I discovered Ben Staley’s portraits via social media. I was blown away by the casual intimacy, by how well he “saw” the subject, and disarmed them long enough to capture that essence.
After some due diligence, where I learned that Staley, “was born in Alaska and raised without electricity or running water,” we struck up a text conversation that covered everything from photography to climbing, from writing and storytelling to sleep hygiene on the road, and eventually his work as a cameraman, director and documentarian. I marveled that he went from spending “a lot of time in the backcountry on horseback and sleeping in a tepee” to withstanding the urban pressure cooker that is Los Angeles and the film business in general.
One night in November 2014 I was organizing some camera gear and realized why I had held onto a Leica M6 body when I hadn’t shot film in a decade: it was for Staley. I understood immediately that he would put it to use and make cool art with it. I knew it would grow on him and force him also to grow. I told him I had it and that he would have it as soon as he showed me proof of a lens purchase, i.e. let’s meet halfway. He mentioned an upcoming job that might justify the purchase. I wasn’t in any rush. Rather, I was certain.
I wrote, “whatever happened in the night the other night—whatever visitation I received—after the few exchanges we have had and looking at your work, learning what little I know of your story, I had the epiphany that ‘this is the perfect camera for him and I am in a position to do something.’ It was just right. A bit selfish of course, but what isn't? I want to see what you do with it. It's also part of how I am relating to people and the world these days .... so, piece it together and I'll hold up my end.”
He did so I did. We met for the first time in a Ventura gym where I was helping teach a seminar in the middle of a three-week road trip. He brought the lens. I brought the camera body. Ben has burned through dozens of rolls of film since that day and we continue to discuss the differences between silver halide and 0s and 1s, recognizing the place and use for each, and pushing a little outside of those zones as we progress.
Ben came to Utah in May to work on a pilot documentary and stayed an extra day just to spend a bit of time together. Thirteen hours later, after coffee and breakfast, conversation, a podcast, more talking, a hike, a sunset picture session, a filling dinner at the Bayou, and the promise of future collaboration we all went to sleep—exhausted and super-charged at the same time.