My First Solo Book: VISUAL STORIES

I’m proud to announce my first solo book: VISUAL STORIES.

The book is available now for pre-order and comes in both eBook and as a printed book of course,  and will hit the shelves on November 14th.  

I’ve been a included in more than two dozen books over the years – but this is the first one that focuses on my photography.

VISUAL STORIES is effectively a look back through 18 years of my work as a photographer for The New York Times, Time, Life, Newsweek, National Geographic amongst others, as well as commercial, aerial, sports, and fine art photography.   I didn’t want to write too technical of a book – so I decided to focus more on the stories behind the images, the thought process and often the psychology involved in making the photographs.     I talk as much about the "why" as I do about the "how" if you will.  

I wanted to write a book that included the details that I loved to read when reading other photographers’ books.   I found that while I loved to know what lens they’d used to make some of my favorite photographs, I was more fascinated with how they got to making that photograph, the thought process and stories behind them (or luck) and what they thought of those photographs after the fact.  Those stories always fascinated me most.   

What I’m most excited about is that a few people who are NOT photography enthusiasts have told me that they really enjoyed reading it.    

So if you’d like to know what it felt like (and what went on in my mind) when I shot from the needle of the Empire State Building,  or made photographs of The Super Bowl, landscapes and aerials all the way to covering the Olympics and the aftermath of hurricane Katrina – you just might enjoy this book.   I do address technical details of course and the metadata is included under each image.   There is also a DVD included with more than 2 hours of video of me discussion many of the images beyond what you’ll read in the book.

Below are a few excerpts from the book that spans 264 pages and includes more than 100 images.  Both are available for pre-order now.

Here is a link to the hard copy: Visual Stories: Behind the Lens with Vincent Laforet  (HARD COPY)

And a link to the eBook version: Visual Stories: Behind the Lens with Vincent Laforet (eBOOK)

Lastly, here are two excerpts from the book:

"One of the first things I ever photographed in my teens was the U.S. Open. I found an entrance to sneak into the main court at the time, and I would photograph from the cheap seats. I would stare down at the newspaper photographers and dream of being down there with them.

A decade later, in 2006, I found myself in those very seats, on the ground level, surrounded by the best in sports photography. From that level, it’s great to capture a very tight moment that shows the incredible emotion of a historic win. While that’s an important image to capture, such a photograph can start to look like thousands of other images. Sometimes it’s better to see the overall picture.

To achieve this image of Maria Sharapova, I positioned myself at the top level of the stadium where I had shot from as a teenager, and showed the view from the perspective of the spectator.

I was using a 45mm tilt-shift lens, which allowed me to produce something aesthetically different. It shows Sharapova in focus and her opponent, Justine Henin, out of focus. The image tells the story of her victory from the context of the thousands of people who had witnessed the moment. This perspective gives you an appreciation for the scale of the event that you don’t necessarily get with a long telephoto lens, where the background is completely blurred out.

This image was a gamble because there was no telling where and when the match was going to end. And predicting which direction she would look when she did win was a combination of experience and luck. I had to make a very big bet that she would turn around and look at the box where her family was sitting. Had she been on the other side of the court, there would be no image with that lens.

On a mental level you are conscious of what the chances are that she’ll be on the wrong side of the court, but also how she’s going to react and where she’s likely going to look towards.  And the fact is that you have only one chance to get it. There will be no repeats here. And if you don’t get it, no one cares what the reason was –  if your battery died or your card wasn’t set or formatted correctly, or you were soft or out of focus. It’s irrelevant.

The other risk I took was with respect to focusing. I was focusing manually, and if you look closely, the top of the racket and the sneakers are out of focus. So you can appreciate how razor-sharp you have to be on the focus during a live and evolving moment. 

Despite those challenges, the photograph conveys the story of how Sharapova at this particular moment is at the center of the world, especially at the center of the tennis world, and that Henin is completely irrelevant and out of focus. The front page goes to the winner. The one who loses either never makes the paper or gets buried in history.

Click below for another example -

"Any illusion that you are somehow protected or invulnerable because you have a camera and press credentials completely dissolves in a war zone.

I came close to death twice in the weeks following 9/11 – in this case after photographing in a refugee camp in Pakistan in 2001.  It was an organized trip coordinated by the Pakistani government. We rode for approximately three hours in a 13-car convoy, and we had to pass through 13 checkpoints before eventually arriving at a bevy of tents and refugees near Kandahar, Afghanistan. It might as well have been the middle of nowhere.

We were an incredibly disruptive force, media personnel from all over the world making photographs and trying to interview people with the aid of interpreters. The hard part was trying to find moments that looked somewhat authentic and genuine amid this gaggle of photographers and reporters.

In this image, two women are walking away from the press. The bright colors of their traditional garb clashed dramatically against the plainness of the sand. The way the monochromatic backdrop and sparse environment contrasted with their colorful clothing expressed the sense that they were facing a very empty future.

It was sad to see people leave all their belongings and end up in a situation where they didn’t have much more than tents, food and water coming from the United Nations.

At some point, one of the guards became unhappy that I had photographed something. I noticed his irritation, but I just kept doing my job. As we returned to our vehicle, I could see that he was following us. We were in the last car in the convoy, and I could see him riding parallel to us, pointing an M60 machine gun in our direction in a clearly aggressive manner.

We had made a big mistake being the last car in the convoy.

The gates that secured the camp closed at the first checkpoint, and we were separated from the rest of the convoy. We suddenly found ourselves surrounded by about 30 military men with AK-47s.   The rest of the convoy continued on without us.

I pulled out my cell phone only to discover that I had no signal.  I understood right there that even  if I’d had a signal, George Bush wasn’t going to answer; and even if he did, the Delta forces would never come to save us.

Thirty guys with guns surrounded us and there was absolutely no one who could help us at that moment and at that place.   It’s at moments like these that you immediately lose the illusion of being invulnerable. The fact that you might see yourself as some unarmed idealist or objective observer doesn’t mean much of anything at that very moment.  These men with guns just don’t care about your ideology, your job, or your beliefs.

I never felt more alone than at this moment in my life.

Thankfully, a female reporter from the Chicago Tribune started screaming at them in their dialect. She spoke Pashto!

They were not used to being screamed at by a woman, let alone a Westerner, and they certainly didn’t expect to hear her speaking in their own language. They were completely disarmed.

She convinced them that my fancy digital camera had already transmitted the photographs back to Washington, and that at this point they were only getting themselves in more trouble. We explained they should have let the armed man who had fixated on me get in trouble, because now all of them were putting themselves in deeper water.   After a very tense 25 minutes, they let us go.

It was the longest 25 minutes of my life. "