Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Making Meaning

During Sarah Petty's Joy of Marketing Telesummit yesterday, Kevin Kubota made the comment that we need to approach photography with more of a focus on (paraphrasing) "...making meaning, not making money." The money supports our business and growth, but a focus on doing things for the money may be overly detrimental and be a disincentive for friends and community to want to use our services.

I had been thinking alot recently about one aspect of my business which I have used to be out in the community to, yes, get some visibility, but it goes farther than that, and I'm refering to high school sports photography. I do this mostly "on spec" meaning I go and shoot games I think will be fun to watch with alot of action, and perhaps I get to sell prints of photos from the games I shoot. I don't charge much money for my sports prints, but it covers gas and is fun to do when I'm caught up on other business. Perhaps I get some visibility from it for my seniors or portrait business, but I'm not sure I can quantify that with any hard numbers.

Now, I don't shoot with this in mind, but given the numbers of games and schools I shoot at any given season that it happens about 4 or 5 times a season where I'll get an email or a call from a parent who will say something like one who called a couple weeks ago: "thanks so much for getting those photos of our son... he was seriously injured in the next game he played. he'll be ok in about 4-6 months after the cast comes off and physical therapy, but he's out for the season - and your photos are the only things we have to show what a great season he was having."

When it's a high school senior and their high school career is effectively over, I feel sorry for the kid, but glad that I was able to be there and get photos for the family which were probably much better than a parent would get from the sidelines or stands. If I learn that a kid was injured (either during a game or in a following game) I simply give a web link to any photos I have to the family (or athletic director at the school to forward to the family). Sometimes I hear about it later after the family has bought photos. Maybe not too smart from a business standpoint, but it just seems like it's the right thing to do, and I'm more than happy to do it.

But it's still a bitter sweet situation. For example, there was one girl I always looked for whenever I was at a game her soccer team was at because she was a great player, very fast, agile, and almost always had a smile on her face, she loved playing so much. She was animated and agressive in her play, so I always got some killer photos from games when she played. During the last chance I got to see her play, she sustained a fairly serious injury which took her out for the remainder of season and I was able to get photos to the family who were beyond appreciative. I was happy I had some awesome shots of her, but sorry for her situation and personally sorry I probably wouldn't ever see her play again.

I was saddened to just learn of the passing over the weekend of one local high school soccer competitor who was "one of those players" my camera swung to repeatedly when he was playing. An awesome athlete, I had photographed him in a game just a few days before.

While he had made "meaning" to the teams he played with, it gave me pause to appreciate the profession of photography where it may be just a moment in time that we make an image of, but that moment can be shared and valued forever regardless of later circumstances.

Whether it's from a sports photograph of an outstanding play, a journalism or other editorial photograph, a portrait, or a candid from an event like a wedding, a graduation, or a funeral, like the philosopher Cesare Pavese said, "We do not remember days, we remember moments." Video may give context, but a good photograph has the ability to transcend time like nothing else except perhaps, prayer and meditation.

The profession of photography needs to always maintain it's focus on "making meaning" and being relevent, otherwise, there's no point.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Kris Kentera : Pine Creek High School

I had the opportunity to shoot at a big high school football game yesterday: undefeated Pine Creek High School vs. undefeated Fountain Fort-Carson High School. It was pretty much a blow-out: Pine Creek won it 35-0. You'd expect a tight score from two undefeated teams, but PCHS's defense helped force several turn-overs, and Quarterback Kris Kentera (shown here, wearing #9) had a great arm and swift legs. I don't think FFC HS had a chance.

Both teams were in the top-10 statistical leaders of all Colorado football teams, and both are in the Metro League in the Colorado Springs area.

Photos from the game are posted at my High School Sport Photos site, www.HighSchoolSportPhotos.net.

Review: tommy castro band, stargazers, colorado springs, 9/23/2009

tommy castro
Originally uploaded by butch leitz
I've started periodically doing some reviews for our local paper, The Gazette. Thought I'd post the reviews here as well. Here's the unedited version of the review I wrote for The Gazette in Colorado Springs of the Tommy Castro Band's performance on Wednesday 9/23/2009:

It's around 10:30 at night and Tommy Castro and his band have just finished the second of two blistering sets of knock-down hard-drivin' superheated blues and R&B. Men are palpitating and women are having uncontrollable physiological reactions all over the place. And everybody's either grinning, sweating from dancing out of their seats from up in the rafters down to stage center, giving high-fives, or gasping for breath.

Then Tommy Castro does something I've seen very few other bands do and do well: he invokes the immortal spirit of the Godfather of Soul, the previously hardest workin' man in show business, soul brother number one, of course I'm talkin' about Mr. James Brown. I'm not sure I'm hearing my ears right. Is this cat going into the classic opening rap that JB went into prior to slamming into one of the all-time great funk shakers of all time "Get Up (I Feel Like Being) A Sex Machine"? Yeah, and more: Not only starting out faithful to the original - enough so that closing your eyes you can almost hear a near perfect channeling the slightly gravelly voice of James Brown - but with an extended jam allowing all the band members to solo and stretch out.

Sax player Keith Crossan, who - with his own year-old solo CD out called "Beatnik Jungle" - has the style and chops and pedigree you only get from putting in almost 40 years - 20 of those with Tommy Castro - playing and sitting in with everybody from John Lee Hooker to Huey Lewis and dozens of top names in between.

Horn player Tom Poole, who, like Crossan, has a varied background playing and recording with BB King, Etta James, and Boz Scaggs among many others can blow with the best of them (and has). Poole and Crossan together make brilliant counterpoints and accentuations to the Tommy Castro band. Tommy had told me earlier during a chance to talk after the sound check that early in his career, touring with a 4 piece band with Keith Crossan was the best he could do, but now with Tommy Poole and a keyboard player - currently Tony Stead - Tommy says "this is the band I always wanted".

Tony Stead - who, (folks, I can't make this stuff up) has been the keyboardist for Sly and The Family Stone and has played and recorded with a veritable whos-who of r&b, blues, and soul acts like Johnny Adams, Ike Turner, Little Anthony, The Pointer Sisters, and on and on and on. I wish I had hours to talk to each of these guys. Amazing talent.

Drummer Ronnie Smith whose career diversity with acts like Gospel Hummingbirds, Jon Hammond Group, Ron Thompson & the Resistors is reflected in his style of play which brings not only solid funk rhythms and grooves to the band, but also island and world influences in his dynamics and fills.

Scot Sutherland - whose bass playing ranks with the some of the best I've ever heard - has soul and a big R&B punch to drive the band with Ronnie Smith. He also makes for one of the more animated and enjoyable solos given that during chorus and refrain sections of many of the songs, he's helping drive the boat with a near stoic understated stage presence and foundation work that - like a Chevy 454 engine - you always feel underneath you purring along, but it explodes in personality and style right when you put the pedal down.

But it's Tommy Castro who prowls onstage with the mischievous confidence of someone totally in control of their instrument and ready to have some fun that draws us all into the act. His kind of performance is a little bit like someone who's letting you in on a secret that you can appreciate but can't fully grasp the ramifications of until later: he and his '66 strat and Fender Super Twin turned up to 10 aren't backing down until you're lifted up out of your seats.

Tommy Castro goes way back, has a bazillion awards and accolades - like being winner of the 2008 Blues Music Award for Entertainer Of The Year, was the house band on NBC’s Comedy Showcase for 3 years in the early 90’s, has played with virtually everybody who's anybody from Albert King to Carlos Santana, and has alot of smarmy reviews flowing with the milk and honey of sweet adverbs and adjectives written over the years pleading with you to understand how great he is.

But I say this: this guy can kick ass. Period.

If you're already a fan, you know this. If you're unfamiliar with his work but like blues music in general, start by looking up some outtakes on YouTube. Some of them are pretty badly done with cell phone video cameras with really bad sound quality. But some of them - do a search in YouTube for "Tommy Castro Nasty Habits" (try here) which rips off a clip from his "Live at the Fillmore" DVD - will show you this guy really is "all that". Then, buy a copy of his new CD.

His latest CD (out of an incredible building catalog of releases from several labels) is "Hard Believer" (Alligator/August 2009) already beat out sales of recent releases by Delbert McClinton, Robert Cray and Robben Ford - and also debuted at #2 on the Billboard Blues Chart! To say the CD is loaded with solid material is an understatement, but to see him perform about half the tracks at the show last night at Stargazers Theater and Event Center - you know, that round-topped place where the Colorado Springs townies first saw Star Wars a million years ago (more about Stargazers in a minute) - was nothing short of phenomenal. This band can play!

Tommy had told me one of favorite songs to play (and also on the new CD) is Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" because it just "feels so good" playing it. And if you know the original, you know its got a mild kind of funky soulful beat to it. But when Castro plays it he adds his own ferocity to the driving mean funk that the band kicks out, and in the case last night, he came off stage and walked all through the audience playin' it with a grit and determination that made believers out of everybody.

Also off the new CD, the fast paced "Make It Back To Memphis" (which he claims was motivated from a "true" story about hauling back to Memphis after the Blues Music Awards in Tunica Mississippi last year in a friends Cadillac, out on the open road, running out of gas) is also one of his current favorites to play.

Besides breathing new life into Bob Dylan and James Brown covers, we also heard ballsy renditions of material from Muddy Waters and Wilson Picket mixed in with other new and classic Tommy Castro band crowd pleasers like "Nasty Habits".

Warming up the Stargazers stage last night were BJ Estares and Randy Hawke from the Colorado Springs based band Route 61 performing somewhat unplugged acoustic funked out blues run-downs that got everybody in a great mood.

If you haven't been to the venue that is the structure of the original United Artist Theater off Pikes Peak Avenue that took turns being "the Old Colorado Opry", churches, and the site of all-night raves before being brought back into control and cleaned up by new owners John and Cindy Hooton, you're in for a treat. Yes, they do mild- mannered business events there too by day, but by night - and especially with their increasing niche of showcasing some of the best touring and regional blues talent - they've become one of the best go-to venues I've seen locally in a while. (And have a cole-slaw salad they offer as a side dish to sandwiches that could be it’s own food group, it’s that good). (And yes, I admit I’ve been suspicious of places that try to be a regional music venue that serve food and alcohol also, but here: it totally works.)

I talked with a long-time Tommy Castro fan from Beulah, Colorado who had made the trek to Stargazers to see the band and he said there's nothing like this venue anywhere, especially in the southern half of the state - and they wouldn't have missed the show for anything.

I also talked with Tommy Castro fans who were vacationing in Colorado Springs from Kansas. They're new fans of Castro and missed him when the band toured through Topeka recently and just knew they had to come to the gig to enjoy the show.

I asked Tommy backstage if he knew he was drawing people from not only Boulder (where they had just played a few night ago) and Denver but also from Kansas! His eyebrows went up and he was, like, "realllly?" and I'm, like, yeahhh, man, you don't even know. I told him the best fan story I heard last night prior to the show: a woman had flown to Colorado from San Jose, California to meet her husband who was working long-term in Denver for the Tommy Castro show in Colorado Springs! It was their 4th wedding anniversary and they wanted to spend it "with" Tommy Castro!

So if you missed this performance, keep your ears open for the band's next pass through town: they've been here four times now thanks to local promoters Amy and George Whitesell of "A Music Company, Inc" and Castro's following - as evident from the 300 plus people attending last night (from all over the country) is just growing and growing. Gear up, go online, buy the latest CD from the Tommy Castro Band, and get in the groove.

More photos from the Tommy Castro Band's gig reviewed above can be found at my Flickr photo gallery here.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Review: The Insomniacs at McCabes Tavern, Friday 9/8/2009

I've started periodically doing some reviews for our local paper, The Gazette. Thought I'd post the reviews here as well. This is the edited copy that ran at the Gazette website:

If you threw Fats Domino, Albert King and Junior Wells into a bag and seasoned it with everything in the cabinet like The Diamond’s version of the 50’s classic ”The Stroll” fame and Jerry Lee Lewis you might come up with something like The Insomniacs.

The Insomniacs – a nationally recognized up-and-coming blues band touring the country in support of their newest CD “At Least I’m Not With You” (April/2009, Delta Groove Productions) – brought their tight blues melange to Colorado Springs Friday night at McCabe’s Tavern on Tejon Street.

While there was a pretty low turn-out for what should have been a packed house, that didn’t stop the quartet of Vyasa Dodson on guitar, Dean Mueller on bass, Alex Shakeri on keys and Dave Melyan on drums from layin’ it down.

Opening with “Lonesome” off the new CD was a great way to loosen up both the band and the audience. This 12 bar blues shuffle with a great tempo got head and feet moving everywhere and gave the band a chance to open up and settle in.

Churning into “20/20” – a slower punchier blues number that would be totally at home in the Austin blues circuit with Shakeri’s groove slingin’ leslie organ underpinnings supporting Dodsons Albert King style riffing over top.

More songs of the new CD followed including “Description Blues”, “Maybe Sometime Later” and near the end of the first of their two sets, the title track from the new CD “At Least I’m Not With You”. “At Least I’m Not With You” is a great song when you hear the clips from the CD online at the Delta Groove web site, but it’s a totally awesome number live.

The band mixed it up with songs from their first CD “Left Coast Blues” (August/2007, Delta Groove Productions) and threw in some covers and a ballsy version of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’” - which is one of those crowd pleasers that people love when they hear it, but The Insomniacs spin totally brought it forward a few decades.

The big surprise to me was Alex Shakeri on Keyboards and Harmonica. While Dodson is the songwriting powerhouse of the group based on everything you read (and certainly has his share of sweet riffs), Shakeri stole the show more than once with powerful blues harps riffs, pounding honky-tonk piano, and sweeping swinging organ accompaniment that left little doubt about his chops.

The Memphis based Blues Music Association gave The Insomniacs a nomination for Best New Artist Debut last year, and with songs showing up on Billboard and Living Blues Radio charts, this is an up and coming blues band with a lot of rubber left on the tires.

For more information on The Insomniacs, see here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fun Senior Shoot Downtown Colorado Springs

Originally uploaded by butch leitz
Had a chance to shoot Brianna here downtown Colorado Springs on Wednesday 9/16/2009. She was great to work with. We had already done a studio shoot a few days earlier so she kind of knew some of the directions I was going to give her, and I found her slipping into the look I wanted several times without any prompting from me: wow! I loved it! It made shooting so much more enjoyable (and while it's never -not- fun, sometimes it's more fun than other times). (This was one of the mo' fun ones!).

Weather stayed pretty good for this shoot, it was partly cloudy/partly sunny when we started (and this in the afternoon after we had had something like a hurricane the previous couple days finally slowing down that morning).

It did start clouding up, and I had my daughter Erica with me assisting, so I told her to keep an eye on the sky and at the first drops of rain we had to bundle up the lighting equipment we were setting up at a couple places we were shooting. I didn't use lights everywhere we shot outside, but when I did (like this one here in this blog entry) I used a medium softbox with a grid on an Alien Bees B800 light I carry - which was connected to a portable battery pack.

We got in some great shots, spent about 2 hours shooting at - I want to say 3 locations around downtown, the last in front of the old City Hall on Nevada. We had been shooting there about 20 minutes when big fat drops of rain started to come down, so while Erica was packing up stuff I shot Brianna for a few final frames without any artificial lighting (and we got some nice final photos to review out of that set also).

All told: an awesome shoot with an awesome girl!

Friday, September 11, 2009

: perserverance :

: perserverance :
Originally uploaded by butch leitz
checking out this interface from Flickr, lets see how this works!

I took this photo a couple weeks ago during a photo session with a high school senior who had run back to the car to grab a different shirt. While waiting I noticed this woman climbing... couldn't resist preserving the moment and captioning it "perserverance"...