Folsom Prison and THE WORK Documentary

This year a documentary called The Work was released about a prison-therapy program in Folsom State Prison in California. The documentary follows a group of men from the outside who join a circle of maximum security inmates for 4 days of intense group therapy work. The film focuses on 3 men from the outside as they sit in a circle with other outside men and maximum security inmates and follows the jarring emotional journey that the group therapy work takes them on. I was asked by the director Jairus McLeary to be the stills photographer and an extra cameraman as part of the crew that went in to film one of these 4 day therapy retreats at Folsom Prison. I shot hundreds of images over those days documenting the group process as well shooting portraits of many of the individuals who participated.

My introduction with the Folsom Prison experience came about purely by chance. I met Jairus McLeary -the future director of The Work- in 2000 when Jairus McLeary and I were waiting tables together at a restaurant in the college town we lived in. We became pretty good friends and that year I spent Thanksgiving at his parent’s house. That’s when I met Jairus’ whole family, who all seem to be involved in some way even back then with Inside Circle Foundation’s work at Folsom Prison. Jairus’ dad James McLeary is one of the lead facilitators with Inside Circle and Jairus’ brothers went on to be his collaborators in making the film. At some point in my relationship with the family James and Jairus suggested that I try going to Folsom. I didn’t really know much about what the experience was about and they didn’t really offer up too much information about it other than vague anecdotes that Jairus would share about “this incredible process” he would take part in. For some reason I simply trusted them and took this leap forward into something I didn’t really know much about or what to expect.

In 2006 I went to Folsom Prison with the Inside Circle Foundation as an initiate, surrounded by strangers from the outside and the inside and I more or less unwittingly began a process that completely changed my life. I walked in a line into the chapel with other men from the outside and stood in a circle facing inmates, some of whom seemed to be just as in the dark as I was about what to expect. The next 4 days were the most transformative 4 days of my life. I walked into a room that became a safe space for the most intensely profound stories, emotions and experiences that I had ever encountered. There was something in the process too that I discovered for myself and that was learning how to be of service and support to someone else, outside of personal judgement. No one in that chapel, from the inside world or out, was there to hear my opinions. Because I had no idea what I was doing, I just did my best to shut up and listen to others and be of support in any way I could. I screwed up a few times but that seemed to be part of the process as well. Everyone got a chance to be heard, to do their work, to support and be supported. When it was my turn, I was challenged in a way that I had never thought possible and somehow got through it with men from the outside and inside by my side.

I consider going to Folsom the single most important decision of my life because it began a process that completely changed the direction of my life afterwards and opened the door to all the other important decisions I would end up making. It put me on a path of change that led to me examining what I valued in my life, what was working in my life vs. what wasn’t and how I fit in the world. It led to me meeting and marrying my wife, becoming a father, moving to a different country and pretty much who I became after that experience. I went back in 2008 and had a very different but very rewarding experience then too. It should be noted that there has not been a single prisoner who has gone through the Inside Circle Foundation program and Folsom prison who has gotten out of prison has ever returned.

I’m not sure when Jairus and his family began the process of trying to make the documentary happen but by 2009 everything had finally fallen in place for them to film. In 2009 the documentary crew went in to film the process which has been happening twice year for almost 20 years.

After 8 years, due to a variety of reasons for delays, the film was finally released in 2017 to much acclaim. It has won several awards in major film festivals around the world including 2017 Best Documentary at SXSW. It has earned 100% from Rotten Tomatoes and 4/5 stars from and IMDB to name a few. Follow the links below to watch the trailer and learn more about the film and the Inside Circle Foundation.

Watch the full movie of THE WORK here. Website for THE WORK. Facebook for THE WORK.

Learn more about the Inside Circle Foundation.

Brickworks Portraits

I recently worked with the Sydney design firm DesignSuite on a range of portraits of some of the people who keep the huge Australian brick and tile manufacturer Brickworks running.

Campaign: 2016 English Rugby Team for Canterbury Clothing

I just recently shot a campaign for Canterbury Clothing featuring the 2016 English Rugby team. The English rugby team was in Brisbane doing some training before their big match against Australia in May. As part of Canterbury Clothing's new "Only the Committed" campaign I was asked to shoot portraits of each of the team members and then shoot some of the new clothes for their catalogue in a really beautifully run down old factory in an industrial part of the city. The main challenge was that the schedules of the athletes just simply didn't allow for us to take them all to some really cold and windy warehouse over an hour away from their training grounds to shoot portraits of them. We ended up shooting the portraits in a hotel room with the portrait lighting matching how I was lighting the warehouse location and then everything was stitched together in post.

Aside from the main challenge of getting that to work, I had to try and get something that felt like a sense of intensity of emotion from the players while I only had a few minutes to shoot each (and while their teammates were standing behind me doing everything they could to make them laugh). I got my fair share of ribbing and insults from the team as well and I ended up getting the nickname Professor X from the players by the end of the day (I'm bald.) After a frantic shooting pace shooting portraits and some laughs we wrapped up and headed out to the warehouse. We spent the day shooting the products and filling up the warehouse with smoke machines to get that really gritty industrial atmosphere.

It was a blast.


Client: Canterbury Clothing
Agency: Pentland Brands Creative
Director: Stuart Ross-Sheeran
Art Director: Blake Calderwood
Production by Chee Productions

New Work: Surfing and Lifestyle Portraits

I've done some new work with Brett from Bella Management, playing with ideas I've had for a while about shooting surfing portraits and some exercise/sports work. We lucked out by having one of the most beautiful sunrises at Maroubra Beach I'd ever seen.

AD Campaign: Qantas Airlines

A new ad campaign that I shot for Qantas Airlines hit the streets last week. I spent the better part of last month working on it and among the many things that were great about this job were that I had the opportunity to use a Boeing 737 and a jet turbine worth several million dollars as props. I was really excited about the job because it was really about highlighting the real people and their stories behind every Qantas employee.

Creative Team: Agency: BWM Dentsu Asheen Naidu – Executive Creative Director Sarah Parris – Senior Art Director Kevin MacNamara – Senior Copywriter Bonnie Ledsam – Senior Account Manager Simon Holdaway – Senior Print Producer


New Portraits with Rough Cast Talent Agency

A few weeks ago I was thrilled to discover that there is a new talent agency in Sydney called Rough Cast Talent. It's a great idea- it focuses on featuring models that are unique, unusual or just happen to look like every day people and are great in front of the camera. This is a great new resource to have here in Sydney and I've been waiting for years for something like this to show up. When I lived and worked in Chicago I used to use "real talent" casting agencies and casting scouts all the time. I loved it because I felt like there were times when a project really needed to have models that gave the images a sense of authenticity or relate-ability to the viewer. Traditional modeling agencies never really worked for me because their talent were just too good looking and perfect or what the advertising industry would call "too aspirational." I'm really into the "flaws" that make a person who they are and those unusual details that can sometimes be character defining in an image.

When I saw that Rough Cast had opened up shop I immediately got in touch with the owner Chris Mayer-Plummer to see if I could shoot portraits of some of their talent. They needed portraits of their talent to send out for castings and I really wanted an opportunity to start shooting some of these fantastic faces that Chris has access to. It is FUN. I've met street performers, burlesque dancers, a Catholic energy worker/healer, a Satanist energy worker/healer (I didn't even know that existed), comedians, labourers and just normal people who want to be in pictures. I can't wait to do more.

Warm Weather is Cricket Weather

I live near a cricket oval and it is actually one of my favourite things to hear people playing cricket and hitting balls in the batting cages. It means that Spring is here in full force and we've got months of cricket to look forward to. Not that I actually will watch a whole game or even understand what's going on, but it's one of those things that is quintessentially Australian. I actually don't understand the sport at all and the jargon and statistics that get rattled off during a game make it impenetrable. Like watching Whack Batt from the The Incredible Mr. Fox. But I love the look of the sport. I'm starting to shoot portraits of the cricketers in my town and I'll be posting more throughout the summer.

OPSM Ad Campaign in Australia and New Zealand

I recently spent several weeks traveling and working with Saatchi & Saatchi on a new ad campaign for the eye wear retailer OPSM. The job was a really exciting project for me to be a part of because it picked two small towns- Busselton, Western Australia and Napier, New Zealand- and found people of all ages and walks of life who use and need their product, eye glasses. Saatchi & Saatchi scoured through Australian and New Zealand census data to determine a town in each country that encompassed the broad range of types of jobs, incomes, ethnicities etc. that represent each country. We met with bushfire fighters, a horse whisperer, a bagpipe marching band, a master jeweller and a beekeeper just to name a few. I was really excited by the notion of shooting my favorite subject in advertising work: real people with real stories. These are just a few of the shots from Busselton, Western Australia. I'll post images from the New Zealand campaign which was shot in Napier, New Zealand in the near future.

Bushfire fighter OPSM Busselton Wigdahl
OPSM Busselton family Joe Wigdahl
OPSM Busselton farm Joe Wigdahl
OPSM Busselton Horse Whisperer Joe Wigdahl
OPSM Busselton beekeeper Joe Wigdahl
OPSM Busselton Water Reserve Joe Wigdahl
OPSM Busselton Jeweller Joe Wigdahl
OPSM Busselton Catalog Portraits Joe Wigdahl
OPSM Busselton morning landscape Joe Wigdahl

Like most of the large productions I've been working on lately, I was shooting alongside a TVC production that was filming spots for TV and the web, while I was shooting images for the new catalog, website and everything print- in-store, billboards etc. We shot every day for 10-14 hours a day for 2 weeks and I ended up shooting portraits of over 100 people and a lot of landscapes along the way. Most days I would shoot alongside the TVC crew, grabbing shots when I could and stepping in when the TVC guys were done or had a few minutes to hand the subject and location over to me. In each city I had a day to shoot 25 portraits a day which broke down to a new location, set up and portrait every 20 minutes or so for 9 hours. An exhausting but exhilarating exercise as the opportunity to meet new people with great stories just kept coming. At one point I ended up getting pretty emotional at a small town bag piper rehearsal after feeling so lucky that these people would allow us to come in and be a part of their private experience, something I would have never been able to know about or be a part of if I was on my own traveling through this small town.

At the end of the 2 week assignment I'd shot portraits of more than 100 people, was tired, sore and really missed home but damn, I enjoyed that job. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

CD: Matt Gilmour Sr AD: Nils Eberhardt Sr Copywriter: Veronica Copestake The TVC/Motion campaign was produced by Tobias Webster at EXIT Films and directed by Stephen Carroll.

Kids Shoot Test- Alicia and kids

I did a test shoot with Sydney agency Bump Models a few weeks ago and got the chance to work with Alicia and her kids Ryan and Sara. I love working with kids and when I test I try to see how much I can get out of them within a time limit- say half an hour or an hour and a half or something like that. Most shoots that I'm hired for that use kids usually get planned in such a way that I have a limited time to get something and then I have to move on. For the test shoots I try to let the kids get crazy, come up with ideas as they're happening and let them play freely to allow them to come up with things naturally on their own. Nine times out of ten the parent is worried that the kids are being too wild and are apologizing for them and yelling at the children to be polite and do what I ask. I usually have to reassure them that the mayhem is perfectly fine and exactly what I want. At the end of the hour or two hours I've got a ton of great images and the kids are wiped out, the parents are relieved and everyone's happy.

Aussie Bodies: Keep Going

A few months ago I was asked to shoot stills alongside a TVC production for Aussie Bodies. I shot portraits of several famous Aussie athletes and an everyday yoga mom in action for the Australian protein and supplements brand Aussie Bodies for use in print and online. Each story was a pretty inspiring one:

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Tasmania / Smithsonian Magazine

I was recently asked by the American publication The Smithsonian Magazine to shoot a cover story featuring Tasmania and Tasmania's world famous MONA Museum. I was asked to document Hobart, shoot the Mona museum and some portraits of its notoriously camera-shy owner David Walsh and then afterwards make my way up to the Freycinet Peninsula to document the award winning Sapphire Hotel, Wineglass Bay and the incredible surrounding landscapes.

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AFS Construction

I was contacted by the firm Strategy Design & Advertising about shooting some reportage-style imagery for a company profile booklet for their client, AFS Construction. The goal was to make an ordinary, heavy-duty construction site feel like something interesting and dynamic so that they could really showcase what was unique about the equipment and crew of AFS.

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Good Weekend Magazine crew rowing story

A few months ago I was asked by Good Weekend Magazine to go down to Canberra and shoot images to go along with a series that they were doing about a few writers trying their hand at training for a day in an Olympic sport.  I followed writer Mark Dapin as he went through a light version of the incredibly intense daily workout regimen and technique routines of the crew rower.