What are you shooting with and what would you like to shoot with?
Canon XSi with Canon EF-S 55-250mm and Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC.
I’d love to upgrade but at the moment it’s either the body or the lenses, so who knows. Maybe something that does better with noise issues of nighttime skyline shots?
If you could sum up your style in one photograph what photo would it be?
After 15 or so years, there’s no way I can pick one. I think I do pretty well with aerials, detail, ecclesiastical interiors, streetscape and skyline shots.
Talk about your inspirations and influences.
I’m a graphic designer by trade and minored in art history in undergrad so my work in design and photography is influenced by a lot of the Precisionists (Brancusi, Sheeler). As far as photographers - Margaret Bourke-White’s accomplishments, life and photos make the amazing things I’ve experienced* look like a vapid blip of bubble gum stuck on the sidewalk. I’m also a big fan of Janet Macoska, who is one of the best photographers of rock stars out there - let me put it this way, her first published photo was of Sonny and CHER in 1978, and her work is in the Smithsonian (aka respect is due); I’ve taken a few decent “people shots” but she captures the essence of these performers like few others can. There have been a lot of great photographers on SSP that I admire - too many over the years to completely list and I would hate for anyone to feel as though I don’t appreciate their work if I can’t remember them all.
Where have you not been that you want to photograph?
On the Goodyear Blimp, hovering over downtown Cleveland from early afternoon to the ‘blue hour’; the top of One Cleveland Center, Cleveland’s fifth tallest - I’ve been to the top of Cleveland’s four tallest so far. I’d also like to revisit a lot of Cleveland spots with my DSLR on an ideal weather day. As far as travel - I think I’d come back with great shots from Paris (I know, not much of a challenge but hey, I’ve never been), and I suppose it’d be neat to check out some spots in Asia at some point - Shanghai, Hong Kong? I learned long ago that I'm never going to get every shot that I want, and so I appreciate any time I manage to 'nail it'.
Talk about your most popular (in your opinion) photothreads. Talk about your photothreads that didn’t get the response you wanted.
I think SSP is very North American-centric so by default the NYC, Chicago and Toronto threads I’ve done received a lot of feedback. A few of my Cleveland threads have done well - there never seems to be much rhyme or reason; people will say “we don’t see a whole lot of Cleveland; it’d be nice to see more” but with some threads, especially of a lesser-known area, cue the ‘crickets chirping’. As I mentioned in another thread - comments and compliments are nice to see but they’re not why I do this, never have been. I do this because it’s therapeutic for me and I know there are people who enjoy it - if they take time out of their day to express appreciation, that’s the cherry on top
Any tips or personal wisdom you’d like to pass on to others?
Are we talking just photography?
My approach is that I try to replicate what I saw at the moment the shutter snapped - no more than minor color correction and the occasional sharpening to bring out the details that first caught my eye. Keep the gimmicks to a minimum - HDR, Dutch Angle, tilt-shift, InstaSepiaVintage should be used sparingly if at all. Try to have your camera with you whenever you can, but every now and then set it down and just enjoy the moment, i.e. if your S.O. says they want to hop in the Caribbean and just walk in the water along the stretch of beach at sunset - the memories of the walk back in bright moonlight will make up for the lack of photos. Speaking of, make sure anyone you’re involved with understands why you always have your camera with you - if they scoff or tease you about it after a few months of knowing you, they have no appreciation for what you do - dump them. Learn how to edit - five shots of the same view cropped differently are just that - one ‘profound’ shot should be enough to get your point across. If you have your camera with you and you see a house of worship built before 1950, see if you can go inside - always. Remember your rights as a photographer but never, ever be a d!ck about it. I think this is one of those spots I might come back to update every now and then
Who should we ask these questions of next?
Robert Pence. He’s been doing what we love to do, doing a damn fantastic job of it before and without Photoshop. He's a great guy, we could all benefit from his wisdom and I can only imagine the tales he could tell
*I hope it’s okay if I’ve deviated from the format and provide some background information; heads up - this is LONG, and I apologize in advance. I turned 40 this year and for a while I've been thinking I should write down some of my experiences but never really felt there was the right venue. So much of my life has been spent on SSP, and honestly - my photography - specifically my love of architectural photography changed my life and has taken me to places I’d never dreamed I’d be. I think the line by the Talking Heads “Well? How did I get here?!?” fits. For those of you familiar with the Trevor Project (aka “It Gets Better”), I suppose this is my story and if it helps one person to know that there’s hope, or someone finds encouragement to take better/more photos, that’s good enough for me. First and foremost, thanks to all of those who have provided encouragement and inspiration - I’m very grateful for the support I’ve had over the years.
I was born and raised in a working class family - we were never hungry but we never really had a lot (and looking back, I wouldn’t want it any other way). I’ve been an active member of the SSP forum since late 1997. I was about five years old (in 1977) when the architecture ‘bug’ bit - I went with my parents on a brief trip to downtown Youngstown, about 45 minutes from my hometown of 12,000 people. The tallest building in my hometown was (and still is) the 4-story hospital where I was born. To a five year old from a small town, I was awestruck by these ‘huge’ buildings (Youngstown’s tallest is 18 stories at 224’) and how they were so different from what I was familiar with.
A year later, we took a brief road trip to Cleveland; this was 1978 when the city was the first major city in the US to go into default - and this is pretty close to the first view of downtown Cleveland I had - the Terminal Tower and the Tower at Erieview dominated the skyline.
It amazed my six-year old mind to see such tall buildings from as far away as we were. That spurred my interest in architecture; when I was older I started clipping photos of high-rises, renderings, you name it - I still have notebooks filled with these. At one point I had hoped to become an architect, but as I grew older, I learned that my less than stellar math skills meant that the closest I would get to architecture would be photographing it.
Around 1995, I hopped on this new ‘Internet’ thing - like most people, I dipped my toes in by looking up things that interested me - in my case, architecture and Cleveland. I found plenty of pages devoted to Chicago and New York and of course worldstallest.com, but not much for Cleveland, especially anything that had comprehensive information and photos. This was right around the time I moved to Cleveland proper and in 1996 I bought a Minolta film camera and started snapping away, researching, spending way too much money on getting film developed, scanning a lot of pics and decided to put together a “web page” of Cleveland skyscrapers on tripod.com and around the same time came upon ‘Nalyd’s Skyscraperpage’ and its text-based forum - yeah, you newbies have no idea how easy you have it
. It’s not related to photography but I’m proud to be the first openly gay member of SSP, and happier that it’s since become a non-issue on the forum. Anyway, in 2000, a local IT entrepreneur convinced me to buy a dedicated web domain - that was a blank slate for me to fill with all the photos and research I had accumulated, so I did just that and clevelandskyscrapers.com was born. I started with five buildings and some basic background info - it grew a lot, and yes, I know it needs refreshed and updated - all in good time.
In 2001, I received an email from some people at Arcadia Publishing’s Midwest office; they’d stumbled upon clevelandskyscrapers.com and asked if I’d be interested in authoring a book about - what else, Cleveland’s architecture? I was a little surprised because well, they found me and honestly - I’d never been someone who had “being a published author” on my ‘bucket list’. But sure enough, they came into town, I took them on a walking tour of downtown Cleveland and in the restaurant of the 21st floor of the Huntington Building, I signed the contract and in November 2003, I was a published author.
As of the summer of 2012, the book has sold about 5,500 copies - not something where I could quit my day job but as a friend put it “that’s 5,500 people around the world that have your book on their coffee table or in their bookshelves”. I was really in disbelief - I’ve had so many friends who are aspiring authors who bust their @sses to get their work in front of publishers, and here these people found me. I thought that was just amazing - so I went back to snapping photos, adding them to my site, rinse, lather and repeat. If I thought there was a place that had an interesting view of a building in downtown Cleveland, I’d try to figure out a way to get that shot. By 2003, I'd upgraded to a Minolta S414 (woohoo - modern technology!) and membership at SSP had ramped up and so had the quality and talent of members who were photographers. That kept me on the lookout for new angles, different shots, etc. - not to one up anybody, but so I could learn, add to my portfolio, etc.
In 2006, I was on a lunch break when I decided to take my Minolta Z6 (higher end point and shoot at the time) to the campus of Cleveland State University on the eastern edge of downtown, specifically, the tallest building on campus, the brutalist Rhodes Tower. I took the elevator up to the top floor; I could see the view was pretty good but there was a tacky (and dust-covered) plastic tree right in the window. There was a p!ssy secretary who asked me if I had an appointment - I said “um, I’m a student doing a photography class project - can I move this tree?”. She got huffy and barked “just be sure to move it back when you’re done!”. Fine, whatever - I took a few shots to the west, went back to work, got home, and added them to my site’s skyline photo section.
Over the years I kept adding photos, researching information, etc. just adding to my site. On a few occasions, I licensed a few of my photos, mostly for local companies. One day in the spring of 2009, an email from someone’s personal AOL account popped up - they basically said “hi, we’re producing a sitcom and we’d like to use this photo from your site; please let us know how to proceed”. I have to admit I was skeptical - after all, it was from their AOL account, so I replied politely that whatever contract/licensing info they provide, I’d be happy to consider, and didn’t think too much of it other than it was flattering. A week later, I receive an email from a representative from Hudson Street Productions, a division of Viacom, with my photo as ‘Exhibit A’ and its intended use for the sitcom ‘Hot in Cleveland’ on the TV Land channel! As soon as I saw that, I was flailing at my partner (who is an attorney) to verify that it was legit - sure enough, he’s going through the contract and making a few edits to make sure I’m not giving up my rights as the photographer, and I sign it and send it off. For those who are wondering - I was never able to quit my day job and all I will say is that I am happy with the compensation I received. I would rather be the guy who has the photo on the show than the guy who was too greedy and “could have”. The show was being advertised but they didn’t use that specific image so I figured oh well, they went with another option. When the show premiered, a friend had organized a viewing party at Tower City Center and there it was - my photo, taken on a whim during a lunch break thinking it was a nice view of downtown Cleveland - it was (and is) the opening graphic for a sitcom with 50 million viewers in 170 countries around the world and it stars Betty White. BETTY WHITE!
To be honest, I don’t think it’s the best photo of Cleveland I’ve shot but I’m not going to argue. Regardless of what you think of the show - to have something you’ve done that you’re passionate about become part of something THAT big? I didn’t submit my photo anywhere other than my own site - they found me.
The show was picked up for another season - and during that season’s premiere, the cast was brought to Cleveland - my friend who organized the first season viewing party was coordinating this event as well. The first night was a VIP party at the Rock Hall; while we were waiting I was trying to find a good spot to get photos of the cast as they arrived but as soon as they got there, a *wall* of 50-some photographers blocked the view.
Then I remembered that right inside the entrance, there was a small spot right by the revolving doors and it had a sightline right up the red carpet. Sweeeeet!
Valerie saw the crowd and thought it was the regular line for admission to the Rock Hall - this is right about the time she realized all these people were there to see her and the cast of the show:
Later, my partner and I got to meet the cast, who were just wonderful - when my friend introduced me as the photographer, Valerie Bertinelli said “Yeah, where the little birds fly across? (referencing some editing they added). Wow that is so cool, congratulations, it is so nice to meet you!”. They were all incredibly friendly and down-to-earth and there were some incredible moments; when I asked Jane Leeves (she played Daphne on ‘Frasier’) if we could get a photo with her, she looked at my partner and me and said (in her lovely British accent) “oh MY, these two make me look *good*!” and I replied “honey, have you looked in a mirror?!?” and she said “oh I love this place!”.
Then, we asked Wendie Malick - who I ADORE and loved her as Nina Van Horn in ‘Just Shoot Me’ - she looked at my partner and me and said “oh yes, you two are a LOVELY couple.” Folks, in the gay world, that’s like being knighted
Mind you, the press photographers were everywhere, taking photos of everyone and I noticed that while we were with Wendie, Janet Macoska one of my favorite rock photographers was snapping photos of us and I got to meet her as well - she's the photographer of the two previous shots. Here are some links to her work - as I mentioned above, she started with Cher and now has work in the Smithsonian for god's sake! http://rockhall.com/exhibits/janet-macoska/
The next day was a public event where the cast was given the key to the city of Cleveland - the atrium of Tower City was filled to the rafters with fans; it felt like a much happier version of ‘Thunderdome’
After the presentation, our friend asked if we were free for lunch - did I mention he meant lunch WITH the cast?!? As we made our way to the space (a recently closed restaurant now used for special events), people were snapping photos of us (thinking we’re somehow “with” the cast - haha!). I figured that it would be like the event at the Rock Hall - a few hundred people, right? Well, we get in the door and there’s the bar area - which is completely empty except for two police officers. The main dining area - empty except for a few people setting up studio equipment. Then we get to the last room, a smaller dining area - yeah, it was me, my partner, our friend, two people from the zoo (Betty White was doing some promo stuff there), the wife of the CEO of the company that owns Tower City (just one of the many properties they own) and her friend, and um - the cast. That was it. My friend quietly suggested that I set my camera aside - after all, this was their ‘down time’ before they went back to L.A. - so no photos; that’s fine because the memories are priceless.
My partner thanked Valerie Bertinelli for the cast’s advocacy for the gay community and she said “oh absolutely, we love our gays!” A few minutes later some other people arrived - I recognized one of them as Valerie’s husband and she introduced us; she also brought over a younger guy with a sort of moppish haircut and said “this is Shawn and his partner; Shawn took the opening photo of the show!”. The younger said “wow, that’s really cool - nice to meet you!”. I didn’t catch his name at that moment - it later dawned on me that I shook hands with Wolfie - Wolfgang Van Halen! Are you kidding me?!? As we were eating, those people that were setting up the studio? Turns out the cast was doing interviews with the Today Show! http://www.clicker.com/tv/the-today-...istry-1927001/
They first interviewed all four of the ladies at once and then did the individual interviews - we were sitting about 20 feet away the whole time and I was sitting about five feet from Wendie Malick, who was texting. At one point during Jane Leeves’ interview, they asked her “did you expect the show to be as successful as it is, with 50 million viewers in over 170 countries?”. Wendie popped her head up, looked right at me and said “Really? We’re in over 170 countries now?!?” - I sat there stammering “uh, uh I guess so!” and she said “oh I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you” and I’m thinking she could have called me a mf’ing idiot and I would have been okay with that - OMG I’m chatting with Wendie Malick!!! My partner had to head back to work but they were just about to start the next interview - so he had to wait in the front bar area, along with Betty White who was the first to sign the print of my photo. The interviews wrapped up, and I had to go back to work and reality. If you’re like me, you’d think it would stop there and couldn’t get any better; we’d be wrong.
2012 rolled around - the year I turned 40. I don’t mention it enough but my partner is the best anyone could ever ask for - gorgeous, hot, kind, generous, dreamy, sigh... Anyway - for my 40th birthday, he treated me to a trip to California - the first few days we stayed with his family who live 2 hours outside of L.A. The last few days we stayed at the L’Ermitage (remember, I grew up in a working class family) and went to Studio City to see a taping of the show. I had my camera with me, thinking I probably wouldn’t be allowed to bring it inside but they were okay with it. As we got into the main taping area, I looked up - there were at least 30 widescreen monitors around the set - every. single. one. had MY photo on it; I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a bit misty eyed at that moment. Apparently in between takes and before/after taping, that’s what they display - did I mention I’m a schlub from working-class Appalachian Ohio who took a photo on a lunch break in 2006?
We had a few moments to walk around the set and get some quick photos. Then we were seated for the taping - the show is shot in front of a live studio audience, so they have a host and DJ to warm up the crowd. After the first scene, the host pointed out someone who had been an extra on a previous episode of the show, had him stand up and the audience loved it, which was really neat. After the next scene, the host asked “anyone else here been on the show?” and my sister-in-law motioned him over to us, whispered in his ear. I figured he’d just make a similar announcement - no, I got pulled up in front of a few hundred people and he asked people to guess my connection with the show. Someone guessed that I was another extra, another said something I don’t remember; the host said “here’s a hint, this guy has been on the show for ALL 41 episodes” (at which point the reality/surreality? really sunk in) and someone guessed that I took the photo and everyone started cheering. Next thing I know, the host is asking me questions like what kind of camera did you use (Minolta Z6), am I a professional photographer (no, more like semi-pro), and then he asked when I submitted the photo. I said “This is the crazy thing - I have some photos on a site, they found me. I honestly can’t believe I’m here.” I’ll never forget the sound of the audience’s collective “whoa!” when I said that. He asked a few more questions which I can’t remember exactly, though I know I said “I can’t believe I’m here” at least two more times. They went back to taping the show - Cybill Shepherd was the guest star and it was so cool to see her; then they had another break. As you all know, one of Betty White’s most famous roles was Rose Nylund on ‘The Golden Girls’ - as Betty White was on set, he started playing the show’s theme song “Thank You For Being a Friend” and the audience sang along and serenaded Betty who loved it and blew kisses. That song makes me tear up when I watch a re-run, much less being there *with* Betty White - this time I had to dab my eyes a little bit.
The show wrapped up and most of the cast had to head out but I got a chance to say hi and thanks to Wendie again and the next thing I know, we saw Cybill Shepherd talking to a few people. I asked her if I could get a photo with her and my partner - you know that whole “diva” persona that celebrities are supposed to have? Pfft. She laughed and said “oh please, let me get my boyfriend, he’s a photographer - we’ll get a picture of the three of us.” Again - I’m a schlub from Appalachian Ohio who took a photo on a lunch break and I can only imagine she has places to go and people to see. She was so gracious, so down-to-earth and she looked great.
After that, we had a few more days in L.A. and made our way home. Since then, I've had quite a few people express interest in my photography, including the Gay Games, which are being held in Cleveland in 2014.
I’ve had so many amazing and humbling moments in my life - this whole experience is at the top of the list. There were times when I was much younger when I thought I’d never get out of my hometown (btw, I appreciate it more as an adult than I ever did as a kid). For so long, I was the only person I knew who had any interest in architecture, and then as bizarre and dorky as it sounds, the SSP forum provided a sense of community for us geeks. That played into me sticking with taking photos, researching, and building my site. Having my photos on my site and on the forum has lead to me being a published author and the photographer for the opening of a sitcom seen by millions - that’s like, bucket list material you never thought to have on your bucket list! My sincerest apologies for the length of this but like I said - I can’t believe I’m here.