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Creatively Speaking: Kevin Scanlon

Our Creatively Speaking series of interviews continues this week with the brilliant photographer Kevin Scanlon. If you read The New York Times, Forbes, Time Magazine, or LA Weekly, you probably already know Kevin's work. But today you're going to have a chance to get to know the man behind the amazing photographs. And tomorrow, we'll be giving away an original Scanlon print to one lucky/smart reader, but you have to read today's interview if you expect to get in on that action.

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In addition to well-known artists and actors like Steve Carell, Robert Redford, Tilda Swinton, Daniel Day Lewis, and Jodie Foster (just to name a fraction), Kevin has shot athletes like Larry Bowa, rockers, like Neil Young, and many advertising campaigns you'd recognize.

Check out his Web site for a sampling, or see some of the additional images we've included with the interview below. And don't forget to tune in tomorrow for your chance to win an autographed Scanlon original.

DI: How'd you get started in this racket and how'd you get your first gig?
KS: I started shooting in high school. My friend and I took an elective photo class and shot each other skateboarding for our assignments. I got more serious when I met Ben Stechschulte later in high school. He had a contagious passion for photography. After not graduating from college (I couldn't make up my mind between photography and music), I played in a band throughout my 20s, shooting for fun, all the while. When the band fizzled out, photography took over. I was shooting my friends' bands live shows and press photos. For the heck of it, I shot a couple friends' bands that were playing a music competition sponsored by the Phoenix New Times. The New Times had a staff photographer who was shooting other bands too, but my friends were the ones who won, and the staffer had no shots of them playing. So I got my first images published, and started a two-year run shooting regularly for the New Times before moving to Los Angeles.

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DI: With camera technology what it is today, it seems anyone who owns a digital SLR calls him-herself a photographer these days. But it's not that easy is it? Why not?

KS: I think it's great that some digital cameras are affordable enough for just about anybody to buy one. My 5-year-old niece has a big, pink digital camera. Great photography can come from anyone, anytime. Sometimes, it's being at the right place at the right time. However, that doesn't mean that everyone is a photographer, just because he or she has a digital camera. I can hold a scalpel and cut things, but I'm no heart surgeon. Not to say I'm saving lives with my photography. But to me, it's all about taste. It's what you do with composition, color, contrast, lighting, etc. These are some things that differentiate between solid and not-so-solid photography. And more, how the photographer interacts (or doesn't interact) with the subject that counts in the end.

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DI: Of all the celebs you've shot, who has been the most challenging?

KS: I've been fortunate to have had some really successful people sit for me. And amazingly, the vast majority have been kind, generous, and humble. I can think of a few exceptions, but only a few. What made them difficult was their lack of enthusiasm, and unwillingness to be photographed. And I get it. The photo shoot isn't the creative part of their job. Making films or music (or whatever) is. The photo shoot is just a part of promoting their work. It's a tedious part of their job. That said, get over it and do your job! I will say that some of my many favorites have been Jodie Foster, Daniel Day-Lewis, Tilda Swinton, Kevin McDonald (from comedy troupe Kids in the Hall), and Pau Gasol of the Lakers.

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DI: Who has been the most down-to-earth? How did that down-to-earthness express itself?

KS: The favs I mentioned are among the most down-to-earth. Also, James McAvoy, Ethan Embry, Beck, and Cate Blanchett. They all TALKED to me. And not talking, like "How do you want me to pose?" Talking about...just stuff. McAvoy told me about his favorite Scotch Whiskey (something I've been known to sip on occasion), Gasol told me about making the doorways in his new condo taller, McDonald about one of his (and my) favorite characters from Kids in the Hall, the King of Empty Promises. "Will do."

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DI: For the tech-heads in the blog, what's in your camera bag these days? What kind of lenses do you prefer for different situations?

KS: I keep three lenses in my bag. I use the 24-70 2.8 for most work. I'll use the 70-200 2.8 (or is it 80-200?) about 30% of the time. And for emergencies, I have a 50 1.4. That's in case of a low-light location and I can't use my lights for some reason.

DI: Who's your dream subject and why?

KS: I think I have several. In music, it'd have to be Radiohead. The quality of work they release over and over again commands much respect from me. In film, the Coen Brothers are high on the list, for the same reason. Also Jim Carrey. And Audrey Hepburn, circa 1953. But I don't think I was born yet. And I'll add Tiger Woods to that list.

DI: Are there any similarities between playing music and shooting pictures?

KS: I would say there's a close relationship between a photo shoot and recording music (rather than performing live). When I was playing in the band, I co-produced our records with our drummer. That process of "recording" or documenting music is very similar to photography. There's the initial capture and the prep work that goes into it. There's the post-production (the mixdown for music, and processing [printmaking with film or digital processing] for photography). And distribution is similar. MySpace features music and photography, for example.

DI: What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?

KS: For aspiring career photographers, understand business. There are great photographers who don't know how to run a business, and thus aren't as successful as they could be. And there are decent photographers who are extremely successful because they are excellent businesspeople. For those who just want to take better pictures, don't be afraid to "shoot from the hip." Just aim the camera and fire away. I find that the subjects don't stiffen up as so many people do when I raise the camera to my eye. You might catch a much more spontaneous moment that way!

DI: You're from Pittsburgh. Care to place a bet on your Steelers this year?

KS: I have visions of the Steelers beating the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl.

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Browse through past Creatively Speaking posts here >>

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Creatively Speaking: MeetingBoy

Read on to win a new Meeting Boy wall calendar!

We have a nice interview/contest today with someone you need to know about if you don't already. PC World named him one of the 10 Funniest People On Twitter. Like Racer X, no one really knows who MeetingBoy is, but whoever is behind this madness is one hilarious, talented fella. Tweeting out quips and one-liners, he's amassed close to 80,000 followers on Twitter as @MeetingBoy. I first got to know him (well, as much as you can know a masked-man) after he re-tweeted a Twaggie (illustrated tweet) we did off one of his tweets over on my start-up, www.twaggies.com.

Then one day, MeetingBoy asked me if I'd like to give away one of his new MeetingBoy wall calendars in a contest. I said sure, under one condition: he do the following interview. So read the interview and follow the contest rules at the bottom of this post. We'll pick one tweet/comment at random and send you the calendar in time for Christmas! Good luck!

DI: First of all, where do you take your meetings? Tell us about your day job.

MB: I work in a glass & steel high rise in New York with lots of lazy idiots. The managers spout buzzwords to impress each other, and my boss is a clueless, bullying hypocrite more concerned with covering his own ass than getting things done. Does that narrow it down?

I am stuck in 3-5 meetings a day, so if there’s a way to waste someone’s time, I’ve seen it. And I’m sick of it. I must have really bad karma to deserve this. I must have been something truly awful in a former life, like maybe a manager or CEO.

@MeetingBoy: 125 PowerPoint slides? Well, I hope you're not presenting a case for how efficient our department is.

@MeetingBoy: Definition of insanity: holding the same meeting with the same people every week and expecting different results.

@MeetingBoy: Four meetings today. And then later, no doubt, a meeting with my boss about how I'm not getting anything done.

@MeetingBoy: I'm confused by this article about Bernie Madoff. I thought "white collar prison" was just a euphemism for my office.

@MeetingBoy: 7 hour conference call, though my lawyer says I'll be paroled in 6 with good behavior.

DI: How’d all this Meeting Boy stuff get started? Walk us through the early days.

MB: Since my biggest pet peeve in meetings is people who ramble on and on, Twitter was the right place for me to vent. The forced brevity was just right. If only I could force the people who write PowerPoint presentations to stick to 140 characters instead of 140 slides!

I’d been on Twitter before, but mentions of work had become a problem once people knew I was tweeting and started following me in the office. After I got a new boss last year, I created the MeetingBoy account so I would stop hearing about it. Since then I only tweet under my own name after hours.

@MeetingBoy: I'm married to my job. I don't love it. It was a shotgun wedding; I had knocked up my credit cards with all sorts of debt.

Early on as MeetingBoy, I was getting positive responses. People identified with my complaints-- in fact the most common response to MeetingBoy is “do you work at my company?”

Of course I hate buzzwords, and so many of my rants result from sitting through an hour of them. The word I hate the most is “robust”:

@MeetingBoy: At the end of the day I think we can all agree how tired the phrase "at the end of the day" is.

@MeetingBoy: When the revolution comes, I'm shooting everyone who says "robust". Well, except the coffee roasters.

DI: When did your first little break happen?

MB: Last October, PC World named me as one of the 10 Funniest People On Twitter. My following increased dramatically as a result. This was a huge surprise to me. I had no idea I had broken out of the Favstar community of internet jokers. After that my friends who weren’t on Twitter insisted I start cross-posting my material to Facebook and MeetingBoy.com so they could follow along too.

DI: And then your big break?

MB: Earlier this year someone at Twitter added me to their Suggested Users - Funny list. I was pretty excited; after all, as my friend said, “It sure beats being on the Suggested Users - Not Funny list.”

Though some people would say my “big break” was when I got a boss that didn’t get my sense of humor, forcing me to put more of it on the internet. Speaking of my boss:

@MeetingBoy: We have high expectations for him - he got his MBA in business jargon from Wharton.

@MeetingBoy: You're right. It was wrong of me to question how another layer of paperwork would speed up the process. I apologize.

@MeetingBoy: Hey, everybody! My boss is running a special on poorly thought out, unworkable ideas today. The discount code is YESSIR.

@MeetingBoy: "Dumb it down. Remember, you're presenting it to management."

@MeetingBoy: "I didn't read the executive summary you sent. Can you just put the idea in a few quick sentences and send it to me? Thanks."

@MeetingBoy: New line on my job description: "maintain high morale". Told HR I could do it, but not if my boss keeps trying to motivate me.

@MeetingBoy: My boss is very susceptible to food poisoning. Apparently this occurs when he stays out late drinking.

@MeetingBoy: The boss sent an email at 11:30 "reminding" everyone that he's working from home today. He sent it from his Blackberry.

DI: Did you set out to achieve Internet fame or did the idea sort of take over by itself?

MB: I set out to vent about work in an amusing way, in part because I was so annoyed at how people in the office reacted to my being on Twitter. I certainly had no idea how to get people to write about me or who at Twitter to sweet-talk to get them to recommend me.

Being famous and anonymous is a little odd though. None of the benefits of fame have come my way. I’m not getting a better table at Sparks or celebrity gift bags at the Oscars. And no matter how many followers I have, I’m still stuck in the same meetings every day.

I would like to see a MeetingBoy calendar make an appearance on The Office. Seems like something Jim Halpert would have (though since he gave up his office, I’m not sure where he’d put it). Or maybe Michael Scott because he’s a “cool boss” and none of it applies to him..

DI: Talk about the tweets themselves. Mostly they are things you think up in these meetings every day?

MB: They are responses to things that happen in meetings. Or things I wish I could say. In a few cases I’ve actually said these things. Of course the names have been removed to protect the boring, the rude, the jargon-spewing types, the lazy, the bullies, and the people with “bad grammer”.

@MeetingBoy: I know, I know, but if your idea is so good, why hasn't some VP passed it off as their own yet?

@MeetingBoy: Sorry, I have to leave your meeting. I have something I need to do. I need to not be bored to death.

@MeetingBoy: This PowerPoint needs an art director? Wow! I never thought I'd say this to you, lady, but you're overthinking this.

@MeetingBoy: That email you claim I never sent you? Here it is. Along with your REPLY TO IT.

@MeetingBoy: No, I wasn't playing Devil's Advocate. I really think your idea is stupid.

@MeetingBoy: You are mean, incompetent, and ignorant. Life did not hand you lemons; life handed you CONSEQUENCES.

DI: But other times I see you attributing the tweets to other authors/publishers. How does that work?

MB: Sometimes I see a tweet that I wish I wrote. Other times my followers send me one I missed. Either way, if it’s something I think my audience would appreciate, I share it. After all, I don’t want to be like that guy in my office who thinks the only good ideas are the ones he thinks of.

For example, some of my favorite tweets that someone else wrote are:

@swimparallel: I've recovered from my death sickness. Now I'm back in the office. It feels like a lateral move.

@summersumz: Evaluating data, making conclusions. LIVING THE DREAM!

@kerissmithJA: Your cc list doesn’t scare me. I still refuse to respond to your email.

DI: So now you have this cool wall calendar. How’d that come about?

MB: A friend makes up a calendar with photos of his family, which I dutifully hang in my cube. I thought it would be cool to have a MeetingBoy calendar. I’d hoped to make a 365-page-a-day calendar, which I think would really work for my short quips, but I couldn’t find a way to publish it. So I went with a wall calendar, and asked for illustrators among my followers.

Of course once I had printed the calendar, I realized I couldn’t possibly put the calendar on my desk. I can’t have my boss or coworkers know that I’m MeetingBoy, and it’s probably better if they don’t even know he exists. Clearly I hadn’t thought this through.

I think the calendar makes a great Secret Santa gift. I think coworkers across the English-speaking world would love to get one.

Calendar available for sale online at http://meetingboy.com/calendar

DI: Have you learned any profound lessons going through the self-publishing process?

MB: I’ve learned that self-publishing isn’t very profitable. I’ve been very happy with all the illustrations I got, though paying for them before I sell the calendar has made money tight.

I was going to try to sell them directly myself over the internet, but I couldn’t be sure that my secret identity would be safe. Luckily one of the illustrators owns a comic shop and they agreed to carry it for internet sales.

And I’d still like to make a 365-page-a-day calendar if anyone knows how to go about that.

DI: What’s next for you and what’s your ultimate goal?

MB: Next up I’m starting to do regular illustrated tweets on MeetingBoy.com. Of course I can’t draw, so I’m using some of the same illustrators from the calendar, and any new ones I pick up along the way.

My ultimate goal is to be the boss on The Office after Steve Carrell leaves at the end of this season. Though I would also accept President Obama declaring my birthday, June 23rd, to be a national holiday, maybe National Out-of-the-Office Day. Write your congressman to make it happen.

DI: Will you always hide your true identity Meeting Boy? Or will we one day find out you’re actually Racer X’s older brother?

MB: I can’t reveal my identity without losing my job and potentially risking never working again. After all, who would hire MeetingBoy? A surly, sarcastic person who will mock your every shortcoming on the internet to tens of thousands of people. Even I might balk at hiring that guy. He kind of sounds like a loose cannon.

Okay, contest time! Of all the tweets mentioned in this post, by MeetingBoy or someone else, which would you like to see illustrated on Twaggies.com? RT it with the hashtag #twaggies and we'll pick one of you at random to get the calender. If you're not on Twitter, leave your vote in the comments below. The tweet with the most RTs will also get twagged on twaggies, too!

For my interviews with Jason Alexander, Monty Hall, Mitch Albom, xkcd and more, browse through past Creatively Speaking archives here >>

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A chat with Jeff Garlin

Jeff Garlin co-stars and executive produces the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. The unique comedy, which is one of the rare television shows to become part of the national zeitgeist, stars Seinfeld creator Larry David, with Garlin portraying his loyal manager. Born and raised in Chicago and then South Florida, Garlin studied filmmaking and began performing stand-up comedy while at the University of Miami. He has toured the country as a stand-up comedian, is an alumnus of Chicago's Second City Theatre, and has written and starred in three critically acclaimed solo shows. I was fortunate enough to get this interview with him when he spoke at an event a charity I work with produced.

DI: Which do you prefer: writing, directing, or producing?

JG: I prefer to direct what I write.

DI: If you were to retire, what would you do with your time?

JG: Nap and eat puddin'.

DI: What's your favorite food?

JG: Puddin'.

DI: Of all the comedians and actors you've worked with over the years, who has been the most enjoyable.

JG: Larry David.

DI: Is Larry David as obnoxious in real life as he is on the show?

JG: See my answer above.

DI: What's the biggest difference between Chicago and L.A.?

JG: Human contact. In Chicago you get it on a regular basis.

DI: What's one of your favorite films?

JG: Sullivan's Travels by Preston Sturges.

DI: If you could have lunch with anyone deceased, who would it be?

JG: My grandfather Harold.

DI: Who's your idol?

JG: My wife.

DI: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

JG: A comedian.

DI: Where do you like to go to unwind when you're not working?

JG: Wherever my wife tells me.

DI: If you could change one thing about Hollywood, what would it be?

JG: The street names.

DI: Shakespeare wrote: "Brevity is the soul of wit." What do you think the essence of comedy is?

JG: A plate of fresh cornbread.

DI: I heard you studied law in college and almost graduated before deciding to pursue a career in comedy. Do you think you would have been a good lawyer?

JG: That's on Wikepedia.com and it's not true. I studied film.

DI: What's more difficult: performing stand-up comedy before a live audience or performing on camera?

JG: Actually, my personal life is harder.

DI: Do you own an iPod? If so, what's the most unusual music you've got on it?

JG: Chin Ho soundbites from Hawaii Five-0.

DI: Who is the funniest comedian of all-time?

JG: Jack Benny.

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