Monday, January 2, 2012

mike gamble - international choreographer

A couple posts ago, I mentioned that I was visited by the very unwelcome [dark passenger] of creativity. Well, my friends, he has officially left the building.

More after the jump...

It was new year's eve and I had just rolled my butt out of bed. As usual, I immediately went for the aroma of fresh coffee brewing in the kitchen, first. I was hoping to find a celebratory breakfast for champions waiting on the table but no such luck. The coffee would suffice as I had lots of work to catch up on and the boost would add some needed synergy to my typical morning energy levels.

After about a half a cup of the good stuff, I decided to then sit down and read emails. To my surprise, I saw one from long time friend, Mike Gamble. Mike and I hadn't spoken in quite some time. It was a treat to see his name staring at me through my inbox. Sure, there is the typical Facebook contact but nothing on the personal level. Good old email, in my opinion, has that personal connection that is often lost by the mass message production on the Facebook assembly line. Even more surprising was the contents of the message. Mikey was back in Philly for the new year. This is significant since he no longer lives around the corner. Gamble now calls Sweden his home. Yup, Sweden, the country across the big lake. Although last minute, we discussed the possibility of getting a shoot together. When I mean last minute, I mean last minute. I was late morning when I read the email. By noontime we were on the phone collaborating about how the shoot would go down. The shoot, may I add, would be happening about two hours after hanging up the phone. Talk about some fast preparation to get the creative juices flowing again. That dark passenger was nowhere in sight. Good riddance, for now.

Who Is Mike Gamble?

Before I get into the rest of the adventure, let me explain who the star of this shoot is and why I was excited to receive his email.

Mike was born in Hartford, Connecticut. We met when he moved to Philly to attend Drexel University. At that time I was a wet behind the ears Rowan University student who was slinging drinks at a bar in Center City Philadelphia. The bar, Roosevelt's, located at 23rd and Walnut streets was a popular spot among Drexel, University of Penn, Wharton and other nearby universities. It was there that Gamble and I became fast and close friends.

Mike's training is in the world of dance. He has grown into one hell of a choreographer. It was in Philadelphia that he garnered most of his training in West African, Hip Hop, Modern, Jazz, House, Breaking and Capoeira. While in Philly he guest performed with Gwendolyn Bye and Dance Del Bello dance companies, choreographed for the Drexel University Dance Ensemble and Dance Team. Mike Gamble was also an original founding member of FLOMotion, an international Hip Hop dance company. In the summer of 2000, Mike made dance history, becoming the first (and only) male to complete the final cuts of the Philadelphia 76ers Dance Team.

In 2003, Gamble moved to Los Angeles and quickly became quite active in the commercial industry performing (dancing, acting and modeling) in music videos and commercials including work with artists Leela James, Chris Cornell and India Arie. He also has worked with corporate giants such as Target, Nike, Apple and Reebok. Along with the commercial market, as if that wasn't enough, Mikey has produced, choreographed and directed burlesque companies who have performed in and around Los Angeles, Reno, Laughlin and Las Vegas with artists including Panic!, At the Disco and R. Kelly, as well as companies including SPIKE TV and Trashy Lingerie. Not too shabby Mr. Gamble, not too shabby.

While Gamble continues to work in front of the camera, he has also been focusing his talents behind the scenes with the production and education through the arts, having choreographed and Emmy-nominated children's television program, producing and choreographing numerous events and shows, while also co-founding and running an international management agency with his long-time friend and former agent, who herself, was one of the top agents at the top two dance agencies in New York and Los Angeles. His passion for spreading knowledge and the joy of dance has recently taken him on an international journey as he relocated in 2009 to Gothenburg, Sweden. Since moving across the globe Mike has quickly developed an awesome reputation in Sweden, as well as, Norway and Denmark and as would be expected, he doesn't plan on stopping there.

With such a busy schedule, you can see why I was excited and stressed to get the last-minute-shoot completed in a timely fashion. 

Back To Business

So, now that you have an understanding of who Mike Gamble is and what he is all about, I will take you on the adventure that was our new year's eve. I was just sitting, dazed and confused, trying to segue from Gamble's resume, back to the day's events. Result? Nothing. Smooth as sandpaper, as usual. 

Where was I? Ok, I hung up the phone around or after noon. I explained to Mike that we would rendezvous at my place, hop in my ride and hit the location for the shoot. There was one slight problem. I had no idea where I was going to do the shooting. 

There was some critical activity happening from the moment we hung up the phone until his arrival at my digs. First, I scurried around the house to get the gear lined up and all with a proper check. I threw all batteries into their appropriate chargers, wether needed or not, just in case. Next, I threw on some comfy shooting clothes. You can never be too comfy while shooting. Nothing worse than crouching down for that awesome angle, only to split your rear end right open. Slightly [embarrassing]. On the other hand, don't go too comfy, as in pajamas. That may just cause the client to label you as mentally unstable. Once dressed, I ran my butt over to a nearby bodega. There, I grabbed as many AAs as I could. Over priced? Sure, but in a pinch, I didn't have a choice. 

The clock was ticking, Mike was due to arrive at my place in under fifteen minutes. I moved my car up to the front of the house. I quickly loaded, bag after bag, of equipment, into the SUV. Before I knew it Gamble arrived and I still had absolutely no clue where I would be shooting him. 

Stefanie, my business manager/wife/VAL, Gamble and I hopped in the vehicle and began our journey to who-knows-where. We toyed with the idea of an alley way. While discussing locations and old times we all agreed that something slightly industrial would rock. Just didn't know where to find this spot. 

I decided to head on down to Delaware Ave. (Columbus Blvd.). I knew I'd be able to find something to stimulate my right brain, near the river. Many spots that I thought would work, well, wouldn't. Most of the cool spots were guarded by large fences and security guards. Large signs plastered along driveways stating that we'd be nothing less than drawn and quartered for trespassing. I wasn't about to give up the search. 

I headed further south, ultimately ending up behind a large shopping center. Eureka! We found it. Yes, I say we since Stefanie and Gamble helped me find the idea that dwelled in my brain. The land was covered with colorful wooden pallets and large piles of garbage. Tractor trailers were lined up like soldiers awaiting there next order. It was awesome. 

We decided to work fast. I had a feeling that we could run the possibility of being busted, shooting without permits. The sun was beginning to fall as well. That was the least of my worries since I brought enough light power to illuminate Citizen's Bank Park. 

Stefanie and I began to unload the equipment as Mikey began to loosen up, for he knew not what it would be that I would want him to do. I advised Stefanie, where to place the light stands. I, working up some nervous jitters, began to get the cameras prepped. Pocketwizards were being mounted. Glass choices were careful and concise. We were preparing like a well oiled machine. 

Gamble took center stage upon the highly unstable pallets. Stefanie assisted with supporting the brollied strobe as the wind on the river was very intense. I began to take some test exposures, sans the strobes. It is wise to get the ambient readings before adding any flash. ISO 100 at 1/250 and around f/5.6 would be a good starting point. The result was an underexposed scene, two stops if I had to guess. It was at that point that the strobes could be added. I was working with three total. I wanted a kicker from the back sides and the brolly for fill. I wanted to go with the 60 inch but the wind was much too powerful. I even had doubts about pulling out the 45. The mods were necessary as I needed some more coverage area, so I threw on the 45 with about fifteen pounds of sandbags and Stefanie to boot. I crossed my fingers and prayed that the brollied strobe would not go airborne. The kickers were bare and they tend to do well, even in heavy winds, without any added weights. Knock on wood. 

Once everything was in place, shooting had commenced. It was no surprise that Mike had much experience in front of the lens. He posed like a champ, which made my job much much easier. The poses were very relaxed, nothing crazy out of the gate. Not at that point anyway. We played around with different positions and different lighting scenarios until finding a happy medium. Something that all parties were happy with. 

After I had some killer modest poses, it was time to change it up a bit. It was time to see Gamble at his best, doing what it is that he does, bust a move. This portion of the shoot was a bit more difficult than I had anticipated. I thought I'd be able to keep the strobes in a "safe" position that would allow me to capture the style I was aiming for, no matter what moves Mikey would throw at the camera. I was not aware that he would turn into an instant contortionist, right before my eyes. In seconds his head was well below his feet, something my big butt could never dream of doing. His face ended up in the dark, his legs blocking much of what the bare bulbs were trying to achieve. Stefanie was quick to respond to my needs. This was one rare time that we didn't want to end the shoot in a husband and wife bare knuckle boxing match. I have to admit, I think she was a bit awed with some of the fantastic moves that Gamble was making. Hell, if she wasn't, I sure was. Much of what he was doing hurt just to look at it. 

After completing the shoot on the wooden pallets, we moved over to the large recycling pile. Although it was indeed garbage, it was quite clean. Mountains of cardboard and plastic, molded into neat cubical shaped packages, neatly stacked about 20 feet high. There was one opening between one of the mounds of paper. A spot that just screamed out to me, to stick a subject in there. If you want to talk about safety, this location made the stacks of jagged pallets seem like a playground made of cotton and jello. The surface was iffy, to say the least. The walls he would be surrounded by, well, let's just say that if one fell over, I'd be somewhere in Mexico by now. 

Needless to say, I was able to shoot him in the pile of rubbish, with no fatalities. A successful part of any shoot is when all involved come out alive. A big bonus in everyone's eyes. Anyways, Mike jumped off of the cardboard mountain and we decided to hit one more spot in this lot of awesome danger. 

While I was replacing some equipment (the wind once again snapped another of my many Universal Translators) Gamble and Stefanie pointed out to me some very shiny tractor trailer parts. I congratulated them on their spectacular find. It would require some more agility on Mikey's part as well as some of my own smooth skills. He would be climbing up onto a very high location, one that would require my position to be elevated, even if to a minimal height. Hey, you got to take risks to get the awesome shots. 

Gamble was working some poses as I hauled the equipment to our new location. I had to rethink the whole exposure triangle as the highly reflective surface of the trailer would require some different settings than I had been using thus far. 

As I began firing off some new test exposures, we all noticed what we dreaded from the get go. Two very large men were walking in our direction. One was on his two-way while the other fooled around with what looked like a billy club. The lot was getting a bit dark at this point, I couldn't be sure what exactly was being carried. Needless to say, I was not intimidated by these gentlemen, by any means. I was concerned about what they would say or do, in regards to the law and how I would rebut their ignorant claims. I was ready.

They approached us and asked if we had permits for shooting on their property. I quickly put on the dumb face and pretended to have no idea what they were talking about. Works like a charm, every time. The guards went on to say that we could not shoot on their property without proper permits and that we must leave immediately. We played it cool and wrapped up for the day. I wanted to leave on good terms so I followed up with another "dumb" question. I asked one of the guards how I would go about obtaining a permit, knowing damn well that I had no intentions of obtaining such a thing. Hell, I had the shots needed. The day was complete. 

Base Camp

We all headed back to base to see what was captured and to have some adult beverages of course. It was new year's eve and the boozing had to begin. I opted for a local microbrew while Stefanie and Gamble opened up a nice Shiraz, I think it was anyway, I could be wrong. 

Mike departed soon after and I immediately began working on a few files, before the brew got the better of my judgement. 

As promised in my [list] of resolutions for the new year, I kept the post processing to a very human level. Nothing more was involved than simple RAW edits such as, exposure and color corrections. No fancy trickery on these photos. Clean. Pure. Awesome. 

This last minute shoot was just what I needed to ring in the new year. The dark passenger is nowhere in sight and I hope he remains at bay for some time. 

Special thanks to everyone who made the shoot possible. Oh, yeah, that list is pretty short. Thanks to Stefanie, Mike Gamble, me and those guards who were so slow that I was able to get about 300 awesome frames before they actually responded to our location. Super awesome!

One more nugget for the readers locally and abroad. Along with the many talents of Mike Gamble is yet another. Be sure to check out "Motivational Mondays" on his blog that you can find [here].

By the way, I will be posting more of the photos when they are ready. Check back here soon for that link.

Fram till nasta gang (Swedish for, until next time)...