Archive for June, 2010

Harold Daniels in Sky Magazine

Mona Sutphen – White House Deputy Chief of Staff

A couple months back, many of us Delta fliers picked up the complimentary (and not too shabby) inflight magazine the airline puts out to find a full portfolio by local all-star Harold Daniels. The feature was on White House staffers and had several nice pics running large.

He agreed to sit down and talk about the experience. Like many photographers who have lived through the past eighteen months, Harold still managed came to the interview with a smile on his face.

MB: Tell me about the White House shoot, tell me how you got that in the first place?

HD: Well, the Delta SkyMagazine went to a new agency, when they merged with Northwest, GSP communications out of Minneapolis was producing the Northwest magazine and started doing the Delta one. So the creative director called me up one day and said they had a shoot in Atlanta with President Jimmy Carter.

That was the first job I did with them. Then I get a call about three weeks later, it hadn’t even gone to press yet, and he was like, “Ok, I swear to God, I’m not going to pigeonhole you as the government photographer, but I need somebody to go to the White House.” And I was like, “Well, ok. At risk of being the government photographer, why not?” [laughs]

How did you start to plan for something like that?

I had already been through the secret service check for Carter

You were in the database?

I felt like I was going to get clearance. I wasn’t worried about that. I was a little worried about getting a crew I could get clearance on [laughs]. I ended up taking an assistant with me from here, Luis Lee, great assistant, and hired an assistant and hair and makeup there. And it was really on the fly. We shot over two days and right in the middle of it, the evening of the first day, was the night the earthquake hit Haiti, and everybody was affected by it. It was like the energy there totally changed. It was like everyone was in some sort of crisis mode.

We didn’t have a lot of trouble with security. A lot of set up and wait. Not a lot of change of plans. This one got called into a meeting and that one got called into a meeting. They said for both days we were actually going to shoot with the president, hoping we would,

And as it turns out, with the earthquake in Haiti, we did not, and they ended up using a stock image for the cover, which was a little disappointing.

But you were all set to photograph Obama?

Oh, Yeah. They never said it was going to happen because apparently they never say that. But it was certainly implied and talked about. We actually set up once thinking it was going to happen.

In the Oval Office?

No, actually on the north lawn. People who actually take the tour probably saw more of the White House than I did. I saw the cool things, like the servants’ entrance to the kitchen and the smoking area back behind the press briefing room [laughs]

We did go into the Roosevelt War room and we did have a few interesting locations. And it was interesting actually being on the back side of the White House where very few people get to go. You were really behind the scenes.

Was Secret Service always standing next to you? Were you assigned a private detail?

Yeah, we had a detail the whole time. In the morning when we got there, and I’ve never had this happen before, but we had to pull everything out. We tried to pack light, but I’m a photographer-I still had a few bags! But we had to pull everything out and they brought the dogs through, which I’d never seen before. And they were real picky about being on the north lawn, because the president lands there and they walk across the lawn to the White House.

When you got the call, how much preparation did you have?

About a week.

Did you write any lighting diagrams? How did you pack your bags?

The only lighting I took was a 7B. Couple of heads. Couple of grids. Light stands. A softbox, an umbrella so could hold the stand up like a boom. I’ve got one stand and I’ve got a boom, and I had to make it work.

I knew it was going to have to be fast because we weren’t going to get a lot of time with these people. But if we got ten minutes that was huge. It was a whole lot more about getting there and setting up and being ready and knowing what the shot would be the second they walked in the door and make it happen fast.

Did you try to do multiple setups with each person?

Maybe two. Some we were like, “This is it”. But there were three or four that we got a couple setups, but they were rotate around this way, move the lights this way sand shoot another.

Did you have to run all your ideas through security?

For the most part no, but I found out they are watching and listening. There was one point where we stepped onto an area where they didn’t want us there and they was a question as to whether it would be an issue and within 30 seconds we found out it was not going to fly. There were guys in SWAT gear telling us you cant go there. It didn’t take them long.

Once you see a gun you know that’s a red flag.

The guy who was with us, who was with the communications office, said, well you know we do have permission to be here. And the guy with the big gun was like, you don’t have my permission.

How do you choose an assistant when you’re going on the road?

First thing is you try to think of somebody you know. If you can get a referral, that’s always the best. The way I found this assistant was I got a twofer. I have a really good friend who’s a photographer in New York and I knew he’d just been to DC and his girlfriend, Victoria is a hair and makeup artist and I knew they went to DC and worked with people in DC. I called Victoria up and she hooked with up with a makeup artist in DC and her husband was a photographer. So there was my assistant.

You won’t hire an assistant blind?

I have. Sometimes you have to.

Have you ever regretted that?

Something is better than nothing. [laughs] The first thing that pops into my mind is a shoot I did in Jacksonville, Florida . A celebrity golfer portrait. There were no resources. There were no rental houses. There was nobody to get referrals from. How did I get a hair and makeup person? I honestly don’t even remember.


No, I don’t think I’ve ever gone on Craigslist. Maybe it was ModelMayhem. Not that Craigslist is bad. I sold a sofa on it one time.

But this kid, he was an ok assistant. He hauled my stuff. Be he wasn’t really an assistant. However, for the most part I’ve been lucky to work with good people.

Did Delta tell you it was going to be that big of a layout?

I knew it was going to be a minimum 8 page spread. And from word go they didn’t know if it was going to happen, but they had every intention of photographing the president. It didn’t happen, but I still got a lot that I’m happy with.

Did you have any ideas that were nixed?

We were going to do a shot on the portico on the South Lawn. But you never knew what things changed in terms with us being a security issue

Are you still shooting film?

For the most part, no. I started shooting digital five years ago. And 99 percent of what I shoot is digital. I shoot a Phase One back with a Contax 645. Sometimes I’ll mix in a little film. I got a stash of Polaroid Type 665. I’ve got about a three or four year supply. I’ve got a land camera with a converted back. It makes a pretty black and white negative.

Is work picking up again?

Yes. Actually, the last month has not been that great quite honestly. I did a  lot of bids. I cannot remember that last time I bid eight jobs and I just knew half of them weren’t going to happen and none of them happened. Nobody got them. They didn’t do them.

The end of last year, the last three months of last year, I had three of the biggest jobs of my career in the first three months of this year. Don’t get me wrong, last year will not go down as a banner year for me, but it really started swinging around at the beginning of the year.

Tell me about where most of your business is coming from?

Right now it seems to be coming from of the coasts. A couple jobs coming out of Minneapolis. I’ve got some agencies I work with in Atlanta.

I remember reading one time, “Don’t expect to be a superstar in your own backyard. It seems like, even in other cities, people think the pastures are greener somewhere else. So the photographers are always better someone else. If they come from Los Angeles, then they must be better than the photographers in Atlanta.

I think that kind of exists. I think for the industry as a whole, it comes that way.

I know you shoot a lot. How are you balancing between personal and professional?

What we do can be really insular sometimes. We tend to surround ourselves with the people we like to work with and they become our friends and our worlds can be kind of small.

I like to blow that out of the water sometimes. Just stepping out of my comfort zone.

Platon headlines ACP

We weren’t quite sure when this officially became public knowledge, but ACP has finally announced that Platon will be headlining this fall’s smorgasbord of all things photo when Atlanta Celebrates Photography kicks off it’s 12th annual festival in October.

Platon’s most recent stroll through the South led to these civil rights icon portraits for the New Yorker.

Jim Fiscus and Atlanta Ballet

Athens photographer Jim Fiscus recently did work for the Atlanta Ballet. Check out his images and news from his new ad work for Schick via Stockland Martel

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