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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Kevin Gilbert - Reality Bytes

After a 20-plus-year career working in the news media, photojournalist Kevin Gilbert traded shooting the real West Wing for the one on TV

“Building your own personal digital ecosystem is a big issue for a lot of people,” he continues. “There are better practices all throughout the digital ecosystem, but it's up to the individual. What camera you use doesn't matter. We often equate it to this: We'll give you the digital road map; we'll show you the roads, but what kind of car you drive on it and how fast, what color paint, and what exits you take, that's really up to you. I can show you the highway, which is smooth and efficient, or I can show you the two-lane road, which wanders through the countryside. It depends on how you want to get there. The journalists want that speedy, fast, efficient way. The artists out there want to take the meandering road and maybe stop someplace.”

The members of Blue Pixel have worked on a variety of diverse projects, including creating the Nikon School of Photography, the Adobe Digital Kids Club and the digital photography portal for Microsoft's Windows XP operating system. They also train sales executives at Best Buy, teach seminars for individuals as well as corporations, and consult for large agencies like the National Zoo, the U.S. Navy and even the White House—which Gilbert just can't seem to get away from.

“One of the basic tenets of Blue Pixel is that anybody involved has to be a working practitioner in what they teach,” explains Gilbert. “So you can't just be some yahoo who happens to know somebody at one of the camera companies and shows up at every trade show. We decided that the only way that we could legitimately teach people about digital photography, whether it's a point-and-shoot or a Nikon D2x or a Canon Mark II, is that we have to use it. And not just use it like consultants use it—use it in real-world applications.”

Gilbert's real-world photography today consists primarily of documentary photography for reality TV. And, perhaps surprisingly, he says the work is a lot like newspaper photography—only better.

“This is the purest form of documentary photojournalism I've probably ever had in my life,” Gilbert says of photographing the cast of NBC's The Apprentice. “Way more so than even at a newspaper. You can pretty much live with them. I can walk right up to them in the middle of a heated argument and start shooting pictures and they don't even notice me because they're so used to the cameras.”

Gilbert plans to shoot almost 300 days this year for Mark Burnett—the mind behind reality shows from The Apprentice to Survivor—including a boxing-based show called The Contender, a new program called Rock Star (the reward is a stint fronting the band INXS) and even a new show starring lifestyle maven Martha Stewart. He also shoots for “regular” television as well, including assignments for a show based on the place where he used to work.

“I had more fun shooting on The West Wing set than I ever had shooting at the real White House,” says Gilbert. “On The West Wing set, I can go anywhere I want to. You can do things—I've actually had a tuna fish sandwich sitting at the president's desk on The West Wing, where I've never even had a piece of gum in the real West Wing.”

Certainly working in the television White House has afforded Gilbert opportunities to get to know the subjects he's photographing and to pull aside the “president” to ask for another chance at a shot he likes—something that could never happen in the real world.

“I got involved with them,” he says of the actors. “They treat me like I'm the president himself: What's it like in the White House? What do you think of this guy? How did that decision happen? Martin Sheen is my fifth president; next year, we'll have a new president on The West Wing and that will be my sixth.”

Referring to the real White House, says Gilbert, “I've done four presidential campaigns and six inaugurals. I watched the inaugural on TV the other day, and I wasn't involved in this campaign for the first time in 20 years. I kind of missed it, but at the same time, there was a snowy morning last week in Annapolis and I took a couple of compact cameras and, instead of thinking I'm going to go shoot stock or go shoot an assignment for somebody, I went out and just had fun as a consumer. To me, that's still the joy of the photography. It never has been about getting published; it's just the taking of the pictures.”


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