The difference between photographing people and hanging out with them

Ok, time for some total fanboy stuff. I had the most amazing night Tuesday, my friend Bill Santiago was on the bill at a comedy show in Mill Valley. I knew Bill back when he was working as a journalist in San Francisco, I photographed a few stories with him either for the Washington Post of the New York Times (lets just say both, it sounds better). He told me one day his real goal was to do stand up comedy.

What the hell? I thought, he was working for the most prestigious newspapers in the world, and doing quite well at it, and he wants to quit and do whatever the hell it is stand up comics do. I did some publicity photos for him, he moved to the New York City, life happened and we spoke once and a while, but not as often as I would have liked, but that is on me. I am terrible at keeping in touch with people, but getting better at it.

He is partly responsible for my updated web site (I will get to the others responsible one of these days, right now you probably do not even know you have inspired this onslaught of self-reflective shutter-buggery). I reconnected to him mostly because I wanted to understand the creative process from a much different perspective, how does a stand up comic function? What is their day like? How do they craft their work? Do they make any money? Are they all miserable? You know, regular journalism questions. But also to see what he is up to, how it is going. I could look on his web site and see the work he did, but did not really know if it was working for him, and wanted to not let another friendship die from attrition.

He told me he had two shows in the Bay Area and said I should try to come by. I went to one in Mill Valley, will go to another tonight in SF.

He was great, I will not do a review of the show, you can do your own research. I posted the link to his page above, so my work promoting Bill is done, your welcome.

There were several other comics that night, some were better than others, I enjoyed them all, but Bill, by far was the best. Until, (and this is no disrespect for Bill, he is great I think, but when you have a comedy legend following you…) the best comic I had never heard of came on stage, Barry Crimmins came on. He was on fire, he was angry, funny, terrifying, someone described his as a combination of Noam Chomsky and Bluto from Popey. Check out the documentary done on him Call Me Lucky

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The show ended and Bill and I wanted to get something to eat, but being Mill Valley, nothing other than the 7-11 and a bar called 2 a.m. club was open. So we went to the bar, and it was just as crazy/ amazing/ scary/ beautiful as you would hope.

For privacy reasons, and my poor memory in spite of no longer drinking alcohol, I will not go into detail of the various topics we covered. Plus it was really loud, so not sure if I heard most of what was said anyway.

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What was most interesting to me from a photographic standpoint was how different it is to experience people when “photographing” them as opposed to “hanging out” with them. Photography is work, and, although I find it quite enjoyable and have met so many amazing people through my work, the interactions are somewhat superficial (it would not work if it was any other way). At least for me, I generally see work photography and hanging out photography as two separate things, in the past I wanted to keep emotional distance with people, I would share just enough to get the reactions out of them to make the photo I wanted, but rarely much more than that.

I realize now that can be a mistake. I do not think one needs to bare their soul to the people they are photographing, but I do think being more open with the people I photograph makes the experience more satisfying for all involved and this will lead to more storytelling images.

This is paraphrased from somewhere, not sure where, it was describing how to get more out of creative work — Don’t just bring what you think you need to bring to get the job done, bring your entire self.

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And a special shout out to the guy I only know as the “Beer Heckler” He was so charming in how irritating he was, at least for me. He reminds me of the people who always want to talk about cameras when I am working. I am always happy to talk about cameras and other photo gadgets, but there is so much more to photography than that, plus I am so much more interested in talking about what other people are doing. I do understand that feeling goes both ways, the people who want to talk about cameras etc. are just trying to make a connection, I assume that is how the person who yells out during a comedy show thinks of them self (or they have had too much to drink, or are actually assholes who can’t stop).

I hope I do not sound irritated or pretentious when I say I have no idea how many mega-pixels my cameras have.

I have no idea, nor do I really care, but I know it is interesting to the person who asked, so I usually answer “enough”

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