Category On Assignment

Bluet Winery for Down East Magazine

A finished bottle of sparkling blueberry wine from Bluet Winery.

 

 

The thing I love most about the work I do, without a doubt, is the chance to meet interesting people doing interesting things.

Michael Terrien and Eric Martin are childhood friends who moved West from Maine.  Both worked in California, learning how to make wine in Napa Valley.  Martin, a novelist, moved to North Carolina while Terrien remained in the California wine industry.  They remained close friends over the decades and last year partnered to create the Bluet Winery.  I was assigned to photograph the pair for the July issue of Down East Magazine, and headed to the winery in Jefferson, Maine.

On that cold, icy day, Terrien and Martin were “disgorging”—or removing sediment and yeast from  bottles of their wild blueberry sparkling wine—in the cave-like cellar of a 1820s barn.   It was interesting and cool, but dark, cramped and cold.    The only light came from two narrow windows set along one wall, and from a few work lights strung from beams here and there.   This was the type of editorial assignment that required the creative use of strobes.   Due to space constraints, I ended up using off-camera speedlights almost exclusively.

You can see all of the photos in Down East, but I thought I’d include some visuals that weren’t included in the article.  When inspecting one of the dark bottles of finished wine, I held it up to a work light and saw that the wine had a deep, ruby red color.   I quickly set up a couple of strobes and, using the cellar stone walls as a backdrop, made a hero image of the wine bottle on the work bench that highlighted the intense red hues of the wine.

I love working fast in these kinds of dynamic environments.  It’s a good example of having a basic plan, but being nimble enough to adjust to the realities on location.   In all my years of photographing wine in the Yakima Valley, I’ve never photographed the disgorging process (video below).   Along with the scars and scratches on my camera body, I’m sure there’s some dried blueberry wine, serving as a reminder of my visit to Bluet.

 

 

 

 

Michael Terrien exits the cellar in the 1820s barn where his blueberry wine is made. Brian Fitzgerald/Fitzgerald Photo

 

Sealing a wine barrel for storage by burning a thin strip of sulfer inside.  Brian Fitzgerald/Fitzgerald Photo

 

Preparing to disgorge yeast and sediment from a bottle of Bluet wine. Brian Fitzgerald/Fitzgerald Photo

 

Michael Terrien of Bluet Winery.  Brian Fitzgerald/Fitzgerald Photo

 

Interested in more of my work?  Check out my portfolio at Fitzgerald Photo.

 

 

 

Client Work: Catalyst Paper

 

Catalyst Paper

 

I’ve been working with North American printing paper manufacturer Catalyst Paper for a couple of years now to produce content for their annual sustainability reports. They operate paper mills across the United States and Canada, including one in Maine.

They put together beautiful materCatalyst Paperials that highlight the work the company is doing to better manage resources, be more efficient and safety-conscious. The images themselves tell a story about the connection the company fosters–with the communities they live in, the people that work at the plants, and with the environment that makes their products possible.

In other words, the story of Catalyst Paper has less to do with paper, and more to do with people, environment and community.

This kind of project illustrates perfectly the need to be able to solve the complex issues that come up often when doing location industrial photography: challenging lighting, last-minute changes to schedule and location, and a sometimes unpredictable and active environment in which to photograph.

In other words, I love it.

Below are some of the images taken for the project:

 

 

Catalyst Paper

 

Catalyst Paper

 

 

How to Make a Hero…out of a Truck

Make a Hero
© Brian Fitzgerald

 

How do you make a hero out of a truck?

That was the question I was forced to ponder when I was hired by Pierce Manufacturing to photograph Fire Station One in Cambridge, Massachussetts last year.

The story was simple. The department was taking delivery of a brand-new fire rescue apparatus, built by Pierce, and the company wanted images that captured scenes of daily life at the station and in the surrounding community. They also wanted to showcase the gleaming hulk of steel and chrome on wheels that the department had just purchased.

I contacted the chief, Gerry Reardon, and explained that I wanted to follow his guys around for the better part of a day. Oh—and can I borrow your truck for a couple hours and potentially tie up traffic next to the station?  He mentioned something non-commital like, “we’ll see what we can do,” and we made plans to meet on the appointed day.

Then came the inevitable wrench in the works that always seems to happen when shooting on location. When I arrived, the firehouse was largely empty. The apparatus was nowhere to be found. Later we discovered it was parked across town, turning up just before we were slated to shoot. The chief was amenable to a portrait, but he wasn’t as receptive to portraits or photos of the crew. “They said you just needed photos of the truck,” he pointed out, not unkindly.

Somtimes you need to try a different tack. So I hastily revised my plans and beat a retreat to nearby Harvard campus. I photographed some of the more iconic views around the area and came back to the station just when the light was getting good. Late afternoon.

The crew had appeared, and the chief soon arrived with the new firetruck. Gleaming and gigantic, it looked too large for the small apron of asphalt in front of the station, bordered on both sides by busy roadways. I convinced them to take us to a nearby park for some daylight photos of the truck. When we returned, the sun was on its way to bed and it was time to set up for the shoot. While that was happening, I heard the strains of a bagpipe wafting out above the traffic, floating over Harvard University, located just across the street. It took me a minute to realize that one of the firefighters was upstairs on a balcony, playing to the setting sun. Not waiting to ask permission, I ran upstairs, through the living quarters to the balcony, and got a few frames before he finished.

Make a Hero
© Brian Fitzgerald

Back downstairs, we had time to set up the truck on the entry ramp to the station.  It blocked almost all of the truck bays. With busy roadways full of traffic and bicycles on either side, we set up eleven different lights, in and around the firetruck, and once the sun went down we made that truck look like a hero.

I love the final image of the apparatus, but my favorite shot from the evening was the stolen moment of the firefighter playing bagpipes into the evening. One day, one evening, two heros.

Make a Hero
© Brian Fitzgerald

 

Make a Hero
© Brian Fitzgerald

 

Make a Hero
© Brian Fitzgerald

Beauty, Revisited

ballerina_portlandco_01_by_brian_fitzgerald
The second in my series, “Beauty in Unexpected Places,” takes us to Building One of the Portland Company’s historic complex in Portland, Maine. Savannah Lee is a dancer with the Portland Ballet Company and is wearing a tutu from a production of the Nutcracker.

I love the look of the space, which contrasts so well with the intricate ballet costume. The challenge was to light enough of Savannah to set her apart from the environment. I also had to light key elements of the large space around her while not over lighting, in order to preserve the character and mood of the environment.

I think the best images happen when you let things happen, to some degree. Definitely a guiding motto is: “Set the stage, but let the pieces fall.” So we planned the lighting and envisioned the scenes, but I encouraged Savannah to move and perform as she felt appropriate. In the end, a great artistic collaboration in a historic part of Portland’s past.

With location shoots there’s always an unexpected wrinkle, and an unexpected gift—the gift that the photo gods give you when you show up, repeatedly, to do the creative work you should be doing. A few days before the shoot, the space was booked by the Portland Fire Dept. to do training drills. We arrived not knowing what portion of the space—if any—we’d be able to use, but were determined to make it work regardless. We showed up and the fire department didn’t, due to a last-minute schedule change (Had they done so, I’m guessing we would have somehow incorporated them into at least one shot). That was the gift. The wrinkle? The cavernous location was very, very cold, with a concrete floor—exactly the opposite of ‘ideal conditions’ for a professional dancer. Thanks, Savannah, for making it look easy and being a great sport. A true pro.

 

beauty revisited

beauty revisited

beauty revisited

beauty revisited

beauty revisited

Portrait Moments

Portrait Moments

I live for location work.  Put me in a random environment, with changing variables and I’m in my element: solving problems as they occur.  Capturing the flavor of the location in a true way.   The person in the photo matters, but they are playing a duet with the background, each of them heroes in the final image. 

What happens if you can’t rely on a cool and interesting environment?   If you force yourself to strip out your background and all context, what are you left with? 

Portrait moments, that’s what.  Take out all of the other stuff that clutters the eye and what remains is mood and moment.   The choice of lighting accentuates these moments, expressed subtly by eyes, lips, and posture.   Here the subject is truly the hero of the image, and every subtle gesture speaks volumes. 

Pretty lofty words, I know.  But capturing the moment—that certain look in the eye, that lift to the chin—that’s the good stuff that keeps photographers going.  That’s authentic truth, even in the middle of electronic flash mumbo-jumbo. 

Case in point: this image of actress Liz Freeman that I’m publishing for the first time.   It dates back more than a year, when Liz posed as a model during the Maine Light Workshop I was teaching on the creative use of off-camera flash.

I’ve been lucky to photograph Liz many times before this, but what made this situation different was that the shoot felt more like a hectic location shoot: constantly setting up gear and continually on the move.  In situations like that, I have a loose ten-frame rule: if it doesn’t look good in ten clicks of the shutter, then it’s time to move on.  

What struck me, going through the images, is just how present and serene Liz is in the middle of all of the activity going on around her (but not visible to the camera).  I love this kind of quiet look:  subtle,  but an undeniably powerful, spontaneous moment.   

Great job, Liz.

Faces of Industry

Faces of Industry

A unifying theme of my work can be boiled down to, “people who work”.  The people in front of my lens tend to do interesting things for a living, and my job often is to show them going about their duties.    In the course of a week I might find myself in the cab of a delivery truck, perched on a platform above a factory floor, or scrunched into a corner of a conference room, camera in hand.

ecomaine is a waste management non-profit  in Portland that generates power from the stuff the rest of us throw away.  I’ve photographed their people for years and I absolutely love working there.  As a location, it’s often dirty (they process and burn garbage, remember), the lighting can be an extreme challenge and the environment tends to be either freezing cold or stiflingly hot.  But….on the other hand, they have cool smokestacks, pipes, walkways and big pieces of colorful moving machinery.   Sign me up! 

Recently they had me document and photograph many of their people at work and I wanted to show some of the results of that ongoing project.  Produced completely in black and white, the images look timeless and give a human dimension to the industrial facility.  Instead of the more intensive scenario-based images I might create in other settings, these are ‘quick-hit’ portraits done in work areas all over the plant and buildings, with minimal lighting.  Basically, I have a lot of fun and get a workout at the same time. 

Faces of Industry

Faces of Industry

Faces of Industry

Finding Beauty in Unexpected Places

Finding Beauty

As a photographer, I’m fascinated by juxtapositions and contrasts.  I dig the unexpected (as a newspaper photographer I lived for moments like these and these). I like finding beauty where it’s least expected.

That’s the idea behind this photo shoot involving Portland Ballet Company dancer Kelsey Harrison.  She’s the ‘beauty’ in this scenario.

The space?  That’s the ‘unexpected’ part:  a cavernous, dirty, dusty, rough space with unpainted walls, exposed subfloors and 15-foot ceilings. The kind of space that photographers dream of but also tend to be challenged by, too.  Plenty of space for Kelsey to move around in and do her moves. Plenty of space to position lighting on all sides of her, creating an envelope of light.  The goal was to use extremely fast flash duration—up to 1/13,500th of a second—to freeze Kelsey’s movements as she did her thing.

With enough portable batteries,  lighting was the easy part.  Too much and I’d kill the mood and drama of the place.   Too little, and there goes the ‘beauty’.  So I directed and shaped the light onto Kelsey and enough of the background to separate her from the environment.

Kelsey was a trouper.  If you’ve ever walked around all day on a hard surface with no padding and no ‘give’, you feel it the next day. Kelsey spent an hour leaping and jumping, all in the name of art, and didn’t complain once. She made it look easy….but ‘easy’ it isn’t.  A true pro and a joy to work with.

Finding beauty in unexpected places, indeed.

 

Finding Beauty

 

Finding Beauty

 

Finding Beauty

Showcase: Ivett Toth

Maine is beautiful, but winters can be a bit…tiresome.  Spring in Maine usually just means heavier and wetter snow.  Of course, that makes this season a perfect time to stay in the studio and play with light a bit.  The following images are just a few I really like from a recent shoot with local model Ivett Toth (styling and makeup by Brianna Rothman).    Ivett was amazing to work with and I love the ethereal look to her final images.

Toth_Ivett_Final_01_WEB

 

Toth_Ivett_Final_04_WEB

 

Toth_Ivett_Final_15_WEB

 

Toth_Ivett_Final_11_WEB

 

Toth_Ivett_Final_10_WEB

 

Toth_Ivett_Final_08_WEB

 

Toth_Ivett_Final_05_WEB

 

 

Showcase: Portland Pirates Ad Campaign

A few months ago I had the fun duty of shooting a series of images for an ad campaign for the Portland Pirates hockey club.  The campaign, “A Pirate’s Life for Me”, features former Pirates players and current junior Pirates in split-view, in street clothes and in their hockey gear, game faces on.   I worked with the crew at Pulp & Wire to create the images, which I photographed in my downtown Portland photo studio.   I love how completely the demeanor and look of each player changed so dramatically once the pads and helmets went on.  I asked Pirates CEO and former player Brad Church, bottom, to show his game face during the session and he clearly had no problems doing that.  I’m just glad I wasn’t a player on the opposing team.

 

Pirates-Matt-SocialMedia

 

 

Pirates-Aimely-SocialMedia

 

 

Pirates-Brianna-SocialMedia

 

 

Pirates-Brad-SocialMedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

No, I was not attacked in Iraq

 Note:  the above images are mostly outtakes from my time embedded with troops from the 737th Transportation Company from January-March 2004.  All images © Yakima Herald-Republic.

CORRECTION:  I mentioned “bulletproof” vests in my article.  The troops at the time had fragmentary resistant vests, later upgraded to the type of vest I wore–a ballistic vest with ceramic plates in the front and back.    Also, a soldier with the 737th pointed out that he had never heard a mortar ‘whistle’.  While the sound is clear in my memory, I’d have to describe it more accurately as a loud hissing noise, increasing in intensity to a roar.  In any case, terrifying. 

Like many of my journalist friends I’ve followed with fascination the controversy over NBC anchor Brian Williams’ misrepresentation of his role during an incident in Iraq in 2003.  As someone who spent 16 years as a photojournalist and photo editor, I’m particularly sensitive to the topic. Just a few months after Williams’ incident, I was also an embedded journalist, living with and reporting on troops in Kuwait and Iraq.

Everyone remembers incidents differently over time.  Ask a cop whether eyewitness accounts are reliable.   Williams’ account isn’t the first time that someone with an incidental role in a major event ends up over time recasting themselves closer and closer to the action.   But I’m hard-pressed to remember a time when a professional journalist of such stature—someone paid to bear witness and to tell truth—has so been accused.
It’s not just his dramatic retelling that happened in the years since the episode. For me, it’s interesting that in the report Williams aired immediately after the incident, he reported that the chopper ahead of his had taken fire and was forced to land.  It implied that he witnessed the scene as part of the convoy rather than on a ‘following’ chopper arriving later at the scene.      I suspect that Williams’ error has less to do with some moral failing and a lot to do with the nature of TV news.     The emphasis is for TV journalists to be in the picture, part of the scene, and encourages them to imply an immediacy that may be misleading.    It’s a desire to be part of the story, and is in contrast to the type of journalism practiced by print and photo-journalists whose emphasis is should be on the subject and never on themselves (with some exceptions, I’m sure).
I witnessed both approaches during the time I spent embedded with troops of the 737th Transportation Company back in 2004.   I was one of two journalists from Eastern Washington state given the opportunity to document the lives of some 160 Army Reservists whose unit had been last called to active duty during the Vietnam War.      The goal was to tell the story not of the war, but  of the men and women from my community who put their lives on hold for a year (or more) to go to war far from home.   My sacred mission was to keep the focus on them and not on me.   Looking back, it was easier for me as a newspaper journalist to do that—to stay behind the scenes, watching, reporting, photographing.    For a TV journalist it’s not so simple.   Embedded with me was Patrick Preston, a reporter from KXLY-TV in Spokane, Washington.    Both of us were doing double-duty:  I was photographing and writing stories and he was filing reports on air and handling his video camera and gear.   After looking at his bags of gear, I realized that I had the better end of the bargain.  Even with my RBGAN satellite data phone, my voice satellite phone, two cameras, lenses, laptop and backup drives,  I was 10 times more mobile than Patrick (see his picture, above).    I also could ‘embed’ easier, hanging out the soldiers, photographing them as they went about their business.  Patrick had to do a lot of stand-up interviews, usually at 5 am each morning in time for the Spokane broadcast.  He also had to be in front of the camera, essentially narrating and shaping each broadcast while I had the luxury of letting my photos tell the story with a little help from a caption or two.
This gave me a distinct advantage, and allowed me to grow closer to the troops.  For Patrick, his broadcast time restraints and his heavy gear all made it tougher for him to just be one of the guys.  During a convoy escort mission into Iraq, Patrick and I were given space in separate Humvees.  The reason was simple:  a journalist doesn’t have a weapon, and so you spread them out so that you’re only missing one rifle in each gun truck, rather than two.     The First Sergeant told us in no uncertain terms to stay awake.  His theory was, if a hostile is looking for a weak spot in a line of trucks, they’ll go with the one that has one less rifle–especially if they see a civilian not paying attention.   Because Patrick had to do daily early-morning stand-up reports, he tended to pass out after hours in the Humvee.   Eventually, the First Sergeant got so frustrated that he came to my Humvee, pulled out a solider and traded spots with him.  He was worried that Patrick’s Humvee would be hit, and he didn’t want to tempt fate.
Through it all, I think Patrick did a great job with very little resources or sleep.   I had the easier time.   But having gone through that experience, I can understand some of the context around Brian Williams’ faulty memory.  To me, it’s really not about a faulty memory.  It’s about an emphasis in TV news about being on screen instead of behind it;  about being part of the story instead of simply reporting it.
Patrick and I spent about five weeks with the 737th, living with them at Ft. Lewis, Washington and deploying with them overseas to Kuwait.  We actually feared that we wouldn’t make it to Iraq at all, given the fact that the mission changed, and changed again after our arrival.    The last week of my embed—the very end of February, 2004—we were given the mission to escort a convoy into Iraq.   We were nervous, excited, but happy to be given a chance to show the folks back home what the Iraq experience might be like for their loved ones.
We spent five days in Iraq.   During that time, we ate a lot of dust, saw a lot of destruction and saw the troops perform admirably.   We were subject to two incidents: one in which unknown persons hurled a large rock from an overpass in Baghdad, hitting the windshield of a Humvee (not mine, nor his), and another in which two mortars were lobbed indiscriminately from beyond the perimeter and landed among our lines of trucks at the motor pool at operating base Speicher, near Tikrit, Iraq.    In that incident, we were relaxing and awaiting departure when we heard the whistle of incoming mortars.  We were unprepared.   Many soldiers were missing their Kevlar helmets and others (probably me among them) had taken off our uncomfortable bulletproof vests.   There were casualties with minor injuries, as the rockets landed a hundred yards away between lines of fuel tankers.  It could have been much, much worse.
We were lucky, and neither I nor Patrick ever ‘conflated’ our role in either incident to one of prominence.   After all, it was about the troops and not about us.   Whatever happens to Brian Williams, I hope the incident isn’t cast as a simple failing of an egotistical TV personality.  It should be a reminder for all journalists, TV or otherwise, of something my ASU journalism professor Bruce Itule always told us:  “It ain’t about you.”
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