16 September 2019

Love Story

It’s been a week now since a package arrived for me from the good folks at HP computers. The story starts a little earlier than that, though. I reached out to the company to find out what their policies and requirements are for partnerships, sponsorships, that sort of thing. It was a shot-in-the-dark email, because I’m not one of the “big guns” in the concert photography business. I haven’t amassed a giant following on social media sites, I don’t pay for sponsored content or promote my posts. I’m out there doing something I enjoy, and I’m fortunate at that: I get to go to concerts, lots of concerts, stand a few feet away from giants in every genre of music, and in exchange I throw a few words and some photos out there for the world to consume.

Aside from the concerts, I do some occasional passion projects. I’ve recently worked to try and document the closing elementary schools here in Quincy, as they were being replaced by the new, state-of-the-art facilities. I do some work with a few charitable groups I have connections with or feel strongly about. And I sometimes do a little work with some of the first responders in the area, because they should have a public image that matches the work they give to the community.

All of this, added together in one big bundle, caught some attention when I sent my request to HP. I’m not going to share the conversations, for obvious reasons, but within twenty-four hours, I was told that I would be expecting a package from the company. This wasn’t a true sponsorship, because there were no strings attached – no review requirements, no minimum number of mentions of the company, no “spontaneous” shout-outs to the company. This was given freely as a one-off helping hand to give me the chance to keep doing what I’ve grown to love.

It’s not the first time I’ve been given things that have advanced my work. I wouldn’t have half the successful results I’ve had if it wasn’t for the generosity of friends that have put various equipment into my hands. This is, however, the first time it was someone that didn’t know me personally, who had no personal stake or interest or even reason for being willing to help me. But they did anyway. I’m not ashamed to admit I was on the verge of tears when I got their initial message, and that feeling hasn’t gone away.

I’ve used HP computers for pretty much most of my adult life. My first notebook computer was a different brand (back about a million years ago), but since then, it’s been all HP. The last one I got was in 2011 or 2012, and it’s been on its last legs for a while. It’s not been portable for some time – a risk of a portable computer and living with felines is their tendency to jump on things, and a few years ago, it got knocked to the floor and hinges on the screen broke. It still worked (and still works) because the wires were intact, but I have to make a frame to hold the screen up. It was, to put it bluntly, incredibly redneck. But it’s been a workhorse for me. The new system is like moving from a bi-plane to a rocket ship. The photos here show you a bit about it: a powerful workstation in a portable body, convertible to a presentation system or a big tablet, touchscreen, fast solid-state drive, and everything just fast and shiny and did I mention fast? The photos I take are still dependent on the space between my ears, but the equipment that translates what I see in my head to what’s seen on screens everywhere now has taken a drastic leap forward.

There’s no reason a multi-billion-dollar company would even need to open an email from a freelance photographer and writer like me, and if they do, there’s certainly no reason for it to go any further than the recycle bin on their own computer. For whatever reason (yes, I was given reasons in my communications; again, I’m not going to share private conversations) they have, I’m an incredibly fortunate, and I am well aware of that. Companies like this, they have to get thousands of messages like this every week, if not more, and more frequently. Mine landed in the right place on the right day, and – for those who know me, you know this isn’t a phrase I use lightly – I know I’m blessed to have had it happen. Even this post, I hesitated because I don’t want to be responsible for the company getting flooded with messages. But there was no way I could go further without sharing this. I won’t take it for granted and I will never be able to say “thank you” enough to fully express exactly what this means to me. I can tell you this much: This system is incredible, and even if it wasn’t for the circumstances that led to it arriving on my doorstep, I’d tell anyone that would listen to put this high on their list if they’re looking for a workhorse to do the sorts of things that I do. As for me? I can’t imagine ever owning a system other than HP ever again. For so many reasons.

24 April 2019

Of Wolf And Man

A few weeks ago, I was down in St. Louis, covering Wizard World’s annual visit to the Gateway City. It’s a massive gathering of geeks and gamers and cosplayers of every breed under the Dome and in the shadow of the Arch, so without any hesitation, I can say there was one question I was asked the most:

“Is that a reference to ‘Doctor Who’?”

If you’re not sure what “that” is referring to in the question, you’re likely in the wrong place, or you’re definitely not a ‘Doctor Who’ fan. In this case, the question refers to my chosen moniker emblazoned on my shirt that I wear for self-promotion: Bad Wolf Media.

See, back in 2005, those wily Brits did what you do with Doctor Who – they regenerated him after a long break. In this case, the supporting cast included Rose Tyler, a character played amazingly by the charming and stunning Billie Piper. Through the course of the first series of this new incarnation, the phrase “Bad Wolf” would be found, scrawled in graffiti or emblazoned on the walls of the TARDIS itself. To make a long story somewhat less long, The Rose character gets infused with time-twisting powers and it was her all along, going back and leaving this warning message throughout time for the heroes to find.

Rose has gone on to become one of the most popular characters in the reborn series and, therefore, is well known among the denizens of gatherings like Wizard World.

Now let’s go even further back in time. I’m going to guess a little here, but I would say sometime around 1999 or 2000, I was working with my buddy Adam at an internet service provider down in middle Georgia (does everyone remember ISPs? No? Well…moving on…). We would often talk about widely varied subjects, and one day we were talking about pirates and the traditional “jolly roger” flag. As it turns out (yes, education! Sorry, just stick with it!), there really isn’t such a thing as a standard pirate flag. The “skull and crossbones” that everyone thinks of was used by a few scoundrels of the seas, but we learned that pirate captains generally designed their own standards to fly so everyone knew who was sending them to the bottom. Edward Teach – Blackbeard, if you please – often flew just a solid black flag. Bartholomew Roberts had an image of himself and a representation of Death, each with a hand on an hourglass.

With this background in hand, we started talking about what we would use as our own, personal jolly roger if we were to have need of one. I found a great line-art rendering of a snarling wolf, which I modified, taking off the lower jaw and put it over the traditional crossbones to make what you see even now, on this very page. Over the course of nearly two decades, I’ve keep that image with me, from computer to computer to tablets to smartphones. It’s been a part of my digital fingerprint for that long. (Unfortunately, I’ve lost the original art and haven’t been able to find the original artist of the wolf, but I’ll keep looking!)

Okay, everyone sticking with me so far? Now we’re going to leap forward to early 2014. I started to get a little more serious about my photo work, and I needed a name and logo to use. I thought of and scrapped a few dozen ideas along the way before realizing the imagery was staring me in the face the whole time. I had my ‘jolly roger’ that was already so prevalent, I only needed a fitting name to go with it. The name wasn’t born from my love of ‘Doctor Who,’ however. I am a huge fan of the show, but in this case, the name came from the image and the idea behind it – the thought of , 400 years ago, that flag flying over a ship in the warm Caribbean waters. What name would be given? Black Wolf seemed like it would work, but then another thought hit me: I didn’t want to use “productions” in my name because of the company name of a friend, so I opted for “media.” And then visual landed there – three letters, four letters, five letters, Bad Wolf Media. And it was like that light hitting Jake in the Triple Rock Baptist Church, all those years ago (had to get one more iconic reference in there, right?).

I’m happy that it’s a name that it seems people are going to remember, for whatever reason. I’ll continue to explain that, no, it’s not taken from the good Doctor’s companion, but I have the utmost respect for the show, the writers, and the actors that put it all together.

And I’ll tip my ivy cap to Rose Tyler, for spreading the word about me, back before I even seriously picked up a camera!*

*this is a joke, Doctor Who people! Please don’t sue me!

11 April 2019

Shock Me

Well, my new year’s resolution to do better on keeping this blog updated has gone right to hell, hasn’t it? If you follow my photo page on Facebook, hopefully you’ll forgive me when you see I’ve had a pretty fair start to the year already.

I was talking with a fellow photog today (via electronic communications, as talking in person is so passé!) about a tough shoot she had. It was with a band in a smaller venue, and the lighting was a challenge. She was looking for some input on her shots because she felt they weren’t up to par. First of all, I’m not sure how I became someone to give advice to anyone else. That’s kind of overwhelming, and also – to me – a touch absurd. You can’t give advice until you figure out what you’re doing, right?

The conversation got me thinking about last year. Starting the year off, I’d shot a handful of shows in a row that were amazing artists, but they were shot from the soundboard, with artists that weren’t all that energetic on stage. Still great performers, but from a photography point of view, it was just leaving me feeling deflated. The shots I was getting felt flat, felt forced, felt…similar. It becomes frustrating from a creative side, and left me wondering where the joy had gone.

Then April rolled around. I got word that I was approved to cover the gods of metal themselves, Judas Priest, in Bloomington, IL. That alone was enough to stir the 15-year-old fan boy in me, because this was Rob F’n Halford and crew, the guys I’ve listened to forever. But then, getting to the venue, we were led down to the pit. Oh, the glorious pit, my haven from the world. When Priest hit the stage, it was like an electric current coursing through me. My camera had a mind of its own, shooting, swinging left, right, center, capturing moments happening in blinding light and letting the screaming guitars and thundering drums overwhelm me.

It was exactly what I needed.

I’m a rock/metal guy as far as my preferences, but I listen to a little bit of everything. When I’m working, with camera in hand, it doesn’t matter. Pop, country, dance, R&B, punk, alt, it makes no difference at all. If they’ll invite me in, I’ll be there. But even setting aside my musical preferences, from a creative side, I can’t imagine anything better than a rock/metal show, from the pit, to just energize me, to make me feel like, yes, I do still want to be there and keep doing this, because those shots are just THERE, they’re leaping off the screen or the paper and making you part of the action as a viewer.

Judas Priest is still on the same tour this year. I’m hoping to have the chance to cover them again. If I don’t, that’s okay. I’ll have the thoughts from last year. But whoever is there, with eyes pressed to viewfinders, I hope they’re ready. Because that jolt of energy is breathtaking, and it will run right through that lens and into your soul as a photographer.