I started taking pictures when I was 18, in Denver, out on my own after leaving high school. I had an old Olympus SLR – a loaner from my dad’s girlfriend. There’s something about walking around a city, a landscape, an event, with a camera in your hand. The camera is often equated to power and objectification. As a young person finding my way, it was a space that bought me anonymity I craved, a license to be no one — and with that, the freedom to investigate the world behaving without me.
I photographed strangers as I traveled across Colorado, Alaska and New Orleans, and with those first portraits I made it into the photography program at Bard College, in upstate New York. Mentored by legendary photographers like Larry Fink and Stephen Shore, and inspired by the strange, cinematic imagery of giants like Gary Winogrand and Diane Arbus, I found I had an affinity for “street photography” – an analog to verité, every corner a new scene. As my interests developed, I found myself drawn to the temporal dimension of these scenes. The things unfolding. The “decisive moment” felt incomplete – I wanted to get at the backstory. It took some maturing to recognize I was moving away from still photography, toward filmmaking. Film and photography are different animals, but I’ve held on to the basic perspective that came to me when I was a young photographer.
Cinematography is storytelling first. There are many people qualified to compose a lovely image. My orientation as a DP is that more than aesthetic beauty, the camera is occupying a point-of-view. I care as much about where the camera is positioned in the scene as I do about perfecting any one angle. The story lives in the dynamics of the scene – who’s privileged, what’s revealed, elided, postponed – all choices inherent to camera direction and great storytellers consider all of them. It’s my role and privilege to imagine alongside directors and producers both the visual and the dramatic possibilities, and in so doing, give voice to the story.
Today, I shoot projects ranging from independent documentaries and features to commercials, broadcast television, web episodics and pilots. The collaborative work of film is vastly different from my old life as a solo artist. As DP, I’m both the leader of teams and part of a production engine. Resource constraints often impose competing responsibilities, and the need for diplomacy and problem-solving are constants. Having come up through union ranks as focus puller and department head, I care as much about how a set’s working for the team as I do about “getting my shot.” I thrive on good collaboration, and deliver the most when a unified treatment of aesthetics and dramatic clarity are the common goal. That’s the challenge I love about this work. If I had to pinpoint what singular thing brought me to cinematography, this is the thing.