portrait

Photographing 20 Strangers in Isla Vista

Step out of your comfort zone and photograph 20 random people on the street.

I studied photography at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara. Known for educating students on the highest level of technical skill when it comes to photography there was one (amongst others) infamous assignment that dealt with approaching a stranger in order to photograph them. This was obviously not intended to teach a technical but a communication skill. It also forced you to deal with your fears and doubts. It challenged your comfort zone. It was called 25 Strangers.
Basically you had to produce a portfolio of 25 random strangers. Build a pop-up portrait studio in a park, photograph the strangers in a bar, at the pool, the retirement home or at the law firm on the corner of your street. I don’t remember the specific rules of the assignment but I put up a white background and had each of my strangers add a word to a sentence on a small chalk board and then I photographed them with the chalk board. I called it: 25 Strangers build a sentence. Surprisingly they didn’t. The sentence was grammatically and logically just … not a sentence. No idea what went wrong there…?

Anyways. The other day I remembered this assignment and decided to revisit it. 15 years and many strangers in front of my lens, from celebrities to homeless people in the back alleys of Mumbai, later I figured I should be a lot better at this. But it still was challenging the comfort zone a little. No control over the situation and you have to talk a random stranger into taking their portrait.

So Hugo and I went into Isla Vista on a Friday morning and approached a bunch of strangers. Isla Vista is a blend of University students, homeless people and middle aged surfers. Generally a demographic open to random experiences. This worked in our favor I think. Still, it took a little time to get groovy with.

The amazing thing about doing this was people opening up and telling stories. As you can see in the video some of the strangers shared memories, vented or maybe simply wanted to chat. It was amazing to see how quickly one can dive a lot deeper into a community by simply striking up a conversation with random people on the street. And using a portrait project like this is of course the perfect ice breaker.

I do this type of thing on assignment all the time but it is different when you go into your own community and when there is no agenda or story that you need to tell. Just letting your ego go, the creative juices flow and welcoming any input with open arms. Fun!

At the Bookstore

stock images photographed at a bookstore

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Finding a good bookstore these days isn’t that easy. In Santa Barbara we can call ourselves lucky to have Chaucer’s, an amazing bookstore. During a stock photo shoot a little while ago we were in the area and so we stopped in and I took this image of the model browsing the collection.

Everest in a Stairwell

Climbing 29,097 feet in a LA skyscraper

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The idea is simple: climb 29,029′, the equivalent of Mt. Everest’s elevation, in a skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles in one day.

Obviously when one climbs the real mountain there is much less vertical elevation to deal with. But the lack of oxygen and exposure to the elements more than make up for that. Let’s just be clear from the beginning. Climbing Everest is much harder on every level.

Still the idea is enticing so a group of nine men entered a very tall building in downtown Los Angeles one morning after driving down from Santa Barbara and got ready to ascend the 55 floors via the stairwell over and over… and over and over and over again. It would take 40 ascensions to make the 29K feet of elevation gain. There was also a cut off time since the building was shutting down and the security guards who had to be in the building wanted to go home.

I was one of those nine men but I wasn’t there to reach the goal, I was there to document. To photograph the ordeal. Capturing the climbers required me to sit and wait in the stairwell for extended amounts of time and carrying my camera gear up the stairs didn’t help either. At the end of the day I did 10 ascensions and was perfectly fine with that.

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One of the unforeseen challenges that started impacting climbers was motion sickness. constantly turning right in the stairwell started really messing with them. To the point of puking. Not pretty but part of the game.

Mid-day everyone had their groove going and in the early afternoon there was a scheduled break so that one of the climbers could propose to his girlfriend on top of the roof. This solid hour of break time would bite the remaining climbers (the newly engaged left after to celebrate) in the end. At 33 ascensions they ran out of time. They had climbed a respectable elevation of 24,000 feet.

Dos Pueblos High School Engineering Academy

Amir Abo-Shaeer and Emily Shaeer for The Townmarket

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It’s always amazing when you find out something about your town that you had no idea about. Cue the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy. Founder Abo-Shaeer and Emily Shaeer run a program that teaches high school aged kids all kinds of fantastic skills and knowledge in the greater realm of engineering.

I was perplexed when I visited. The amount of resources available to students is fantastic. From CNC machines to computers, tools and of course most importantly knowledgeable help and not to mention space, lots of it! Teenagers were programming machines, writing code, building things and discussing projects within teams. I wanted to stay and join!

The Academy is linked to Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta but students from Santa Barbara also visit the school. Overall a very healthy mix of kids, lots of girls and ethnic diversity. I felt like I had discovered a Santa Barbara gem…

Encounter at the Salton Sea

when a photograph magically presents itself

fisherman at the Salton Sea by Jonas Jungblut

fisherman at the Salton Sea by Jonas Jungblut

A few years back I went on a photoshoot for L1 Premium Goods at the Salton Sea in California. I drove my Vanagon from Santa Barbara down there so it could be used as a prop. The moment I pulled up to the water’s edge this scene presented itself to me. All I had to do is press the shutter and take the photograph. The image was later selected by the Creative Review and printed in their annual book.

It’s amazing how having your camera always on your side can allow for images like these. In this case it was my Fuji Xpro1 rangefinder. The camera is small enough to just carry around with you all the time and I photographed many scenes with it and its follow up model, the Xpro2, simply because I had the camera on me when the image presented itself.

Santa Barbara trail running

photographing running on and off trail in Santa Barbara

trail running in Santa Barbara by photographer Jonas Jungblut

trail running in Santa Barbara by photographer Jonas Jungblut

I am lucky to have a solid runner as a buddy so we head out every now and then to photograph some running for stock or portfolio images here in Santa Barbara. The terrain is perfect for running of all kinds. From trail running to urban running, Santa Barbara has it covered. Difficulty from easy to painful, all here…

urban running in Santa Barbara by photographer Jonas Jungblut

urban running in Santa Barbara by photographer Jonas Jungblut

In addition to all the terrain, Santa Barbara also offers pretty ideal weather year round. Running in shorts and only a shirt is usually possible throughout the winter.

All these elements combined make for a perfect backdrop to photograph running around here.

trail running in Santa Barbara by photographer Jonas Jungblut

trail running in Santa Barbara by photographer Jonas Jungblut

Portrait of Santa Barbara Supervisor Das Williams for The Town Market

Photographing local politicians

Das Williams by Santa Barbara portrait photographer Jonas Jungblut

Das Williams by Santa Barbara portrait photographer Jonas Jungblut

I have been working closely with The Town Market here in Santa Barbara and part of what we have been doing is documenting (in this case taking portraits) of local people that are having an impact on the community. Das Williams came up and having run into him from time to time over the past decade I was excited to finally be able to photograph him.

We met at his house and I found a spot to put up this blue background. I lit him with a Profoto monoblock but then also decided to use natural light for a variation. The above portrait is the natural light version, it worked well with the pastel colors of the background and his shirt. Shot on the 501cm Hasselblad and Kodak Portra 400 film.

portrait of Kyle Korver

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Over the years Kyle and his family had become good friends. I documented a personal challenge that he was part of, stand up paddle boarding across the Santa Barbara channel, a 26 mile adventure. Other adventures and evenings around the dinner table followed.

I photographed him working out in the off season but I had never taken a proper portrait of Kyle. He is rather private and I wanted to respect that. It got to the point though where I just couldn’t hold back so I asked for a short session in my outdoor studio.

For what I had in mind there is only a 20 minute window of the light being right. That window is towards the end of the day, right around sunset. I built the studio to face north and direct light is not really the issue but right within those 20 minutes it just looks right. Anyways, there wasn’t a lot of time since I was also photographing Kyle’s wife.

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Kyle is tall. I am not. And shooting with the Hasselblad I lost another couple inches since I was looking down into it. So I was scrambling to gain some height with the help of apple boxes. We are comfortable with each other but he is not an extrovert so I was trying to find the moment, the opening. I chose a wider angle lens so I could get pretty close and gain access just by proximity. It’s hard to disregard something within 2 feet from your face. I also used a diy light panel so I was able to control the light on his face very precisely. I shot a few frames with my Fuji XPRO2 from a little further away and got what I would call a very clean and safe shot. It’s good but then I also added another light to the background that created a very random shape. I went back to the wide lens on the Hasselblad and I got this portrait that wasn’t so safe. Kyle had just come out of the NBA finals arguably bruised and this shot captured his state of mind a lot better. Vulnerable and under scrutiny but strong amongst a chaotic scenario.

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