Friday, July 03, 2009

Architectural Photography for Marni

Marni is a remarkable Italian fashion house with a worldwide presence and a spacey, futuristic design aesthetic in all its stores.

Marni hired me to photograph their new boutique in Miami's Design District on the day it opened.

We started before dawn and shot for a couple hours before the media interviews and pre-opening party began.

The sweeping, swooping space seemed to demand ultra-wide angle lenses, so that's what I used.

A big slideshow of my Marni images is here.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Making Lightroom User-Friendly

Adobe asked me to analyze some of its programs, so I wrote a pretty tough critique of Lightroom 2 with suggestions on how to make it easier to use.

It's super-technical, photo-geeky stuff, but you hardcore digital darkroom workers out there may find it provocative and controversial.

Check it out here

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Recipe For A Rainbow

Take a little rain, spread warm, late afternoon sunshine over Miami Beach, and capture quickly with a little point and shoot.

Then incline camera for second helping, and walk 90 degrees from the direction of the light to adjust the apparent end of the rainbow to where a bystander waits for the light rain to stop:

Then darken the bottom lightly in Photoshop as the clouds move by:

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

No Excuse Justifies Torture

I just received an email from former congressman Harold Ford Jr., now the chair of the Democratic Leadership Council, defending remarks he made on cable TV saying it was understandable that after 9-11 "enhanced" interrogation "methods" were used to "gain valuable and in some cases actionable intelligence", but that he really doesn't approve of torture.

Here's what I wrote back:

Dear Harold --

I don't buy it -- what the Cheney-Bush administration did was torture, pure and simple.

It was an extremely counter-productive, nationally and internationally illegal, war crime that overall made our country less safe.

And, if that's not enough for you, it was morally wrong, too. It was disgusting.

Please don't use Orwellian euphemisms like "enhanced interrogation methods."

If hooded men took your father, stripped him naked, chained his arms and suspended him by the chains from the ceiling, and kept him in this "stress position" for days so it felt like his arms were being pulled out of his shoulder sockets, while at the same time his captors dropped the temperature in his cell to shivering, near freezing, levels, and played such loud sounds 24 hours a day to prevent him from getting any blessed sleep for days on end, would you say, "My dad received enhanced interrogation techniques"?

Or would you say "They tortured my father."

Or let's say they took your wife, threatened her with snarling dogs and forced her into a cramped, totally dark, sweltering coffin-like box too small for her to lay in without scrunching her body up, and then put in crawling insects and left her there for days to stew in her stinking bodily wastes, would you say,"Oh, well, they just gave my wife some enhanced interrogation?"

Or would you say, "They tortured my wife."

Of if they took your son, blindfolded him, and then tied him to a long wooden board, stuffed a filthy rag into his mouth and up into his nose, and then inclined the board and began pouring water, or maybe some other liquid, up his nose and into his mouth through the dirty rag so he couldn't breathe, and water was entering his sinuses and lungs, so he felt as if -- and in fact was -- starting to drown, cutting off his oxygen; and then they repeated this waterboarding over and over again, saying that they would stop it only when he confessed to X, Y or Z . . . would you say, "Yes, they gave enhanced interrogation methods to my boy"?

Or would you say, "Those bastards, they tortured my son. "

And one of the worst, most mind-bending things about the Cheney-Bush administration's worldwide torture program was that American service-people, contractors and other government operators did a lot of this torture stuff to completely innocent people who, unfortunately for them, were swept up indiscriminately in massive round-ups by non-local language-speaking GIs in Afghanistan and Iraq, or who were denounced and turned over to the Americans by local tribal rivals or gangsters in exchange for locally huge cash rewards.

Tragically, many, many -- quite possibly a majority -- of the unfortunates imprisoned in places like Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and Gitmo -- are not terrorists. Torturing terrorists is wrong and counterproductive in so many way, but torturing hundreds and thousands of the innocent people in those prisons was the totally inevitable result of an unjust, unwise and cruel policy that came down from the top as implemented by people lower down on the food chain, some of whom became more and more sadistic.

Also ironic is the fact that waterboarding has been employed since at least the Spanish Inquisition to extract false confessions from prisoners -- the so-called "intelligence" it produces is notoriously unreliable -- people will confess to anything under the torture -- and least one known U.S. torture victim told the Cheney administration what they wanted to hear before the invasion of Iraq -- that Saddam had Weapons of Mass Destruction. That was "valuable . . . actionable intelligence."

Look, Harold, this was a disaster on all levels, moral, legal and practical, and you simply cannot triangulate on this.

Please remember that now as a result of this stupid and despicable U.S. torture policy, there are many thousands if not millions of people in the Muslim world who now can say. "Those bastards, the Americans, they tortured my husband . . . or my father . . . or my son . . . or my cousin . . . or my uncle . . . or my neighbor's father . . . or my neighbors son . . . they tortured our people."
This was bad policy on all levels, Harold, don't excuse it or try to sweep it under the carpet. It's too big.

Chris Matthews is right -- you're trending toward Cheney-world.

I have a lot of respect for your political abilities, Harold, but please, please rethink your position on this and stop excusing the inexcusable.

My Best Regards,

Bill Wisser

(The historic photos in this blog post are, of course not copyrighted by me, but I believe that republishing them here is a fair use under copyright law, especially those images that were taken by U.S. government employees at the Abu Ghraib prison.)

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

The White Tulip / opening party

The White Tulip is a florist shop in Miami Beach's stylish South Beach district. I shot the opening with fast lenses and no flash. The DJ was drag legend Elaine Lancaster.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Kent Hotel Video Remix

Here's a video I made with stills from my photo-shoot at The Kent Hotel last week.

This Miami Beach landmark on Collins Avenue was designed by architect L. Murray Dixon in a streamlined Art Deco style in 1939 and was recently renovated.

Photos from the shoot will be used in the hotel's new website and other advertising collateral.

The music is by the great Cuban Mambo king Perez Prado from a circa 1952 video clip found on YouTube. And my photo assistant on the shoot was Adam Dalziel.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

South Beach bouncing back

Recession? Unemployment? Stock market plunging? Worldwide crisis?

You'd never know it on Lincoln Road, Miami Beach's main shopping street.

Business seems to be booming -- in 16 years, I've never seen the street more crowded, never seen so many chi-chi shops.

The art busines seem to be booming there, too, with several interesting new galleries open. But my sentimental favorite is the decades-old Art Center South Florida, two buildings of artists' studios.

Originally the buildings were small department stores during the Art Deco era -- they were remodeled into inexpensive studios for artists, starting in 1984 under the leadership of potter Ellie Schneiderman, but many Art Deco details remain like these sleekly graceful, modernist stair railings.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

Fireworks at the birth of 2009 in Miami Beach.

Ocean Drive was closed to cars; the restaurants set up extra tables and chairs on the pavement and people danced in the street. It was a huge, happy, peaceful, multicultural crowd of all ages: many families with babies in strollers, as well as many young couples, of course. And the vibe was an Obama-like calm, an easy-going warmth.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Model Sharlene, hair and make-up artist Yajaira, and I created a retro glamour Christmas card this year.

The space Blogger allocates for photos -- only 400 pixels high -- is really too small to adequately show the 900-pixel high card that I e-mailed to some 700 of my closest friends and associates.

But here it is at the reduced size with, however, our very full-size best wishes for a very happy holiday season and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Art Basel Miami Beach

The most magnificent art fair in the Americas, replete with Picassos, Mirós and astonishing works by up-and-coming artists like Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, Art Basel Miami Beach is always a treat to photograph, and this year was one of the best Art Basels ever.

Here's a link to some of my photoreportage of the week-long, city-wide event. I shot partly for Florida Trend magazine and partly for myself and for an art gallery -- and also for The Station, a satellite art exhibition in Midtown Miami that presented one of the greatest hits of the whole festival: a stunning, hallucination realized into a hyper-reality, a horrific yet funny and wonderful installation by Freeman and Lowe called Hello Meth Lab With A View.

Here's one of my images of part of their sprawling installation:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Box Of Chocolates

Beautiful chocolates from Godiva in my studio this week. In a box. With gold and silver backgrounds. And very macro close-ups.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bread and Butter

Food photography has been my bread and butter lately, and here's a photograph I made of . . . bread and butter. With apricot jam. I created this and many images of burgers, sandwiches, strawberries, pasta, pizza, pineapples, cookies and more with super-skilled food stylist Mary Ann Burt.

To see our work, just click here.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Be a Wok Star

My friend Eleanor made me a Wok Star.

Born in China, raised in Hong Kong, and educated at fancy schools in England, Eleanor Hoh speaks with a deliciously plummy English accent.

She's been an actress/model in many commercials and ads around the world, and a vivacious TV show hostess in Miami.

Now she also runs a cooking school that teaches people how to make extremely tasty, but quick Chinese stir-fry food in traditional, very thin, cast-iron woks.

These woks, which she imports from China, are almost like art objects -- as if Brancusi had sculpted a Chinese frying pan.

I'd cooked with woks before. In fact, I already had two in my kitchen, but they were steel woks. Old-school, cast-iron woks are hard to find in this country.

But -- as I soon discovered after getting one of Eleanor's super-thin, super-light, cast iron woks -- cast iron cooks better, cleans easier and makes crisper stir-fry vegetables than the more Westernized steel models.

As for teflon-coated woks -- don't even think about it.

Anyhow, as a sort of bonus, Eleanor gave me one of her beautiful, seasoned woks after I did some food and product photography for her, a few samples of which are in this blog entry.

Eleanor says anybody can become a Wok Star with her lessons, which she gives in person and on DVD. Check out her website,

Florida Governor Charlie Crist

Florida's liberal Republican Governor Charlie Crist held his second annual "Serve to Preserve Summit on Global Climate Change" and alternate energy recently, and I covered it, making the above photo of him

Crist is hard to classify -- but he's a smart politician and he's leading Florida into increased use of alternate energy and a wide variety of energy-saving technologies.

Way different from Bush-Cheney's fossil fuel-centered policy!

Crist also seems worried about what rising sea levels from global warming might do to Florida's 1,197 miles of coastline and the people living along it.

On the other hand, when he came into the spotlight recently as a possible vice presidential running mate on John McCain's ticket, Crist changed his tune on off-shore drilling. McCain is for drilling.

Crist used to be against it; now he's for it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ted Kennedy

The recent outpouring of respect and affection for Ted Kennedy -- even from hyper-partisan, conservative Republican opponents -- surprised me.

I thought our national politics had become so debased, so pickled in vitriol and so dependent on big lies, nasty distortions and sneaky half-truths, that respect and affection for liberals was virtually unimaginable from the culture warriors of the right.

But there on C-SPAN were right-wingers like Republican leader Mitch McConnel praising Teddy as maybe the greatest senator of all time.

The tributes went beyond pro forma sentiment or opportunistic sentimentality -- they appeared heartfelt. Everyone on the Hill seems to really like and respect the senior senator from Massachusetts, the third Kennedy brother, the liberal lion as they call him, the last crusader from the flawed yet still mythic court of Camelot, a senator since 1962.

Here's a picture I made of Teddy years ago, when he was running for President.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Neon, the Night and the G9

It was built in 1948 in New Jersey, but it sits today in Miami Beach on the corner of Washington and 11th, a big silver slice of gleaming, open-24-hours-a-day, Americana: the 11th Street Diner.

The menu is just what you'd want from a diner: not gourmet, but real diner food: omelets and toast, open-faced turkey sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, malteds, American coffee and apple pie a la mode. Big portions. And OK, yes, they have some tofu and salmon things, too. And a full bar. This is South Beach after all.

I've photographed the place quite a few times, including a lit, medium format shot done inside the diner and featuring a sexy, sassy blonde named Christine Lyons wearing a vintage-style waitress uniform -- she actually worked at the diner while also running an indie record label on the side. I think she was a singer, too, if I remember correctly. That shoot was for Amica, a terrific Italian fashion magazine, and I later also used that shot in my now out-of-print book South Beach, America's Riviera, published in 1995.

Anyhow, Friday night I was walking home after a fine swordfish dinner with an old friend at Grillfish, when the diner loomed up at me in all its Streamline Moderne glory, and I couldn't resist photographing it again, this time with a little pocket camera I carry with me all the time now, the Canon G9.

This 12.1 megapixel baby fits in the palm of your hand, but it's surprisingly heavy for such a little thing, almost 10 ounces. An astonishing amount of very high technology is packed inside; and despite some design compromises and at least one design blunder -- the incredibly inaccurate optical viewfinder -- the thing's a gem.

I made the above image hand-held (!!!) at 1/10th of a second at f3.2 and ISO 400 at a focal length equivalent to 70mm.

The camera's built-in image stabilization helped me to get a sharp image at such a slow shutter speed, and the image was much less noisy than I expected. That is is to say it was less grainy than I expected. (Grain, or noise, is a problem with small digital sensors cranked up to high sensitivity in low light).

The G9 has become a cult cameras for many of us -- it's so light you can take it anywhere, and it has a superbly sharp lens, with a zoom range equivalent to 35 to 210mm.

You can buy one for around $450, plus you'll need a high capacity memory card.

The above image was handheld at 1/5th of a second with the G9 at f3.2 and ISO 200; but it got rather noisy when I goosed up the saturation in Photoshop -- still nice, though

The worst thing about the camera is the optical viewfinder, which seems to point in a somewhat different direction than the lens! It's worse than useless -- it's positively misleading, a huge mistake in a semi-pro camera. Of course, there is an excellent 3" LCD screen for focusing and composing, but a good optical viewfinder is also needed, especially when you want to jam the cameras against your brow to help keep it steady for those slow hand-held exposures.

I'd be willing to pay about $35 more to also have a good optical viewfinder in a camera like this. Also the high ISO performance should be improved. The grain becomes really horrid at ISO 1600.

Even so, this is an amazing piece of technology.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Jiussana Goes Glamour

The lovely Jiussana, who used to a be a pop star in Mexico and now is in the clothing business in Miami, came to my studio last week for glamour shoot with a retro feel.

We took our inspiration from old pin-up photos and illustrations from the late 1940s and early '50, especially the sexy calendar art paintings of Geoge Petty and Alberto Vargas.

Hair and make-up was by Yajaira. We shot over 400 images.

And you can see a few more of them here.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Doorways in Time

Back in the 1930s and '40s, before air-conditioning was commonplace, most houses in Miami Beach had screen doors -- beautiful Art Deco screen doors.

Though South Beach's historic district is supposed to be protected from changes that destroy its unique character, quite a few of the elegant old doors have disappeared during the last 15 years.

I think many rusty or broken ones were simply junked by owners who didn't recognize their value.

Others, however, remain; and some have even been restored.

Illustrated here are three old ones that remain in or near Miami Beach's now booming South Pointe area

When I first saw this neighborhood at the southern tip of Miami Beach, back in 1992, it was a slum; and many old cottages, small apartment buildings and little hotels were in ramshackle disrepair alongside a few that hip entrepreneurs had fixed up. Now the neighborhood has been revived with ultra high-end, high-rise condos ringing the waterfront; and some of the older buildings have been lost. Many still remain, though, along with their remarkable doors.

I made these pictures yesterday afternoon with a little Canon G9 that when I'm not shooting professionally with my big cameras, I carry with me everywhere.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Postcard Aesthetic

After scanning, captioning, key-wording and retouching numerous vintage postcards from the 1900s through the 1960s for my new stock image archive, I'm beginning to see real life as a series of postcard views.

I mean that the postcard aesthetic has infiltrated my photography -- at least for now -- and I like it. Here's a recent example of my postcard-influenced photography:

There was a layer of unreality, of fantasy, to the classic postcards of yesteryear.

During the golden age of American postcards -- roughly from 1930 to 1950 -- picture postcards were generally made from black-and-white photos that were heavily retouched and colorized, often by a staff artist for the big postcard companies who had never actually seen the subject of the photograph in person.

So the airbrush artist pretty much guessed at the colors -- and modified them up as he saw fit, as he imagined them.

In some cases, when, for instance, a hotel commissioned a postcard company to create a card for the hotel, the postcard company would ask the client to write on a translucent sheet overlaid atop a black-and-white proof what the various colors should be -- so the staff artist could paint, or airbrush, in the approximate colors, in a sort of paint-by-numbers fashion, using the color descriptions written by the client on this overlay as his map.

All this resulted in a fantasy universe of imaginatively colored and airbrushed postcards featuring beautiful colors laid over the black-and-white photo which then became a nearly invisible base underneath all the paint.

For instance this Cuban postcard published in 1945 of gorgeous Cuban landscape seems to show a deliciously darkening sky over a vibrant layer of orange glow from the below-the-horizon sun. But I've seen three other postcard versions of this exact same photo in cards published in the early 1900s, in which it's clearly daylight and the totally blue daytime sky had big fluffy clouds, but they appear to have been painted out in this version.

Some postcards for Miami Beach hotels were notorious for airbrushing out all the crowded surroundings -- so there were no competing hotels next door in the picture. Some of these cards also moved the hotels closer to the beach, eliminating for example, a street that separated them. Sure, that's amusing to see, but also pretty dishonest and I suppose it offends my sensibilities as a former hardcore journalist for newspapers and magazines.

But in my current role as an advertising and fine art photographer, I like some other liberties that the airbrush artists took. I like their slightly muted, yet luminous color palette -- probably enhanced by the fact that the postcards' paper has over the decades now oxidized and slightly yellowed, giving a gently reddish-brownish-yellow undertint to the proceedings. I like what some anonymous artist did with that Cuban landscape photo.

I found technical means of creating similar looks with modern cameras and image-processing software.

The soft old colors of those vintage cards - and the inevitable, if often artifical, red-orange-yellow sunsets glowing low on the horizon, sometimes lighting up the underside of big fluffy clouds -- has made me want to do similar retouching in Photoshop.

Here, for instance, are images of Miami Beach palm trees I shot with my new G9 camera -- before and after I gave it the postcard look:

The G9 is brilliant, small (4 x 2 x 1-inch) camera from Canon with a 12-megapixel sensor and a fine lens, plus image stabilization and a host of other features, including the ability to shoot richly detailed and highly malleable RAW files.

I carry it with me everywhere (unless I'm carrying one of my big, heavyweight cameras). It fits into a cargo pocket or a little waist pouch

Anyhow, I added the lilac and yellow colors to the sky of these G9 palm tree images -- and it looked to me like a 21st century hommage to the postcard artists of an earlier day.

You can see more of my images -- some with a soft, and some with a bright, color palette -- on my new e-commerce-enabled, stock photo site at

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Jai Pakistan . . . Jai Democracy!

Snuffing out the Constitution, muzzling the press, arresting liberal lawyers, firing the Supreme Court, outlawing public gatherings of more than three people, beating up protesters, suspending elections -- all in the name of protecting the nation from terrorism . . .

Meanwhile -- even as the Pakistani police, army and spy agencies imprison the moderate, secular, cosmopolitan, and democratically-oriented professional people and human rights activists -- the fanatical jihadis, the Taliban and Al Qaeda all grow stronger in the rough mountains of the Northwest Frontier Province. Now the extremists have even become powerful in the splendid resort valley of Swat, not to mention in the major cities like Karachi and Lahore.

Crushing Pakistan's democratic elements under the boot of the army will only strengthen the terrorists.

A growing democracy with economic opportunity, education and equality before the law is the best antidote to Islamo-fascism, but Musharraf is going in a tragic direction. It's horrible to see democracy being strangled in its crib. Even worse is to see anti-democratic encroachments on our own Constitution and Bill of Rights here in the United States, all supposedly for the same reason: to fight terrorism.

But here, too, our unfettered American democracy with its Bill of Rights, guaranteeing freedom of speech and assembley, due process, and right of privacy from government spying -- our profound civil liberties as conceived by the Founding Fathers remain the world's best defense against tyrants of any stripe, foreign or domestic.

We must stand for democracy here and abroad. This is an historic moment of enormous consequence. We must stand for democracy with all our hearts. This is what those patriotic songs they taught you in school and the Pledge of Allegiance are about: freedom and justice for all, the land of the free and the home of the brave, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

I made the above image more than 20 years ago in Lahore, Pakistan, the artistic capital of the Punjab -- the land of the five rivers -- at the monumental Moghul fort there; these mosaics are more than 350 years old.

Jai Pakistan -- Long live Pakistan! Jai Democracy -- Long live Democracy!

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Sleepless in Miami

Saturday night Miami Beach was more interesting than usual with art installations and live performances all over town nearly until dawn -- part of what was billed as a $400,000 "Sleepless Night" of culture.

Hookers were still click-clacking in their heels on Collins Avenue; and clueless teenagers, hip-hoppers and twenty somethings were still lining up to get into overpriced clubs on Washington guarded by hulking bouncers in suits -- a far cry from the glorious times of yesteryear (some 15 years ago) when the clubs were still cool, the crowds hipper, and achingly beautiful women in drop-dead gowns or drag queens in wings -- door goddeses they were called -- guarded the doors, deciding who'd get in.

Anyhow, the lure of the neon got to me, so I took some fast lenses (a 50mm f1.4; a 28 f1.8; and a 135mm f2) plus a 17- megapixel Canon 1Ds Mk3, and walked about for couple hours.

I shot architecture more than people -- though there were some cute kissing couples in Plaza de España, where Dana Keith's great Miami Beach Cinematheque put on an outdoor showing of the 1929 Surrealist classic Un Chien Andalou accompanied by a live performance of a flamenco troupe.

Even so, it was the architecture, the approximately 70-year-old Art Deco architecture, that drew me the most; and I photographed it handheld, mostly with the 28mm wide-angle, and then made the perspective more rectalinear in Photoshop, adjusting away distortion and making the lines more true.

The Sigma lens, the 28, is big and heavy, and I didn't think it would be very sharp wide open -- but it was, and yet had a creamy quality, abetted by some High Dynamic Range post-processing I dd in Photoshop.

I hadn't shot with my fast lenses for a long time -- I've been using f2.8 and f4 zooms and tilt-shift lenses mostly. But this was a return to my roots: I used to do photojournalism with a fast 50, a 28, and a 135; I love those focal lenghts.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Crocodile! On a golf course

I've been photographing golf courses lately for TDI International, a company that builds and renovates golf courses. During a recent shoot at Deering Bay Yacht & Country Club, we saw this crocodile.

As I inched closer to it, the creature seemed motionless as a stone statue. I kept shooting photos with a long lens. I walked a little closer.

I heard a golf cart approaching -- suddenly the monster whipped around -- who would have thought it could move so fast -- and dived back into the pond.

I moved pretty fast, too -- backwards.

By the way, this was a saltwater crocodile, not its cousin the alligator. Fore!

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