Photo © Erika Schultz
Eds note: I’ve asked some of the first FOCUSED photographers to document their time with the camera. A dear friend and amazing photographer, Sol Neelman (above, after making his frame), fresh off a stellar book release of his life project documenting Weird Sports, which is being currently being featured in such random – albeit perfect – publications such as Penthouse, The Huffington Post, and Wired is up first with his dispatch from Portland. Yes, he shoots with Lucha Mask and cape all the time. Make sure you purchase a copy of his book and help keep the weirdness alive – and help him pay for a new mask. That thing has got to be a bit smelly by now.
You won’t see his single frame (yet) as the roll is currently criss-crossing the Pacific Northwest, but you will soon. Every story I hear makes me smile as these cameras move across the world – I can’t wait to see the result myself.
I had the extreme honor and privilege – and daunting challenge - the other day to be one of the first photographers to contribute to Chip’s FOCUSED Project.
Aside from only getting one shot at making a photo, my challenge was figuring what my topic would be. Not surprising to those that know me, I chose a weird sporting event: Xtreme Pencil Fighting in Seattle.
I think it’s safe to say Ami Vitale won’t be copying me on that.
Before the Thursday show, I signed a few advance copies of my book on Weird Sports with Brandy Rettig (aka Rettig to Rumble aka The Yellow Dragon aka Fan Girl).
Brandy wrote the foreword to my book, about why she loves and performs in weird sports. She killed it.
I first met Brandy back in 2005 while shooting Roller Derby, my very first weird sport. The picture I made of her stretching out backstage, above, is one of my personal favorites. Not just because I love the photo, but also for what it represents. Photographing derby marked the time when this frustrated newspaper shooter was reminded how to take photographs for himself again. Better late than never, eh?
Thursday night, she was about to perform in a pencil fight. With the FOCUSED camera case arriving the day before, stars aligned up nicely.
My gear: a Nikon FE with a beat-up 35mm f2.8 lens & a 36-exposure roll of 400 ISO Fujifilm.
The first time I shot Xtreme Pencil Fighting back in March, I made over 2k images. I kept 1,417 selects. Stunningly, 2 made Mike’s final edit of my book and even paired off each other nicely in the sequencing.
On Thursday, I had to make just one frame that mattered. Have I mentioned that yet?
Since I don’t know what picture I’m trying to make when I’m attending a weird sport, you can bet your bottom dollar I had even less of an idea of what I wanted to photograph with my single frame. If possible, something quirky and funny surrounding a moment.
I think you can get a sense of how I normally approach a photo op. It involves finding a rhythm and taking chances and putting myself in a position to be lucky. And a wallet stuffed with CF cards.
My subconscious is often working unapproved overtime as is. But leading up to this moment, I had three (yes, 3) anxiety dreams about taking this photo.
The most vivid dream involved me shooting a basketball game before my scheduled weird sport. A one-eyed basketball player got ejected on the road. The home fans jeered him viscously as he was led off the court. I stood on a chair, quickly grabbed the film camera and I took the frame.
F*ck, I said to myself in the dream. I didn’t mean to, not there, not then, even though in my dream it was a solid frame. On top of it, I overexposed the frame by a stop.
Yo Chip, when’s the group therapy session for FOCUSED photogs?
One of my favorite people, Erika Schultz, graciously agreed to photograph me photographing with Chip’s camera for this here blog entry.
I have ridiculously talented friends, like Erika. I can’t begin to tell you how important and wonderful it is to have shared this book project with those friends. Erika was shooting alongside me at Gas Works Park in 2008 during Cardboard Tube Fighting. My favorite frame from that day made the book.
Because of the lighting, color and energy level of the pencil fighters, I decided to simply sit in front of the stage and wait for my moment. Once Brandy’s turn came up, I realized then I wanted to make my photo of her. It felt personally important on so many levels. More than anyone else I can think of, she represents what weird sports is about. And if you doubt me, read her foreword, yo.
The only other time I saw The Yellow Dragon pencil fight, she lost quickly and was done for the night. I remembered that and wanted to make sure I got the best possible frame as soon as I could.
I took my frame of Brandy at 11:07 p.m. My exposure was 1/30 sec at f2.8. Working the entire pencil fighting scene for over a half-hour felt like an eternity.
After I took the frame, I advanced the roll – like back in the days – and looked at Erika, who hadn’t realized I had pressed the shutter.
“Shit. I did it,” I told her, completely stunned. And we both started laughing nervously and hugged.
I remember Bruce several months ago, when he heard I’d be involved with FOCUSED, asking me if I was nervous to shoot just a single frame. I shrugged it off. No sweat. I’ll be fine.
But as the time got closer to making my photo, I realized that I wanted to kick ass with my frame. To prove that I could excel without a motor drive, that I knew a good moment when I saw it. I also wanted to properly represent the joy I have photographing weird sports.
Perhaps most importantly, I didn’t want to let Chip down. This is his baby.
Of course, I passed on plenty of moments beforehand. And there were way too many afterwards. But it was cool. I experienced something special. And just like back in the days, I won’t know how it turned out until that roll is souped by a bored high school lab tech at Walmart.
After midnight, I hit the road back to Portlandia so that Beth Nakamura would have the camera in time for her top secret morning assignment.
Before I left the case on her front porch around 3:30 a.m., I grabbed the journal Chip provided. I think I wrote that I hoped I didn’t mess it up. But that I also really appreciated the journey to making my frame. It made me think in so many ways, and it became more personal than I could have ever imagined.