Sinclair Lewis Warned Us Then

These days, as I live under the drumbeat of mindless nativist screes flowing from the lips of Donald Trump and reverberating among the throngs of his angry supporters, I’m carried back in memory to my high school English class where a wonderful teacher tried to introduce us green teenagers to the writings of the American Nobel Laureate, Sinclair Lewis. At the time, I was too young and immature to fully appreciate the imagination and political savvy of the extraordinary visionary that Lewis was. One of his important works of the 1930s came in the form of a small novel. He called it, “It Can’t Happen Here”. His inspiration for the story were the events that were taking place in Europe and especially in Germany as it recovered its pride in the wake of The Great War (known today as World War I). He watched as a generation of disaffected Germans fell under the spell of a bombastic chauvinist called Adolph Hitler who promised the rise and establishment of an never-ending “Reich” for which Germany could ever be proud. Lewis sensed that what was happening in Germany could very well happen in America, a concept that is hard for most to envision today. But at the time, Americans were hearing through the radio the words of “America Firsters” spouted by the nativist, anti-Semite, Father Coughlin. They were enthralled by the loud ramblings of “Only I Can Do It” and “Every Man a King” postulates of the ebullient and popular Louisiana Governor, Huey Long. And the activities and anti-war writings of the much-beloved aviator, Charles Lindbergh, who was proud of meeting and being photographed with Hitler himself.

The novel spins the story of a small-town Vermont newspaper editor who watches as his America inexorably descends into dictatorship under the sway of a leader who was (like Hitler) elected into office by a hopeful and believing electorate. It’s a suspenseful page-turner which follows the editor’s experiences as he hopes for an eventual re-awaking of American ideals but instead, sees as America falls into mindless subservience to an illiterate dictatorship which blames the “Other” for its problems.

As a teenager in my English class of the 1950s, my mind wasn’t mature enough and prepared to see the possibility of such a thing happening in America. And truthfully, even as recently as yesterday, I could barely bring myself to take the concept seriously. But today it seems ever more possible to me that without a population able to think and speak for itself, that can find its way out of the mire of negative tropes and lies, that can open its heart and mind to the enlightened creation that is our special republic;  that this, our American society can fail and tumble into tyranny. This is what Sinclair Lewis feared. He wrote about it as a warning to his generation. He warns us too.

Will the “Starchitects” Align?

Alastair Gordon, a Distinguished Fellow at the FIU School of Architecture, wrote an in-depth article for the Sunday 2/15 Miami Herald. He criticizes Miami’s expanding skyline and brings attention to the helter skelter rush of developers and their “starchitects” cashing in on the resurgence of Miami’s potential which suffered so during the recent recession. He pokes fun at the cacophony of styles, each vying to “out-modern” each other. Twisted towers “corkscrewing up to the heavens . . . lurching their way to a nervous breakdown . . . something like dueling tornadoes” with “skypools and frameless water views”. “Miami” he says, “ forges ahead in its own translucent bubble, now bursting at the seams . . .” He quotes Frank Gehry as saying, “98 percent of everything that is built and designed today is pure shit.

That may not be entirely so. Gordon does have nice things to say about the new Perez Art Museum which “ . . . foreswearing the tall and monolithic in favor of the everyday and horizontal  . . .  inspired by mangrove roots, banyan trees and the modest . . “. Or Hilario Candela’s Miami Marine Stadium (soon to be restored), “ . . . which straddles both land and sea with seamless equanimity . . . “.

Gordon quotes Joan Didion on Miami of the 80s: “buildings seemed to swim free against the sky”. And Gordon writes ”. . . early skyscrapers in New York and Chicago drew energy up from the earth”. Now, he says, “ . . . recent hi rises of Miami seem to dangle downwards, hardly touching the earth at all”. He says,”When all is finished, the whole thing will be politically incorrect, “. . . surprisingly formulaic, out-of-date and unsustainable . . . offering no public space, community services, income mix, environmental mediation,  . . .” .

What a pity. We’re in for a bleak future. And that’s not to even mention the effects of global warming. Miami is truly the canary in the mine. Those around at the turn of the next century will look back on our hubris and wonder, “what the hell were they thinking?!”.

Architects Can Help Make the Environment Healthier

I found an interesting online discussion about the health benefits of living with and embracing the world outside the doors of our homes. In my photography assignments, I’m often brought face-to-face with the techniques that architects and interior designers use to help bring the out-of-doors into their clients lives. Of course, it’s much easier here in my home base of South Florida where the outside world beckons year-round. Nonetheless, it’s a proven factor in our physical and mental health regardless of where we live. We, like our four-legged and feathered neighbors in life, are creatures first of our environment, the world around us. Our relationship to our surroundings has become more and more segregated and choked off by the way we’ve designed our homes and life-styles. I feel the subject deserves my attention as a photographer who documents today’s designs. I see and feel the tug of the  natural world beyond the cloistered world of our homes.

Now, faced with the reality of our lives mostly lived inside structures, I found this article on the subject of the health of our living environment. Through the magazine Metropolis an open discussion was held led by Susan S. Szenasy, Metropolis’s  Director of Design Innovation, the subject: “Design to Stimulate The Mind”.  This discussion also addressed our exposure to pollutants and the hidden dangers in commonly used building materials.


By Sam White

”Faced with a challenge as important as environmental justice, architects must seek out and engage in a dialogue with potential collaborators from other disciplines. But what form might this exchange take?  Metropolis’s director of design innovation, Susan S. Szenasy, led a talk at CookFox’s New York office that teased out answers to this question.

The conversation gathered experts in the seemingly disparate fields of public health, commercial real estate, and sustainable architecture, and it quickly became clear just how deeply the goals of these disciplines are interwoven. After all, “chronic health conditions are rooted in built spaces,” as Dr. Maida Galvez, associate professor of environmental medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, put it to the audience. Galvez delivered an empowering message that set the tone for the rest of the discussion. “The tools are in your hands,” she said, suggesting that practical design solutions can be found to address problems such as low-level lead exposure and toxic stress. These health hazards are often detected only when it’s too late, and for that reason, preventive strategies should be the shared aim of architects and their collaborators in health-related fields.

Following this thread, Galvez agreed with Adam Lutz, real estate project executive for Google New York, that data has a primary role in the development of such strategies. Lutz recounted how quickly his young daughter adapted to the family’s Google Home and how she “now takes it for granted that data is always available.” His point was intended to mollify those wary of the constant churn of data collection. Architect Rick Cook of CookFox took the illustration further, pointing out the wall-mounted sensors installed at the firm’s office that are controlled by a mobile app and capable of measuring carbon dioxide and formaldehyde in the workplace environment in real time. Although this technology is promising, Cook acknowledged that it is still in its nascent stages, as there is no system of standards or policies in place to guide the use of this data.

But it shouldn’t be solely up to architects and developers to build this policy framework, Galvez concluded. She reminded the audience that parents have effectively advocated for changes in hazardous materials applied at school buildings. Still, these strategies of preventive health have a place in architectural practice. Cook pointed out that his firm’s employees are more than willing to volunteer hours on community-focused initiatives. Indeed, policy innovation is in some cases led by this volunteer work. As he summed up, “metrics are important, but [social] goals come first.”


Well, here’s my two cents: One hopes that these design creators will take heed of the potential hidden dangers in the materials they specify. Still, my hope remains that we all will find a way to get out from under these threats and take advantage of the wonderful world that awaits just outside our doors.

Business Strategies

I recently discovered an article entitled, Business Strategies For The Design Industry. It was posted online by the Interior Designer, Terri Maurier, FASID. In it she shared business strategies she felt were important to her peers in the design industry. Being a part of that industry, I feel that some of her thinking is relevant for us photographers, especially those for whom this industry is a source of clients and assignments. So I share them here:

Being aware of what is happening around you – and your small business – on a regular basis is critical to your success

Far too many small businesses get blindsided by changes coming their way.  They may not be paying attention or fail to ‘read the tea leaves’ correctly.  Or, they may have a smug feeling of invincibility, believing nothing can take them down.  Those who fall into one or more of these categories, soon find themselves out of business.  Trends and changes are important to the success or failure of your small business.  They can help you move forward or hurt your chances of growth and success

Remember the story about the guy who made excellent buggy whips

He failed to recognize he was really in the ‘transportation’ industry and that automobiles would soon replace horse-drawn buggies and carriages.  Eastman Kodak and Polaroid both missed major changes coming in photography.  The need for film and film developing disappeared, as did the need for instant, mediocre quality photographs.  Digital imaging took over, leaving them in the dust, struggling to get back their share of the market.  Blockbuster Video used to charge membership fees to rent video tapes.  Changes in technology and rapid growth of the Internet knocked Blockbuster out of the running with new online video delivery services.  Not keeping up with technological changes in their industry hurt them in a big way.

Just how much influence these external changes can have depends on several factors.

The industry you practice in, the products or services you offer, and your customer base are a few.  Any business, in any industry, needs to remain keenly aware of external changes that can – and will – affect their ability to operate a successful small business.  Internal changes are easier to see and control as they are right in front of our eyes.  External changes are outside and come from different categories.  They can sneak up on you if you aren’t paying attention.

Influences like a really bad economy can, and do, bury quite a few small and even large businesses in a short period of time.

Think about how the US economy was affected in the time frame following September 11, 2001.  After the World Trade Center buildings fell, people just stopped spending money. They were in shock. Suddenly, adding unnecessary ‘things’ became unimportant to Americans.  Things previously considered important suddenly were shelved or pushed to a back burner.


One of my astute interior design clients not only managed to stay afloat during the recession, she was able to actually grow her small business.

What did she do?  Actually, she switched to a pretty simple strategy:  she went where the money was.  During the economic downturn in the US and other global markets, the Japanese market remained in pretty good shape.  She opened a second office on the West Coast to place them strategically closer to Japan.  She cut the time required for multi-stop flights from her main office to Japan, saving time and money.  She focused on the overseas market where spending was still relatively strong

A second strategy was to expand their customer base and seek government work.

We all know that even when taxpayers don’t have money to spend the government always seems to have plenty of ours to use.  While she was not thrilled having to act as the ‘banker’ for government projects – only being paid when entire projects were completed – she was able to keep her staff working.  When several of her staff had to quit, she did not replace them.  These three strategies led her firm to more than doubling their revenues from before the Recession hit

You can insult a president, but you don’t mess with man’s best friend

Nowadays our political intercourse is threaded with hate. We cannot see the other side’s honestly held beliefs and opinions as real or of value. This fog of hate and distrust prevents each from seeing the other as part of humanity, like himself. Every little online posting, every snippet of negative information which colors the perception of the other side is grabbed and elevated to a new level of importance beyond its real and actual value. And every opportunity to paint a darkened image of the other’s deeds is amplified by the 24 hour news cycle’s hunger for sensationalism.

Who can summon up the courage to cross this barrier and communicate evenly and fairly? And who on the other side cares to actually listen, as though there might be some truth and value in an opposing opinion, no matter how distant from one’s own?

Sometimes humor is the answer. Sometimes a wonderful joke or a silly story can loosen the ties of hate and mistrust. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our 32nd president had this gift. FDR could look at the ridiculousness of a negative story and commandeer it as a weapon to answer his most ardent critics. One time he used this gift in answering the charge that he ordered a Navy Destroyer to return to the Aleutian Islands to retrieve his dog, Fala. Fala and Roosevelt were inseparable during his Presidency, making Fala one of the most well-known Presidential pooches and the only one to have his statue erected at a presidential memorial in DC.

Roosevelt countered his accusers in a speech to a meeting of The Teamsters with this now famous retort which deserves a label as one of the most memorable take-downs in American politics.


Click on this photo for a video of that wonderful speech!

Photographing Homes for Architects

Architects are themselves artists. They are artists with a very special responsibility. They create their multi-dimensional space sensitive to the needs of human beings who will populate that space. These home designs must function technically of course, but the best of architects will have great concern for the visual; for the impact on the eye inside and outside a home. These two goals, functionality and artistry, can often strain against each other. The successful architect will have blended these two efforts in a positive way, one in which a project well performs its function and at the same time presents an artistic, well-balanced, three dimensional composition of mass and space. It’s a serious goal for the architect. And the photographer’s duty is to capture the interaction of these oft competing drives. Dan Forer has worked for over four decades of his photographic career to do this: render a three dimensional story in the two dimensional confines of photographs.

When an architect contacts a photographer for a residential assignment, the first step is a conversation about the architect’s original goals; what were his conversations with the homeowners like? What did they express as their wishes and special needs? The photographer needs to place himself back into the moments when those conversations began to become design solutions. Finally, he learns how the architect translated these into a concrete plan that satisfied the homeowners and left room for the architect to express his own design philosophy, his artistry. By placing himself back at the beginning stages, the photographer can better understand the reasons the design took the shape that it did. Then, his goal is to create a list of shots that tells the story but that can be executed within a time-table that the economics of the assignment requires.

The more prepared he is, the better he’s able to complete an assignment that tells the whole story with a minimum number of shots. He stays within his budget and the architect’s message, his artistry is made publishable and accessible to a wide viewing audience.

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Photographing Commercial Interiors

I work closely with designers and architects of commercial and institutional interiors to capture and represent the strongest design features of their projects. Commercial photo-shoots are quite complicated to plan and execute. Since most of these projects are “working spaces”, places that must continue to operate even though photography is taking place, this presents scheduling challenges that have to be surmounted if the shoot is to succeed. Frequently I have to work during the “wee hours” of the day when the sites are unoccupied. And with restaurant shoots, since unrestricted access to the entire space is required, my crew and I have to wait until the last customer has left. Only then, often after midnight, can tables be reset and I can start the shoot. Built-in lighting in commercial spaces is usually controlled from behind-the-scenes panels that have to be located and many levels adjusted for each shot. When it comes to additional lighting that we provide, my crew and I have to be careful not to overload the circuit-breakers. So a review of and access to all breaker box locations is a necessity on the shoot. Years of experience in this kind of assignment have caused me to insist on a pre-shoot walk-through with my client and operating personnel to help me answer the many technical questions regarding the site.

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Photographing Interiors of Homes

I’ve worked with many of today’s premier interior designers and architects. Their goal is to communicate their artistry and skill to a viewer who may not have the ability to visit a site in-person. Using the medium of a photograph, I bring the viewer into a home allowing him to feel as though he’s actually there. My skills in composition and lighting help me succeed in this. My own college background was in the study of theatre and especially, the study of theatrical lighting. Lighting is a critical element in the success of any theatrical production and an elemental device that moves the emotions of the playgoer. True to this dictum, I’ve painted my photographic compositions with a light which must seem natural to the scene yet augments and dramatizes. Using these techniques, I steer the viewer to personally engage in the scene and feel as though he were actually there. No photograph of mine is a casual effort. Always conscious of the responsibility to tell a story, I create shots for each project which will help build a successful magazine story. My goal is to see every one of my assignments published and I work through my association with magazine editors and writers to achieve that end.

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Dusk in the Tropics – An Architectural Photographer’s Favorite Time

What is it about the “magic hour” that’s so engaging to the photographer of architecture and interiors? That special time just after the sun has set when the sky starts gathering those velvet tones of deep purple and indigo and the sharp edges of exterior architectural features become muted. The eye no longer sees surface details as they had appeared before in the bright tropical sunlight. But now, elements within a structure become visible; the eye’s not blinded by the intensity of sunlight which makes any interior view impossibly dark and invisible. “What’s going on inside that space”, one wonders? And slowly, bit-by-bit as the sky darkens, a balance is achieved, and you’re answered. You can see both the exterior and interior with almost equal clarity.

The effect is dramatic. Especially now, the tonality of the two areas, the exterior and interior is radically different. That’s natural. The cool tone (high color temperature) of the exterior which is lighted by the purple/indigo sky sets itself apart from the interior which in days past was lighted by “warm” incandescent fixtures. Note: today’s LED sources can mimic that “incandescent” inviting warm tone. The warm (low color temperature) light that emanates from the interior is dramatically different from the cool exterior light. Except for that color difference, the light intensity of the two areas gradually becomes equal. That now allows us to see detail in both realms. But the tension, the dramatic effect between the two areas is the product of the great difference in color temperature between them. That’s what the photographer captures in creating this dramatic scene.

In my title to this blog, I called our favored time “dusk”. But it can as easily be pre-dawn. The same conditions prevail. You just have to get set up early enough to be there when it happens. So basically the photographer gets two chances in each day to take advantage of that special light. In the typical shoot schedule, especially in the tropical summer when days are long and nights short, the shoot day can end late with an 8:30PM sunset; and can start early with a 6:30AM sunrise. It can make a photographer’s day very long indeed with very little sleep (especially if he’s got some night shots planned).

But it’s well worth it. The resulting views are inimitable and cannot be done any other way. Here are a few examples of that kind of shot.

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Here We Go!

Dan Forer headshot

Well, it’s high time I started blogging again. And now I’ve got a topic to deal with that’s been on my mind for some time. It’s my old and stale website. Things have changed radically since the time I first engaged an expert to build a website for me.

So many new devices out there that folks use to research and investigate resources for their photography needs. So I’m looking through my portfolio to find fresh examples to show off my skills.  As I look over my recent digital work and compare it with my years of film, I’m impressed by the fact that it’s not the medium you work with but the imagination you bring to the assignment. I bring an eye for composition and I capture the importance of light in a scene. That’s where all the years working to perfect my craft really paid off. That most unforgiving medium of film wasn’t for the faint-of-heart. I had to make each image perfect without the crutch of Photoshop to help me. A keen sense of color and of shadows and highlights, that sensitivity was the hallmark of the work I produced in those film years.

And now I move it all to the digital world. What a different experience. It no longer takes hours to set up and execute a shot. Many hours at the computer is the new reality. It’s not easier because of Photoshop. On the contrary, much more is expected. Now, in post-production I’m able to make the adjustments which bring an image to new heights of excellence.

This brings me back to the re-build of my website. With the help of my IT guru, Henry VandenBosche of Start On Technology, we’re pulling my film-work together with my digital-work and we’re building a site I can be proud to display. I regret not starting this process sooner. No matter. It’s never too late to advance, be it shooting techniques or computer skills. The result, a portfolio I’m proud of.

But be it film or digital; either way, my photographs are there to convey the imagination and skill of the designers who create these wonderful places.


Here’s an example of a shot on film which had to be complete IN THE CAMERA! No cheating – all lighting had to be perfect there and then.

RESTAURANT Pelican Restaurant


And here’s an example of a digital shot which had to be completed later IN PHOTOSHOP!

Il Belaggio, West Palm Beach

But let’s not be concerned with the tools. Let’s recognize the photographer who wields them. In the end, that’s my point.