Los Angeles Photographer

The Definition of Success

Today I did an interview and was asked a question that always seems to come up in interviews - “when did you know you’d made it?” The funny thing is, I always feel like I am still in the process of “making it.” Whenever I’m asked that question I think back to the day I spent interviewing Samuel L. Jackson for my first book Sepia Dreams.


Mr. Jackson was shooting the movie Shaft at the time and I was doing the interview in his trailer. I asked him the same question that I was asked today, “When did you know you’d made it?” Samuel responded saying, “well success is a funny thing because it has different stages at different times in your career. When I first started out I had success and I struggled, but I never worried about whether or not it was worth it. When I wasn’t acting, I was building sets and hanging lights and doing something in the theater. I was around when Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Wesley Snipes were breaking out and becoming stars. At the time, I wasn’t getting a lot of acting work. I went through a kind of depression for a while, but then it occurred to me that the work is what makes me happy. It never occurred to me to quit. From early on, it was instilled in me that it was about the work and not the result of the work. It didn’t matter if I was a big star or not, I just wanted to do great work. Everybody wants things to happen at the exact time that they want them to. But I’ve always been very accepting of what going on around me. I wasn’t trying to be a movie star, or to be famous, or to be anything way before it was supposed to happen, I was just trying to be an actor.


I remember the week Spike Lee’s, Do The Right Thing opened. I was walking down the street in New York with one of the main actors in the movie, Bill Nunn who plays Radio Raheem in the movie. People were stopping him and asking for his autograph but didn’t notice me. They just didn’t recognize me from the movie, and the first scene in the movie is my character opening the movie as the DJ.  Years later, my family was on vacation in Italy, we were walking around the Vatican with the other tourist, and a priest stopped us and said, ”Oh my God! It’s Samuel L. Jackson.” The reality of success is actually a lot bigger then the dream. Your career will lead you to all kinds of things that you can’t predict.”


Today I feel the same way Samuel Jackson felt after doing the movie, Do The Right Thing, but like he said to me that day, it’s not about the result of the work, it’s about loving the work you do. I love photography through all its ups and downs. It’s a difficult decision to decide to become an artist, but if you make that decision make sure you love the craft because it’s the love of your craft and enjoying the work that will define success for you. 


Always Dream Big

Farewell My Concubine

I have always loved watching movies, and not just American movies, but films from all over the world. In the 90's I started watching popular Chinese movies and became intrigued by how the stories were told. Some of the movies I watched were, Raise the Red Lantern, To Live and Farewell My Concubine. Never in a million years did I think I would ever get the opportunity to photograph one of the directors, but life has a funny way of bringing things to you. This is why it's important to gain control of your thoughts because what you think about, you bring about.

When I learned I had the assignment in China of photographing Chen Kaige and his lovely leading lady Chen Hong, I was excited and wanted to try and learn to speak a little Mandarin before the assignment. I purchased the Rosetta Stone's Mandarin language course and studied as much as possible before my trip to China. I wanted to be able to greet my subjects properly at the very least. I even learned how to say, "that's nice" so as I photographed them, I could say, "Henhow, henhow!"

Well, on the day of the shoot everything was going great. I ordered beautiful flowers for his wife and had the right music playing as they walked into the studio. As I went to say hello and try and speak the few phrases I'd learned , Mr. Kaige said, in perfect English "oh you know a little Mandarin?" I quickly told him I only know a few words and phrases and he laughed and said they spoke English. As the shoot progressed, what really made the day enjoyable was Mr. Kaige's enjoyment of the music I played during the shoot. 

I was horrible at speaking Mandarin, but my subjects were happy that I took the time to try for them. The lesson here is to do everything you can before an assignment to make your clients (and subjects) feel like they are the most important people in the world. Taking the actual photograph is usually not the hardest part of the day on a photo shoot. The hardest part is connecting with your subject and pulling out the best of them while they are in front of your camera. Taking the time to get to know everything about your subject is important for the success of the shoot. Even when you can't speak the same language, music can serve as your universal language to relax your subjects and help you get great shots.


Have fun and always dream big!