Archive for the 'visual concepts' Category

Dec 19 2009

the story behind the living joshua tree holiday card

Almost exactly one year ago a Winter storm came rolling through Southern California. This normally just means rain here in the Los Angeles basin, but we do get snow in the high mountains – and on special occasions the snow level drops down low enough to deposit snow in the high desert area of Joshua Tree National Park. Visiting the snow covered desert is one of the real treats of living out here and my excursion out there last year became this year’s Holiday card.

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The snow covered Joshua Tree that became a card

The printing of my cards is done in-house on my own printer using a card stock that I get at Red River Paper. In the middle of printing my Epson 2400 suddenly stopped printing without warning!  Instead of having a “Check Engine” light like we have on our cars now, this printer simply shuts down when it’s time for service. A late night trip to the electronic store to update the printer got me back in business to finish the rest of the cards.

As I was complaining about the printer to my friend Chuck Chugumlung and showed him a video version of the scene on my iPhone. He said, “You should just do an interactive version of the card”. It never occurred to me, but Chuck is an interactive designer that does this sort of animation all the time. I sent him the movie and he came back with this wonderful interactive version of a Holiday card. If you haven’t seen it yet, click on the link. Go ahead. I’ll wait. You can even play it more than once.

The original clip is a full HD video version of the snow falling. I had received one of the first Canon 5D MkII cameras, but really hadn’t done much with the video capability beyond learning how to push the record button. So after trudging out through the snow to the tree I set up for a still photo, took my shots and after seeing clumps of snow falling around me, I decided that I would try to catch the action of the melting snow. At the time, I was proud and showed it to my TV friends. The reaction? “That’s nice, where are you going to show it?” With the traditional TV frame being a horizontal rectangle, he had a point. But since then I’ve seen some interesting work with what some call “living one-sheets”. This is where a movie ad comes to life. Here’s one for Marley & Me from last Christmas. These are often shown in shopping malls that have HD TV sets turned vertically.

Here is the original video version – only four seconds.

Snow drop – Joshua Tree National Park from Mark Harmel on Vimeo.

On that same day I also shot another horizontal variation I liked. I sent both versions off to the Photo District News and this one was chose to be one of their first’ “Photo of the Day“.

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This version became the PDN Photo of the Day

Mark Harmel


 the story behind the living joshua tree holiday card

2 responses so far

Nov 19 2009

remembering jeanne-claude, collaborator with christo

The long time collaborator with environmental artist Christo died today in New York.

It was there back in 2005 that I saw their last project “The Gates” in Central Park. The beautiful saffron colored curtains of nylon brought the barren winter landscape to life. I was fortunate enough to be in New York the night that 6 inches of fresh snow fell. Seeing the snow start to fall at midnight I felt like a young boy on Christmas Eve looking forward to all the presents that would greet me in the morning.

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Woman with the perfect saffron parka taking a photo of "The Gates"

It seemed as though every other photographer in the city had the same idea and it was hard to keep out of each other’s pictures in the snow-covered park. I succeeded until I spotted this woman in a matching saffron parka. I stalked her until I captured this photo of her in front of a pond.

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Street lamp covered in snow

I had the pleasure of seeing two of their other installations, one here in Southern California and the other in Miami. When I was living in Florida I drove over to see “Surrounded Islands” where they created a pink ring around a number of islands in Biscayne Bay and in the Grapevine pass north of Los Angeles I was able to see “The Umbrellas”.  I both loved the visual impact of their projects and admired how they moved art out into public spaces. This created wonderful conversations about art from people in all walks of live, including those that rarely stepped into an art gallery or museum. To me this is their greatest contribution.

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Snow covered tree branch and a series of panels

I’m happy to report that a series of my photos of “The Gates” was selected to appear in the 2005 Communication Arts Photography Annual and the page was used to promote the 2006 competition.

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My Gates series was used to promote the CA 2006 competition

I look forward to seeing the completion of some of the team’s work in progress.

Postcript: As I was writing this post I wondered if my friend John Lizvey had any of his photos of the “The Umbrellas” project. He was ambitious enough to go out in the middle of the night, and shot the installation by moonlight when the umbrellas were free from most of the crowds and traffic – except for a Sheriff’s cruiser that roared up and caused a broken lens as John yanked his tripod from the middle of the road. The price we pay to make art.

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John Lizvey's moonlight photo of "The Umbrellas"

Mark Harmel


9 responses so far

Nov 18 2009

everglades, sanibel island and airboats

Update: NPR’s Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan loves Randy Wayne White as much as I do. Listen to his interview of Randy.

On my recent ranch vacation I engaged in one of my guilty pleasure reading habits – I read the Randy Wayne White book “Everglades”.  I’m a bit behind in reading his Doc Ford series, his latest “Dead Silence” was released in March. (A recent NPR interview of Randy is available.) My favorite feature of the books is the location. They are set near where I used to live in Southwest Florida. The stilt house of Doc is set in Tarpon Bay on Sanibel Island. I lived and worked worked nearby at the Sanibel-Captiva Islander in the early 80′s.

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Cypress and palm trees at sunrise in Everglades National Park

Around that time Randy was writing a number of adventure articles for Outside Magazine and a fishing guide friend Capt. Mike Fuery arranged for me to meet Randy at his house in Everglades City. The plan was to enlist Randy in working with me on a feature on airboats in the Everglades. I had made a connection with a local Cracker that agreed to be my guide. At the first meeting I received a similar daredevil experience that James Tiger gave to Doc Ford in “Everglades”. My Cracker wanted to see how a mid-western suburban boy would handle some real airboat fun. He gunned the throttle full-bore and proceeded to drag race for about a quarter of a mile and then threw the airboat in a 180 degree slide before speeding back. I could tell he was a master pilot and personally I enjoyed the speed and passed my Snowbird test. Unfortunately he punctured his gas tank on his craft and my opportunity to work on the feature with Randy passed while I looked for another connection.

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Great white egrets on Sanibel Island

My opportunity to go out resurfaced the next season. I had moved down to Naples and Gulfshore Life Magazine and an ad sales rep made a airboat connection with a local pharmacist. This was a more more civilized experience even though I still didn’t quite know what to expect would happen on a weekend in the Everglades. Would we be sleeping in tents and sharing our sleeping bags with snakes and alligators?

The reality was much different. We ventured out in a convoy of 4 airboats to a cypress head island where there was a large dock and two story cabin. All the materials were transported out by airboats a weekend at a time. There was even a stove and refrigerator powered by propane. The land was officially in the National Park, but there was a grandfathered/gentleman’s agreement that allowed the improvements to remain. In exchange the park rangers were able to use the cabin as a dining hall or over-night bunk house on their long patrols in the Everglades.

We cruised through the sea of grass in the days and gigged frogs by headlamps at night. The birds were amazing and we were visited by alligators at the dock. My best memory was the lack of mosquitos. I expected to be swarmed the entire weekend, but the slowly moving water is not the best breeding ground for the pests.

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Cat-tail shadows on fire flag plant in the Six Mile Cypress Slough

You can find tourist boat rides along the Tamiami Trail. There are the big, easy to find 30 seater, bus-like contraptions that give you a small taste. But they are no where not as good as the smaller boats that more resemble a sports car. You can also find swamp buggy rides that will take you out as well. Anything that gets you out into the Everglades is a treat worth experiencing. The best time to visit anywhere in the area is in the Fall. This is after the rainy season and before the Winter chill and tourists arrive.

I would love to find a tour company that has a weekend, or multi-day trip that operates in the Everglades area so I could make the trip again. If you know of one please contact me or leave a comment.

Mark Harmel


3 responses so far

Sep 30 2009

hey! glen allison show us what you’ve got

World traveler and photographer Glen Allison is in Siem Reap complaining about a little rain. He calls it a typhoon. But typhoon – monsoon. What’s the difference. Rain is rain. As Ernst Haas says, “It’s all part of the effect.”

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Western causeway to Angkor Wat in a little rain

Sure you can write circles around me in that blog of yours with all of your poetry sounding words, but can you shoot?

You’ve been around the world what two times going on three now? I was juggling shooting with being social in a group in between diabetes talks, and did I complain about the rain?

When you’ve got something to show let us see what you’v got.

Mark Harmel

5 responses so far

Jul 29 2009

feeding frenzy at the flat creek ranch

There is this esoteric part of fly-fishing where it is important to match your fly with the current hatch of bugs on the stream. With a mix of skill and luck the goal is to toss out bomb-pops just as the trout are running up to the ice cream truck. I witnessed this amazing feeding frenzy for the first time on this trip. Rather than casting a fly to where a fish should be swimming it was possible to be standing a few feet away as the fish were leaping for the current hatch of flies.

The same spot at a different time of day only revealed flowing water. When I’m shooting for myself I go through similar periods of feeding frenzy mixed into periods of stillness.

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The mountain lake at the ranch

On trips to exotic locations I want to shoot up a storm and have to work to balance being social and being a photographer. On shorter trips I give myself permission to keep the cameras in the bag and take a break.

Over the 4th of July weekend Anne and I visited the Flat Creek dude ranch outside Jackson, WY. This was exotic enough to haul my camera bag and computer on the plane, yet the location was familiar enough to make shooting optional. It was also far enough off the grid to ignore any work and just read, ride and fish at the ranch.

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Carved door and porch at the main lodge

I admit to being a bit disappointed that there wasn’t the inspiring views of the Grand Teton peaks that could always be seen on a previous trip. They could be viewed though after hiking through mosquito infested forests. (Some people consider this to be fun.)

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Classic bathtub in our cabin

But in the middle of the night a simpler vision of the beauty that did surround me came to mind and I crawled out of bed early and fired off this series of photos of our cabin and the near-by lake.

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The amazingly well-trained ranch dog at the lake

That was it. One early morning flurry and then back to searching for the cut-throat and brook trout churning in their own feeding frenzy at a new hatch of flies. I returned to my vacation, relaxing, and waiting for the next idea to hatch.

Mark Harmel

One response so far

Jul 11 2009

what’s my motivation? – how do i respond to an assignment call

When I talk with a client about an assignment I’m most interested in knowing all that I can about the project. I particularly interested in the end audience. To me they are always the client.

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The more information the better - telephone lines receding into mountain range during a rain storm

Assignment shooters are always working at pleasing multiple interests. There is the person that is ultimately paying the bill and often one or more people in-between. That is either an art director, designer, photo-editor or editor. And often the person in front of the camera gets thrown into the mix as well. My job is to produce a photo that pleases them all (and on good days me as well) – but the most important person in the process is the person that is looking at the photo in the finished context.

Since I live in the Hollywood area, my questions really all revolve around the old actor’s cliche. “What’s my motivation?” I want to understand the context of the communication. What’s the message? Is it an ad, a magazine cover or part of a larger story?

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What's my motivation? - Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe impersonators on Hollywood Boulevard

Is there a story (or draft) that has been written already – any other background material about the person or the subject matter? I also want to know if this is a free standing photo or is my mission to make the photo similar or different that the other images in the group?

All of this information goes into the visual blend-o-matic that helps to guide me in crafting the location and my approach to the subject. Some of the structure is very planned and logical and other part come from those magical unconscious connections…and that’s part of the fun.

Mark Harmel

One response so far

May 31 2009

freeway love

She had me at the first exit sign to Las Vegas. The moment I saw her Caltrans Curves it was love at first sight.

It was 1977, I had just moved out from Michigan to finish my last semester at Johnston College in Redlands, California. There were so many new sights. The snow capped mountains (before the smog rolled in) orange groves, palm trees and bast of all the sweeping freeway interchanges. My favorite was one still under construction in Ontario at the intersection of the I-15 and I-10. With some minor trespassing it was possible to walk on the middle roadway that was complete, but not yet open to traffic.

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Intersection of I-10 and I-15 in Ontario, California

It was the first time I experienced the sense of grandeur at a man-made object. It was similar to what I felt when seeing the great expense of rock at the Grand Canyon for the first time. This interchange felt alive though. There was a roar of the cars below and the vibration of the trucks traffic up above mixed in with the glorious sweep of the interchanges. It was a sight to behold.

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Intersection of the 110 and I-105

Years later when I returned to Los Angeles the love of those interchanges still remained and as the skill of the Caltrans engineers increased the sweeping curves became ever longer and more graceful.

With the construction of the new I-105 freeway there was the opportunity to revisit the theme. I found an area near the bus station…and down in the LA River that had great elliptical ramps.

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Freeway on-ramp sweeping over Los Angeles River

I recently had the opportunity to revisit the theme on an assignment to shoot Dr. David Brownstone, a UC Irvine economics professor that studies toll road use in Orange County. In my scouting I found a CalTrans maintenance yard that was perfectly situated in the crook of the 73 and 55. I asked and was granted permission to shoot there and the portrait can be seen below.

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Toll road researcher Dr. David Brownstone

Mark Harmel

3 responses so far

Apr 16 2009

most photographed places-washington d.c.

I recently returned from a trip to Washington D.C. to visit colleges and in-laws. I go there often enough, but I’m normally not in either a tourist or shooting mode and I end up squeezing in some shots in-between other activities. Even with those restrictions the freshness of the city allows me to see the Capitol in ways that haven’t been recorded before. As an example the mystery to me is why no one else has taken this photo already? All the way over from the Jefferson Memorial I spotted the flags surrounding the Washington Monument and I knew that I want a wide angle shot from the ground. To me that was the shot.

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Flags surrounding the Washington Monument

I had two reasons to visit the National Gallery of Art. One was to see the Robert Frank’s Americans exhibit. and the other was to see the East Wing designed by I.M. Pei. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet both artists and do a formal portrait of I. M. Pei when he was working with his sons on the new UCLA hospital.

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Lobby of the National Gallery of Art designed by I. M. Pei

Sometimes the surprise seeing a familiar landmark from a view that you have never seen before – and wondering why this view hasn’t shown up in a movie or TV show yet. On a Christmas visit years ago I was shocked to see a greenhouse so close to the Capitol Building. It is a great visual and could be used to talk about government transparency.

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Capital dome behind the greenhouse windows of United States Botanical Garden Conservatory

Much of the time I’m simply a tourist as well viewing the sights. I just have a bigger camera and a trained eye and and see to shoot above the crowd for a classic view of Abraham Lincoln.

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Lincoln Monument with classic window lighting

Washington D. C. is full of statute and domes, yet I had never seen this configuration until I took the shot.

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What every Capitol needs domes and statutes

One more time looking into the sun at the Washington Monument experimenting with the video capabilities of my new camera.

Click here for other examples of photos from other “most photographed places” – Moulin Rouge, Joshua Tree National Park, Angkor Wat, New York’s Central Park, Monument Valley,Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower.

Mark Harmel

One response so far

Apr 01 2009

this town ain’t big enough for the two of us

The old town has a showdown between the reenactor clan and the thespian clan in a shoot-out for the tourist dollar.

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Sunrise on historic Allen Street in Tombstone, Arizona

However the battle turns out it is a fun historic silver town to visit in South East Arizona. Be sure to visit the neighboring Bisbee,  an old copper mining town that has been taken over by hippie artists. And consider staying in the Shady Dell Trailer Park where you can stay in vintage travel trailers.

Mark Harmel

2 responses so far

Mar 29 2009

the westons at big sur

There is a wonderful feature in the New York Times today on Edward Weston where Kim Weston serves as a tour guide for some of his Grandfathers’ great photos of Point Lobos.

In the narration Kim retells Edwards advice on seeing and being in control of your equipment. ”You should be able to point your camera down to the ground and see a photograph”

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Sea kelp on a multi-colored sand beach

What I learned most from Edward Weston’s photos and writings was that there was an aesthetic of nature photography that went beyond the beautiful scenery and grand vistas that was practiced by the Ansel Adams school. He influenced my to see in a more respectful way. I didn’t always have to get into the photo to show my point of view. Sometimes it was more about getting out of the way to transmit the essence of the object in front of the camera.

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Rock and trees in the fog

There is a link from the multi-media section in the Times to a more traditional travel feature. What isn’t mentioned is that you can participate in various nude figure or lanscape workshops with Kim and even stay in a house on Wildcat Hill.

Mark Harmel

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