of haunting images of Gold Miners in Brazil and I realized I could satisfy that primal need by photographing images with a similar metallic quality. While scouting for a location to shoot the beautiful actress Reesa Ishiyama, I came across Dennis the Welder who built a Rover in the 60’s, which he claims still sits on Mars. Walking into this world of old tools and machinery, I felt like I landed on Mars myself, or perhaps a Terry Gillian movie. I went there with the intention to shoot fashion photography, contrasting Reesa against the metallic environment, but my documentary sensibility overtook me as I snapped an unsolicited portrait of the welder and his feral cat. Dennis didn’t seem to mind. The cat, I’m not so sure.
In 2011, I travelled to Cuba to screen my documentary “Poster Girl” with MoMA as part of a global exchange. While there, I seized an opportunity to scout for a producer looking to shoot a film there. My friend Leah met me there despite the logistical challenges, and didn’t mind modeling for me. The part of the trip that stood out the most was an old woman who let us look inside her home. We saw foam sticking out of couches, chandeliers falling out of the ceiling, dusty photos of her younger self hanging on the walls. In between the cracks were stories of people living in abundance before the Cuban Revolution. As Obama gave hope of lifting sanctions, you could feel Cuba was on the cusp of a new chapter. One without rations and limitations. I returned to Cuba twice in 2018 for another documentary “Two Beats One Soul” and already you could feel the noose getting tighter. We visited a music school where talent was on another level, yet few of these young stars would ever get the chance to bring that talent to the U.S.. Trump has officially turned the clock back and Americans are once again restricted from visiting and Europeans will be penalized for doing business with Cuba. This could make food and prosperity even more scarce. Going to the home of one of the musicians, i was horrified there was no mechanism to flush the toilet! But they had a piano, congas, some heart and soul, and each other. Didn’t seem like they needed more than that.
I was hired to shoot photo content for Weber Metals based in Southern California were I discovered fathers and sons, in one case, a grandfather, father, and son, even a father and daughter, all working for the same company. One employee told me he makes parts for planes. One day he was flying on a plane and he turned to his wife who was next to the window, and said “I helped make that window”.
I shoot corporate / lifestyle stuff too. I love finding interesting ways to bring out the personality of people at work. The woman coder shot for example, was someone who was just working away on her computer and politely smiling for the camera. I asked her to take out a bright green marker and write out on a legal pad who she is. I noticed she she smiled a little bigger after that.