* the camera roll *

little snaps from my iphone, among other things

Archive for the ‘insomnia’ Category


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so i apologize for my absence these past two months or so.  the ole missus and i got a bit sidetracked and went off and had ourselves a junior.  this is what i’ve been up to these past two months:

kinda nuts how quick they grow.  like weeds.  at left is in the hospital around day 1.5.  center pic is about the two week mark.  right pic was about a week or so ago.

one of the many things that i love about this kid is that he doesn’t seem to give a damn when i pop him with a strobe.  i’ve been concocting all sorts of photo ideas for him.  torturously embarrassing photos that i want to take of him in ridiculous buntings and outfits, set into absurd backdrops.  think terry gilliam.  i plan on starting these after the holidays.


Written by John

December 18, 2009 at 11:02 pm


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remember that movie “the paper”?  that 1994 ron howard flick about a day in the life of a fictional new york tabloid?  the one with michael keaton, glenn close, robert duvall, etc…? 

it’s on cable right now.  i haven’t seen it in a long time.  yeah, its cheesy and over the top.  but gotta say, makes me miss my days at the paper in chicago.  

i know, chicago isn’t new york.  but there were times during late night walking out of the tower after an evening of busting my ass for some breaking metro story, when it really felt like i was doing some really cool major metropolitan news work…  stuff that really got the heart pounding.  these were back in the days when ink on newsprint was actually read, when morning radio jocks would start their shows by commenting about the day’s headlines, when one would pick thru the big  heap of papers scattered around lunch tables from the folks who read it before you.  back then, a single copy of the paper would be read by maybe three or four different people, which would mean that the number of actual newspaper readers would conservatively be at least double what the circulation numbers were.  so this meant that if i had page one lead art, that at least 2 million people saw my photo that day.  kinda cool for a punk ass kid in his mid 20s.  

it’s funny how my newspaper days are slowly slipping into the back recesses of my memory.  these days i don’t really even refer to myself as a “photojournalist” anymore.  “photographer” will do just fine, thank you.  it’s almost like i don’t want to associate myself with the few remaining folks that still occupy the newspaper newsrooms, clinging onto a job that so many analysts have determined will not exist by year’s end.  

makes me feel like shit sometimes, like i’m denying something that has clearly shaped who i am as a photographer, if not as a person.  i sometimes will notice this when i’m going thru my current portfolio.  i’ve worked so hard in these past four years of freelancing to exorcise the newspaperness out of my shooting.  as a result my style has changed significantly — i’m a lot glossier now than when i was back at the paper, and the types of pictures i shoot these days require at least some sort of orchestration on my part.  but i think when compared to other freelancers out there who cut their teeth in art school instead of j-school, my current book is still decidedly “journalistic”.  maybe there’s no denying where i come from.

back to the flick.  there’s this scene where the cub photog gets sent out to a perp walk for a page one story.  she freaks, thinks she misses the shot because she was pushed onto the ground during the perp walk scrum, then comes back to the newspaper photo department all dejected.  there’s this one split-second image of her as she steps out of the elevator into the photo department:  she’s disheveled, a photo vest weighing down her droopy shoulders…  

not quite sure why, but there’s something about that image which triggers some massive nostalgia.  mind you, i never wore a photo vest, would never be caught dead in one.  but i think it’s the feeling of utter exhaustion as i’m riding the elevator into the newsroom after working a big spot news story, running into the photo department to soup my film on deadline.  jeez, no one soups film on deadline anymore.  hell, not many people soup film anymore, come to think about it.

Written by John

April 13, 2009 at 12:51 am

Posted in insomnia, newspapers

what’s in a name?

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ok, it’s 1:00 am, and i can’t get to sleep.  so i’m sitting here with my laptop, and rambo: first blood part II is on cable.  i haven’t seen this flick in, ooh, about two decades.  really makes me miss the reagan era.  back then, a magazine day rate was probably really worth something.

watching the flick, i noticed this actor:


he’s british actor/director/playwright steven berkoff.  at left as general orlov in octopussy, at right as victor maitland in beverly hills cop.  in rambo he was stallone’s nemesis lieutenant colonel podovsky of the soviet army.

as a teenager in the 80s, his face is not unfamiliar to me.  i mostly remember him from beverly hills cop, because i frigging loved that movie when it came out.  i forgot that he was also a bond villain.

he’s definitely a google candidate, filed under “what ever happened to…”  victor maitland was such a great bad guy.  why he didn’t reprise his role in any of the 17 lethal weapons is beyond me.  i fault the casting director for that one.

fishing thru his wikipedia bio, turns out he’s still quite prolific — mostly in the respectable london theatre scene.  no doubt he took his 80s villain money and ran back to the london east end.

** OOH OOH!!!   he just got blown up by rambo via a head-to-head helicopter game of chicken and an rpg in the face… **

his wikipedia bio lists his birth name as leslie steven berks.  now, “leslie berks” or “steven berks” is a perfectly fine name for an actor.  but i wonder what the thought process was behind his metamorphosis into “steven berkoff”?

i mean, it’s not a bad name.  “berkoff” hints at a pan-euro heritage, somewhat similar to that confusingly euro-ish accent christiane amanpour has (not quite british, not quite anything specific, just “european”).  no doubt “berkoff” does something similar for the former mr. berks.  i’m sure cultural ambiguity makes for lots of varied acting gigs.

so mr. berkoff’s name change gets me thinking about branding and why people change their names to something more commercially acceptable to their industries.  seems that lots of people do that.  ralph lauren was born ralph lifshitz, but there was no way the upper east side set was going to pay top dollar for waspy haberdashery from a semite.

photogs do that too.  lots of em.  and many seem to go by one name.  i know a photog in chicago named dimitre.  hell, some photogs just double up their first name (horst p. horst).  there’s also a local sf photog who goes by anon, although i think it’s actually a two-photog operation.  pretty efficient to compress two full names into one word.

maybe i should change my name.  john lee is a stupidly common name.  take one of the most common male first names in the english-speaking world, and jam it next to the absolutely most common last name in asia.  there were four john lees in my high school graduating class.   i was once mistaken for a john lee who headed a local korean street gang (i’m not korean, btw).

just try googling “john lee” and see what you come up with.  luckily, i usually come up around #3 or #4, and i’m usually above john lee hooker.

but the problem happens when you google “john lee photographer”.  some farm high school senior portrait/wedding photog from rural iowa comes up.  he’s figured out how to work the google crawlers to his advantage.  luckily, he seems to only get these benefits when one adds “photographer” beside his name.  otherwise i usually come up before him.

i’ve had a couple of issues pop up so far because of this google mixup.  i’ve had an offended nyc photo editor sternly proclaim to my former agent that they didn’t think it was funny that he was introducing high school senior portrait photographers to them, only for the editor to realize a few minutes later that she had googled the iowa john lee instead of me.  mistake cleared up, and i got the gig.  but how often does that happen and i don’t know about it?

at last count, there were at least 4 john lees working as photogs in north america.  bad news.

even worse, a few years ago there was some random beijing-based chinese photog who decided to pick a western name.   any dumb name, just something that he probably thought would be easy for westerners to remember.  he picked john lee.  dick.  to make matters worse, the newspaper i was working at happened to run one of his photos 4 columns across the front page.

so this gets me thinking that i should probably contemplate an appropriately witty pan-asian pacific rim byline.  maybe i should go by my chinese name.  or maybe i should think up a company name?  anybody got any suggestions?

i recently shot a portrait of this sf interior designer whose company is called “mr. wonderful.”  what a goddamn brilliant name.

Written by John

March 23, 2009 at 12:35 am

view from my front step

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i can’t seem to sleep much lately.  been busy trying to rip the bulk of my 600 cds into my computer.  yeah, shut up.  i know.  i’m about 5 years behind on this.  

but one fringe benefit to insomnia is that you get to see cool things like when fog rolls down my street.  it was a bitch of a file to tone.  the iphone handles dark scenes like shit.  i have a better version of this scene with my 5d.  needless to say, that version looks way better.


jan 9, 2009 - san francisco

jan 9, 2009 - 3:00 am san francisco

Written by John

January 10, 2009 at 11:03 am

Posted in insomnia, pictures