Archive for the 'worklife' Category

Mar 15 2009

i’m steamed!

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Geothermal plant on the shore of the Salton Sea

Even out in the wilds I’m as drawn to the beauty a power plant as I am to  a majestic shoreline or a graceful cactus. But it hasn’t been until recently that it has dawned on me that there are companies that are behind the design and construction of these structures. A while ago I was asked to shoot a HNTB design engineer that worked on the expansion of the south runway at LAX so that it could accommodate the new Airbus A380.

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Sean Naismith redesigning a runway at LAX

I hadn’t heard of the either the company or noticed the profession before and when I visited their website I discovered that they design and build the sorts of structures that I consider man-made art. They create freeway interchanges, parking garages, ports and skyscrapers.  I organized some of these photos into a mini-portfolio and started to show them to some of these firms and it has landed me some commissions to make portraits of their executives, but I want to shoot the structures.

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Two views of steam hiding the sun

We are once again in a national conversation about infrastructure, perhaps we can talk about the beauty of it as well.

Mark Harmel


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Oct 04 2008

financial worklife

Just before our current financial crisis entered possible meltdown territory I had the opportunity to spend a day in my financial advisor’s office taking what I call my modified candid photos of their office worklife that will be used in a company brochure and website.

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I love doing this style of shooting. Part of the process is being a fly on the wall and capturing spontaneous interactions that happen in the hallway.

The other part involves going into specific offices and work areas, doing some improvements to the existing lighting and then direct the people to act naturally instead of posing. I find that the best method for this is to start with my staging and lighting and then help the person become reengaged with their job. Interacting with a co-worker on a real issue is often the best approach.

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The client likes this because real work is accomplished in the process and my normally camera shy subjects return to using their real gestures and become engaged.

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I’ve also learned the art of doing nothing. When a person is already looking natural and engaged I can concentrate on improving on the existing light and searching for interesting angles through gaps in monitors or in reflections.

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Whether shooting on the street or in an office I always love how the environment can add to the story. In this case I get to use my fine art photo of the old Pacific Stock Exchange building as a way to tell the financial story of my client’s firm.

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The original Pacific Stock Exchange photo. The San Francisco build is now being used as a Equinox fitness club.

Here are some page samples from one of the finished brochures:

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Mark Harmel

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Feb 07 2008

the “hallway test”

“No Buck Rogers – No Bucks!”

My variation of a line that came from Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff”, the book about the history of the Mercury Astronauts. In the movie version one astornaut is complaining about all the PR events they had to attend. Gordon Cooper defend the practice by saying, “You know what make this bird go up? Funding is make this bird go up.” “He’s right,” responds Gus Grissom. “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

When I’m shooting is medical research labs where often the most important high-tech piece of equipment often looks like a toaster oven. It is my job to put a little “Buck Rogers” quality into story. I’m often shooting the researcher as a way to entice donors to support the wonderful research. Thus -”No Buck Rogers – No Bucks!”

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Martin Hewison, Ph.D. analyzes vitamin D metabolism in different human tissues and diseases using high-performance liquid chromatography equipment.

But I always try to balance out the Buck Rogers quality with accuracy as well.  All too often I see images of a lab researcher lovingly staring at a collection of cool looking beakers filled with yellow, blue and red liquid. It does add some color to the scene, but anyone that has spent time in a lab knows someone was having fun with a set of food coloring dyes instead of showing real science.

My “Hallway Test” was invented during this photo of vitamin D researcher Martin Hewison, Ph. D. at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. I was doing my Buck Rogers thing hiding lighting sources in all sorts of strange places to make him look good all the while I stressing the importance of having his action be realistic. I casually mention that I wanted his friends back in Birmingham, England to be impressed when they looked at the photo. He replied, “I’m more concerned about the colleagues that I’ll see in the hallway the next day than my friends in England.”

Thus was born “The Hallway Test”.

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