Dec 31
As ambitious as I might be in my professional life, I let my photographic life find it’s own rhythm.  There are times when one must not strive for much more than a cup of coffee, some good music, and a stroll – with or without fitbit. It’s in these places, both phsyically and spiritually, that I shoot.  I never have to shoot.  I want to shoot.
It also helps to be invisible.  Or ignored.  Not sure which is which.  I’d like to think I’ve got a Ninja-like camera presence.  But it may just be that no one notices me.  Being ignored grants a certain kind of immunity.  It allows me the freedom to see without provocation or interruption.
Here’s some of what I saw.  Offered with commentary:

Jodi Balfour, genius actress, gracious host and stunning person, caught in between slicing the turkey and not burning the gluten free biscuits. She and Alex Ashbaugh threw an orphan Thanxgiving for those lingering in LA without family.  One could argue this is even a better situation than your actual family, what with the absence of ghosts and grievances.  The difference of course is that there was no bitterness, no history, no pleasantness lingering under the unpleasantness, no promise that no matter what is said or unsaid, they’ll still be here for you tomorrow.   Instead, a group of new friends — God’s atonement for family — that were wonderful in the moment, and then dissolved by evening’s end.


When the Affordable Care Act was implemented, the funding for Medicare Advantage – the backbone of the Puerto Rican healthcare system -  was reduced by an annual amount of over $1 billion.  In 2015, the island received approximately 30 percent less funding than it did in 2011. The latest 2016 cuts will take funding on the island to a shocking 38 percent below the national average.   In addition, a steady stream of doctors — more than 3,000 in five years — have begun to leave the island for more lucrative, less stressful jobs on the mainland.   The Puerto Rico Medicare Coalition, local government officials, pharmacies, hospitals, and patients have worked tirelessly to reverse this dangerous trend — so far to no avail.  For more information and to sign the petition to get Congress to act, please visit The Puerto Rico Healthcare Crisis Coalition.


Lindsey Kraft‘s mother’s parents were from Czechoslovakia and Poland, escaping to the United States after the Holocaust.  Here she poses unknowingly as the rightful extension of her immigrant past.  During WWII, Poland lost disproportionally more people than any other country — over 6 million of its 35 million people were killed.  The fact that Poland was liberated by the Soviets and consequently turned into a communistic country posed a danger for Poles who were still abroad fighting along Western allies during the war.  Those displaced were primarily political prisoners, dissidents, and intellectuals from refugee camps all over Europe. Many in this group, who were educated and committed to assimilating into American culture, separated from Poland and aligned themselves with the middle-class in America. Czechoslovakian migration mirrored this pattern, seeing a surge with the communist takeover in 1948. Immigrants assimilated into American culture and quickly lost interest in the language and old country ways of their parents and grandparents, preferring to speak only English and marrying spouses from other ethnic groups – which is presumably how Lindsey eventually got here.    I’d like to think that they kept their recipes.  I can almost taste the potato soup cooking inside the kitchens in the house behind her.


Carrie Malabre – brilliant actress and excellent maker of chicken pot pies –  in the now defunct Casbah Cafe, which after twenty years of service to the loyal patrons of Silverlake, became embroiled in a bitter legal battle with their landlords over rent and property rights  In a bizarre rant published immediately after the closure, the Casbah family cites media complacency, shifting neighborhood demographics, and corporate greed.   Casbah was a nice place to people-watch, sip on a Chai latte, and buy some cheap trinkets for a sad friend.   But Silverlake all the while was and is becoming a thriving culinary scene — and as is often the way in these tales, the demise of legacy restaurants is just a part of natural selection.  I’m glad I got this shot when I did, because in Los Angeles, it’s rare to find painted windows that offer such lovely foreground.


Amilcar Rivera, the best prop master in Puerto Rico.  And for all I know, the world.  The look in his eyes betrays a desperation to detail.   Either that, or a frustation with the director for working everyone too long and too hard. But not my fault really. We had 116 scenes to shoot in 14 days.  Of course, the director’s job is to take accountability.  So I guess it’s my fault. Sorry, Amilcar.  I like your glasses. And despite all the stress and the multitude of props on our pilot, Amilcar was patient and kind no matter the circumstance. As the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso said, and Amilcar proved, “Be kind whenever possible. And it is always possible.”


Film that has been immersed in water is in severe danger of having the base separate from the emulsion. This means that the part of the film with the image on it will come away from the plastic backing that gives the film its shape. The film is also at risk of being contaminated by mold growth and debris from the flood water.  If you are lucky, all that will happen is that the emulsion surface will become patchy and will result in some noticeable flaws when the film is processed or printed.  Ironically, this film only became important to me when I got it back and saw the brilliant effects of water damage on an otherwise serviceable image.


In the pilot of THE CURSE OF THE FUENTES WOMEN, a young cuban girl named Orquidia, visits a local Santeria priestess to put a spell on her sister Esperanza, who has betrayed her by stealing her husband.  From then on, successive generations of Fuentes women suffer in love.   Mariana Da Silva played Orquidia with the perfect mixture of vulnerability and righteous vengeance. Santeria is a syncretic religion of Caribbean origin that combines traditions of the Yoruba slaves with the Roman Catholic faith of Spanish plantation owners.  The enslaved Africans from Nigeria were converted, but the Catholic church in Cuba was surprisingly tolerant of ethnic traditions and allowed African groups to create their own clubs or Cabildos.   African slaves began to secretly appoint Catholic Saints as proxies for their own Yoruba deities.  The result was Santeria – which means “veneration of Saints.” Whether Santeria has the power to impose multi-generational curses is subject to debate, but I’m not in a position to doubt.


Ace Gallery has been Los Angeles’ longest running contemporary art gallery since 1967.  Ace Gallery occupies the entire 30,000 square foot second floor of the 11-story Wilshire Tower, an Art Deco Building, first opened on March 15, 1929.  And inside the building, a 73 yr old man named Ruben Pardo, operates one of the last manual elevators in Los Angeles.   Eleven hours each weekday and nine hours each Saturday, for forty years.   Ask him “how’s life?” and he quips, “It has its ups and downs.”   Lindsey Kraft (my Polish/Czechoslovakian actress friend) and I rode up with Ruben to the Ace Gallery where we took this shot.  Ask Ruben why he loves this job so much and he says, “By observing, you can learn a lot of things. You can learn how to be an electrician, a gasoline attendant, a parking attendant …,” he says. “For the hard stuff, like plumbing and doctors and lawyers and all that high career, you have to go to school. But if you observe, you can teach yourself a lot.”


This year, my wife, partner, and the brilliant mixed media artist, Rebecca McFarland won the Atwater Village Artwalk with her painting Margo, opened her first art show at Pilates and Art in Echo Park, and is featured in the January 2016 issue of Cloth, Paper Scissors describing her process, her materials, and the spiritual healing that can occur through art.   Her contemporary portrait series captures haunting and romantic images of beautiful women in decoupage, longing for something beyond the canvas, who silently share their strength while trapped in time.  Here she works on Olivia, a celebrated piece in her recent show.   As for me, thanks to all this, I started Pilates and am currently feeling more aligned.


It’s rare that I get to ask the subjects of my photos for commentary, but since this was such a momentous occasion, there’s nothing I can say that I didn’t already say by taking the photo. So here’s Heidi Gardner and Andrew Leeds:

Heidi:  At this moment I was rehearsing for what would end up being my last performance in the Groundlings Sunday Company.  I cried that night telling my friends and colleagues that I finally felt like I was doing something I loved. I didn’t feel stuck, just tremendously happy. And the guy holding my hand is one of my greatest friends. I get to write and perform with one of the nicest and funniest people on the planet. The very next day we found out we were Groundlings! A dream come true. This photo makes me feel lucky. Lucky to be on that stage. Lucky to be next to Andrew. And lucky to be doing something I genuinely love and adore.

Andrew:  I love this picture because it shows a great partnership.  Heidi and I met a year and a half ago in the advanced lab at the Groundlings. At first, I rubbed her the wrong way, but as time went on, we found a similar sensibility.  We started writing together. This photo was taken the final night of our year long run in the Sunday company.  It was a sketch we worked hard to get right.  It might have been the sketch that got us into the main company – something that neither of us ever truly thought would happen.  When I look at this picture I see two people supporting each other and committing to some pretty stupid ideas.


At the time I got the call to direct an episode of Grace & Frankie, I was relatively incapacitated from a bike accident and had started teaching a class on visual structure to keep my director’s mind sharp and my pain at a distance.  My first class, inspired by the great film teacher Bruce Block, was a study of KLUTE, the 1971 film directed by Alan J. Pakula, photographed by Gordon Willis just before he shot THE GODFATHER.  It featured Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda, in a groundbreaking performance as Brie Daniel, which won her the Oscar for Best Actress.   Klute is arguably influential as the film that created the visual language which we associate with seventies cinema: psychologically motivated subjective camera work where light falls only on the objects and people the filmmakers want you to see, where an urban and moral decay permeates the design and mood, and the use of heightened sound, foreshadowing, spacial relationships and lensing, convey claustrophobia, fear, and a voyeuristic nihilism.  Though Grace & Frankie, a delightful comedy on Netflix, doesn’t require the same graphic purpose or gymnastics, I did have the chance to talk with Jane at length about the visual cues in Klute that shaped the minds of a generation of filmmakers.  It was so thrilling, I might retire. And I got some APOCALYPSE NOW stories from Martin Sheen, wild tales of shooting with Walter Matthau on the set of HOPSCOTCH from Sam Waterston, and a primer on how to stage a great character mystery/thriller/comedy by talking to Lily Tomlin about the making of THE LATE SHOW with Art CarneyRobert Benton‘s first film before he went on to write & direct KRAMER vs KRAMER.  More important than all that, I worked with tremendous actors, Sam Elliot seemed to think I was cool, and I made a funny, touching episode of television, written by Nancy Fichman and Jennifer Hoppe-House, coming soon to Netflix.


Because photography is a place for me to be autonomous, I rarely apply rules to the endeavor. I got rules all day long elsewhere. And since Saul Leiter is one of my favorite photographers,  I decided to emulate the form, which required the use of foreground, color, space and line in ways I hadn’t previously explored. Leiter moved to New York in 1946 intending to be a painter and through his friendship with the abstract expressionist Richard Pousette-Dart, he quickly recognized the creative potential of photography. Though he continued to paint, exhibiting alongside Willem de Kooning, Leiter and his camera sought out moments of quiet humanity in the Manhattan maelstrom, forging subtle portraits of a lost city.  Echo Park is no substitute for Manhattan in the 1950s, but on the correct lens with a carefully composed illusion, one can obscure surroundings and create an urban pastoral.   I don’t know if I’ve done this, or if Saul Leiter would approve, but I started to construct something new in my own work.


In a downtown Los Angeles crawling with vixens, sluts, pimps, and sex-kittens (these differ from vixens with the inclusion or exclusion of leopard print and whiskers), I felt a little safer on these dangerous streets when I ran into this fake nun (or this real nun who happened to be lost on Halloween).  Halloween is a Catch-22 so I stay out of it.  If you end up winning “best costume,” you’re inevitably ridiculed on your own social media for trying too hard. And if you don’t win, you’re just unoriginal — or worse, by your own account, tonight’s undeserving loser.  So I got dressed up as George Clooney in A PERFECT STORM (Jeans, Plaid Shirt) and remained invisible and observatory.  I did see a priest, but found no comfort there, presuming of course he was on his way to an Exorcism, what with all the spirits of the departed returning for the night to wreak havoc on the desperate and open souls who pleasure seek in the macabre.  I’m happy instead to wander aimlessly in neighborhoods I don’t belong.


When India Baker, a registered nurse in real life, crossed the street in her sexy cop outfit, I was spotted.  She came hurtling towards me and said, “You wanna shoot?  Let’s shoot!” And then struck the pose you see before you.   Turns out her intention was to be anything but sexy. Hailing from Ferguson, Missouri, she thought there’d be no costume more frightening than a Ferguson Police Officer.  If you’ve been under a rock, or sick of reality, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed on Aug. 9, 2014, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson, Missouri.  The shooting prompted protests that roiled the area for weeks. On Nov. 24, the St. Louis County prosecutor announced that a grand jury decided not to indict Mr. Wilson. The announcement set off another wave of protests. In March, the Justice Department called on Ferguson to overhaul its criminal justice system, declaring that the city had engaged in constitutional violations.  Ferguson is just par for the course in a society that glorifies violence, turns a blind eye to institutional wrongdoing, and sanctions any act by law enforcement, no matter how misguided or wrong.  This state-sponsored violence is a necessary ingredient in any totalitarian regime to ensure a compliant and fearful populace.   We need more India Bakers, exploring their creative spirit to make important issues part of everyday dialogue, more civilians using the most unlikely opportunities to draw attention to hypocrisy, more people promoting consciousness by speaking truth to power in all its forms.


This was part of a shoot in Puerto Rico that was supposed to look like a Cuban cafe in the 1960′s.  I hope to shoot cafes in Cuba for real before there’s a Starbuck’s on every corner.

Notice the one bubble of damage on her right shoulder.  I got lucky with this roll.  And remain lucky to be alive and shooting.

Thank you for visiting this site.  More to come in 2016.   Happy New Year!




4 Responses to “PHOTOS 2015”

  1. The USUAL does it again with images that inspire in a most original if not UNUSAL way. All enlightening and grounded in the purest of all art forms….life itself.

    I hope 2016 is as inspiring as these images you captured this past year. More to know and more to learn from all of them.

    Thank You, Jason. Truly awesome.

  2. The commentary in photo 5 describes a great couple of years…let alone one assignment in 2015.
    These amount to an inspiring reminder to take care with others. Great way to finish and start a year.
    Cheers, Jason!

  3. Say Thanks, its to short, its to easy,be in this group of people and be part of the magic and inspiration, its privilege, THANKS, THANKS THANKS…Yes im a lucky guy, i have a chance to meet talented and creative people, and start to calling Friend…hope we can work together soon, next one your MOVIE…HAPPY NEW YEAR !!! JASON…and Thanks Again !!!

  4. So fucking great. LOVED looking at this collection. xx jolie

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