Cannes Throwback. Three years ago, at my first Cannes Lions for Instagram, this guy with amazing hair walked onto my set. I didn't really know who he was. I asked him if he could lend me some hair. He was blessed, I was challenged. He said he was really busy and really couldn't help me. We took this picture. Took some more. Then he said, "I am not that busy next month, maybe I can help you out."
Almost ten years ago Stephie’s body delivered Jackson into our arms. He was delivered by her soul in an act of wild generosity and love. It was miracle. Nothing compares, except for every single moment we get to share with Jackson since he arrived. Three years later, Stephie did that magic trick all over again and said, “Here is our Asher.” Asher takes joy to a whole other level. All of us Dad’s are in awe at the birth of our children, it is seriously beyond our wildest dreams. Then we get a new name. Two little boys in this big crazy whole world call me “Dad.” I can’t tell you how much I love that name. Happy Father’s Day to all the men who get to be called,“Dad.” Happy Father’s Day to all the mom’s who have given us this greatest gift. Happy Father’s Day to all the grandparents who just love it all. Happy Father’s Day to our fathers who are no longer here - oh, how we miss sharing all this love with you. Happy Father’s Day to all the friends who don’t have kids but are so sweet sharing their love with our kids. Happy Father’s Day to all the children who make their Dad’s proud and honest and teach us everyday how lucky we are to be alive.
Last night a bunch of men in Boulder got together for their book club to discuss “The Underground Railroad.” Oh, please! Bunch of white guys sitting in someone’s beautiful backyard on a perfect early summer night eating empanadas and drinking beer talking about slavery. I can’t make excuses for who we are, but the discussion was deep and powerful. Trying to understand brutality and evil, we started by reading Lebron’s statement from Wednesday on being black in 2017 - and ended by one of the father’s talking about keeping toy guns away from his Ethiopian adopted son. Underneath it all was trying to understand how humanity can be so inhumane.
First thing I read this morning was David Brooks. We had discussed how biased the NY Times can be - but this piece seems to get at the place where humanity, decency and community escape us as a nation. So many times I read David Brooks and think he is brilliant, then peruse the comments and think I have gotten it all wrong. I am going with my gut this time.
On Sunday I am going out into this country of ours to photograph it's soul via the emotional side of youth sports. Underneath all of the division is love. There is a place that we are all connected. I know that. I am going to tell that story.
I am listening to this way too late at night, so emotions are raw. When Sheryl talks about data giving her comfort it seems like a strange process. When she talks about her Jewishness, the way Adam taught her to imagine things even worse - and ultimately finding a way forward with her life - there is great strength. The bottom line here is that when we are so raw we are also the most alive. You can be alive without grief, but the most intense moments of sadness allow us to appreciate the joy in our daily lives even more. The key is stop and hear and smell and taste how precious the smallest joys in our lives are. Or....as Krista Tippett quotes Annie Dillard, "How we spend our days is how we spend our lives."
The extraordinary Tammy Hepps has been unearthing the Jewish culture in Homestead Pennsylvania - where my mother's family lived. This is an ad from my great grandfather's clothing store. I never knew Ben Friedlander - but we do share an appreciation of great hats! Tammy's Homestead project is here: http://homesteadhebrews.com/ . I highly recommend checking out all her work - and for Pittsburgh friends, hearing Tammy speak.
Opening day of AAA Little League. Baby Lange #1 is now 9 1/2 and has a triple header. Little League opening day ceremonies. First game right after then. Then straight down to Coor's Field in Denver for the Rockies. HAVE to be there when the doors open. Jackson will race out to center field to catch (and beg) for balls during batting practice. Sometime around 10 or 11 tonight we will pull up in front of the house. Exhausted...baseballed out...but having had a great day together. The day started with a morning walk. Jackson was in his new uniform. He held my hand the whole way. It can't get any better than this. These are the days my friends....these are the days. Today I also take my first dive into a dream assignment for Dick's Sporting Goods to shoot the emotional side of sports. More. Much more on that later.
George Pitts was bigger than life. Inspiring. Mysterious. Thoughtful and sensitive in a way that touched us all. I wanted to listen to George forever. Imagine how he created his images. Dance in his brilliant shadow.
I got to do one cover for Vibe with George. In LA we shot Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, and Coolio one afternoon in that studio at Smash Box facing west. Stevie sang "As" for us. Quincey Jones shared his incredible life. Coolio and I created an image that was ripped off by Weird Al (I guess that is some kind of flattery). I pulled out all the stops trying to impress George. He didn't need to say, "astonish me." His presence was something both powerful and magical.
Life is too short. Life is precious. George Pitts touched many of us.
On our wedding weekend, Stephie’s father Steve got up in front of our friends and families the night before the ceremony and did something incredibly powerful and moving. He had changed some of the lyrics to “I Will Walk With You” and sang it accompanied by his double bass and bluegrass band for us. Steve had my same problem of not being great at memorizing things, but he had practiced for weeks for this moment. Still, before the final verse he briefly stumbled and instantly recovered saying, “Stick with me–this is important.” And it was. Not a dry eye accompanied the applause at the end. What he had done was created an emotional center for the whole weekend.
I have thought about that a lot afterwards–how every event needs an emotional center to bring people in and allow them all to embrace each other creating something really special. Being able to connect emotionally allows us to get out of our routines to appreciate how special a moment (or event) can be.
When I was asked to speak at the Facebook Leadership Communications Summit in Menlo Park last week, I felt like my role for the group of marketers and strategists was to step up and create that emotional center. I am used to doing that at my photo and video shoots. Getting up on stage in front of 300 people is another challenge.
I built my talk for emotional connection. I talked about how if we really pay attention to all the details in our lives before breakfast, we can create a foundation for the rest of our day. I talked about really appreciating our lives in a way that is not looking for more, but rather diving deeper.
I showed some of my most personal work. Recently I have started embracing my personal work in new ways and it has led to a string of new assignments perfectly aligned to where my heart and soul are. It is thrilling to be starting these new adventures.
I talked about the tools Facebook and Instagram have built for us to communicate in totally new ways in 2017, but I talked about them like hammers and nails and wood. We have these amazing tools, but now, what are we going to build with them??
Many of the people at the conference shared their struggles with convincing their clients–mostly large global brands–to embrace the opportunities (and tools) we now have to share what makes them amazing. This is not about inventing who they are or creating something that doesn’t exist to represent them. It simply requires digging down deep into the stories that never get told and taking the pictures that never get taken. I talked about the value in telling the best stories that often never see the light of day. I was told over and over, “Easy for you to say–you come in and see those stories so clearly. Not everyone can do that.”
As Tom Waits sings in “Foreign Affair” –
when traveling abroad in the continental style
it's my belief one must attempt to be discreet
and subsequently bear in mind your transient position
allows you a perspective that's unique
The discretion is the trust we establish. Trust is necessary for us to do our work, and that demands that we are trustworthy. Our “transient position” is essential for our role as outliers, which allows for our “perspective that’s unique.” We dig down deep into the stories that are sitting right on the end of our nose and capture them for sharing.
My 6 year old Asher was telling me his dream a couple of weeks ago when I asked him what dreams are. He said, “Dad – you know when you close your eyes to sleep and it gets dark? Dreams are what let the light in.”
Our job as creatives is to let the light in with the most personal and intimate approach possible. Communication is about sharing that light.
Viola Davis’s beautiful Oscar acceptance speech last night started out confusing. She said, “There is one place where all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place. And that is the graveyard.” She then continued, “People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say, exhume those bodies, exhume those stories, the stories of the people who dreamed.”
Last Thursday I was sitting in the afternoon sun in the courtyard at Facebook with my treasured friend, Damien Baines. I wish I could record my conversations with Damien, for they are dense and I have a horrible memory. What I remember Damien saying is, “we cannot go forward until we understand our histories.”
I have spent my life trying to live in the moment. Not holding onto the past too much and not looking too far ahead. Knowing that underneath it all, we are standing on the shoulders of our ancestors and shared histories. With African American history, way too much has been lost. Yet, when I think about trying to understand that past, there is the deepest well of inspiration. The cultural gifts – music, theater, choreography, dance, literature – that have been handed down to all of us from African American artists and authors is more than I can even absorb in one lifetime.
When I squinted into the audience at the Oscars it looked like a sea of white faces. Then the camera zoomed in and as the awards were announced, there were the beautiful African American artists, proud and full of grace in their success and tears. Even if I could never fully comprehend the journey that delivered those artists to that moment, I could still embrace that moment of appreciation and recognition.
Viola Davis continued, ““I became an artist, and thank god I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life. So here’s to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people.”
There is no greater American playwright than August Wilson. I have seen most of his plays– and never a production that did not change my life. Wilson’s plays demand a level of performance that is beyond anything I could ever imagine, yet cast after cast has risen to the level that is demanded and rewarded. I cannot comprehend how challenging it must be to learn –let alone communicate–his astonishing dialogue. He digs deep into the soul of his characters and finds that place that is both normal and extraordinary. The humanity he “exhumes and exalts” is at the heart of all of us.
If we could all see just one August Wilson play our country would be a much better place. “Jitney” is playing in NY right now. “Fences” is on screens big and small. See them. Revel in them. Be grateful we are living in a time of August Wilson and Moonlight and Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali.
We are living in the time of the new James Baldwin documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro.” –which Damien insisted I see. You need to see it in a theater while it is still there. For the sound of Samuel Jackson’s voice reading Baldwin’s words–so deep on a great sound system. For the brilliant construction that Raoul Peck built – blending the power of Baldwin’s words and showing how relevant they are today.
Somewhere James Baldwin is exhaling his own perfect circle of smoke.
My father used to have a small transistor radio by his bed. When he woke up in the middle of the night he would put the mono earbud in, and listen to AM radio in Pittsburgh. I don’t know if he listened to news or music or sports - what was on in the middle of the night?
I don’t like waking up in the middle of sleep, but after a while of trying to slow down my brain, I sometimes reach for my own radio..which is my phone that can play way too much to ever find sleep again. I like to listen to people talking at a really low volume. I like to be at a dinner party I was not invited to, but can listen in on. David Remnick on the New Yorker Podcast is amazing. Quiet in depth interviews by David Axelrod on the, “Axe Files”. I listen to “On Being” sometimes (love the recent John Lewis episode). I sometimes listen to “WTF with Marc Moran” - but have to skip the first 20 minutes where he is talking about himself. I have listened to some of the drama podcasts like “Homecoming”, smart takes on history from Malcolm Gladwell’s “REvisionist History” and of course “This American Life” and it’s spin off, “Serial”.
Then there is all the politics - which I should NOT be listening to in the middle of the night.
Lately I have been obsessed with a podcast 3 Obama speechwriters have created called, “Pod Save America.” They describe their podcast as, “ a political podcast for people not yet ready to give up or go insane hosted by Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer and Tommy Vietor.” I started with their Obama interview, which was his last as president. This week they talk about what it was like working with President Obama as his speechwriters. The whole podcast is really brilliant, but towards the end they gave me a gift. It was this, “There is an America that is dying and it is going out with a super nova. Some stars just die and fade away, but others explode brightly before they disappear. Trump is is a supernova of a kind of politics we are saying goodbye to. The future is on our side. Let’s make it so.” I needed to hear this to put this whole political nightmare in some kind of perspective. Listen to this episode. You will learn a lot - and afterwards you will sleep much better.
I have been trying to get some fiction into the mix - not in the background but front and center. One way is to get lost in the boy's dreams. This morning Asher was telling me about a "bad dream". He said we went on a hike and got to the top of a mountain. (love that part!). He then describes the most beautiful sky - pinks and yellows and puffy clouds. But then, when he picked up a camera and tried to take a picture - everything beautiful disappeared. When I asked him if that means we should not take pictures - but rather look at it and try to remember it - he said, "No. Daddy, how many pictures have you taken??"
Part of me is dreaming of starting an extermination company to get all this Trump crap out of my dining room and kitchen, out of my bedroom and my dreams (/nightmares). He is taking way too much oxygen out of my home. I know this is making us stronger and focussed and more vocal and more alive. Still...Darth Bannon and his puppet are slinging too much shit around my life. It is like a giant political factory polluting all the air we breathe.
The antidote is making our voices heard. Speaking up and out. Also - allowing some beauty and inspiration into our lives in new ways. John Lewis's conversation with Krista Tippet is brilliant and offers some tools to fight back. Lewis explains, " It’s the power to believe that you can see, that you visualize, that sense of community, that sense of family, that sense of one house. If you live that you’re already there, that you’re already in that community, part of that sense of one family, one house. If you visualize it, if you can even have faith that it’s there, for you it is already there. And during the early days of the movement, I believed that the only true and real integration for that sense of the beloved community existed within the movement itself. Because in the final analysis, we did become a circle of trust, a band of brothers and sisters. So it didn’t matter whether we’re black or white. It didn’t matter whether you came from the North, to the South, or whether you’re a Northerner or Southerner. We were one."
I turned off the news for a moment yesterday and listened to Billie Holiday and Lester Young in totally new ways. More art. More music. More life. More community. More faith.