It’s “Guest Blog Wednesday” featuring Bill Frakes!


There is no off position on my visual switch.  I am constantly watching, thinking, calculating, enjoying.

For me this is a marathon, not a sprint.  I want the images I make to have meaning now, and later.  I am as engaged and passionate about the work now as I was that first magical time I saw a print pop up in the developer.  And that was a few million images ago.

I fully enjoy technology.  Okay, I LOVE technology.  It’s fun to have, hold and appreciate just for itself.  But what’s important about it is that it allows me to constantly upgrade the way I work.

For me using new stuff to make my work easier is just being lazy.  I need to use it to make the storytelling better.  I carry Nikon cameras that can see in the dark.  I’m amazed at how wonderful they are.

When I started making images the cameras had exactly two controls on the body that I used.  Shutter speed dial.  Shutter release.  They allowed me to freeze split seconds in time.

My new cameras have thousands of combinations of controls—so many possibilities. So many different ways to capture decisive moments of motion and emotion which is the integral part of what I hope to accomplish.  These cameras let me do more than communicate with frozen moments.  Now I can record ambient audio, and motion.

My computers are fast—they’re Macs with as much RAM as I can buy.  I have fiber optic cabled raids.  I have portable rugged raids.  I use Apple software to keep my images right where I want them.

Part of the challenge of the marathon is having a way for the images I’ve made over the past 30 years or so to have relevance.

When I was shooting film, I realized that I would need organization for my images.  So I developed a scheme for that.  Big shiny black cabinets, with lots and lots of slide pages stuffed with processed transparencies, and even more envelopes full of black and white negatives.  Neatly arranged in a way that made sense to me, and hopefully to the others working with the material.

Then digital came along and the challenges became different.  I had to figure out how to handle all of the images I was capturing digitally, and integrate that with my analog files.

Software offered the tools I needed to archive my photographs–with metadata–that allowed the images to have relevance to this day.  Without the metadata, it would be like having a giant stack of unorganized slide sheets.  Yeah, the images are in there somewhere, but it would be so hard to find them, it’s almost as though they were dead.

I use Aperture to make sense of it all.  It allows me to make my digital archive mimic my analog one—which is slowly but surely and securely being converted to digital.

A lot of folks have made sacrifices to allow me to work freely.  I owe it to them to work every day as hard as I can to contribute what I can.  Now more than ever the world needs photojournalists working openly and honestly to bring information to every possible viewing platform.  Sharing their thoughts, experiences, feelings and vision.

My creative partner is Laura Heald.  She’s aggravatingly young and talented.  At 23 she produces work that leaves me shaking my head in admiration.

We have our own production company, Straw Hat Visuals. Terry McDonell, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated asked us to produce some visual web content and with help from a bunch of our friends—Jimmy Colton, Steve Fine, Don Henderson and Bill Pekala chief among them –we jumped into making multis on tight deadline.

Multimedia production is now my favorite form of storytelling, combining the best of HD video, still imaging, ambient audio, a well crafted script and music.  The new cameras—I use the Nikon D3s and Nikon D300s– are capable of producing technically sensational images, both still and video.

You have to use them intelligently especially when shooting video by using proper supports to eliminate shake and help with consistent composition.

You also have to add light to accent and explain what you’re shooting.

It has allowed us to expand our visual capabilities.  We can now create three different kinds of media with one tool.  Working in this new realm of media has been creatively liberating, allowing us to create content that before would have required extra equipment and people.

Backpack journalism.  That’s where it’s at for us.  We can go anywhere, cover most anything for a wide variety of viewing mediums using the tools we can carry on our backs.  And a few shipping cases.  (We have a list of the gear we take on assignments on our website.)

Which leads me to this:

25 years ago I spent many, many hours with a remarkable woman documenting what was happening to her.  Missy was an athletic university student who lost her right leg to a terrible cancer.  The Miami Herald published the story on Christmas, 1984.

This past summer Laura and I covered the World Athletics Championships in Berlin for Sports Illustrated.

When we finished with the track, we rented a car and drove to Rome.  I had a story to which I needed to add.  And Laura, as she always does, offered to help.

Missy Koch Billingsley is my dear friend. I knew Missy before she found out she had cancer. Like all of her friends I was stunned, paralyzed, when I found out. For the next year I was with Missy documenting what she was feeling, how she was coping, just being there. She promised me from the start that she would beat the cancer, that even after she lost her leg that she would walk again, and she did.

We’ve stayed in touch through the years and I’ve watched her work through the challenges surrounding being a cancer survivor.  She is right where she always said she’d be, exploring the world with her family –happy and healthy.  She lives in Rome with her composer husband Todd Billingsley and their three children—Joey, Lukas and Abbey—and is dedicated to making life better for everyone she comes in contact with.

When things get tough I only have to look to Missy for inspiration.

If you want to learn more about Missy, her husband Todd has written a book that you can find on his website

Thanks Scott and Brad for inviting to me to blog.   You’ve built a really nice place for all of the rest of us to visit and learn and I’m incredibly flattered that you asked me to contribute.

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