Stories

Ending the Campaign with Humor & Humanity

2016.05.03I read about how important “trust” is everyday. With regard to brands, personal and work relationships…and...politicians. I have learned in my own marriage that it is all built on trust — and that requires me being trustworthy.Being trustworthy is about owning who you really are, and in the public arena, sharing that with equal amounts of strength and humility. Now I disagree with Ted Cruz on almost every issue and find the way he presents his case particularly non-inclusive. But I am not here to kick him when he is down. I am just here to show, in a singular photograph what Cruz edits out is the part that is most human. I took this picture backstage at a Cruz event in Oklahoma two months ago. Glenn Beck was introducing him and was going pretty over the top in his praise. Cruz was backstage taking it in stride and showing to no one in particular how it made him feel to be introduced like that. In one single moment, his campaign manager kicked up his foot and Cruz was punching himself all in self deprecation — and I got that shot. Because of the way I got entry and the way I work, I asked Cruz for permission to use the shot — which he declined with a message from his blackberry saying, “Awesome pic. Not the right time right now. Let’s hold this and do a bunch with it when we do it.” Since his campaign folded tonight, I think a send off with some humor and humanity is appropriate. The way campaigns work these days you are going to be raked over the coals for whatever you say or even don’t say. So it seems to me the best card you can possibly play is the most human one…which also carries the risk of being the most vulnerable. Photograph copyright (c)2016 by George Lange

Springsteen

2016.03.28-1 2016.03.28-2  

Springsteen is in Denver this week. At some point on Thursday night he will beg the audience to match his passion by calling out, "Is anyone ALIVE out there tonight?" I feel like screaming that almost everyday. What he is saying is, "You are so much more than you are sharing." I am at meetings searching for the soul of a company. With friends wanting to know what they are really feeling. Life is too short to get lost in a sea of work spending all our time coddling our privacy. We need to connect. Now. These images were taken when at a Springsteen concert in Boston when I was at RISD. The film went through the camera twice. Look closely. They are perfectly layered in the camera. And...the large prints are breathtaking - and for sale.

What is SHE Building in There?

2016.03.15 Yesterday Stacey had her life on the monitor, then she unplugged and left the office. I plugged my life into the very same monitor and populated it with a love letter about a single hug that made the day into something else. This morning I took the table in the back of Boxcar that Veronica generally sits at. Opened my morning onto the table cradling a perfect cortado compliments of the beards (Boulder hipster beards) behind the counter. Began to sing Tom Waits to myself while the speakers were playing “Two Weeks” by Grizzly Bear. The couple at the next table were crashed by a friend who asked, “Are you having a romantic morning or can I join you?” I have been obsessed with the Tom Wait's song, “What’s He Building In There?” I want to know what YOU are building in there. Want to know what you are thinking. What you are FEELING in there. A friend on the schoolyard this morning told me how much she loved my post from yesterday about meeting Stephie. I told her how we should all be sharing what we love. She said, “I am way too shy.” What is SHE building in there? I am about to do a bunch of videos profiling people on creativity and inspiration- which I am so excited about. Then my client said, “And then we want you to turn the camera on yourself, and tell us what YOU are building in there.” Need to wipe the steam off that reflection.

CPAC

A car is speeding down our quiet, child filled street in Boulder. I motion for the driver to slow down. He flips me off. As he races off I see the Trump sticker on his bumper. Later that night I land at Dulles Airpot, head buried in my phone watching the Republican debates as I wait at baggage claim in disbelief. It is the perfect intro to CPAC (Conservative Political Action Convention) heading into an UBER without looking up. The driver thinks I'm lost in my own world and cranks up the music of Afghanistan he loves. I am headed into the bunkers at the heart of battle for conservatives. I have earned a respected outsider status with years of work inside Glenn Beck’s trust. They issue a media pass for CPAC which relegates me to the penned dungeon at the very back of the huge conference hall. I go trade it out for a general audience pass which lets me roam freely. Watching Ted Cruz up close but can’t find my shot. Walk under the huge video screen by the side of the stage and look up — Cruz looks just like David Byrne in “Stop Making Sense” — his head small sitting on top of a huge torso. I am not there to make fun of anyone — so I shoot but don’t know where these shots will land. I was backstage at a Cruz rally in Oklahoma a couple of days before as Glenn Beck was introducing him. Glenn was totally over the top — which was the perfect rallying cry for the crowd, but to Cruz backstage it was all too much and he was reacting by jokingly punching himself in the head. At the same time, his campaign manager was kicking his foot in the air — and I got one of the most amazing pictures. The Cruz people asked if I would wait to share it. I am that kind of journalist, I trade my access for some patience. I have traveled with Glenn Beck for several years as the “communist” on the bus. It is a joke that acknowledges the fact that we approach politics from completely different ends of the spectrum, yet have found common threads in a friendship that bridges those political gaps. Glenn has opened doors into worlds I never imagined roaming — NRA rallies, FreedomWorks events and now CPAC. Who are all these people? My first reaction is always, “Wow — the right is so much better organized than the left.” Where are the events of this size for the liberals? These are political gatherings all based around “values and honor and principals” all wrapped in sense of right. It is a lonely world in our cars and at work — always tethered to our phones and screens. These events offer people a safe place to talk with like minded friends, eye to eye. What happens on the stage is always baffling to me. Being so adverse to nostalgia, the whole looking back at how great our country WAS is not appealing at all. The embrace of Reagan as a god, the process of using big issues (health care, abortion, defense, religion, Obama (“if he was for it, we had to be against it), the devil in Hilary….) all as litmus tests for membership feels like a close minded way of understanding how we are going to discover our common good as humans. When I roam with my camera as an outsider in a big room of vocal conservatives, I feel like any entitlement from our political beliefs is a strange way to way to navigate the world. The whole idea of a “convention” in a big hotel is so 70’s. Where have you gone Mrs. Robinson? I don’t know where to put the ties and coats and high heels and buttons and banners and red, white and blue in the mix. Is this the future of the past? I appreciate the passion — and also the fact the bookstore sells out. This is a group that reads history and is highly invested in what they believe. I also appreciate that they respect me and my work — and trust that I will be fair. When I talk to Glenn he reminds me about how little I know about the founding fathers (having seen “Hamilton” twice doesn’t count). If you were to be a fly on the wall you might be surprised at how we get along, how much fun we have, how open we are — and how deeply we are listening. The pictures I take in what might be perceived as enemy camp are even more powerful because we so different.

I always have music in my head when I am photographing. For much of the weekend, I was hearing my father’s voice singing a song Sammy Davis made famous in Alice in Wonderland: What’s a nice kid like you doing in a place like this? What’s a nice kid like you doing in a place like this? I got a hunch you won’t like it here, The potato chips are soggy and they water the beer What’s a nice kid like you doing in a place like this? You could be in pictures with that cute little face, So how come you’re hangin’ ‘round this funky place! What’s a nice kid like you doing in a place like this? Doing in a place like this? …

The Much Bigger Story

2016.03.01  

Last Saturday night I was backstage at a presidential candidate’s campaign event in Little Rock, Arkansas. The man who had invited me there was introducing me to the candidate. “George is one of the greatest photographers in the world.” The candidate nodded in a pretty disinterested fashion and shook my hand. The man I was with then said, “George is my communist friend and a good man.” The candidate, normally not very good at showing much emotion slightly furled his brow and gave me a longer gaze. His main focus was more on being blown off the map by the force of Trump than meeting a communist photographer.

The trip began as an email earlier that morning. I got it when I arrived at my son Jackson's basketball game at the Y in Boulder. “Dad, you would NEVER miss my last game would you?” No. Never. The email was from Glenn Beck asking me to join him on the road that evening in Little Rock with Ted Cruz for 4 cities - then later in the week to the CPAC convention in DC (where Glenn was the keynote speaker) and promised to be a wildly heated event.

At these events I get the access toI take the pictures you could never get. Tense meetings in elevators. Exasperated sighs in between explosions of adulation. Guard down, camera up. I am even asked for my autograph and to pose in selfies with those crowds - they know me. How can that be? I grew up a good liberal in Pittsburgh and have clung to those beliefs my whole life - even refusing to photograph Republican politicians for years. Then I met Glenn and through a series of assignments found my greatest muse and a good friend. When Glenn called Obama a racist on Fox, I called him up and said that was the craziest thing I had ever heard. I told him he had just shot himself in the foot. I then took him out in the desert in Arizona, drilled a hole in his shoe, had blood coming out, handed him a gun and photographed him shooting himself in the foot. It all grew from there. We are polar opposites politically yet both love Nina Simone. We both come from completely different backgrounds and yet we both cherish our wives and children. We talk about how wrong each other is on the issues, and yet we respect each other’s viewpoints, core values and powers to communicate. Glenn is the most courageous creative I have ever met - and pushes me to take the pictures I am afraid to take. It is a powerful relationship. With Glenn I have created a body of work that is so far beyond what I could ever have done on my own, and yet...there are the politics which are a part of it, too.

My job is to humanize people. I am am so much more interested in who people are than what they look like. That goes for movie stars. Factory workers. Presidents. And yes...right wing talk show hosts. I have been searching my whole career for how we are all connected. How we love. How we feel. It is fascinating to hang out with the people you would never normally entertain and find love.

This is a much bigger story, but for now, it serves as a short introduction to some work I want to share this week. It is always dangerous expressing anything political on social media. It allows the arrogance from the likes of Trump’s army to enter your world in the comments. I used to argue with Glenn that Republicans were hateful and racist. He always pushed back, especially in defending his core audience. Now he admits, the Trump and his supporters represent the ugliest intolerance imaginable. Glenn was one of the first people to warn of the danger Trump presents to this country. I wish every sane Republican and the media has understood that last summer before the momentum was unstoppable.

Late Saturday night in Little Rock, I was in the backseat of an Uber being driven by a wounded vet. After hearing all the cries at the political rally, here was this young guy quietly introducing himself as a “good ol’ boy”, then telling me all about love. How he loved everyone, making a point of including Muslims and African Americans - because we were all God’s children. He talked about how he was so involved with his wife and his children and his church. He was voting for Ben Carson. I asked what it meant to be a “good ‘ol boy” and he said it was about growing up in the south,loving fried foods... I stopped him there. I said, “How can you love your kids and eat stuff that is so bad for you.” He said that was how he grew up and what he loved. We stayed away from discussing global warming...

Jackson scored 8 points in his basketball game and made some great passes. While he was not happy when I told him I had to hit the road suddenly, when I returned with a whole slew of new stories and pictures, he jumped extra high into my arms. "Dad, that is what the Lange family does!"

Our Lives as Inspiration

duane michaelsYesterday I entered WESA, the public radio studio in Pittsburgh and put my new favorite camera, the Leica Q up on the table. In the next studio, through the glass I could watch Wilco setting up for their “Live and Direct” performance. I settled the headphones over my ears, heard the intro music playing, then the host Paul Guggenheimer began…

http://wesa.fm/post/instagram-artist-residence-storytelling-through-social-media

My afternoon was spent with a genealogist Tammy Hepps from Harvard who had been studying my family’s history at the turn of the 20th century in Pittsburgh. She said, “I can tell you about your great grandfather, but I am so frustrated that I can’t really know him. I have so many questions I want to ask him directly.” Tammy has been scouring through newspaper articles, records from the synagogue, and meeting the few people in their 80’s and 90’s with their well polished stories.

100 years from now, there will be people wondering who we were. Trying to make sense of our lives, trying to figure out our story. They may have access to a lifetime of email. They will probably have gigs and gigs of pictures we took with our phones. They will have calendars tightly packed with meetings and appointments, offering no clue into what we were actually doing. They will certainly have archives stuffed with many points of view from blogs and media outlets of what was going on in the world on any given day. They will have our daily social feeds and Instagram accounts to wade into. But….will they really know anything about us?

We are creating our own personal histories everyday, but what are they really documenting? How do we share our own unique approach to the world? How are we loving? How are we disappointed? What are we really FEELING? We hear a lot about being “authentic” or stories being “organic”. What I think these terms point to is a longing to answer the question “Who are you?” There is a need to find that place where we all connect. Now it is easier than ever to tell our stories and share our humanity. And at the same time we are posting and sharing today, we are also creating our legacies for tomorrow and future generations.

During my radio interview, I repeated my call to anyone taking pictures these days: whether you’re a business, whether you’re a father or a mother, or whether you’re a giant corporation, show me the light in your life. Show me what makes you special, and what makes you different, and what gives you a reason for being. If you can do this, you will be creating a meaningful legacy of images and stories for those coming after you while connecting on a more intimate level today.

When Paul walked me out of the studio he said something I hear often, “Wow! It is always so inspiring seeing you.” I don’t share that to boast, just to acknowledge that this is an inspiring message. If in the course of sharing my own life and work, my stories of friends, family, colleagues and even strangers someone says “Wow! You are so inspiring!”, then I’m doing what I set out to do and I believe we could all be doing that — Inspiring one another. And if one day, a hundred years from now when some relative is trying to figure out where they came from, my greatest wish is that we also share with them some inspiration,

You can follow my inspiration on Instagram @george.lange

My Teacher from RISD

2016.01.14I am always intimidated when I meet someone new - It is hopefully a combination of healthy respect and humility. Then there are the people you have looked up to your whole life. Your parents. Your teachers. Your mentors. Your heroes. Sometimes it is a relationship that blossoms over years, sometimes it unfolds over coffee, or in my case, a photo shoot. It is important that there is hierarchy and just as important to allow relationships to evolve with the balance shifting. Yesterday I wrote an email to my teacher from RISD, Wendy MacNeil about handling all the fuss over her retrospective opening next week in Toronto. Hopefully her show at the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto next week will introduce the work and the wonder that is Wendy to a whole new audience. Wendy wrote that she was “petrified” at the whole schedule of events around the show. I knew her natural reaction would be to repel the spotlight. Then I wrote and actually hit send:

Wendy,

It is a big deal. Your brother and the team at Ryerson did an amazing job assembling the retrospective - I can say that before even seeing the show. You did an even more amazing job producing the work and keeping it all these years! My father used to ask me in the middle of all the craziness if I ever looked at myself in the mirror and was proud of what I did. NEVER ! But we should. You tell me all the time how proud I should be of my work. Even in an earlier email today you made me feel so appreciated and loved. My kids are so proud of me. They tell me often (I know that might change but loving it for now). Stephie, you know. So I am telling you - next week - take it in. ALLOW yourself to enjoy a moment of intense appreciation. Those moments are precious and too rare. Next week is not about being too humble or feeling like the work could have been better. It is about allowing others to enjoy and appreciate what you have done - and if you can...bask in it a bit.

For years when someone would praise my work I would always throw it back - "well...there were a lot of people involved"...or..."we all deserve it." Then around the time I did my book and the Ted Talk, I learned to say, "thank you." It was a big deal for me to say that - and it was appropriate.

So enjoy the fuss. All those hands on the walls will be waving at you!

Wendy’s response (which she allowed me to share)

George - I've re-read your email many times & I know everything you say is right on. Even your 'NEVER' response to your Dad. The important thing I realize from what you are writing is to allow other people " to enjoy & appreciate what you have done". How horrible it is for a person to express his/her love of someone's work directly to the artist's face and be rebuffed by an uncommunicative "humble" retreat into a shell, which completely spoils the other person's joy. Terrible! So I will let them enjoy whatever they want and I promise to follow the simple Thank You of your genius advice!! Thanks!!!!!

Wendy Snyder MacNeil, Ezra Sesto, 1977; printed 1988. From the series Hands. Platinum-palladium prints on tracing vellum. Wendy Snyder MacNeil Archive, Ryerson Image Centre

“Wendy MacNeil — The Light Inside” at the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto. January 20-April 10, 2016.

The 45th Plate

1406012_16_01_167 I have spent many evenings the past two summers taking pictures with Meadow Lark Farm Dinners on farms outside of Boulder. Meadow Lark has tripped out a school bus as a kitchen which they park by some of the most lush, mostly organic fields. They create their menus from whatever is ripe, with the menu and whole experience dependant on which way the wind is blowing. The Meadow Lark table is set for 44 people. Somewhere, off to the side of the bus (preferably out of view) Veronica sets a small table for me - the 45th plate.

Because I am not a food photographer, or a nature photographer for that matter - I come in through a very different door. I walk through the fields unannounced and often follow my nose more than my eyes. These pictures are about using all of our senses. I bury my camera deep in the pots of steaming fresh pasta, let the oil jump onto my lens just above the frying squash blossoms, and push my hands so far into the hot smoking grill my camera smells like barbecue for weeks.

These prints are the result of a collaboration: George Lange, Veronica Volny and Meadow Lark--Nature--and a lot of Love all around! This offering is an exclusive limited Holiday Edition. The archival prints are custom made in Boulder and signed for you by me.

Jackson is 8

201510.29 There was almost no discussion about having a child before or after we got married. Being a lot older than most people to the parenting party, not discussing it was probably insane - yet…..what else could I say when the person I loved so much wanted to have a child with me? Should I have brought up all kinds of logistical things? Do I discuss money and our future then start on all the things that could go wrong? Do I try to micro manage the dream of something so beyond my wildest dreams? Still - I had no idea how much I wanted to be a father. I could never have imagined what I was holding in. Then one night Stephie handed me three envelopes. When I opened the third one, there was a drawing of a heart plus another heart equalling a baby. I cried harder at that moment than I had ever cried. My insides just opened up and I couldn’t pull myself together for a long time. It was the deepest ache and joy simultaneously.. How can you know how much you want something until it is really there? How can you know the love of your life until you are really living each day together?

There is no way a man can appreciate all a woman goes through having a child. Even though we are hopefully a big of source of support, we cannot be inside that beautiful body going through such an intense metamorphous. The time spent pregnant is both compressed and goes on forever. On the morning of our second anniversary, Stephie said, “I am going to give you the best anniversary present ever.” 7 hours of intense labor after that, Jackson appeared in three breaths. CRIES. SWEAT. First the top of his head poked out. BREATHE. PUSH. Then his whole head. Jackson’s whole head was right there emerging from Stephie. She was doing all the work and I stood holding her and looking through streams of tears. AWWWWWEEEEEE! Finally on the next breath Jackson launched into the world.

Everything in your life prepares you for this moment and yet it is nothing you can imagine. Jackson was alive in our arms and I cried even harder while trying to count his fingers and toes. As tightly as we held him, I also knew the process of having a child is the process of letting go. Even from those very first moments.

Jackson is 8 years old on our tenth wedding anniversary - which is today. My mother said last night, "The amazing thing about Jackson is he never says good, he always says great. He never likes things, he always loves them.” He comes by that honestly.

Jackson never misses a beat in appreciating what makes each moment sing. He has albums full of mental pictures he saves on his internal hard drive. There is so much we love about our kids, but I think before everything, I so appreciate Jackson’s kindness. His good mornings and goodbyes. His kisses and hugs and being so sensitive and appreciative. When I am going away for a work trip, he fights back his tears so bravely and says, “I am going to miss you Dad.” Just before I completely fall apart, he throws me a bone giving me a count of the days until I will be home for us both to look forward to.

Jackson is a child of the world now, but oh how we love him, and oh…..how he loves us back.