Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Everything I Know About Life I Learned on the Baseball Field

My son ran towards the plate and then stopped suddenly. He adjusted his helmet and gripped his bat tightly, the only indication that he was feeling the pressure. It was the last inning, bases loaded, two outs. He took two deep breaths and stepped into the batter’s box.

Hudson spent the majority of this little league season fighting against playing, usually quite dramatically, and yet my wife and I insisted- he made a commitment and had to see it through. He is one of the youngest kids in a league of skilled players, and he was seeing limited playing time as a result. It was torture to watch him navigate the emotions I remember so vividly- the fear of failure, the pain of ridicule, the self-doubt. Yet there are lessons to be learned in those struggles, so we insisted.

Halfway through the season, something shifted. He got a few hits, had some success in the field, and started asking me to throw him batting practice in the morning. The basketball that had been glued to his hip for months disappeared, and it was replaced with a baseball mitt. For me, it was pure bliss. As a former college player, having a catch with my child is about as close to Nirvana as I can imagine.

So as he stepped into the batter’s box, I hoped he would remember what we had practiced- weight back, bat off the shoulder, watch the ball. He was so close to where I was standing that I could just call out to him, remind him of the mechanics or give him words of encouragement. But this was his moment, his challenge. I said nothing. He swung three times, tentatively, and the game was over. The helmet hid his face, but his body couldn’t hide his pain.

On the drive home he was hysterical, determined to never play baseball again, and he wouldn’t hear anything we said. We tried to talk about getting back up after you fall down and the pride we felt in his effort, but he heard nothing.

I learned two immensely valuable lessons through baseball- repetition and resilience. If you work hard enough and refuse to quit or be discouraged by failure, you will succeed. It’s a simple formula, one that has guided me throughout my life. I realized that words were not helping Hudson learn these same lessons, so I turned the car around.

“What are you doing?” he mumbled through tears.

“I’m taking you back to the field.”

“What? No, Dad, really. Please,” he pleaded desperately.

I parked the car. Hudson was apoplectic. He had no choice but to follow me, but I couldn’t make him swing. So he stood at the plate, defeated, gloomy. Refusing to take the bat off his shoulder. I threw pitches. He glared at me. It was a stand off, one I realized could go terribly wrong. He may see this as bullying, or rubbing salt into his wounds, and shut down completely.

“I can’t do it. I’m terrible. I’m the worst one on the team,” he screamed.

I wanted to give him a hug, of course, and absorb his pain. “Don’t get angry at yourself. Be angry at the ball,” I said instead.

Something clicked. His eyes flared, and he swung hard at the next pitch. He sent it deep into the outfield. His tension relaxed, just a bit. He swung hard again, and sent another one flying. I looked at him. He smiled. We stayed for an hour, and the next morning he woke me up early for batting practice.

On Saturday, Hudson played in the last game of the regular season. He came up to bat again with two outs in the last inning. They were down by one with a runner in scoring position. The pitcher was the best in the league. Hudson took another deep breath and stepped into the box. This time his swings were aggressive and confident. He fouled three pitches hard, and it came down to the last strike of the season. The pitcher reared back and threw a bullet…. right into Hudson’s leg.

He took two steps towards first base and then collapsed in pain. As the coaches gathered around him and the players all took a knee, I said to my wife, “At least we only need ice this time.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

SUMMER OF LOVE: My Rock Star Life in Korea

I was in Korea for eight days and came limping home, barely able to walk. Somewhere around the second day my back froze up and got worse as the trip progressed, yet the schedule continued unabated. Perhaps I should have stopped jumping and running and bouncing off the walls, but I couldn’t help myself. I was having too much fun!

I was experiencing an once-in-a-lifetime moment. For the second consecutive summer, my photography is being exhibited in a solo show at the Savina Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul, while a second solo show is running simultaneously a few hundred miles away at Yeulmaru Museum in Yeosu City.

As if this wasn’t enough of a thrill, I also had the great fortune to photograph some of the most celebrated dancers and athletes in Korea.

What made this trip the most rewarding experience of my career was the incredible sponsorship of the U.S. Embassy Seoul. They brought me to Korea as an art envoy, and gave me the opportunity to speak to a wide range of large, enthusiastic audiences - children, adults, high school and college students, celebrities, and all kinds of photo enthusiasts. The excitement of the crowds matched my own.

I signed lots of autographs…

Some of them in very interesting places.

Sometimes the pace would slow down enough for me to do a quick interview…

And then the party would begin again.

Perhaps the most inspiring lecture of my trip was also the least attended - I had the great honor to join a classroom of blind photographers. I observed their work and discussed my own. I will never forget that day.

In addition to giving me an exciting and diverse schedule of events, the Embassy offered me the opportunity to shoot the U.S Ambassador’s official portrait.

Then I had a few minutes with the Ambassador, his official vehicle and four Marines. There are not many times a photographer gets to do something completely new, but this was one such opportunity. The Embassy encouraged me to be creative, and I decided to have the Marines competing to open the Ambassador’s door. I showed them what to do...

And then they did it…. much, much better.

Finally, a moment that touched my heart. I was on Jeju Island, talking to 200 high school students. I asked if there were any dancers or athletes in the audience, and everyone started chanting, “Taekwondo, Taekwondo!!” A shy young man raised his hand. When I discovered that he is a black belt, I invited him onstage to see his moves.

When he kicked my hand it blew my mind. I announced that we absolutely HAD to do a spontaneous shoot right then. He ran to get his uniform as all 200 of us piled into the school library. Korean students study extremely hard and I kept hearing about how much stress they feel to succeed. It's leading to a great amount of anxiety throughout the culture, and I wanted to take a photo, titled "Study Break," that reflected a bit of rebellion against this attitude. We all enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Thank you, Korea. The back pain will subside, but the memories never will!


I would like to thank to entire staff at Savina Museum for curating another fantastic exhibition, and to Savina herself for giving me the rare honor of two solo exhibits in one year.

The Embassy team I traveled with was unbelievable. My incredible interpreter, Seo Kyung PARK, kept pace with my caffeine-induced adrenaline and never slowed me down. The perfect Jong Chan KIM took most of the great behind-the-scenes photographs you’ve seen here. Their intern, Young Ah KIM, was indispensible and full of enthusiasm. The Senior Public Affairs Specialist, Eun Kyong CHOI, was Superwoman - she organized every event and never missed even the smallest detail (down to two cups of coffee on the podium). And their boss, Margaret Hawley, rocked my world - she set the creative and upbeat tone for the week. I would return to Seoul anytime, even if we didn’t have any events scheduled. Just hanging out with these folks was worth the fourteen-hour plane ride.

Finally, my gratitude to the many incredible performers who took time to meet with and pose for me: From the World Taekwondo Federation: Jeon Chan Hyek, Lee Joo Ho, Kim Han Byeol, and Cho Han Wool. From the KoreanNational Contemporary Dance Company: Kim Ho Yeon, Choi Min Sun, Ye Hyo Seung, and Han Sang Ruly. Korean B-boys: Differ KIM, KIM Heon Woo, and KIM Heon Jun. From the celebrity photographer’s club POP-KON: Ok Dong Ja, Su Rin HAN, and Jang Kun PARK.

And, of course, the elegant Joo Won KIM of the Korean National Ballet.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My First Underwater Photograph

When I was in Miami for Art Week, I was fortunate to have an amazing assistant, Elisabeth Murray. Her daughter, Daniela, happens to be a Brazilian national golfer, and I immediately asked to photograph her for Athletes Among Us. With the help of my friend, Jeremy Saladyga, I came up with the idea of a golfer "playing through" in a swimming pool. It's one of those ideas that sounds great until you actually try to do it. 

Many complications ensued, including a freezing swimming pool, aprehensive volunteers, an uncooperative golfball, and my total lack of understanding of underwater photography. But the most difficult challenge we faced was buoyancy:

Finally, it all came together. Daniela and I hit the bottom at the same moment, and I shot this one frame before she floated away:

I can't wait to do it again. Next time I'll bring a weight belt. And a snorkel! Check out the full series at athletesamongus.com

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013: What an Amazing Year!

Last week my four-year-old daughter, Salish, was watching a behind-the-scenes video of me on a photo shoot.

      "Is this work, Daddy?" she asked.
       "Yes." I replied.
       "Cool," she said.

That about sums it up. I am very fortunate to have a wonderful life. I have a happy and healthy family that I adore and a career that I absolutely love. I want to thank all of my friends and acquaintances for your continued support and enthusiasm, and I truly hope you have a very happy holiday!

Here are a few professional highlights from this exciting year:

New York Times Bestseller

I began the year with my book, Dancers Among Us, holding steady on the New York Times bestseller list. Just two years before, the project was DOA. Then Workman Publishing took a chance on a photography book with no movie stars or cute puppies, and their gamble paid off.

My Rockstar Adventures in Korea

It was a busy summer for exhibitions, including large-scale public installations at The Grace Building and One New York Plaza in Manhattan, and solo shows at Jacob’s Pillow, The National Museum of Dance, and the Savina Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul, Korea. This three-story exhibit inspired the blog, While You Were Sleeping: My Rockstar Adventures in Korea.

Going Fast with Paul Taylor Dance Company

My 2013 campaign for the Paul Taylor Dance Company helped generate record ticket sales for their run at Lincoln Center. This was my second collaboration with PTDC, and one of several major campaigns I shot in 2013.

Fall for Dance

I had the great honor to shoot some of the world’s best dancers for the 2013 “Fall for Dance” campaign at New York City Center, which was seen in subways and on busses and billboards all around the Big Apple. For a dance photographer, shooting "Fall for Dance" is one of the highest honors.

Take a look at this cool behind-the-scenes video of the shoot: http://bit.ly/167weMr.

Athletes Among Us

This summer I announced the beginning of a new project, Athletes Among Us, which was received with great enthusiasm by both the public and the media, including features in the NY Post, the NY Daily News, the Huffington Post, MSN, and the Daily Mail UK.

The Today Show - Jersey Shore

The Today Show brought me to the Jersey Shore to shoot a series of portraits of local residents, which they used to produce a beautiful and touching segment about strength and resilience: http://on.today.com/Kfk8dz.

Traveled the World Shooting Dancers Among Us

I was extremely fortunate to travel a lot this summer, photographing dancers all over the world. Some of my favorite spots: Paris, Tuscany, Prince Edward Island, Seoul, San Francisco, Chicago, Phoenix, Miami, and Acadia National Park.

Circus Among Us

Just this month I began a new project, Circus Among Us, with a magical shoot in NYC featuring the fearless artists of Cirque Eloize. To see some jaw-dropping moments, take a look at this behind-the-scenes video: http://bit.ly/1cBjfDc.

Dancers Among Us Calendar

The 2014 Dancers Among Us wall calendar has been included on many “Best Gifts of 2013” lists, but much more importantly, my kids think it’s cool! 


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An Embarrassment of Riches

Last week, I asked Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for volunteers to shoot Dancers Among Us as a test for a Hasselblad camera review in PDN Magazine. I was overwhelmed by everyone's enthusiasm. How could I possibly choose?

The submissions ranged from the patriotic:
@BrookieBallet (Instagram & Twitter)

To the collaborative:
@ShanerDennis (Twitter)
 To the poetic:
@OfficiallyIrene (Instagram & Twitter)

 To the acrobatic:
@Moderina7902 (Instagram)

But this one of Maria Ambrose really caught my eye:
@mambrose9 (Twitter)

Ironically, the photo was taken by Dancer Among Us Jennifer Jones:
Jennifer Jones channeling Marilyn Monroe in NYC

Kismet! I decided to shoot Maria for Hasselblad yesterday in Ft. Tryon Park, NYC:

Then as the sun set, I grabbed my Nikon and continued to shoot, inspired by Maria's enthusiasm and fearlessness:


Thank you to all the dancers who submitted their photos. I've kept links to all of your photos and will likely be contacting many of you soon to shoot! And thank you to dancer and photographer Jennifer Jones for the collaboration.