Brad and Mei

Walking the dog was never so lovely.  Just glad she didn't get a whiff of the wild turkeys just off in the grass!I recently had the pleasure of working with Brad and Mei. They were kind enough to bid on my auction display at Bullylicious, a fundraising event for the American Pit Bull and their enthusiasts. Their goal: Raising awareness that pits aren’t the bad dawgs they’re made out to be.

Brad put his bid in for the photos, but he had a secret agenda as well.  I guess he figured, “Why not kill two birds with one stone?”  A proposal, along with a walk in the park and a photographer following along was the perfect way to capture what happens only once.

We met for a sunset shoot in the hills of Oakland, but Daylight Savings Time being what it was, I miscalculated the time needed before sunset.  Thus we had, shall we say, ample time to work with.  But not to say that’s a bad thing at all.  I always preach to my clients, perspective and current, that any extra time spent with their photographer will yield greater results.  It’s no easy task to be thrust in front of a camera and act yourself.  The whole feeling changes, and it’s only when you are comfortable and slightly unaware that someone is following you around with a camera that you start to let your guard down.

Rachel loving every minute of the Great Outdoors.

Along for the day was Rachel, Brad and Mei’s rescued Pit Bull Terrier.  I have to admit, when I made the original call to touch base with Brad, I was a bit nervous when I found out she was a Pit and was coming along.  My stereotypes couldn’t have been shattered more quickly, as she was good-natured and more or less unconcerned with me or my camera.  She obeyed my commands right away as we frolicked through the grass and posed for a few portraits.  If I had another treat, I would give one to her right now.

Loving the fresh green grass!

As we whiled along with the day, the sun was starting its descent.  The light was getting soft and warm.  I switched to one of my favorite lenses, the 85mm 1.4.  It’s so lovely at making people just pop from the background while turning said background into lovely buttery goodness.  I was aware of Brad’s plan, and had been waiting for it all day.  He seemed to have a little nervousness in his step, and I knew the big question was coming.  I just sort of ambled around until I saw him turn and get serious.

As the moment turns towards the big question, I was just off in the distance capturing the moment.

As he got out the little box and dropped one knee, Mei froze up.  I think every woman has this reaction, but it’s the happiest freeze a woman could ever ask for.  I love how they sort of pretend that they don’t know what’s going on. It’s the moment that most girls dream of for a long time…

WIth the ring on and tears running, Brad asks, "Well, yes or no?!" Ladies, you always seem to forget that we men need verbal confirmation. The answer of course, was, "Yes, of course!"

So as Brad confessed his love through word, action, and intent, I moved around to capture the moment.  After getting some great shots, I backed off and went a little wider to take in the moment.  All’s well that ends well…

Some gorgeous evening light and a quiet moment at hand.

Brad and Mei, congratulations on your engagement and continued evolution as a family.

See you down the road.

-Todd

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Cuttin’ It Up

Rob saws through a few steel frames while throwing sparks at me.

Life continues to roll on inside Prospect.

Progress made has been great, and I continue to find amazing things to photograph as the story unfolds.  The inside structure is taking shape, and the idea is coming to life.

Sparks are flying and love is in the air!  Don’t know about that last one, but the latter is definitely true.

Foot steps, hammering, the rise and fall of the blade cutting steel framing – all of these reverberate throughout – and I am amazed to see the skeleton emerge.  I have to walk a little more tentatively now that work has started.  Dawning a hard hat, I peruse around and try not to get in the way of so many who are making this possible.

Rob, Kevin, Tommy… the list goes on and on.  They have started the story, and I look forward as it unfolds.

Today’s words are a bit short.  As I am feeling under the weather (boo) I don’t have much to say.

Maybe that’s a good thing?…

Please enjoy the imagery.

At 200mm, I was well clear of the sparks - unlike my 14-24mm lens that took a few to the glass - oops.

A worker installs some electrical lines.

Rob threads in a screw to pull it all together.

I am sure there will be a much prettier attendant at the front when Prospect opens her doors!

Always wear your hard hat, or you could end up like the unfortunate soul below...

This poor fellow wasn't with the unions and slipped through the cracks. Nah. Where else but San Francisco can you find a glittering skull in the trash?

See you down the road.

-Todd

Almost Up To Speed

I can, on occasion, get ahead of myself.  For instance, when I sailed my 26 ft Pearson Ariel 4000 miles to Mexico and back, I had a moment to face my mortality during some unsettled weather.  As 40 knot gusts howled furiously and waves crashed about, I had never encountered anything like the mean ocean I saw before me, and thought (even if momentarily) that I might not make it.  Under duress, I decided to write down everything I wanted to do in my lifetime. Yes, I wrote my bucket-list at the ripe old age of 23.  After returning from Mexico and finding safe harbor, the list emerged, and a funny pattern raised its head.  It went something like this:

1.  Run Marathon

2.  Start Running

3.  Hike Appalachian Trail

4.  Buy Hiking Boots

5.  Become Independently Wealthy

6.  Find Job

And so my list went down the line.  Big goals first.  Starting out second.  I’ve always wanted the end results quickly.  I am willing to do the work, but a bit impatient sometimes (OK, most of the time!)  Once again, I find myself wishing to post my most recent photos of Prospect, only to reign in on the stampede of imagery.  I’ve decided for once, (big sigh) to be patient.

What follows are the long drives, late nights, and good beer consumed brain storming and contemplating where we want this to go.

Adam Typing and Ravi contemplating.

Our guru of words, Adam has a uncanny ability to be loquacious, amusing, and provocative all in the same sentence. To me, he is the William Jefferson Clinton of my friends and colleagues; he can say just about anything, and I’ll love him for it.

The stark reality that it doesn't matter where and how you meet - just as long as you meet.

Like I’ve said before, this project is about the forging of friends, co-workers, trades, and artists who’ll provide the collective effort to realize Prospect. Everywhere you walk within the building, names start popping out at you.  A family owned operation, Val Betti kept springing up on hats, shirts, and even home appliances.  I am not sure if the power supply is totally necessary for the circa 90’s microwave, but one thing is for certain:  The burritos will be hot!

Setting: Nuclear

Once I was described by a friend as, “A rock of change.  But a rock nonetheless.”  Maybe that’s where my love of construction sites comes from? Everyday something happens – something changes – a wire gets installed, a piece of sheet rock is hung, or concrete is poured.  Materials take shape and form out of ideas, mathematics, paper, pencils, computers, and more.  For a dreamer like me, it’s paradise.

The end result of years of work in the form of text, pictures, lines and paper.

Visited daily, the plans are referred to constantly.

A hand crafted space idea of immense proportion isn’t born overnight; nothing great ever is.  Planning, hard work, drafts, and re-drafts all require attention to detail. Getting to know Prospect and her story – setbacks and triumphs alike – I have come to realize that everyone involved has paid their dues.

With a little more patience, Prospect will be open for business – and like the hottest girl around – she’ll be worth the wait.

It seems the proverb is proving true once again.

“Patience is a virtue.”

See you down the road.

-Todd

Made In America – Forging Ahead

Working on a different project, Nick is a skilled craftsman himself. The shirt says it all!

Working on the Prospect project allows me to meet all sorts of people from varied walks of life. Some are engaging, and some not so much. The majority are of the first kind – like the workers of Jefferson Mack Metal – who are wonderful people.

Augustine,  a blacksmith at the shop and Kathy’s husband (the general manager of Boulevard) is taking on the project of constructing hand forged chandeliers for the restaurant’s interior.  Pumped for the chance to document the creation of these handmade pieces of art, I couldn’t wait to begin.

I arrived early for my meeting with Ravi and the guys, and poked my head in to the shop.  I was in photographer heaven with what I saw:  Tools, dirty and gritty looking stuff everywhere, this little shaft of natural light to accent the guys working, crazy looking machinery that, I swear, sounded like Mumra The Ever Living (I have waited so long to get in a Thundercats reference in!) when it beat down to shape molten iron at will.  I could hardly contain myself.

Before we could begin, Augustine had to go over a few of the safety issues first.  “Always watch where you are going.” he trumped in his accented voice.

Beautiful to listen to, he is the Antonio Banderas of blacksmiths.

Looking serious and ready for work, Augustine is a master craftsman.

“Right,” I thought to myself, “no problem when I’m looking through the viewfinder of my camera trying to frame a shot up, not paying attention to where my feet are headed.”

“Don’t touch the furnace.  It’s at a temperature of about 2800 degrees Fahrenheit.”  He nodded over to the red-hot beast.

“Got it.  Note to self.  Don’t melt flesh off body.”  Mentally tallying the ways I could die.

“Also, don’t put your hands near anything that’s moving or looks dangerous.”  he said with finality.

“OK,” I thought, “don’t mess up just this one time.  Don’t touch anything, ask questions, obstruct their movement, say anything offensive, or be a general pain in the ass in any way, shape, or form.”  With the final instructions, we started to walk over to begin. Then we stopped short.

“I almost forgot,” he said with his pointer finger in the air, as if a trick question almost fooled him, “you need safety glasses.  Here you are.”  As he handed me these ocular plastic shields, I had to laugh a bit.  It wasn’t attune to wearing a helmet while skydiving, but it felt pretty close.

Ready for forging, these slugs will be pounded into the outer perimeter of the chandelier.

With the furnace glowing red-hot, Augustine pulled out some round iron slugs that would momentarily be pounded into the rough shape that would form the outside of the chandelier.  As he found the correct tool for picking up the red hots, I shimmied here and there to get some photos while clearing myself of any danger.

Augustine dialed in the zone, hammering away.

Standing eerily in the corner and painted red, as if to warn ignorant souls of its power, a belt driven hammer was turned on with a flip of a switch.  This machine has been crafting metal and scaring young children for over a century. Impressed and intimidated, I gave the machine (Mumra) room to spare.  As Augustine transported the readied metal and began to work, I was amazed at how quickly and effortlessly he turned, pulled, and tweaked the metal and machine.  Feathering the amount of pressure via foot pedal, Augustine skillfully pounded, shaped, bent, and warped his medium into a discernible form.  Happy with the outcome, he repeated this step over and over.

Using a century old belt driven hammer, Augustine's idea takes shape.

Now that all the pieces were roughed out, they had to be re-heated and bent into shape.  How do you bend a piece of metal to the exact shape you want it? Well, you have to build a one of a kind template and tools to get the job done. Heading over to the table with a red-hot piece of forged iron, Augustine laid the metal down, grabbed a hammer and vice like tool, and with the help of a few others, bent the metal into its pre-formed shape.

Using manpower alone, this piece of metal was bent into its proper shape.

Super-heated metal, being bent to form.

Once the pieces are bent into shape, they get re-heated again, and sent over to a hydraulic press to really flatten them out.  When the press touches down and lifts off them again, the rush of oxygen produces a flame that looks pretty cool. Timing it right wasn’t as easy, but I managed to get one sequence off without a hitch.

The press stamps out any imperfection, and really flattens the piece out.

It seems like the routine of the day was as follows:  Forge, fire, press, hammer, bend, repeat.  I have to say I had a blast in the shop.  Even Prospect’s architect came by to chat about the design and take a gander at the progress.  I think for Ravi and everyone involved, it was fantastic to see ideas start to become reality.

Augustine and Ravi talk shop.

As the day was coming to a close, I slowed down to look around.  I wanted to cover some details.  I just love all the hidden little stories that float around. There’s so much history in this shop, and here are two of my favorites.

This set of tools is well-worn, but they seem alive, just waiting to help make something grand.

A close up of a metal saw. I took this image only a few inches away from the blade with my macro lens. It's so fine you can see the shavings!

Both of these images were from my 100 mm macro lens.  I can print these images up to around 24 inches (2 feet!) wide and they would still be around 240 DPI (dots per inch.)  That would be incredible sharp and realistic.  I could go even bigger, and I still wouldn’t worry about sharpness.

Doing a mental checklist of the images I wanted to capture, I felt satisfied.  I had met fantastic people, and had a great space and light to work with.  There’s not much more a photographer could ask for.  Packing up and heading out, I heard something.  It was almost evil.  As I looked back, Mumra was at it again. I raced back to capture Augustine hammering out a last round of slugs, but this time I chose to focus on the old set of tools.  It’s a nice juxtaposition of old verses new.  The end result is still the same, and after all, nothing says blacksmith like an anvil.

One last look at the big red machine and its master.

I hope you enjoyed the blog.

See you down the road.

-Todd

Prospect: A Beginning

An empty room...for now

Gathering around a fold-down table, the three of us meet in the vacuous bottom floor where Spear and Folsom converge.  With a construction lamp casting a hard incandescent glow which gives the shadow edges sharp and defined detail, chef Ravi Kapur, writer Adam Starr, and I meet for the first time in what will soon be a bustle of activity.  Looking around at the bare concrete floors with scraps of metal cast here and there, I strain to see the far side of the restaurant.  It’s obvious this is a monumental project – 10,000sq feet of space to be exact – that will require many specialized and talented hands to bring to life.

Through contacts, good fortune, and the kindness of strangers, I have been given the opportunity of a lifetime:  Chronicle the making of a restaurant.  Prospect represents a multi-million dollar investment with high stakes.  Peoples’ lives and reputations are built into the foundations, and nothing less than striking gold will do for this team family.  Working closely with Ravi, who currently heads up the day-to-day at Boulevard (a Michelin rated restaurant owned and operated by local Bay Area master chef Nancy Oakes) I’ve been granted access to record the history, from inception and beyond.

The sign says it all.

For those involved, Prospect isn’t just a restaurant, but an idea of possibility and reward gained through perseverance. It’s an idea born out of imagination, realized through faith in their talent and excellence.  Attached to the hip, Ravi and Prospect and melding as one.  He treats her security and progress like guarding a newborn, and protects it as such.  But from this new love, an avenue of trust opened, and he relished the idea of bringing on hungry and emerging talent to record in word and photo, the blood, sweat, and tears proffered.

Cheers Ravi.

Daily updates and modifications require full attention to detail. From the design of storage lockers to the flow of the kitchen, nothing is overlooked.

The inception of this project began some time ago, but stalls in financing and permitting led to delays.  Finally, the green light is shining brightly, and as construction starts promptly every day, the content grows much like the restaurant itself.  I will have fresh and relevant information for weeks to come, and I hope you join me, checking in once in a while to see where we’ve come from and where we’re headed.

Today’s photos are of a an empty shell. The inside doesn’t resemble this anymore, but it’s a great look at where the ride began.

Next up, the many hands and faces that make Prospect possible.

See you down the road.

-Todd

Retreat On The Mountain

Eric grabs the wheel and explains the folly of seat-belts.

The mountains were calling, so I headed for the hills.  My good friend Eric Tucker and his fiancé Jillian call a quiet little cabin on top of the costal mountains of Carmel home for now.  Having a few days to spare, I thought I would head up and see how my friend was fairing at farming and the slow life.  Being a recent transplant himself, he was determined to grow some vegetables and compost to his heart’s desire.

You see, their goal was to learn from the land, do a bit of farming, and just be.  Eric is a stunt and aerobatic pilot for Team Oracle, and I can see the appeal of having some down time when not pulling 6+ G’s in his little but powerful Pitts biplane.

I was lucky enough to ride along in this stripped down dragster of the air a few months back.  It is nimble as it is quick, and I had the ride of my life.  How many people do you know who’ve commanded a plane the first time they’ve  flown and executed a roll, a 360° flip, and pulled out of an unintentional inverted flat spin…on their first flight? (Goose, you’ll have to punch us out!  I’m pinned against the cockpit!)  I would wager money that I’m the first.

I didn’t really know what to expect heading up to their cabin.  Was it was going to be run down and drafty?  Would they show up in just fig leaves to greet me to their new Eden?  Nah.  Eric met me at the junction where his road heads up 3000 feet to the house he calls home.  He mentioned that I would have to leave my trusty Subaru where the pavement ended and the dirt began.  I was steadfast in protecting my beloved girl.  I protested with, “But it’s a Subaru.”  I can hear mudboggers and Aussies alike snickering under their breath.  I can liken my love and blind passion to when a Brit comes to America and runs out to buy a 6 pack of Budweiser because it is “The King of Beers.”  Oh blind love, you are my bane!

Tires spinning in the mud, Eric rallies up to the summit

Taking a gander at his Jeep with oversized tires, the mud splattered everywhere along the hood, and his quiet pause waiting for my decision, I countered with, “You know, maybe I’ll leave my car here.  I mean, there’s really no reason to bring up two cars anyway.”

“Cool.  Let’s load up your gear!” Eric chimed.  It was the best decision I had made in a long time.

Opening the door, I found Chesta, (aka “Chesta Copperpot!”) our riding companion for the day.  A beagle and lab mix, she’s loyal when in eye-sight, but on her own, has that beagle stubbornness that finds her venturing alone on self guided hikes.  She would prove to be a more than a capable lead when hiking, a good playmate, and a lost child almost everyday.

Bumping Chesta over and taking my seat in the passenger side, Eric threw the transmission into low and popped the gear into first.  We started our ascension through a shroud of fog and mist.  The metal tin-can shell of the Jeep rattled and whirred as the strain of our machine echoed through its skeleton from the hardship of the climb.  I could feel the wheels spinning to gain traction – the mud slinging off in all directions – and just prayed we didn’t go off the side of the mountain.  I looked down out my window and a precipitous drop filled my vision.  Eric, sensing I was visualizing our imminent doom as  our carriage of death bounding down the hillside with our lifeless bodies rag-dolling around inside, piped up with, “Yeah, Jill and I don’t really wear seatbelts.  We figure, if we go over, probably better to be thrown from the vehicle than to ride it all the way down.”  And that was that.

Our trusty companion, Chesta, was game for any adventure.

Stopping half way up, we met a few of his neighbors out for a drive on the mud-slickened road.  They were in their big old truck, just having fun tearing up some dirt and kicking a few beers back.  I looked at my watch.  10:27 AM.  “Sheesh,” I mumbled under my breath, “what a place and time to be drinking, and never mind the activity involved.”

“Hey man!  Good to see you!  Wanna beer?” asked our friendly compadre.

“Why not,” I said.  Grabbing the beer, I popped the top and downed a few swigs.  Uh, beer in the morning when you are not ready for it, isn’t the most refreshing beverage.  But when in Rome…(and hey, I needed a little liquid courage to get up the remainder of this mountain!)

Stopping for a mid-mountain refresher, we met with some new friends.

Arriving at the house, I was happy to have made the long trip.  I unloaded my gear, gave Jill a hug, and checked out my new digs for the next two days.  I was amazed.  The cabin was beautiful, cozy, and clean.  Rustic it was, but it definitely bore the touch of a woman, which is always nice.

The Cabin commanded a gorgeous view, and a cozy fire was always burning.

Cozy and Bright, the cabin commanded a gorgeous view to boot.

Without further ado, Eric, Chesta and I headed off for a hike in the woods.  Of course Chesta was out the door like a rocket ship.  We had a great time bounding through the woods as Eric showed and named different flora species en route to the river of an old Native American site where the people would gather to mash acorns for their food.  Stepping atop of a giant boulder, we looked down into three little man made holes.  Worn through time, hands, and pestles, the area came alive with families talking of the day’s events.  Women chatted and gossiped while they mashed acorns and called out to their children who splashed and jumped around in the rambling stream.  The men were off higher up the mountain hunting deer, or fishing down by the coast.  The sun whispered shafts of light through the giant old-growth Redwoods, Madrones, and Oaks.  For a second I was lost in the past, but quickly snapped back into the present.

Of course neither these giants nor the people exist as they once had.  Sadly, industry in its greed forced the people from their land, and cut these majestic trees down for ships, fence posts, and whatever else would turn a profit at the time.  However unsettling it is to you, being miles back in this rough wilderness, I couldn’t help but think what a marvel it was that people actually came this far back, cut these massive trees down, and had the strength and ingenuity to get them to the coast.  That’s not to say I respect their decisions, but their resolve is another matter.

Chesta, resting after a nice hike.

Nibbling on miner’s lettuce as we trounced back to the house, I breathed deep and let the cool forest air wash over my lungs.  At the bottom of my exhalation, a silence enveloped me and the earth was quiet for just a second – An absolute quiet.  These forests are places of healing, and I felt so refreshed once back at the cabin.  Chesta, content as well, retired to her little Hobbit-sized settee for a nice long nap.  I followed suit, and drifted off thinking what a gorgeous life I am living.

In the next chapter of this story, I’ll touch on some funny anecdotes and good people.

See you down the road.

-Todd