ARRI PHOTOGRAPHY LIGHTING SYMPOSIUM
Back in November of 2017 I was asked by ARRI if I would be interested in becoming one of their lighting ambassadors. In the same way I questioned why Hasselblad would be interested in having me as an ambassador, I quietly pondered "Seriously!? Why me?" whilst my mouth without hesitation replied, "Yes!" Perhaps it sounds totally unwholesome of me to say this in an era where catch words like "natural" and "organic" reign supreme but I have always been that fish to swim against the current and will say "I love artificial lighting." However, as much as I will profess my love of artificial lighting, I will not refute that the best teacher for learning lighting is not Arri, Broncolor or Profoto but rather the sun though I highly doubt anyone with a "save the planet" bumper sticker would attach the word natural or organic to a thermonuclear reaction.
A bit of a backstory on ARRI if you have never watched the rolling credits of a movie all the way to the end to see in bold print the name ARRI. Both their cameras and their lighting have been behind the most famous movies past and present, but especially the present with their cameras and lighting forming what is becoming somewhat of a monopoly amongst Academy and Oscar winning films. So knowing what I know, you can see how I question why ARRI would want to make me an Ambassador. Furthermore, while listening to the president of ARRI Japan as to who he has selected as the other ARRI lighting ambassador, a photographer from Nippon Design Center by the name of Tadashi Endo, whose work can be seen globally as he is the photographer behind much of Toyota's photography, I feel even smaller. Additionally I learned the man responsible for the look of many of David LaChapelles photographs was also an ambassador which made me say to myself, "Who the hell am I to deserve this honor?!"
Nonethless I swallowed that cocktail of guilt and elation and in November 2017 I found myself in Milan participating in a sort of photography lighting workshop titled Photolicious 2017 for ARRIs global lighting ambassadors. Day one of the workshop began at ARRIs Milan studio/office.
For the first day I was paired up with John Engstrom, the maserful and brilliant technical guru which gave life to David LaChapelles work. Within photo circles in Japan I often hear people say I am brilliant with lighting, yet I know this is all bullshit, if a person only ate McDonalds their whole life, they might think that Dennys is brilliant. My self-consciousness and anxiety was compounded further when I first started making meter readings from the ARRI skypanel, not only am I going to have to shoot wide open, I hope that I am only shooting still life,"the other ambassadors must be looking at me like a fool!". Of course they wanted us to shoot models, which really forced me to throw out any conventional way of shooting. When I was back in school I loved blur, I loved throwing things out of focus, questioning tacit photographic paradigms mandating that your subject needs to be sharp Movement, blur would be themes if only I could focus and find a calm space in my mind that wasn't imagining everyone around me was judging me. So I found my calm space inside the mens restroom, away from the studio where they wanted us to shoot. John echoed my inner thoughts, "lets be different and not shoot in the studio." Whether it was John or me who decided to shoot in the restroom I can't recall, but it certainly sounds like one of my odd ideas.
As much as I am trying to keep a low profile at this event we do eventually end up in the studio where John asks me what I would like to do in terms of lighting. I have ideas but for me this is a wonderful opportunity to watch a true master at work so I leave it up to him to create the lighting. Using primarily L7-C lights he creates a number of different lighting styles for me to shoot. For me, back in Japan , I rarely get the opportunity to learn, rather it always seems I am teaching, so for me this is wonderful to watch him work, to get this opportunity to learn, but also to rest my mind of the paranoia that I am being judged as John is such a kind person who could see that I was stressing and did his best to ease my mind.
I am still amazed by the warmth, hospitality, and generosity the people at ARRI showed me and the other photographers while in Milan. For starters, in terms of generosity, each ambassador was given a personally engraved Skypanel S30-C along with a plethora of other ARRI branded items from jackets to backpacks to of all things ARRI branded gummy bears and chocolate. However, the biggest gift I have received is that the Skypanel has totally changed the way that I shoot and has been essentially in developing a new style which I am still working on. For this I am incredibly indebted to them. I knew about their LED lighting for some time, but to be honest, the intial price was a concern in the same way that I looked at Hasselblad until I started using them and realized there was something more than just a prestigious name. ARRI and Hasselblad are both investments, and as much as some people may be dismissive of gear saying that creativity is everything, gear is important in shaping style. What would Ansel Adams work look like, where would the zone system be if all he had was a polaroid camera, where would Henri Carier-Bressons decisive moment be if he shot with an 8x10 view camera. Sometimes gear shapes you passively, it finds you, and sometimes you have a vision and then look for the right gear, but regardless, gear is necessary in shaping a style and much of the work I do these days is shaped by ARRI lights.