Carlos The Rollerblader for Portland Monthly

photographed by Andy Batt, December 2018

When a call comes in to photograph someone who titles themselves “Carlos The Rollerblader“, I say yes first, and then find out what the story is second. I’ve done other profile pieces for Portland Monthly Magazine, but Carlos’ portrait is one of my favorites.


First up, Carlos prefers They/Them pronouns. Yes this is new to some people, but it’s not that hard to do a little retraining and get your brain wrapped around the concept. Maybe it’s all the amazing SF that I’ve read over the past few years, but this just makes sense to me. The tricky bit is getting my brain to not need to be actively thinking about it, to get it firmly in place. This has nothing to do with making the image and everything to do with me being a better photographer.

I did some preliminary sketches and lighting tests on this one—the goal was to find a way of creating motion and direction, to find a visual metaphor for Carlos and their work as a stand up comedian and phone advice giver (seriously, Carlos will answer the phone and give you life advice). Also, Carlos is a rollerblader. Like, they perform on rollerblades, on stage. And everywhere else. Carlos has a constant feeling of motion, even when they are standing still.

Carlos arrived on set and we began the collaboration—they were a lot of fun to have in the studio. They also DJ professionally, so I turned over the airplay stream to them and we had killer music during the entire session.

I ended up with a carefully built, sculpted light look, designed to create beautiful tones where it hit and to drop off quickly to deep shadow where it didn’t.

The graphic quality of the light created that visual momentum, carrying you around the contours and lines of their face.

Of course, since it’s my brain we’re working with here, I had a second idea on the backburner—using a combination of a long shutter, carefully set continuous lights and a multipop sequence to add true visual sense of motion + I really wanted to do a full length shot to get those rollerblades in. It’s an old school technique but done with a deliberate intention in mind—it wasn’t about creating meaningless streaks or blur, it was making a connected graphic, echoing the design ideas in the portraits.

cheers
-andy

Washington Post Magazine: Greg Glassman Cover

photographed by Andy Batt

It’s a good day when the photo editor from the Washington Post Magazine calls to ask me to create a COVER IMAGE for the publication. Crossfit founder Greg Glassman lives in Portland, and the Post wanted a punchy vibrant image to accompany a story about Greg taking on “big soda”; his campaign wants to get soda out of the school system, and he’s not talking about soda machines. The biggest in the industry are setting health and nutrition policy and influencing actual classroom lessons; e.g., there’s an emphasis on physical fitness, but very little on sugar. To be clear, Greg’s fight isn’t with the existence of soda, or sugar—it’s about their overreach and lack of accountability in the rise of obesity, pre-diabetic and diabetic statistics.

My instinct was to pitch a “reverse Godzilla” idea—I’d have Greg standing in Soda City as a heroic giant, ignoring the attacks from Soda City—soda tanks and soda plane ineffectively trying to stop Greg from stomping all over their city. It was a ‘punchy’ metaphor—nothing subtle about it, but it felt fun and eye catching.

I remember watching Godzilla and King Kong movies on after-school TV. You sometimes rooted for the people—it was their city being attacked and their friends that were being stomped on, but kinda secretly, you always were rooting for the monster.

My goal was to flip the script—make our hero of gigantic proportions, facing impossible odds and yet winning. After all, Soda City is HUGE—they have more money, more lawyers, more resources—so you definitely need to be equally huge, in some way, in order to fight this fight.

My editor greenlit the idea right away (!) so off to the cash-&-carry we went, to buy hundreds and hundreds of cans and bottles of soda. My art director Ron, producer Therese and I spent about 3 days building our view cityscape, and first assistant Galvin killed it doing double duty building our pop fighters.

I decided an very ‘real’ look to our set—I wanted to be anti-CGI, to have some rough spots where the boxes had some wear and tear, imperfections in the materials and build techniques; very wabi sabi. Not sloppy, just hand made looking. Leaving in things like the fishing line on the pop fighters, or the flare on the boxes, the ‘dents’ in the 12 pack boxes from the cans—all of that stuff added some needed grit to the image.

On the day of the shoot, after everything had been nailed to the floor, lit, and ready, we go word that Greg had decided that he couldn’t break away from his office across the river, to come to the studio. We were, however, invited to come over to his place and get our shot. A very very fast scramble ensued! We quickly documented the camera placement, distances and angles, and lighting direction, packed a studios worth of gear in the Xterra and whipped across the river. We built a studio in Greg’s driveway, and recreated our lighting and camera setup on the fly, so that I could composite the portrait with our studio shot. Pack and back to the studio to shoot some new plates with a few lighting tweaks to make the shadows fall correctly, and then directly into an intense composite session to merge it all together.

I’m pleased with the result—it’s solid idea that comes together nicely, and there’s nothing obvious about the composite. It’s punchy, striking and eye catching. Mission accomplished.

-andy batt

Esperanza Spalding

photographed by Andy Batt – October 2018

This is project that took a few years of scheduling and relationship building—but in October I was finally able to get Esperanza into the studio for an incredible portrait session. She’d been touring for a new album, but was going to be in Portland to visit friends and to be part of a gala night for the nonprofits; Bienestar, an amazing group that creates housing and opportunity for the Portland latino community. The event was “An Evening of Esperanza”, with a performance & silent auction. I was asked to create 2 portraits of Esperanza, one to be auctioned and one to be printed and placed in the “goodie bag” the VIP ticket holders would get.

I dug in to Esperanza’s back catalog, getting a sense of the incredibly diverse range of her music. I did a bunch of “coffee shop sessions”, sketching mind-mapping and just daydreaming. I began to have a glimpse of an idea—I wasn’t sure what it was exactly, or where it would lead, but decided to follow that ghost.

I ended up building a tiny tiny setwall box, and painted it with metallic silver paint—I wanted to create a compressed space to put a big personality—to create some visual tension and allow for her to express a physicality with movement or pressure. I used a very specialized lighting technique to create a hard, defined circle of light—I felt that the clean geometry of a circle would make a connection with her.

And because I’m me, I also wanted to create a classic B&W seated portrait, beautifully and simply lit. Something similar to the way I photographed Senator Jeff Merkley.

It was a great session—Esperanza gave me a generous amount of time, and enjoyed the experience; she’s a wonderful collaborator. I look forward to our next project together.

-andy batt

A shout out to Pro Photo Supply – who generously sponsored the printing of the framed auction print and the gift bag portraits! Get your printing (and cameras and media and lights and all the good stuff) at PPS!