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nick azzaro

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Sawandi, the 2nd (shoot)

You remember Sawandi. We worked together back in December of last year. A truly talented and versatile young man, and I hope to work with him for years to come. 

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The Power of Ten

I'm fortunate for so many reasons. Among the first is growing up under the influence of another great photographer: my father. Equally important is the support and encouragement both my parents have always shown, no matter how crazy my ideas are.

While finishing my senior year in college in 2004 I had the extreme pleasure of photographing one of the greatest instructors in the history of man, Ralph Williams. Had I not experienced this shoot, I'd likely not be who I am today... or married* for that matter.

I was inspired to work with Ralph during one of his lectures. On this particular day he was being recorded by a local station and the film crew had set up spotlights so he'd show up in the dark auditorium. As he danced back and forth in front of the class, the spotlights highlighted his mannerisms so perfectly I could think of nothing other than recreating the set up for my own camera.

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After first coordinating with his secretary, who made me explain my intentions numerous times, I was finally able to talk to Ralph in person. We picked a day during Spring break so the auditorium would be empty and I secured lighting from another department at the school.

When the day arrived I triple checked I had everything loaded in my car and even brought Ralph a muffin and tea. I arrived early to set up, ran a few tests and anxiously awaited his arrival. When he got there we chatted a little and I explained what I was looking for as he still seemed confused by my request.

"Just give me a lecture like you normally would", was what I said. I knew it wasn't one specific pose or anything I could control, it was simply Ralph being Ralph. So he began, book in hand, and I began shooting. To me it felt longer than it was because when this man delivers a lecture to a class it's epic, but when it's channeled at only one person it's almost more than the mind can handle. But, I survived. And shot three fabulous rolls of black and white Ilford HP5 Plus.

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I finished, Ralph departed and I wrapped up. I didn't know it then, but this shoot was the beginning of my career. So many shoots I'd go on to be part of or orchestrate myself would function similarly, but they weren't as special because I knew how they'd unfold.

I recently got to work with Ralph again, two months shy of ten years later. Unlike our first shoot, we spent most of the time talking about family, travel, our careers. The experience was just as amazing as I remembered and below are some of my favorites.

Thank you, Ralph.

* In 2004 I entered the pictures of Ralph into the art school's senior show. A recent art graduate named Yen saw them and felt compelled to email me. I'm happy to say we still email one another if for some reason one of us isn't at home.

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The Future's so Bright

In life I've learned something too good to be true always is, which is exactly why I'm so confused right now. A few months ago while photographing an event for 826 Michigan I was introduced to the head of Eastern Michigan University's Bright Futures, an enrichment center working with students in underserved communities.

A few days later we met at a cafe to discuss what Chin-Azzaro does... and ended up creating a photography class for the students.

Then cameras were bought and the time slot was appropriated. I met supervisors and instructors who were excited about the class and more than willing to help me out as I had never officially taught before. It all came together on what felt like a whim. The best part is everybody wins, especially the students.

Below is some of their amazing work. 

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Paradise Valley

"Paradise Valley was the business district and entertainment center of a densely populated African-American residential area in Detroit, known as Black Bottom, from the 1920’s through the 1950’s." -Shelley Griffith, from the Encyclopedia of Detroit.

Paradise Valley is also the name of the photo comic I created that's based on the social climate of World War II Detroit. It follows a factory worker, Mayjor Tom, and the day to day struggles he faces as a minority in a world dominated by appearance and greed. The comic first appeared at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids and was printed larger than life. Each page was 3' x 5' and suspended from a 7' tall structure made from plumbing pipe.  

Since ArtPrize the comic's been printed in two different hand held sizes and the story has undergone some changes. It's shown in several other shows, including a group show at Governor State University. 

One of the pages from Paradise Valley is included in the upcoming show Time, put on by the Detroit Center for Contemporary Photography. Time opens this Saturday, July 13, at the Museum of New Art in Pontiac.

 

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