This past fall I had the pleasure to produce another series of short films for Pictage’s ParnterConference in New Orleans. The ones I shot last year were the most rewarding filmmaking experience I had in 2009, allowing me to delve into topics that inspired and provoked thought. The series I got to produce this year was equally, if not more fulfilling. A series of four short documentary films profiling people in the photography world, most of whom I’m sure you have never heard of; but whose openness and honesty left an indelible effect on the 500+ attendees at PartnerCon: and one story in particular that changed people’s lives (more on that in a few weeks). I’ve gotten the okay to start blogging about them and share my insight behind their creation.
[This video (and the other ones I created for ParnterCon) will be part of Pictage’s new education and inspiration site The Photo Life. Very cool! Check it out for some great articles, as well as intriguing podcast interviews. Oh, and it’ll be the first place you’ll see the other films I shot for PartnerCon. Go there to see them first, then come back here to read my back story on their creation.]
I Thought I Knew Joe Buissink
Joe Buissink is arguably one of the top ten most successful celebrity wedding and portrait photographers around. He’s shot for Kelsey Grammar, J-Lo, Bishop TD Jake’s, Christine Aguillera, and Stephen Speilberg just to name a few. He’s also one of the most down to earth, honest, and authentic people I’ve met. Some how, despite Joe’s fame, he’s been able to elude the whole “rock star” photographer image. He doesn’t boast on Twitter or Facebook about his work; he doesn’t blog; he doesn’t bad mouth anyone; and he sports regular t-shirts, jeans and sneakers vs. Marc Ecko designer shirts and points shoes. He’s “just Joe.” If you’ve ever heard any of his talks at any number of photography expos, you also know that he’s open and forthright. (Arguably more so than ever in this last PartnerCon as he shared about his own challenges in this tough industry and economy).
In this PartnerCon film series, we wanted to explore the trial and tribulations that occur among “newbie” photographers and old-timers like Joe. After a week-long stint shooting for three other clients in Northern California, I took a 24 hour detour to Southern California to grab some time with Joe and create the film below. I knew I would want to touch on his work with autistic children (he has two himself) and the affect that’s had on him. But as we rode from his home in Marina del Rey to is Beverly Hills office, he started sharing about his childhood and early adult life.
My jaw just hung in disbelief as he shared what it was like being left on a door step at age 4.5 by his biological mother who left his dad; about having an abusive stepmother; and about being called the N-word (yes, THAT word). About drugs, racism, alcohol. My mind was racing. How in the world was I going to capture all this information AND make it relevant to photographers? I think what we ended up with worked out just fine. But you be the judge.
Thank you Joe for your vulnerability, your openness, your compassionate nature, and your willingness to give back to this industry. You are what’s best about this business. You da real deal my friend!
If you thought you knew Joe Buissink, think again.
- In the film Joe talks about being in the army. What I didn’t have time to include was that he intended to go to Vietnam with hopes he’d die. Instead he was shamed and frustrated when his dad pulled some strings to pull him off the plane before it was meant to take off. It deeply affected Joe for years after that and was largely responsible for him going into therapy.
- Joe was part of a racially diverse gang in the South Central L.A. area that would go around trying to break up fights by the other black and Hispanic gangs. After a year of being beat up by those gangs, they decided to give up.
- It was easily in the mid- to high 90s the day we shot this. Joe was a trooper as I shot him walking up and down the alley behind his office. I’m surprised his head didn’t fry.
- Shot with a Canon T2i, a Steady Tracker for walking shots, a Lensbaby Composer, a Canon 50mm f1.8, a Canon 35mm f1.4L, and a Tokina 12-24 f4. (Funny side note. The aperture on a Lensbaby cannot be controlled by the camera. You have to use a set of manual aperture rings that come with the lens. You drop them in the front of the lens and take them out with a little magnet hook. This was my first time using a Lensbaby, so I hadn’t yet that figured. So the Lensbaby scenes were shot fully open. I had to adjust shutter speed to compensate. But the high exposure actually worked well for the look I was going for.)
- The beach scenes are out behind the condo’s where Joe lives in Marina del Rey, CA. He walks his son Sebastian out there on many a morning.
- The songs are from Triple Scoop Music. Opening song “Hall Mongers” by Shotgun Radio. Ending song “Gooding” by Marie Laveaux. I was looking for something hard-hitting with a Trent Reznor/NIN feel to it.
- Big thanks to friend and colleague David Robin for picking me up at LAX and dropping me off both to Joe’s place and later my luxurious motel digs.