Tag Archives: Photography

THEN

My interest in photographs preceded my interest in photography. In the 1950s, my Father brought home a copy of a LOOK magazine book titled something like “A Year in Pictures”, and I kept this book on my nightstand for the longest time, continually leafing through it. To this day, I remember a photograph of a pair of Siamese Twins, joined at the top of their heads.                   This was engaging stuff, the power of photography to explain our world to us in a universal manner.

While I now understand the controversy surrounding it, when my favorite teacher loaned me her copy of ” Family of Man “, it seemed pretty remarkable to my 11 year old self.

I have an interest in things scientific, and am a problem solver, so I learned to appreciate both the magic and the “behind the scenes” processes I learned about  in images like “Helicopter”,  “Transformation of Energy”, and “Bullet Through Apple”.

Years later, while traveling in Europe, I bought a basic 35mm rangefinder camera that had no light meter, nor even any batteries. I learned to judge exposure according to the pictograms on the inside of the film box (Cloudy Bright, Open Shade), but didn’t think of myself as a photographer with a capital “P”, only as a tourist shooting snapshots.

When I returned to the states, everybody was doing something crafty-a couple of my buddies were in Art School studying “Media” A roommate had a darkroom, and photography as an activity utilizing mechanics and chemistry in order to express oneself started to make sense to me, so I dove in.

But I didn’t study Media.

Instead, I learned photography by reading everything I could get my hands on, and by looking at a lot of photographs. Photography as an Art Form didn’t really gain traction with me, but the life of the Photographer seemed pretty cool. The LIFE and LOOK crowd seemed to have good jobs, and what could be better than National Geographic? The photo mags ran articles about what special gear those folks carried on assignment, and occasionally, the special setups they used to get the shot. I am a technique guy, I loved those tools and tricks.

I was off and running.

I enrolled in a couple of Community College photo classes that were designed to stretch my creativity. My first couple of projects were flops-high on concept, but not in execution. I think most of my work was pretty mediocre, but two class assignments really stuck with me.

An Andreas Feininger image introduced me to a storytelling technique of using selective focus to make an image more dynamic. I used this to make an image that was made into a poster for the School’s Automotive Technology Department- it was a real photo assignment “commissioned” and accepted by a third party.

Another class assignment was to shoot three rolls of film, then print and display the five best images that came out of that 108 exposure shoot. I have seen variations on this exercise (shoot geometric shapes, shoot only one color for a week, etc.), and still think these exercises are quite valuable.This is a recent “geometric” version.

 

As can be expected, there were quite a few dogs in the batch of 108 (probably over 100), but a few were photographically interesting, and one “happy accident” double exposure was submitted to a Student Show, where it won first prize!

It is a special feeling to know that total strangers respond to your work (and I don’t mean “likes” on Instagram.

A talented graphic artist brought me into his circle, and I did some of the most creative work ever (my work, his creativity).

I did some product photography, and a few portraits, but didn’t really have the eye for it. I shot a couple of weddings, and think I did OK, but really didn’t have the stomach for it. I hung out with a high powered Rock Band, and that was fun, but they wound up with the girls, and at the end of the day, all I had was a bunch of negatives.

I even got a gig as the still photographer on a full length motion picture.

Little of this was creative, none of it was Arty. I seldom made anything out of thin air, and I am not a concept guy.

However, I was getting pretty good with recording what was in front of my camera- less as documentary, perhaps closer to Journalism, or what Walker Evans called “descriptive photography”. I am beginning to call it “observational photography”.

I enjoy people watching, and have always found myself in the company of “characters”. Although there is not often a lot of people in my photographs, I find the product of being Human to be the most interesting thing to point my camera at. I often went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and in the French Quarter street theater is a way of life. I practiced what came to be called “Street Photography”, but now those guys are formalizing a definition of that type of shooter (and taking the fun out of it), so I am moving away from the category, but my guiding principle is still

 

“….if you are standing on the sidewalk, and saw three Chickens, a Horse with a Purple tail, some bicyclists, and a Peacock approaching, you would have to think,

‘Damn, I need a picture of that’. “

I like to think I had some decent work back them, but we will never know, as all of my work was destroyed by the 1991 urban wildfire that consumed a large part of the Oakland and Berkeley Hills.

I still view photography in terms of the image that you capture, rather than something that is massaged in software. Although there is not often a lot of people in my photographs, I find the product of being Human to be the most interesting thing to point my camera at.

 

That was THEN, next I will talk about NOW.

 

 

 

 

PHOTOGRAPHY THEN AND NOW

Except for cell phone snaps, I have not been shooting at all during the past eight months.

Frankly, the cell phone snaps are intended for Instagram, which I don’t find engaging, so I hardly ever post to it.

However, I have continued to remain photographically engaged in all other ways, and now, I’m starting to get a sense of how photography has changed since I first became interested in it in the 1970s.

Or maybe I have changed.

Or maybe I haven’t, it’s hard to tell.

It is also possible I don’t have anything else to say. At least nothing I want to print and hang on a wall.

Part of this disorientation seems to be screen based photography, part it seems to be the

in current photographic trends.

LET’S GET PHYSICAL.

I enjoy digital photography, but have been disappointed with digital presentation. At first, coming from film and paper, digital seemed so liberating, but occasionally, when I had something printed, I realized the added value a finished print offered, something I could view in my own way.

Twice a month when I was in the Camera Club, we had opportunity to show work. One night was Projected Image Night, and as images came on the screen, there seemed to be minimal discussion, along with a tendency to keep moving. I think this tendency is a symptom of viewing (or even reading) on devices-we push buttons because we can.

Print Night, the alternate evening, was much more satisfying, we had to get involved. We had to assemble the portable “Gallery” walls, set up light stands for viewing, then hang the prints, oftentimes jostling for space, and seldom having enough of it. I believe there was significantly more engagement, and more discussion on print night. They even had to set a timer because the discussions kept going on,

and we would run out of time before we could discuss everybody’s work.

I wanted to learn more about printing, so I enrolled in a Berkeley Community College class which included print critiques as part of each class session, and also provided access to a very nice print lab. The Instructor had a thorough knowledge of photography, and photographic printing, and did a good job of managing the critiques. I greatly enjoyed viewing and discussing the work, it was very gratifying to walk right up to something that caught my attention and stick my nose in it.  And I loved the discussions.

Aside from seeing their iconic images, I think this form of viewing is what made the recent Walker Evans and Brassai exhibits at SF MOMA such rich experiences for me. A great deal of their work was printed no larger than 8×10, and close viewing was essential. I know this is a cell phone shot of a photograph, but you really had to get in there and study this in order to absorb it-at least I did.

Subsequent BCC classes were still about photography, but because that instructor approached it from an arty perspective, the sessions evolved into art classes where photography was part of a larger discussion of imagery. There were no critiques, and occasional assignment presentations were digitally projected. It was my sense that there was less group involvement while viewing the images, and once again, the “slideshow” moved pretty quickly.

It wasn’t for me.

In order to refine their eye, many photographers do look to the greater art world for education, but this doesn’t seem to work for me. I have to say that whatever (photographic) sensibilities I might possess were developed by looking at tens of thousands of photos over the years.

Because the customary method of viewing work in this class was digital projection, I decided to do a web site as a final class project. I had been thinking about one for quite a while, but frankly, I needed such a deadline in order to get it done.

Now maybe my work just isn’t that engaging, but when I hung many of these images as prints on the wall in the previous class, they generated conversation (sometimes quite spirited, sometimes critical), but as projected images, not so much. One thing I realized was the difficulty seeing details, which in many cases, brings out the texture that creates the story. Because it has big graphic shapes, this image had esthetic appeal, but no one could see that the crew members are all elderly Women.

However, once they get past the prettiness, everyone who has handled the actual print zooms in on the crew-this is the hook in this photograph they respond to.

This seems reinforced by the competitions that I entered-accepted entries had big strong elements that would be apparent on a screen-

After BCC, I joined a print based critique group, and had the same experience. The conversations were lively, and John Priola, the facilitator was very good at initiating thoughtful and intelligent dialog within the group. My first two print critiques were quite stimulating, but due to a schedule mixup, I was unable to bring in prints of my 123 Project

 

Since it is on my website, we rounded up a projector, and viewed it that way. The results were embarrassing-

“What is this, some kind of road trip?”

“I can’t tell what I am looking at!”

I think this

and this

came off as just roadside architecture, and neon.

Until I told them the nature of the number of prints it is composed of (35), and showed them the actual size of the Carquinez Bridge shot they were unimpressed, but then they were only impressed by the numbers, not the projected image.

 

 

 

But there is so much detail, along with deep perspective in this photo that the print gets some attention-people in the same room with it tend to like it.

I later printed, mounted, and exhibited this same series locally, and it was pretty well received- I even sold a few prints from it.

It is possible the series is too personal, and isn’t that interesting to the general public. I have an opportunity to bring prints to another critique session at SF Camerawork, and am considering using the 123 set.

We will see the response.

 

Until then, I’m

 

 

BRASSAI

We recently visited the Brassai exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and it opened my eyes to the breadth and depth of his work. Brassai is best known for his “Paris at Night” photos, but he was so much more than that. I read somewhere that he started out as a painter, but was inspired to take up photography by Andre’ Kertesz*, his contemporary in the Paris art scene of the 1920s. Kertesz seemed to have a knack for photographically noticing an element of everyday life that “would make a good picture”, and then capturing it-two very distinct activities.

Brassai also had this talent –

To me, this one seems particularly “Kertesz like”

 

Many of Brassai’s photos were of  tradespeople just doing their job

 

The photo adjacent to this one had this guy and his crew eating their lunch. I hope they had Hand Sanitizer with them.

I should note that the museum staff gave me permission to take pics of these pics with my phone.

Apparently, Brassai photographed many society functions, but he is most famous for his pics of the “other” Paris, the one that exists after dark. As depicted, this is the world of night clubs and bars, prostitutes and criminals, and for a photographer, it also was a world of visually interesting characters and situations that made good pictures.

Monastic Brothel?

 

Considering the speed of photographic emulsions at the time, this atmosphere must have presented constant lighting challenges, and aside from the necessary tripod, the cameras, glass plates and carriers must have required a fair amount of muscle to lug around.

 

These two were my favorites

 

 

 

 

“Brassai” is running through February 17th.  If you were raised on traditional photography, and have a chance to visit San Francisco between now and then, put this show on your list.

 

I’m going back for a second look.

 

 

 

 

 

*Who wasn’t inspired by Kertesz?

Next Chapter

Photographically, these are not productive times for me. For a few years after my                   2010 Calendar stimulated me back into serious photographic activity, I got busy.                            I joined a camera club, discovered Vivian Maier and Garry Winogrand (along with others), and heard this term, “Street Photography” being used. I felt I could identify with Street Photography.

For the next few years, I carried a camera everywhere with me, and while I had done this in the past as well, I am happy to say that these last few years were were my most productive.               I don’t think my craft had improved, but I do believe that my sense of photography has matured.

I wanted to refresh my photographic experiences not by sticking my head in books, but getting out there and brushing up against real life photogs who were doing real work. I saw good work at the camera club, but their organizational model was so enveloped in formal judgings and accumulating competition points, that I didn’t attend any of those the meetings. The other meetings were open showings with member critiques, and though the work was very good, the members even used the same language as the judges, and to me it just didn’t have any soul.

I am not a technical photographer, but the camera club made me want to learn about printing, so I took some classes from the Art Department of a local community college. One  thing I learned is  that I am not good at printing, but I did find value in assignments and critiques. Assignments instilled discipline, and I loved the dialogue of a group critique, but as these classes transitioned from one instructor who used Photography to discuss Art, to another who used Art to discuss Photography, I found it no longer stimulating.

All of this time, I was carrying my camera, and shooting like crazy. I was also entering calls for judged exhibitions, got accepted for a few, and even sold some work. The money was nice, but the acceptance, the validation of my ideas, was the most satisfying part.

What I just described took place from about 2010 to 2017, then started to peter out. I had attended a couple of Street Photography exhibitions and lectures, and although the images were fresh, they didn’t look very different. It seemed as if Street Photography had evolved into a genre, and the practitioners were all using the same rule book.

I also unsuccessfully entered a few Arty competitions, but those applications were really just exhibition inertia.

As Terry Allen would say, “All that exhibiting was just too damned inhibiting for a beer drinkin’ regular guy like me.”.

I was already  pretty unproductive for awhile, then when I broke my camera, I lost all momentum. I already had a few projects on the back burner, and thought that since I was cameraless, I could shift my energy to finishing them up, but like Meier and Winogrand, shooting is much more fun than processing and editing.

I have always used my camera for visual note taking, but over time, this chore was transferred to my phone, as I realized it was more accessible. Now that I don’t have a camera with me, I use the phone for everything, but don’t find it satisfying for “serious” work-I am a viewfinder guy, and have difficulty composing and shooting with a touchscreen.

I haven’t given up on Photography, but I think I just need to find new direction. Daily, I still go to several photography web sites*, which take me in several directions. I visit galleries, have read a few books, and attend monthly member critiques at SF Camerawork. I believe something is stirring inside, and hopefully, it will soon bubble to the surface.

 

Stay tuned.

 

* The Online Photographer

* Shorpy

Petapixel 

* Shifter

 

 

 

I Broke My Camera

The triangle is the most stable structure- it’s a basic law addressing the strength of a form.

I was trying to squeeze some extra height out of my tripod by bringing the legs together, which raised the head, but also basically turned it into a monopod with three feet. I was distracted for a moment, and don’t know what happened next, but a crashing sound brought me back into the present. When I turned around, the tripod and camera were flat on the ground. When I powered the camera on, it would shut down after 7-8 seconds.

I take care of my tools, and although I am conscious of the cost to replace this camera, the object itself is not precious-it can be replaced. Every action has consequences, and I can accept the fact that I needed to make this tripod perform in a less than optimum way. I am a bit annoyed that, in the end, I chose a different photograph for my intended purpose, but that happens all the time anyway.

So what now?

Because I carry my camera everywhere, at first I felt the urge to replace it. But then I relaxed, saw this as an opportunity to not shoot for awhile, and put my photo energy to work on a few other projects.

Although I try to keep my photo library organized, bits and pieces get moved around, and duplicates in various file sizes and even formats get stored all over my computer and back up drive. When I need an image, sometimes it is difficult to determine which one is the final version, the one I intend to use, and which ones are just leftovers from the editing process. Here is one image stored in several locations, just on my laptop-

Here are more files of the same image, stored on my external hard drive-

Many of these folders each contain the many of the variations of individual images that are displayed below. they are the same image over and over again, hundreds of them, sometimes saved for only one purpose.

So many files, so little time.

I have developed a method of weeding our all of these duplicates, but it is mind numbing, and I can only clean up three or four at a time during my Friday night Blues show-

https://kcsm.org/jazzprograms/crazybouttheblues.php

Street Photography

The photographic landscape has been changing, and I’m feeling a bit disoriented.

 

I try to not think of things categorically, but it seems to be a human trait- What do you photograph”, or “What kind of photographer are you”. I don’t do landscapes, and I don’t do portraits. Because I am a trained photographer, I like to think my Travel photos are (technically) a bit better than average, but my Family pics are just as goofy as everybody else.

But when I am consciously trying to make a picture,  I think of them as Observations- a Point of View that hovers between Documentary and Journalism -what Walker Evans called Descriptive Photography.

A few years back I read an article about a Street Photography book that had this Matt Stuart photo on the cover

http://www.mattstuart.com/photography/tqzpf859421njkn58ppuql6y0xaw5b

I looked into Matt, and he appeared to be a guy who walks around with both a camera and a particular view of the World, and is pretty good at using one to capture his impression of the other.

About the same time, along with the rest of the World, I discovered Vivian Maier, one thing led to another, and this whole “Street Photography” thing started to take off for me, with Cartier-Bresson, Winogrand and others. Street photographers are folks who carry camera around with them to record the World as they see it. Street Photography seemed to be a non-categoric Category, one that felt good to be in-it was observational, and you couldn’t predefine the image.

I hung around Street Photography for a few years, scoured Web Sites and got a sense of who was doing what. The discussions were what could be expected- approach, attitude, privacy, and so on. Fortunately, for a field that is gear obsessed, Street shooter conversations about equipment were minimal. Photography for these folks it is about the intersection of place and time (or timing)-not gear, and not prescribed rules.

I recently read a quote that expressed this quite well. I apologize for not including my source, I don’t recall it-

“I don’t know whether this truncated elephant with arm unmanned was a one-shot or a whole roll.  I just know it was right.  And it illustrates what goes on in the photographer’s mind when he’s being totally unconcerned about composition, almost.  He’s being almost totally concerned about subject.  What comes through is the subject.  What comes through the subject is the way of seeing.” —Jonathan Brand wrote these comments on composition and subject in his Popular Photography Critic’s Choice column about Garry Winogrand’s photograph of an elephant’s trunk, exhibited at the 1964 Museum of Modern Art show The Photographer’s Eye.

I decided that I was a street Photographer.

 

I entered a few competitions-

2016

Streetfoto San Francisco International Street Photography

http://streetfoto.org/sf2016-contest-finalists/#single

2017

LACD Street Shooting Around the World

https://lacphoto.org/gallery/2017-street-shooting-around-the-world-exhibition-winners-in-show

Meanwhile, I was noticing a trend towards formalizing Street Photography into a genre. Many street photographers who were gathering around the Internet water cooler started forming groups, or collectives. This seemed a good thing because their purpose was to critique and help curate each other’s work.

Others created self-promoting websites that seem to have evolved into large mirrors of their own self worth. There started to be Fanboys who wallowed in didactic conversations.There was some talk of Gear-“you have to use 28 or 35mm, you have to get up close”.

There were Rules.

Street Photography turned into a category.

Oops!… I Did It Again

“A Kiss on Sunset Boulevard” was also chosen by Juror Gus Powell for the current “Street Shooting Around the World ” show at the Los Angeles Center for Photography-

https://lacphoto.org/lacps-fourth-annual-street-shooting-around-the-world-exhibition-2018/

Coincidentally, I was in LA for the opening of last year’s show-

https://lacphoto.org/lacps-third-annual-street-shooting-around-the-world-exhibition-2017/

and I was walking over to a Wine Bar that I had discovered on Sunset Boulevard. I was in the crosswalk when I saw this couple making out in this alcove of the Amoeba Records store. The traffic light was changing, so I really only had seconds to take this shot and get out of the middle of that six lane street.

 

This show runs through March 18th.