About the photo-series “HAMMER: An Homage”

I was privileged to photograph Hammer in candid settings as a member and road captain of the motorcycle club I documented for two years, the Southern Gamblers, MC, Keller, Texas. I also had several portrait shoots with him, which amounted to he and I taping a black drape as a backdrop on the side of a small, corrugated steel house, and also shooting in the old barn he used as a shop. So there was nothing fancy about it, just candid and portrait images in a pure, minimalist sense, nothing complex or elaborate, more like “here, let me take your picture”, which is how I prefer to work, photography without affectation. I decided to create this post and series as an homage to a man I have great respect for. He is a skilled carpenter, mason, and mechanic, and a talented and creative artist, yet can neither read nor write. He is quiet, gentle, strong, and honorable, and a “tough guy”, as we say here in Texas. And so I present the series, “Hammer: An Homage”.

“Reflections On Baudelaire’s “Le Désir de peindre” “

“The Desire To Paint”, “Le Désir de peindre”, by Charles Pierre Baudelaire, so clearly reminds me of the intensity I feel about the work from “Dark Poetry”, “Obscure Poésie“. You may read the English translation of the poem (here). As I have stated in other blog posts, I was a painter for many years, and I was always dreaming of many more paintings, and always aware that I could only accomplish a few, yet it did not stop me from imagining them in detail. I feel the same way about the project, “Dark Poetry”. There is not a single day in over two years that I have not reviewed and considered images from that work, it kind of washes over me like a black tide, cold yet exhilarating, like swimming in the ocean at night, seeing a bright moon overhead and yet not knowing what lies beneath you. Each morning when I walk the path through the woods and along the stream I imagine her in a white Edwardian gown, sitting near the narrow stream in contemplation or her face deep within the boughs of an Evergreen tree staring silently ahead and waiting for me to capture her visage…she never invites a touch but she offers and gives what she can, her clear and direct gaze, her eyes into mine. I have seen her with Honeysuckle blossoms falling from her hair, I have seen her with her arms gently encircling the trunk of a tree as she presses one cheek against it, I have seen her lift the hem of her gown and dip her toes into the stream as it twinkles like diamonds with sunlight that filters through the trees and glances across the water. She who is the object of Baudelaire’s “Le Désir de peindre” is also the object of my “Obscure Poésie“, my “Dark Poetry”. RG

“She was not fragile like a flower; she was fragile like a bomb.” Anonymous

“Personal Work”…  I have used the expression in this blog and also in comments on LI about work being “personal”, so I thought I would explain that. I think I actually use it as a caveat, that is “personal work” not fitting the parameters that we expect to see in portrait or fine art photography. I am speaking specifically about my portraiture in the gallery “Obscure Poésie“. I create this kind of work with a personal vision, the composition and styling, the processing and presentation, including the narrative or title that accompanies it. I believe it is my most emotional work. It all means something to me, and that is who I am creating it for. In the previous blog post one of the main themes was that I wanted my work to be easily understood, there is nothing mystical about it, but it is intrinsically “me”, and at times it is not understood at all, something that I don’t have a problem with. I indulge myself in this work, in portraiture, it means more to me than any other genre, that’s why I can spend several years working on how I want to present a particular image, it’s all very fluid. I have changed the entire narrative and title of a portrait series in the past, because my vision for it changed, and I accept that I can see things in an image or a series later that I have not before. So revisiting work is something I have always been comfortable with. That is not how I worked when I was a painter, I worked weeks on a canvas till finally I  had to tell myself, “it is finished”, whether I really felt that or not, it had to end. My photography, my images, feel dynamic in a way my paintings never did, always waiting for me to perhaps discover something about each one I had not recognized. RG

“BRAVEHEARTS”: A Documentary

Last week I was invited by the president of the EOPG, the Emergency Operations Training Grounds, to visit and create a photo-documentary of the exercises for first-responders that were taking place throughout the day, in Jacksboro, Texas. It included a SWAT team from Haltom City Police Department and a helicopter from CareFlite, who are represented in my documentary, as well as firefighters from the Jacksboro Fire Department and troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety, and snipers from a variety of entities, as well as many other first-responders. And I was thrilled to be asked to do so.
The images you see in the documentary, “Bravehearts”, are all candid, none are posed, and were taken under sometimes challenging conditions. There were limitations about how close I could actually approach and capture the exercises in progress, including various “rescue” scenarios that required coordination between the SWAT and CareFlite teams and pilots, and submission exercises by the police working dog, “Filo”, and his handler!
As part of my day, I captured images while flying in a helicopter, rode in a SWAT vehicle, and met a variety of brave and motivated men and women. It was an honor for me to have been invited to document this day. RG

“She never cried, never uttered a word. Only her eyes spoke. Big, tragic eyes.” Jean-Paul Sartre

“Thoughts about my work”…”Lovely simple idea, Roy, beautifully executed.” This comment was left on the attached image of my model’s hands that I had posted on LinkedIn. The image was taken just before we had begun our work this day. I am punctual about beginning and ending a shoot on time, and yet I also love shooting spontaneously, and as I have said other times in my blog posts, I consider my style instinctive and visceral, and much of my portraiture, particularly that of “Dark Poetry”, is retro-Romantic. I don’t have elaborate plans or schedules, I don’t use stylists and hairdressers, I don’t have a “team”, I wouldn’t know what to do with a team except go for a pint! I’m really a Blue-Collar fine-art photographer, most of my life I was a laborer, and I think I bring a direct, perhaps blunt, style to my work, I want it to be easily understood with the eyes, and perhaps the heart, with some images. These sensibilities served me well as a photojournalist and documentary photographer, where unvarnished truth is paramount, and yet I work the same way with my fine-art portraiture, I do not use PS, I do not “retouch” my work, i’m not even sure what that means and I don’t want to know! I am uncomfortable with color, even though I have two posts on LinkedIn in a toned color, I do not have any on my website. Color detracts from what you are trying to say with an image!

I viewed the work of another photographer today, a well known French photographer, and of course it made me compare it to my own, not the images, but the philosophy behind his work. If you view a great portion of someone’s work, as if going through their website, you can see the philosophy behind what they are saying and trying to communicate. I don’t view my work as complex, I don’t view photography as complex, I want my work to be straightforward, I want it to be easily apprehended and understood, and most importantly, I want it to be “felt”, with no confusion about what I am saying with an image. The images from my street, documentary and photojournalism reflect what I think is important to show the viewer. The portrait work from “Dark Poetry” reflects what I think personally is beautiful, seductive, provocative. I am showing the viewer who I am, what I believe is significant, how I feel about a variety of things. I take pride now in revealing who I am through my work, but in the beginning it was daunting, I believe I used the expression in the past that you are “betraying” who you are very intimately through your photography.
This has become long, I will post it today! Thank you to all of my subscribers for inspiring me to understand what I am doing and trying to say through my work. RG

“Humanity…without filters…”

I received a message today from a gentleman named Robert Branch, a LinkedIn connection that has followed my work for months. It did more than touch me, it slammed me, as the author mentioned and referred to my work set within the world of today, certainly not a very nice place, and what it means to him. To say the least, it affected me profoundly. I post it below:
“In these incredibly uncertain times, it is art and beauty on my LinkedIn timeline that is going to be my savior. Thank you for helping me to maintain some semblance of sanity. It is in the eyes of your subjects that I find the common thread of humanity. Humanity. In all of its forms. Without filter. It is a beautiful gift. Your ability. Thank you”
I have always had the freedom to shoot exactly what I choose to, whether fine art, documentary or photojournalism, and I have always fiercely protected that freedom. It’s always been so important to me that people who view my work understand I have made all of the choices for each image, from composition to processing to presentation. Because this work, my work, represents who I am in the most real and intimate sense. RG

“…she tastes like every dark thought I’ve ever had.” ” …elle avait le goût de mes pensées les plus sombres. “

“…she tastes like every dark thought I’ve ever had.” from the novel, ‘White Cat’, by Holly Black

This quote was left in a comment on one of my portraits recently and of course, it resonated.  And so, I am discussing portraits again.
Portraits are an adventure to me. I have traveled the world and yet true adventure for me is what I find in post after I have done a two-hour portrait shoot!  I can find seduction, intimidation, grace, strength and weakness, I can find everything we are or can be, or desire to be, in portraiture. When I began work with a model for a new portrait series I have no idea where it will take me…that’s “adventure” to me. More to come… RG

“Eyes as black and as shiny as chips of obsidian stared back into his. They were eyes like black holes, letting nothing out…” Neil Gaiman

“About My Work”…I create my images the same way I painted, by what feels “right”, what feels “beautiful”, to me. From the original idea, to composition and processing and finally, presentation, my work is instinctive and visceral. I don’t follow rules of photography because I don’t care about them, and don’t know them anyway. There is bliss in not knowing the parameters someone else, or history, has established. I am excited to find and capture fascinating angles and lines in a composition, and as I’ve said before, I love “negative space”, which to me can give an existential quality to a particular image.
A lady in Spain recently left a comment on a portrait of mine referring to me as “The man who sees souls”. It startled me, less because it was flattering and more because it was so damn beautiful! I’ve expressed several times throughout this blog how much I love creating portraits, and also perhaps the reason being is that I don’t connect with people often. If anyone really wants to know who I am, they have only to view my work, I really believe that it reflects, and at times betrays, more about me than my words ever could.
I have been taking a short walk in a park the last few months, about thirty minutes, doing what the Japanese call “forest bathing”, no aerobics, no power-walking, no worrying, just moving down a path through trees and bushes and a rippling stream and the wildness of it all. I can’t help but see “portraits” in every bit of beauty, a face in the midst of a huge Fir tree, a figure in white posed among the pebbles in the shallow stream, or emerging from the huge roots of a tree along the bank.
I drive each day by a railroad track that has a large stack of railroad ties, and the side where they are end-to-end would make the most amazing close backdrop for a portrait series, these dark, aged square ends.
I live my work, my photography, each day… RG

“A Revolution Story…”

roygunnels-cairoegypt-tahrirsquare-egyptianrevolution-roygunnelsphotography-10I was talking today to a friend, an artist and visual art instructor, about the challenges and risks shooting in the field…as I’ve mentioned earlier in blog posts, I was arrested a myriad number of times during the Egyptian revolution, and had my share of ugly incidents across the Middle East and East Africa, as well as my own country. That said, it’s simply part of shooting “in the field”, to me…
And yet one incident during the revolution was perhaps the most significant. I had been at Tahrir Square for hours shooting the happy throng, it was the day after Mubarak had stepped down and the revolution was theoretically over, with it’s goals achieved.
As I was leaving I saw a child cleaning the tracks of an Egyptian Army tank, and stopped to photograph the scene, this young girl in a “Dr Seuss” hat in the colors of the Egyptian flag, brushing the dirt from the wheels of the tank. I shot a short series and then a soldier appeared, grabbed my arm and asked “Are you an Israeli?”. I produced my passport but that did not settle the matter, he called other soldiers over and I was escorted through the crowd to a group of officers, who proceeded to repeatedly ask if I was Israeli or had been to Israel, and searched my camera bag, then began going through the images on my camera.
Even though I had been followed by State Security operatives while I was working protests, and detained numerous times during the revolution by both the military and the police, I was always questioned, searched, and allowed to go, but this felt different, it felt much more serious.  I had my cell phone and called my friend and frequent shooting partner, herself an Egyptian, and told  her what was happening and I would keep the line open for her to hear it all. The officer in charge at that point noticed I had someone online who was listening, and kept assuring me there was no need to contact the US Embassy when I suggested I was going to.
So, the repeated searches continued, and the questions, and the idea somehow that I was an Israeli spy.  At that point I was surrounded by a throng of soldiers, several officers and a group of enlisted men, all armed of course, as the lead officer kept calling higher ranking officers on his cell, to discuss what to do with me. My Arabic was not good enough to keep up with the discussions, but really, it was the only time during the revolution I felt very uneasy about what might occur. It’s interesting to note here that post-revolution can be a very dangerous time, with channels of command and control very hazy.  Under those circumstances mistakes by authorities can be made, and I did not want to be one of those “mistakes”.
So, after about 45 minutes I was released, with the commanding officer returning my passport and equipment and wishing me “Welcome to Egypt”, even though I had been living there for several years…It is significant to note here that my Egyptian friend, herself a journalist, was very concerned about what she heard in Arabic, “frightened” is the word she used, and that she had begun calling other activists in Tahrir to assemble, find my location and confront the soldiers.
And so, a “war story”, or at least a “revolution story”, from me today…RG