December 23, 2011

michael w

photo by steve metz                                                                 michael sees something
"Don't you have something else you can show us?" The art director for Warner Bros. records dismissively handed the professional portfolio back to young photographer.

"I just have this book of personal stuff.  You probably wouldn't be interested.  They're just photos I take for me."

"Let's see it."

This is a story about stumbling into success by following your passion, doing what you love, and sharing it with other people. This is the story of Cincinnati photographer, Michael W.  You may not have heard of Michael, but, with a partial list of portraiture subjects which includes, musicians Robert Plant, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, BB King, Chet Atkins, Pattie Labelle, Paul Westerberg, and  David Byrne, writer Nick Hornby, actor Hugh Laurie, and artist Andy Warhol, it's very likely that you've seen his work.

michael's basement of memories
photo by steve metz

One Sunday in early winter, 1979, Michael chose to go on a solo photo excursion to Newport, Ky.  At the time, he was a student at NKU.  He wouldn't know until a decade later, how important the seemingly trivial decision to take photographs on a Sunday, would become.  He describes the day as "somewhere between rain and snow."

A turn down Brighton Street would reveal two dogs that day, huddled in the road.  Their vulnerable, yet unified and unbreakable form, the grey day, the grey and shimmering blacktop, the desolate road and buildings: these things told a story and Michael listened with his eyes.  One dog looked up.  The other looked away.  They stood in opposing directions, soaking from the freezing rain, seeking, yet refusing.  Should any of these small details have been slightly altered, how so, might the future have also changed?

Michael took a photograph.

He took it, not because he dreamed of acclaim he might some day receive or because he thought of some half-formed, unlikely possibility, but rather, because there was a picture to be taken and he was there to take it, in his own quiet, modest, and haunting way.  Click.

Now, fast forward to the late eighties.  Michael has achieved a modicum of success, but his career isn't where he would like it to be.  He's in L.A. to photograph a hair-metal-Christian-rock band for and independent label.  He's in search of something more substantive, and is using the trip as an opportunity to check in with Warner Bros.  He's in a meeting with the company's art director.

photo by michael wilson                                                                             the photo chosen as the cover for All Shook Down

"Don't you have something else you can show us? " she says.  The words resound as prophetic, now.  He hands the small book of eight or ten photographs to her.  She leafs through them.  She pauses.  She points to the dogs.

Moments later, Michael W., has been awarded the cover for the Replacements' pending release All Shook Down.  Flights are booked.  Michael is to fly to Minneapolis to photograph Paul Westerberg and company, for the rest of the album artwork.

photo by michael wilson                   the same dogs, a year later on Brighton
The Lovetts, the Warhols, the Plants, the critically acclaimed gallery exhibits, the four fine art photography books...all of these successes would follow for Michael, all in their own due time...all of them connecting back to a Sunday morning in Newport, Ky., to two wandering dogs, and to a decision to embrace a moment which others might have overlooked.  These successes are connected, as are all people, animals, and energies on earth: separate, yet, without the others, broken, incomplete.

It's been my privilege to know Michael W. for awhile now.  Anyone who knows him can testify to his unbounded kindness and generosity.  His work, his success, his spirit, they all inspire me.  Even as I write this I feel sheepish and uncertain about the idea of photographs taken by me, appearing on a page with photographs taken by him.  But I know that nothing good can come from doing nothing, and maybe there's a  connection I can't see yet.  Maybe it hasn't been made known to me.  Maybe ten years from now, I'll point back to this moment or another, spawned by this one.

As for Michael W., I know that he'll always be the wonderful person he had to be in order to have his own unique brand of success.  These things are bound indelibly together...the character of our person, our actions, and their outcomes.  I wish for Michael continued happiness and success, and I know that I am very glad that he is a fellow citizen of Porkopolis.

See Michael's beautiful work at

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                michael w., photographer

film canisters, michael's basement
photo by steve metz

December 20, 2011

dan m

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                  dan at motr pub

Recently, I saw a statistic, which blew my mind a little.  It said that twenty-one thousand people attended Cincinnati's Midpoint Music Festival this past September.  Twenty-one thousand people from all over the country, in clubs all over the city, listening to bands from all over the world, for three solid nights of cutting edge, sonic bliss.  I grew up in a town of ten thousand.  Two of my hometowns, out watching rock and roll shows, for three days, in Porkopolis.  To a person like me, who remembers all too well, the uproar over the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit in Porkopolis, only twenty years ago, that's good stuff.  It's a bit of a paradigm shift to see our city, often berated for its conservatism, bust those chains a bit, to embrace the fringe.

If you enjoy Midpoint as much as I do, you have a lot of people to thank, but the biggest debt of gratitude goes to the guy sitting at the end of the bar at MOTR Pub in the photo above.  That's Dan, co-owner of MOTR.  He also happens to be the wizard behind the curtain of Midpoint, which is fast becoming one of the nation's premier music festivals, thanks to his vision and his footwork.  He's been pushing the wheel for the last five years of the festival's now ten year long run, and it's been picking up speed, year after year.

photo by steve metz                                                motr pub pickles own their veggies for drinks which require veggies 

Dan and a few of his pals opened MOTR Pub a couple of years ago.  Their combined business savviness and acumen for understanding live rock and roll have catapulted MOTR to the top of the list of live venues in Porkopolis.  One of the really great things about MOTR is that, aesthetically, it is a bar which could easily cater to an exclusive crowd.  It's charming, clean, and boasts one of the most beautiful wooden bars I've ever seen.  But Dan and his friends have chosen higher ground.  They're here to deliver something special to their city...a friendly, clean, and inviting atmosphere, with great drinks, great music, and great food, at a price that regular people can afford.

vintage pinball at motr pub
yummy breffis' burrito at motr pub

So, if you see Dan, at MOTR, or anywhere else, give him a pat on the back and thank him for busting his tail for the past twenty years to bring great music to Cincinnati.  We're lucky to have him here.  A lot of other people would have headed to easier, greener pastures.  I've heard him say "if you don't like Cincinnati, then change it into what you want it to be."  Sounds daunting.  But see him do it. 

Personally, on those warm, late summer evenings, when I'm outside listening to the Tom Tom Club, or inside listening to Toro Y Moi, I'm very glad that Dan is a fellow citizen of Porkopolis.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                dan enjoys a well deserved sip of bourbon

December 18, 2011

bill b

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                     bill b with allie                                           

This is Bill B.  He's the Electronic Media Director for a network news affiliate, here in Porkopolis, and, an all-around wonderful guy: the type of person you'd like to call friend.  Despite being incredibly busy with work, Bill still manages to find ways to do great things with his free time, one of them being to care for a beautiful Clydesdale horse, Allie, whom he rescued, with his girlfriend, Stephanie.

Bill and Stephanie invited me to the stable, where Allie stays, to take some photographs.  She weighs 1,800 pounds.  That's more than 10 of me.  When she walks by, the earth moves.  Like, me, she loves apples and carrots.  Allie was eating when I arrived, and was still eating when I left, two hours later.  Man, that horse can chow down.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                 horseshoe & rope

You wouldn't know it by visiting the stable, but Bill is a bit of a rock star, too.  He's a talented and creative musician, having played the drums in a number of noteworthy indy bands over the past twenty years.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                           beautiful stable-mate

It might seem unusual, to the casual observer, that an electro-rock-drummer-web-guru-media-director would find himself shoveling horse poo on evenings and weekends, but it makes sense if you know Bill and Stephanie.  They care.  About a lot of things.  As a person who is drawn to other people who have connections with animals, I'm very glad that they are fellow citizens of Porkopolis.