Hillman Curtis Inspired Me To...

HILLMAN from Hillman Curtis on Vimeo.

Hillman Curtis inspired me to become a new media designer. He gave me the courage to self-educate and think of myself as a “real graphic designer.” He inspired me to pick up a camera and ultimately make films. His extraordinary example of successful reinvention most likely helped me to find my primary passion—photography. I can’t say that I wouldn’t be a photographer if it weren’t for Hillman. But I know that if you connect the dots backward, he certainly was there.

In early 1999 I decided to learn Macromedia Flash. I was a gen-1 web designer. I had been doing web design for the better part of four years—which (at the time) made me “very experienced.” I was one of those web designers that had no formal design education. A former musician with no career and plenty of free time, I taught myself to code HTML, use photoshop, and build websites. And as Macromedia Flash was beginning to gain a bit of traction... I came across a New Media Designer named Hillman Curtis.

Hillman Curtis’ website, and how it used vector type, sequential bitmapped images, and audio, made me suddenly realize what I truly wanted to do. It immediately neutralized all my personal doubt regarding “design,” and made excited. Being a musician, I understood the art of linear storytelling, and was elated to be able to combine type, image, audio, and interaction within a web browser. I attended a one-day seminar with Hillman, where he revealed his entire workflow, gave us source files, and made sure that everything was covered and understood. He was helpful, passionate, and (best of all) humble.

From that moment, I was a proud Flash guy. I designed my first Flash portfolio site, and about six months later, was hired as a Design Director at Roger Black’s Interactive Bureau. My first project? A Flash microsite for Lotus where I rented a DV camera and shot footage to be used in a “Hillman Curtis sort-of-way.”

I shortly reached out to Hillman inquiring about a position in his studio. He told me he wasn’t hiring at the time, but was extremely nice about it. And even if he was hiring, I doubt he wanted to hire someone that wanted to BE Hillman Curtis when he was THE Hillman Curtis.

I continued to follow Hillman and became inspired all over again by his book MTIV. In this book, he writes all about his creative process and his inner-voice. He shared his own personal doubts about “being exposed as a fraud.” He echoed the very same feelings and doubts that I myself wrestled with professionally. From then on, I refused to doubt myself any longer, and began a self-education in graphic design. I can’t say that I completed it, because who really does? But I can say (without doubt) that I am a graphic designer.

As Flash became more robust in its video capabilities, I began filming. First with a cheap Sony DV camera, and soon after a Canon XL-2. I moved from shooting video for Flash websites to making short films. I wanted to reach out to Hillman again, and let him know just how similar our paths were. Former musicians, started in design by making band posters, moving to web design, and then Flash. And finally filmmaking. I wanted to connect with him as a peer, yet let him know how much he had given me just by sharing his journey. Hillman was transparent long before social networking gave people the immediate reward for being so. Ultimately, I never reached out. I think I feared the possible rejection. I admired him too much to risk being disappointed.

In Hillman’s last piece, titled HILLMAN, he talks about his career and the theme of reinvention. This immediately brought me back to his Flash Seminar I attended. During the Q&A, an attendee asked Hillman “why are you teaching us this stuff? Don’t you want to keep it for yourself?” he replied that letting it go, allowed him to move forward.

I will never "let go" of what Hillman taught me. He will be missed and remembered as we all move forward.

A second look at the Routzen Renn controversy

There has been a lot of back and forth regarding the Nicholas Routzen Fashion for Passion photos of plus-size model Crystal Renn. Routzen has just posted a response on his blog. I decided to do one better and show the photographs over each other, as to get a better idea exactly what Routzen chose to "modify." While shooting down with a wide angle lens will slim the lower half, there is also some liquify there as well as on her face, waist, and arm.

I think Routzen is amazing photographer. Don't judge him on the Fashion for Passion stuff. His book is awesome! I just think he didn't understand what Crystal Renn means to the plus-size industry/community. This is classic case of an artist not having a handle on the cultural relevance necessary to do meaningful work.

Model Test: Diana... and what I've learned.

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Some shots from a recent model test with Diana. The last shot was a lighting test shot... and at the time I thought "the light is crap, now what?" In moving some lighting, I snapped a plastic housing on a monolight... tried a ringflash... snapped a plastic tightening knob on that... so moved to the window for some backlighting, and lastly to the wall with diffused light from the window coming in from her right.

In the end... what did I learn? The initial lighting looked pretty good and I should not have abandoned my initial setup so quickly. And secondly, you have to have durable, reliable gear. That's why made the switch to Profoto Acute2 1200R... and window light. I'm loving both, though the window light is significantly less expensive.

Photography: One thing I've learned in 2008

As a photographer, 2008 was a very important year for me. I shot more than I ever have and in doing so, started to feel like I’m starting to know what I’m doing. I thought it might be helpful (for me and perhaps some others) to rundown some of the things that I’ve learned throughout the past year. Here’s one of them... Don’t forget to look for shots off-set Sometimes I find myself so focussed on getting the shot I have in my head, I’m not leaving myself open enough to what’s happening around me. Here are three examples from the same shoot.


I had decided to try a ring-flash, so as I made sure it was working I turned behind me to shoot something, and there was Bernadett & Daryon. Popped a frame and said to myself... “yep, it’s working.” Little did I know that I had just taken one of my favorite shots of the day.


Later that afternoon, as the window light began to fade, Daryon (MUA) needed light so that he could see what he was doing... I quickly set up a kino-flo diva light and pointed it over his right shoulder. While Melissa was getting madeup I wanted to shoot her... but I had the ring-flash attached to my 5D, and did not want to take it off So I grabbed a Rebel-XT with a 50mm ƒ1.4... and took this shot of Melissa... one of her favorites.

Which led to this shot (below)... where I played with camera position and used the kino-flo as a backlight and nothing in front. You can see a bit of green fringing on her chin... that’s how the Rebel deals with extreme contrast. I wished I’d had a backup 5D at the time because it would be nice to have this shot in better quality.


After this shoot I became convinced that a good second camera (not only as a backup but as a second camera to shoot with) can be extremely useful.

What does a President look like?

This morning on my way to the studio, I was driving down a residential side street not too far from my apartment. I noticed a wiry 40-something black man jogging on the side of the road. My first thought, was that he looked like Barack Obama. And then it occurred to me... if Senator Obama becomes President Obama... then that man jogging looked like the President of the United States of America. Let’s take a step back and consider the enormity of just that. A black man jogging down the street looks like the President. That one idea changes so much for so many. It changes how we view others, how we view ourselves and how we view the country in which we live. No greater case can be made for the greatness of American than an Obama presidency.

I support Barack for his passion, his purpose, and his ideas on how to move the country forward. However, the ancillary benefit of transforming the public's "mind's eye" as to what an American President looks like could be more powerful, and have a more lasting impact for generations to come.

Your tripod is a light source

I know it sounds a bit funny, but it's brilliant. David Hobby A.K.A. Strobist was featured on the latest Lightsource podcast. He was saying that he uses a tripod when he needs to light a very large space, so he locks the camera down and uses shutter speed to raise the ambient light. This is not a new concept, but the way David equates the tripod with a large light source is great.