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Cover Art in Iraq

One of the last assignments I had while still in Iraq last year was to photograph some cover art for a popular local musician. It was one of those opportunities that seem to come out of nowhere, and in no time, you find yourself working on it. I prefer to have some lead time on a project like this, but I couldn’t say no just because it was offered at short notice.

A couple suggestions:

-I was able to quickly settle on a location for the shoot, because it was one I had used before. I always keep in mind an inventory of good locations that I’ve already scouted. That mental list can save a job in a situation like this, when there is no time to scout.

-Keep everything simple. The location for this shoot was a brand new five-star hotel, that I knew could provide the right environment for this assignment. There is always room to improvise and experiment when there is a simple base.

A copy of the final album arrived here in Chile, and I want to share selected images from the shoot, as well as the images that made the final cut and were published in the cover art. I hope you enjoy them!

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First Wedding…

One of the most important skills I’ve learned since I moved to Iraq ten years ago is the ability to be flexible at all times. Surprises, unexpected situations and delays are part of life. As a professional, I’ve learned not only to adjust, but to make the most of those situations.

I say this because one of the situations I never thought I’d never find joy or inspiration in as photographer is in the wedding field. I just didn’t think that I’d have any desire for that kind of work. But I had to remind myself to stay flexible, to experiment, and to try photographing a wedding before saying no.

So when I was asked by Rodolfo & Chally to photograph their wedding, and to approach it with my own style, I was sold on the idea.

I asked them a wide range of questions to get my head around their ideas and needs (which obviously come before my own). While discussing plans, we decided to make a portrait session with the family a few days before the ceremony. These images would complement those made on the wedding day, but would also be used during the wedding itself.

I really enjoyed their wedding. It was full of musicians and therefore a lot of music. Here are some images from that day; a day that open my eyes to a new field in my work, a field where there is a lot still to say.

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A Cover for Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims

In September 2012 I had the privilege to meet in person some of the workers and directors behind the Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims. Kirkuk-center.org, as they state on their website, “is a human rights organization assisting traumatized victims of torture, persecution and violence in Iraq. We believe in a democratic society where the dignity of the human person is respected, where adults and children enjoy the right to life and liberty, and where citizens are free from torture and terror.”

At our initial meeting, we discussed the development of the “cover” for their upcoming annual report. In 2011 they had paid for a stock image that conveyed the idea of a victim of torture, but for 2012 they wanted something more real and directly connected to the people they have been serving in Iraq.

A few weeks later, I was brought to one of their centers where I met an incredible Kurdish woman, who had suffered throughout the years of war in Kurdish Iraq. My brief was to create a naturally-lit, black and white headshot. Instead of conveying sorrow, as their previous cover had done, they wanted to portray a more optimistic and hopeful vision, while avoiding the use of an obvious smile.

During the hour-long session, I was able to capture several different angles that could be used as a cover. We had such a great time with this resilient woman, that it was hard not to make her laugh. This remains an important personal lesson for me–to still have that much joy after going through so much.

Below you can see a contact sheet with selected images from the shoot, and the final image chosen by the organization. You’ll also see some snapshots made by a friend, of the Annual report, starting to circulate in Germany, throughout Europe, and of course in Iraq.

(And here you can download a PDF version of this annual report)

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Product shooting – Los Búhos

One of the surprises I found this time when I returned to Chile was that one of my dear friends is now crafting and brewing beer. He’s started his own company, established a lab, and has just begun the production of a beer called “Los Búhos” (which means The Owls in Spanish). It’s exquisite, to say the least. More than just a beer with great flavour, this beer has a lot of dedication, passion and craft behind it. I think that was the main reason why I was inspired to create this shoot. My friend has invested a lot of time in developing a method through studying the old traditions of crafting and brewing beer, and not relying on more “modern” shortcuts, which often use chemicals to make massive batches faster.

Here are some BTS and final images, which honour his dedication to his craft. As you can see, we played with the idea of owls and a forrest, of night light and day light. We collected the materials used to style the shoot at our previous location (after photographing Belen) and created this set-up in an improvised studio at my house. Total time to set it up: 2-3 hours. Time to set up the lights: 1 hour. Time shooting the beers: not more than 2 hours. Number of beers drank on set: Uff… :)

If you have any technical questions about these set-ups, please leave them in the comments.

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Maternity

A few days ago, I finally made the time to photograph my best friend and wife, Belen Leon, at 9 months pregnant! Yes, I really cut it close to the time that our fourth son is due. This will probably be the last child we add to our family by birth, so we wanted to mark the occasion with a special shoot. Our intention was to photograph Belen as naturally as possible, and to be faithful to who she is she as a woman, and in that way to avoid some of the over-done looks that you can find easily on the internet.

We scouted the venue just a few minutes before the shoot. Improvisation was key. And the location and time of the day turned out to be amazing, as you can see in the following images. In two hours and within a small area, we were able to capture all of these images and more.

What did I use for lighting? My trusty Elinchrom quadra’s and my favourite softbox, a Rotalux 59” deep octabox.

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I’m in Chile!

Sorry for the late notice, but I’m back in Chile, the country of my birth. I’m planing to be here until mid-July, when we’ll head back home to northern Iraq, to Kurdistan. Right now I’m working on several projects that I’d like to share with you here. Thanks!

One of the things that we love as family while in Chile, is to enjoy parties...

One of the things that we love as family while in Chile, is to enjoy parties…

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ONE-SHOT in L.A.

After a little more than a year since our first photography workshop in Iraq, I have the honor to announce that The ONE-SHOT Project will have its first international exhibit!
The show is called “Developing Change”. We are not alone in this show, but are in good company with other wonderful humanitarian initiatives. Check out the attached image with their project names.

This exhibit will be hosted at the drkrm gallery in:
933 Chung King Road
Los Angeles, CA 90012
www.drkrm.com

If you live in that area, love photography, and want to support our kids, please pay the gallery a visit. Please let me know if you can make it!

Thank you.

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My First World Wide PhotoWalk

Sulaymaniyah, Sulaymaniyah Iraq (Azadi Park – Central Area) Word Wide PhotoWalk.

What an incredible experience! I had a blast along side some photography lovers in Kurdistan, Iraq. Have I mentioned that we were all photo walk newbies? Yeah, this was a first in Kurdistan, and also in Iraq. For this very first event, I took my oldest son Caleb along. He came back with more than 300 images… and had a blast! I also took advantage of him as a model, as you can see in my images here.

Last year I was very close to running a photo walk with our kids from ONE-SHOT,  but in the end it didn’t work out. This year, I knew I had to make it happen. I’ve been teaching photography in this city for the last several months, and I have met incredible people with a passion for this medium.

Step-by-step, a community has been created, and this type of activity is a great way to both give it a kick start and to strengthen its foundations. Since the photo walk, several of us have been talking about a possible photography club in Kurdistan, with scheduled photo walks in different areas. We’ll see what happens with that. Activities that serve to connect people that share the same passion in photography can help a lot with exercising our “eyes”, and allow us to practice our craft. You can always count on good company along the way, too.

Here’s the link to see the pictures from the rest of the participants to this PhotoWalk.

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When light is non-existent

In photography, many things can go wrong during a shoot. Most of the time, things don’t happen exactly the way we visualized them. Sometimes things happen that are completely out of our control. We have to work hard to minimize as many of these situations as possible, but sometimes things happen.

A few weeks back, I had one of those jobs where a lot of things started going south. We were suppose to start shooting a little before sunset, but didn’t start until a couple hours later, when there wasn’t any “day” left, just darkness. But this was a special day for our clients; there’s only one day when you are dressed up for your wedding… right? ;-)

We decided to give it a try anyway. I wanted to do this job as well as the ones during daylight. Solution? create light. Unlike big cities like New York or Paris, it can be a big challenge to shoot at night in a place like Iraq, where there is very little available light at night. We have to create it instead.

The solution was to use more lights, and in this particular case, to take advantages of the foliage in the area. As you can see in some of the following images, when you work with strobes, a lot of things become possible, even at night in the middle of nowhere.

There’s solution for many things in a job-gone-wrong, even when light is non-existent!

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Gear that challenges your work

I keep working with my new strobes (Elinchrom Quadra – a review is coming soon!) and I’m really enjoying the opportunities they’ve created for me in this new photographic market in northern Iraq. These days I’ve been busy shooting, and I love that!

A little at a time I’ve been able to develop a better workflow around these new jobs. Yes, I said “new” jobs, because so much has changed since I started working with this gear. For example, I’m now working with assistants, instead of just myself; loading a car with gear, instead of my normal bag of lenses and cameras; taking the time to set up a scene for each image, instead of just capturing the “moment”; creating light in place, instead of only using available light, etc. There’s a lot more work involved, but I love it, and it seems my clients do too.

I can truthfully say that these lights have made me a far better photographer. That’s the kind of gear I want to keep acquiring: equipment that will improve my skills, as well as my business. Of course you have to love working with lighting in the first place. If not, I can imagine frustration, difficulties and a lot of F-words happening during a shoot ;-)

I’m now working as I’d once only dreamt. I will keep challenging myself to the max. Why? Because it’s the only way to prove myself, and to see how far my skills can go. I’m trying to step into advertising and commercial photography in a place that knows little about it… we’ll see how that turns out.

Thank you for following my blog. Here are some images from these past weeks.
Leave me a comment if you have questions…