Boyle Heights to Venice Beach

 

Boyle Heights to Venice Beach

Labor Day Weekend, 2017

My son Scott and I are celebrating 25 years of conducting classes and workshops in social documentary photography/street photography. We have found an effective process for helping photographers find and use their own unique personal vision.

In 1995 we conducted an experimental class at Pasadena City College. Together as a team with the 25 people who had signed up for the class, we formed an imaginary agency, with the idea of duplicating some of the working conditions of a top photographers’ agency in carrying out a difficult professional assignment.

During the eight three-hour classroom sessions we discussed ways of working together to achieve the goal of the assignment, which was a “Day in the Life of Pasadena.” With lectures, slide shows and discussions we learned new ways to become faster with our brains and our cameras and we prepared for the big day. Twenty-five photographers took the class with the idea and hope of improving their photographic skills which was a big factor in the success in the project. The photographers were hungry for knowledge and worked well with others. Together with smiles and a big enthusiasm we set out on the big day with many ideas and hopes for our photo essay of one day in Pasadena

The experiment worked very well. The 25 students came together as a team and acted like a top photographer’s agency to complete a difficult pro-style assignment that resulted in a successful exhibit at Pasadena’s Armory Center for the Arts.

Scott and I recently published our first book project, The Downtown Los Angeles Challenge with John Free, where forty photographers came together for a series of talks and discussions with slide shows and demonstrations in a workshop-like atmosphere, before heading out into the streets of downtown L.A. for two days. Forty eight hours later a collection of hundreds of photographs had been made and were edited down to only the very best that were included into a fine book of photographs made by a passionate team of dedicated photojournalists. The planning, the preparation and the dedicated teamwork of the photographers produced a very effective body of photographs, which resulted in a wonderful photography book that documents DTLA in a moment in time. Here is a link to the completed book  http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1253739

The Project41 chevy

To celebrate our 25 years of working together, and to build on our experience with our first book project, Scott and I have decided to offer photographers the chance at total FREEdom in their photography with a new project titled Boyle Heights to Venice and the Impact of Housing, Immigration and Transportation. The big dream many photographers think about is the chance to work on a top professional photojournalistic assignment with the pressure of big money, a time consideration and also to build their reputation as a photographer that results in publication. This adds up to a large amount of mental stress and some anguish the student or average photographers never endures. We have found that this kind of pressure is the secret of becoming a better photographer.

The project we are now offering will be a fine holiday for professional photojournalists, and a great opportunity for all participants, a vacation of pleasure to be able to photograph in a visually rich area and contribute to a generous humanitarian book project. Everyone will have a chance to work with other photographers as a team to document the daily life of a section of a big city. For three days we will spread out over an area running from Boyle Heights to Venice Beach. We will photograph the rich cultural diversity of the City of Angels and everyone will tell their own your story about how housing, immigration and transportation are impacting the diverse communities of Los Angeles.

We will prepare for our time in the streets with lectures, discussions and demonstrations. All photographers will be given assignments and will be encouraged to incorporate their own unique personal vision, and stories they encounter during the three days, unlike many pro’s who have to adhere to the wishes of their clients. We will all have the great chance to work as a team in the photographic process of making an important photojournalistic photography book documenting life in Los Angeles in 2017.

This will be a FREEing of photographers. A chance for photographers to work on an important photography book project with their own unique personal vision and the opportunity to work with many photographers who have a similar intent and passion and who share the desire to contribute to the contents of an important volume of photographs.

We chose a section of Los Angeles from Boyle Heights to Venice Beach as the location for this project to show off its wide range of ethnicities and cultures that will place the photographers into an environment that is most conducive to the making of powerful and meaningful photographs, up close and personal for the photographer and the subject. As photographers we are always striving to know more about the subject and how to react to the subject and make a single image of the essence of that subject, moving constantly in time, distance and pace while keeping pace with it all and keeping pace with ourselves.   Dancing with joy at knowing we are where we should be and doing what we should do and at the same time knowing we are attempting to produce something far bigger than ourselves.

What is the dream?

The dream of the would-be photojournalist is to be put down anywhere and be able to survive and produce effective photographs of subjects or events that other people should see because the photos show such visual intensity and be allowed to photograph with his or her own unique personal vision. The ideal dream project must be fun. For it to be important it must be good for humanity and the photographs must be good enough to serve photography itself.

The dream is to be trusted to do important work, to work on valuable projects and to be FREE to photograph utilizing your own unique personal vision.

Are the dreams of the dancers any different than the dreams of the photographer or hot rodder?

The dancer dreams of higher kicks, the photographer dreams of being a top pro. The hot rodder dreams of producing more horsepower. What are the dreams for and why do they seem so far off from what is real in our lives? Do we ask too much in our dreams? The dancer and the others dream of being more proficient at what is the most difficult part of what they do. High kicks, a more effective photograph, more horsepower.

The dreams help us if we dare test them in our real lives and in the real world. Can we bring the dreams closer together with what is real with us? Are the dreams honest in good moral order, or are they unrealistic and selfish in nature?

For this project the dream is to photograph intently with passion for three days. The length of time, the limited geographic area, the concentration on the impact of immigration, housing and transportation on the community and the friendly competition are all factors that will add up to a fantastic celebration of each photographer’s personal passion for, and commitment to, the photographic process and of using it to promote a better and loving understanding between us all.

All photographers are invited to join us in a fun experience for the pro photojournalists and a wonderful learning experience for the student. We will work together to photograph as a team in an agency to produce a dream of a book. A book of photographs worthy of the title incorporates effective photographs that serve humankind and result in more compassionate understanding and display the highest skill in the medium of social documentary/street photography/photojournalism.

I dream not only as a photographer, but also teacher or coach. What is the dream of someone who would instruct or help someone else? To place the student in the environment this is most conducive to making effective photographs. To place the photography student into the coach’s dream. As a coach I wish for my students to find love in photography and in self. As a teacher of photography I have been coaching for many years and have slowly built up this dream higher and higher. My dream of being a coach and the dream of my son being my fellow coach are the same. The dream to bring any 60 photographers together in a temporary FREE agency of photographers, similar to other large photo agencies, like Magnum, Black Star, Sigma, etc., large agencies with many talented photographers will bring success to a project more than just a few photographers working independently.

The FREE agency will join together in a team of mutual cooperation, with the intent of producing a book in just three days.

The little secret that Scott and I discovered many years ago in Pasadena is now going to be put to use once again to produce great experience and a meaningful book.

I hope you will join us for this “dream.” Details are on my “Workshop” page

Posted in Social Documentary/Street Photography, The Human Condition, Workshops Tagged , , , , , |

PRACTICE

Practice

practice 1practice 2

For millions of years ever since our species first emerged from the darkness of the undeveloped brain and slowly began to think and to imagine and to wonder what was and is, and also what could be, we have been a species of innovation and invention, learning to change things as they are to what they can become to enhance or ease our life of toil and existence.

 

The first ring of stones assembled around the fire, for containment and safety, was seen and valued and copied by others. The first crude scratching of an image in the mud with a pointed stick and there was art for all to marvel at and then employ for the good of the mind, to learn and to discover the great tool of the imagination, which enables us to value and to share and to lend our discoveries and talents to others, and even to pitch in to help our neighbor construct a circle of stones around his campfire.

 

In my time I have been helped by others to learn things that I held important to me. I learned in the fifties from Andy Stoyak how to shrink the stretch out of the twisted metal of a car body with torch, hammer, dolly and a wet rag. In the early seventies I saw the paint jobs of Junior Conway, and from seeing his great skill with sanding block and spray gun I learned what was expected of me as body man and car painter. In my search for photographic meaning and craft I discovered the photographs and words of Henri Cartier-Bresson and knew better what was expected of me and how high the craft of photography could rise.

 

I learned because I was hungry for insight into the things that were important to me. I have advanced slowly up the tall ladder of skill in craft and enlightenment by looking at things and comparing them with mind and wonderment. I enjoy sharing some of what I have learned with others like myself who search for meaning and insight into the creative processes that we use to enrich our lives and the lives of others.

 

I have included here two photographs as examples of my process, or technique, of photographic expression. One photograph shows my friend Richard Thompson practicing. It was made in New Orleans in 1996. I had woken up early and was headed out of the hotel to prowl the streets of the French Quarter with my camera and imagination and when I passed the open door of Richard’s room I came upon this sight of him playing his guitar practicing for a gig that coming evening. Somehow I knew the importance of the scene and quickly made a photograph, which was used later as the cover art for his album called “Small Town Romance.” Just a quick look with my photographic imagination and a snap at 500th of a second and a vision was secured which will last forever, for me and for you and hopefully for all of us to know the importance of practice.

 

The snap I made of one of the finest musicians I have ever heard was done quickly, but with a practiced thought process that I had developed over the years. This process has enabled me to only include the needed elements, factors and details, which were arranged effectively to give the viewer enough visual and aesthetic information to understand the meaning of the scene, my intent in making it and the visual elements I chose to include in the frame of my camera at that instant in time and place.

 

Practice is an important part of my process for making an image which has the power to speak to the viewer and to provide a better and more complete understanding of my intent when making it.

I practice by walking with my camera and with my imagination in full operational mode. It is an intense process that removes me from conscious thought and takes me to a magic place of discovery in my own world of what there is around me and what I can make of it with my camera. My goal is to share my feelings about what I encounter visually by compressing what I see into the narrow confines of the small frame of my camera’s viewfinder. I take all that I visualize and sense and then include what is important for the viewer to see, and what I need to exclude from the frame, that might be a distraction from the other elements in the scene that best describe my feeling and my intention for the image.

 

I learned a long ago that for me there is no “composition” in my photographic process, only facts. Visible facts that when combined effectively in the frame produce a composition automatically. The word composition is a confusing one for me, but visual facts that make up the subject tell me much more about the finished structure of my intended image and the word facts, and the collecting of facts in the viewfinder, help to guide me in the making of an effective composition.

 

I use a Nikon F-3 because the frame in my viewfinder shows me 100% of what I will see in the resulting negative. Nothing more, nothing less. No surprises by something omitted or included that I did not plan on. Very few cameras will show 100% in the viewfinder and that is why I use the F-3 which accurately shows me the subject. I do not crop my photos and that is the reason I need 100% viewfinder coverage. The black lines that surround my photographs are made by enlarging the negative carrier frame in my enlarger to show the clear edge of the negative, which prints black in my resulting photograph. The black lines are always in my mind’s eye when I am framing my photographs.

 

People see me walking and constantly bringing my camera up to my eye and maybe thinking I use a lot of film, but I am only practicing most of the time and not making photographs. Practicing framing and knowing exactly  I hope what the frame sees, as opposed to my eyes. I use very little film, but am always practicing with the framing and focus. Practicing for me is essential. Basketball, Springboard diving, playing music and making photographs means practicing in order to produce a finished product to my best expectations. The image before me is too important to rely on chance to capture with mind and camera. A slow mind and a slow hand mean disaster for me.

 

The second image of the two boys, the dog and the departing figure was made in 1983 in Pasadena California. I use it to demonstrate the accurate framing, focusing and timing that constant practice has allowed me to develop. I have included in the frame what I determined was important for the viewer to see and feel. The figure leaving the frame on the right was an important element for me to include. It gives a mysterious quality to the photograph and is an example of the inclusion of the elements, factors and details that I try to make sure are in all of my photographs because I have always remembered what Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote, “it’s all in the details.”

Posted in Street Photography Tips, Street Photography Workshops Tagged , , , , , |

PHOTOGRAPHER AS MACHINE

race carIn my 46 years as a social documentary/street photographer I have noticed firsthand the big difference between these two types of photography. Yes, they are both quite similar in that there is no posing or anything artificially contrived or set up. They are both involved with making meaningful photographs taken from real life situations the photographer encounters. The big difference that I have found between the two is pressure. Working on documentary projects with the intention of telling a true story as the photographer believes it to be, subjects the determined photographer to pressure. The more important the subject, the more intense the pressure, shaking, sweating pressure which might affect the photographer’s ability to work effectively.

 

On April 30th 1945, the great photographer Lee Miller entered the liberated German concentration camp at Dachau to make photographs. The terrible sight of the horrible conditions caused her to transform herself into a machine like mode of concentration to effectively photograph the conditions there without succumbing to emotional devastation which might affect her ability to photograph.

 

The photographer’s brain, heart, hands and eyes in coordination with each other, enable the photographer to reach his or her most effective area of performance.

 

When the pressure is on, and the photographer’s brain starts to forget some of the purpose and technique required for an effective operation of thought and control, I find that transforming myself into a photo machine can prove more effective in remembering important considerations regarding the task at hand.

 

My brain must be told what is expected of it as it pertains to my photographic efforts and it must be clear in knowing what I intend to do with my eyes, heart and hands, for the purpose of reacting to a subject in order to make a meaningful photograph, which might affect the viewer of it in an emotional manner.

 

Comparing photography with other endeavors that I have experienced in my life has proved to be a valuable way for me to prepare my brain for this challenge. In this case I would like to compare my involvement with machines, which have played a large part in my life. Besides being a photographer, I am also an automobile restoration specialist, repairing the damaged bodies of classic automobiles and rebuilding their engines. Many of the cars I worked on were very valuable and a mistake on my part could result in serious damage to the car and would be a costly loss. To approach the intended repairs, I would assume the character of a machine, assessing the damage in a logical manner and proceeding with the repairs very carefully. The machine has no emotional attachments and only works in a rational manner. I would carefully estimate the damage and how it was caused and then how to repair the damage. There was no emotion on my part, only hard cold logic as it applied to the damage, which could, for example be the reshaping of the steel parts of the car’s body.

 

I like to pretend my brain is a machine which is made of several parts or areas of importance in the making of an image. I must determine how to connect these areas together to work in coordination with each other. The body is also a machine of muscles and limbs, which must be trained to work in a coordinated manner to complete the task the brain has decided on. The signal from my brain to the various muscles to operate the camera, which is also a machine, is based on my intent for the photograph. The signal and the mechanical functions of my body must be inspected carefully in order to reduce wasted movements, which could get in the way of effective operation of the camera. No wasted time or movement to hamper my intent in making an image of a complicated subject, which I reduce to the main parts of interest to me and then how to present it to the viewer in and effective manner.

A machine is designed to complete a task. Like the machine, the photographer’s brain and physical body are connected together with various parts that will work together in a balanced and coordinated manner to achieve a certain task, which in this case, is to complete the operation of making a meaningful photograph which expresses the full nature of the subject. The brain in this endeavor is composed of several areas that with a coordinated function, work together in unison to perform the task.

 

Each of the areas or parts of the brain are taken apart and inspected for weak areas and then modified for the job they will be called upon to with, in coordination with the other parts, such as the eyes, hands, heart and soul. Some of these parts must be changed over or modified to suit the task. The average human brain has a few weak areas, which are caused by all we have been trained to think about our actions as they pertain to polite society. Being trained from birth to not stare or intrude into the subject, are beliefs that might have an adverse effect on the total operation of the machine. These beliefs must be taken apart and inspected carefully, to modify them for the job, which in this case is to move in close to the subject without being hampered by illogical beliefs concerning polite interaction with other humans. The parts are then adjusted, to work in a balanced and coordinated manner with each other,

 

Another example is the racing car which is very much like the educated and well adjusted photographer. The car is intended to complete a task, which in this case, is to compete with other similar cars to win a race. Like the photographer, the car is composed of many parts that must work together in a balanced and coordinated manner. The car is completely disassembled so that each part can be inspected for areas of weakness that might compromise the performance of the assembled car. Some of the parts must be modified to suit the conditions under which it will be operated. The whole idea is to increase the performance of the car, so that it will be competitive with the other cars. The car and its modifications and adjustments, are performed by humans.

 

Similarly, the adjustments to the brain, eyes, soul, heart and hands are adjusted by the photographer to act together effectively to complete the task.

 

The race car and the photographer are constantly improved upon and adjusted to suit their purpose. The machine is not encumbered by emotion. The photographer being human is constantly moved by emotional reactions and affected heavily by the negative subconscious brain. With training and adjustment, the photographer’s brain can become an effective tool in the making of superior photographs, which reveal the subject in a clear and simple to understand manner. The race car’s engine, suspension and steering together with the skill of the driver enable the car to reach its most effective operation.

 

The training and practice enable the photographer to photograph effectively without being constrained by emotional responses that hinder the photographer’s purpose. However, the good emotional responses still remain for the photographer to use to advantage. Like the race car, adjustment and constant practice enable optimum performance.

 

In this photograph, two men are preparing their sprint car for competition at Ascot Park in Gardena California in the early eighties. To be competitive, the car needed to be adjusted to the conditions of its service on a constantly changing dirt track and also for the length of the race.

Posted in Social Documentary/Street Photography, Street Photography Tips, Street Photography Workshops, The Human Condition Tagged , , , , , |

PARADES

parade 1

This photograph was made before the start of the annual Kingdom Day parade in Los Angeles honoring Dr. Martin Luther King. In my photographs, I try to provide enough information so the viewer can quickly see the various elements, factors and details which were carefully framed in the viewfinder. I also try to establish relationships between the details and the center of interest. The great photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson has said the power of a photograph depends on the effective use of the details. “It’s all in the details.”

 

If you join me for my DC workshop in May part of the workshop will involve parades. As photographers we will be insiders, not the outsiders that the spectators are.

 

Parades to me have always been silly, dress up, pompous charades, with loud thumping bands and over done hats and cartoonish military style costumes, all color and sequins to make it all pretty. Huge groups marching like toy soldier dreams we might have had, all moving together as one in a machine which is supposed to charge up the people who stand aside and photograph it as they strut by in measured and very strict discipline that reduces each member of the large group to an almost nothing cog in the machine and each face and personality hidden by the outrageous costume.

 

I like to arrive before the parade while the players are arriving and getting ready, instruments just lying around. The humans come out of their hats here and are all pumped and focused on the parade. I am only focused on the humanness of them and I’m occupied with the hope I can catch some of this goodness and this real humanness that is so vital. Vital for me to stumble on and vital for me to comprehend the important significance the event before me holds for a visual message given out to the world to hopefully look at and be better for it. That is why I like the beginning and the end.

 

This for me is more thrilling to find realism about bands that are seen when the bands are not bands yet. Just humans dressing up and I am there with them to feel the intentness and the excitement they and I hold because of being part of it and maybe taking something home from it all.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Social Documentary/Street Photography, Street Photography Tips, The Human Condition, Workshops Tagged , , |

QUESTIONS

waveOur friend Henri Cartier-Bresson told us that when it comes to our photography there are only questions. No answers, only questions.

Try asking some questions to your photographic being in a rational manner, if it is possible to be rational when thinking about your photography. Rational thought in such a creative endeavor? Most of my photos are planned and executed in a rational manner, as far as intent and performance at making a meaningful and very expressive photograph is concerned. I try to think like a machine and remember all the steps there are to be looked at and considered and all those thoughts that the subject brings to mind in that quick impulsive instant when the subject is in the right balance to my mind and emotion and makes the most sense to me.

Is that what I do, I asked myself. The answer was disturbing to me at first, because the answer to the question I posed to myself was answered in the negative. No, that’s not what the game is to me. The game is what will the viewer of my photograph see or feel? There is a big difference here in my job as I know it to be. My job is to convey something of value to the viewer, not to me. My performance with the camera and mind is for them. Always for them, never for me. Hopefully my photograph will speak to them or move them in some way and if that is true then the photograph I made is very good for me, in knowing that it might have provided something of value for them, always for them.

I found friendship in an unlikely place where I met a man with a wave. It was hard for me to understand his smile as he sat in filth in a freight car headed to unknown places in his life. We were true friends for about 3 seconds as his ride in a gondola car passed under the bridge and gone. I was at a limited vantage point and knew that I must include details that would provide enough information to the viewer, so as to better understand the intent of my photograph.

Photography has brought me to many heart wrenching yet beautiful pleasures for my heart. Photography has allowed me to share these special moment with you and for all.

Posted in Social Documentary/Street Photography, Street Photography Tips

IN DREAMS

Robert Frank 1996

Robert Frank 1996

Today, like many days, I listened to one of my all time favorite songs to help get the juices flowing and to prepare for a long stint in my darkroom mess in the garage. A mess yes, but so many wonderful and moving memories of things produced there in that black hole.

Trying to decide how to write this blog, Roy Orbison and his greatness brought me to tears of joy just by listening to him and then knowing maybe that I could borrow something from him.

That very moving song he wrote and sang for me today about his dreams touched me so deeply that I had to write something of value to give back. I want to give us all a boost, just like the boost I get from In Dreams.

Many of us have dreamed of being a talented photojournalist and racing to various exciting spots in the world to make very exciting and meaningful photographs and then getting paid handsomely for our efforts. In dreams we enter that magic world of greatness in our photography. In dreams, we find subject most everywhere, but in our waking search for subject, we are baffled by not being able to recognize potential important for humanity subjects that are mostly found by the top “pros.”

Let me free the bored and dreaming photographers who are lost in the search for the “big time” photograph, that may have the power to move the viewer with its fineness and goodness and the great vision and skill from down deep in an area of ourselves we have little control over, but knowing that the heart and the camera are in the right place at the right time to produce an image that will bring a new level of understanding to all who view our image.

The great Robert Frank (shown in my photo from 1996) gave his advice to us all, when he wrote many years ago, that we should all be detectives when it comes to finding important subject.

So, why dream a dream of greatness, when the greatness in photography is next door? Next door there is a young boy who is visiting his grandmother for the day. The boy has come a thousand miles to be with his “Granny” for the day. Just a day. The old woman who has not seen him for so long is all smiles, with tears of joy in her eyes, for the apple of her tired eyes, but tomorrow her grandson will be gone.

All those dreams of being an important photographer doing important work can come to reality by jumping over the fence between your house and hers and making wonderful loving photographs of the old woman and her grandson Tommy. You explain that you are a photography student and that you want to make some photographs of her and Tommy. The camera must be close to the love and devotion that they both have for each other on this very happy day of two people and their bond. A bond which will be severed tomorrow when Tommy leaves.

The photographs have been made and Tommy has left the old woman alone with her grief. The film has been sent out for developing with the request that two of every image be made.

Now the greatness comes, when you give the old woman the wonderful photographs that you have made. Just watch her eyes while she looks at the images of her and her grandson and you will know the great gift that you and the camera have given her and then knowing that she will put the images up on her mantle and have Tommy every day now because you took Robert’s advice and became a detective, finding important subject next door, when all the time you might have thought that great pictures are only made by the top pros, but none for an average photographer like yourself.

The tears of joy that run down the cheeks of the old woman while she looks at your photographs of her and the most important person in her life will prove how important it was for you to have the courage and the insight to jump over her fence and begin to photograph greatness next door. The great pictures are always next door, if we become detectives. Every neighbor has a story, but the photographer must believe that greatness can come to them if they have the courage and the heart to do what is right. To do what photography is best at doing. To show man to man and each man to himself

And then to give them two prints, so that they can send a picture to their grandmother. Greatness is right next door.

What you give to others will always be yours.

Posted in Social Documentary/Street Photography, Street Photography Tips, The Human Condition

WONDERING

WONDERING

Wondering what to wonder about is a wonderful part of my process for making a photograph.

There is the impulsive grab shot or photographic guess and there is the well thought about photograph done very quickly and mostly in the mind.

I have often wondered about what the famous photographers wondered about when making an image. I would love to know what Cartier-Bresson was wondering about when he made his famous image of the man jumping over the puddle behind the train station in Paris in 1932. The work will show what he wondered about. The puddle, an obstacle for man. Man confronting the obstacle life has put in his path and is sailing over the obstacle, for now, but is likely to get his feet wet anyway.

Looking closely, we can see a poster in the background that has a figure which is dancing like the man dancing over the puddle. So many details wondered about and relationships wondered about. The many details that have been included in the frame had been noticed by Bresson and wondered about as to their value to the center of interest, which are the man and his battle with the puddle.

So many factors to wonder about; wondering how much of each detail to show in the frame, and wondering which details to exclude from the frame because they may detract from the center of interest by distracting the viewers eye. Wondering is a form of calculating, a conversation with yourself. Hopefully, it will be a logical and helpful conversation between our everyday polite selves and between our photographer selves.

Some find it difficult to argue with themselves.

How many factors do I wonder about when considering making a photograph? First is wondering about my direction in photography. Where am I going with the camera and my mind? Wondering where I can do the most good for me and for the viewers of my photographs and for photography itself and all the wonderful potential it holds for all of us to wonder about.

I wonder about what the viewer of my image will think or feel. I wonder how I can make the viewer come in and look closer. I constantly wonder about what I should wonder about. More things to wonder about. The famous wondered more. You can see it in their photographs.

I wonder about making a list, (I love lists) of things wondered about. I wonder about a subject that has caught my attention. I wonder if there is something there for me. I wonder about relationships between elements, factors and details that are always present in a subject.

I wonder where I should point the camera, after wondering about the relationship between center of interest and background. I wonder if the back ground is right for the image or wondering if I should move the camera an inch this way or that way, wondering what the effect will be.

Wondering if the viewer will notice that which the photographer feels is important for the viewer to notice. Wondering how to emphasize the center of interest. Wondering what will happen in a second or two and wondering where to place the focus.

Wondering when to press the button. The list will go on and on, the more wondering about wondering the photographer wonders about, the lists grows and grows about things wondered about. Every day the list is wondered about and added to.

Wonder about how you are photographing and where the problem areas are in technique or mind control. Wondering is mind control and needs to be practiced.

The effective street photographer must wonder very quickly to coincide with time and space and feeling and hope, mixed with a loving heart and the intent to create wonderful images for mankind to grow from and cherish with admiration and agreement, for whatever happiness or hope the photograph provides them.

In the photo above, I wondered what a beautiful young girl like her was doing in this awful place, where I photographed for ten years, but only spent ten minutes with her. She was running away from a broken home she said. I wondered about how to photograph her in her plight. I wondered about the details, her belongings, the train moving past. I wondered whether there would be a man in the caboose looking out the window, as they often did, and I waited for the end of the train to appear from behind the steel walls of the bridge that it was crossing. I wondered about the gamble of me waiting for the extra element of a man looking out the window.

I still wonder about her and the ten minutes we spent together forty years ago by the side of the main line tracks in and out of L.A. I wonder if she is well and happy and I wonder if she might someday see the photograph of her that I made.

 

 

 

Posted in Nikon, Social Documentary/Street Photography, Street Photography Tips, The Human Condition Tagged |

MAGIC NIKON

NIKONS

Happy New Year for me marks 45 years and my love affair with photography. I celebrate by toasting photography itself, knowing that it has steered my life to many special places in my heart that I was unaware even existed. Great moments of exhilaration and euphoria. The camera has given me this license to go seek out rare but significant events, subjects or things that should be seen by all, in order to know us all a little better.

The thrill comes, when I am witnessing greatness before me. Greatness in whatever I can find in a subject, with the idea of showing it to you and all. My photographs must make this communication or they are failures. Much of the excitement within me while photographing comes from knowing that my effort to record these events is a noble effort from me to mankind, and knowing that makes me feel better about myself.

I wish to start the New Year with some FREE advice, learned over the past 45 years.This tip, is for all photographers, but especially the younger photographers or those just starting out and also for street photographers who are frustrated at the tedium and loneliness of a solitary search for something you cannot predict, or even know what the subject will be, and then very little time when the subject presents itself. A brief second or two and it’s all over. Either its gone forever or caught in the confines of a camera frame just as the subject sparkles in its intensity. Win or lose. Mostly lose. Even with this frustration I keep doing it, because I consider street photography to be at the very top of the pyramid of skill and visual sophistication and value. The king. The very most difficult thing I have ever done. One image to tell some great story.

For the frustrated and confused street photographer, I will offer this heartfelt advice. Make a photo essay. The photo essay is a series of several photographs and sequence with the idea of revealing the heart of a subject. The essay allows the photographer more time with the subject. Time is something the street photographer does not have. This extra time is what makes all the difference, but doesn’t make it easier. The extra time allows the photographer to get closer and closer to the subject, both physically and mentally.  Over time, the subject will become more used to the photographer’s presence and the subject will relax and become natural and not afraid of the camera.

The photographer who makes several exposures over a period of time is all warmed up and ready to react when the great image presents itself. Click, but wait, there is more. The essay within an essay. You work away at this thing and something happens that you could not have planned by yourself, but came out of the blue to you like some magic genie.

One such thing happened to me and it turned out to be one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, so moving and magical as it was. (Some of the photos I made that day are at the end of this blog).

This happened 40 years ago, while I was photographing on assignment the American long haul truck driver. I was headed home to the L.A. area after having been on the road for a week, covering the western states and had one more stop to make, Ontario, California, the largest truck stop of them all. If you can make the westward pull over the desert, you might be able to make Ontario for rest and repair. Chugging over the interstate, hauling my ass to the golden state.

Acres of asphalt and a hundred trucks in long rows, lined up like a land rush, or the knights at Agincourt. Big trucks from all over come to roost and let go for awhile.

The drivers in boots and large belts stood around in small groups laughing and impressing their friends by picking on me because I stood out like a sore thumb, with my three cameras swinging around and what the hell are you taking pictures of and you better not take any pictures of me or I….but no problem, they are just guys like me and I have learned from the street to be prepared for this kind of thing and I am able to turn it all around to my advantage without any one getting hurt. Go right up to the guy and in front of his friends ask him if he could do that again because we are looking for people to be in a film and we pay big money…etc. Turn the whole thing around having fun and getting close because the guy had to act cool with me in front of his friends, or they would think him uncool.

I was walking around but really working with mind and eye to find subject. Before I even lift the camera to my eye there has to be at least three things that in some way relate; three relationships that will help my essay on the true center of a trucker and his world, truck and road and alone with self.

Looking down the neat rows of tractors, one stood out like me. The truck was an old Peterbilt cab over and it looked out of place with its cab tilted forward which allowed access to the motor and which usually meant trouble. Breakdown. Getting closer I saw her walk around the front of the cab. Beautiful hair, big hoop earrings and perfume mixed with diesel, she was a female trucker when back in ‘75 there were very few female truckers. This was a man’s world and a man’s job. Hell, it takes a man to hold down one of these mothers. She was broke down stranded and had little hope of getting her load to where it was supposed to go. The tow in had cost her all she had. No money for a mechanic that wants cash and no one to turn to.

The men were confused and stayed away. I saw her greatness, when I saw her hands and how she had raised up the cab and started to look around at what might be the problem with her truck, livelihood and home. A real woman. She rose up against adversity with a smile and those hoop earrings, which never seemed to get in the way and which might have kept the men wondering about her. Was she a truckstop hooker, or was that her rig?

Then magic happened. Several men started walking towards us and the truck. One of the men told me later that they had been curious about what I was photographing and that made them come closer. The camera made them come. The magic Nikon brought them in to where they belonged to help this wonderful woman, their sister. The camera and the act of me photographing her implied some kind of importance and the men sensed it.

I told her story to them and each one left to get tools to help. I watched with tears and I managed to make 22 photographs over the three hours of this magnificent event sent from above for me to watch and be a part of the spectacular celebration of stranger coming with strangers to help strangers with their lives which so helps us all and I was there to record the instants that emotionally moved me the most. I made these photos for mankind to share in love and understanding, with the hope that everyone could have a camera and the desire to photograph his neighbor back and forth together with a rhythm of love and a harmony of vision.

There is my story of the magic Nikon and what happened in ’75 when I found an essay within an essay and I was able to be a small part of greatness in mankind.

I never learned her name, but they fixed her up and got her back on the road and everyone went their separate ways, feeling a little better about themselves for what they had done. Maybe her name was Dorothea.

I use the name in dedication to another wonderful woman who is always with me in spirit. Her name is Dorothea Lange and she was a big, big deal in documentary photography. She also photographed the strength and greatness of mankind, those who were broken down by the side of the road, but who were made more human by her photographs.

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Posted in Nikon, Social Documentary/Street Photography, Street Photography Tips, Street Photography Workshops, The Human Condition Tagged , , , , , , , , |

TO PHOTORAPH WHAT IS BELOW THE THRESHOLD OF VISUAL PERCEPTION

Cartier-Bresson said that what he likes most about a photograph is what is not visible.

The great photographer Robert Frank said that we must be detectives. Snooping and probing, always looking for insight into the process of making meaningful photographs.

Reading through my notes from about two years ago, I came across the phrase “to photograph what is below the threshold of visual perception” scribbled in my moronic squiggle, which I felt would have enormous significance for millions of photographers who, like me, are searching for a bigger awareness of what can make a photograph that has the power to move the viewer emotionally.  Here it was for all my fellow photographers who are searching for strength in their photographs.

Here is another quote that I think really pertains to what we are trying to understand, that is, how to portray what is invisible.

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

We struggle in our climb up the ladder towards personal excellence in photography. Sometimes a year or two of study and practice will allow us to advance one more rung of the ladder. Sometimes we will achieve much useful knowledge from unusual places. This time its in the form of a group of well chosen words that make up a phrase that when read and reread, and then read again and again, until gradually the brain accepts this new information. The brain must be helped along, because it has had little training for this kind of mental reaction and function as it pertains to our photography.

To photograph what is below the threshold of visual perception. These fifty-three letters arranged into ten words can lift us all upwards on that steep ladder, a new plateau of awareness of what can be achieved in the photographic medium.  The one dimensional photograph can be made to affect the viewer on an emotional level. Something implied and not visible in the photograph, but felt emotionally, can make the photograph a treat for the heart as well as the eyes. Write it down; carry it with you, read it often. Take this new dimension of knowledge into your photographs and remember the day you found this new area of expression.

My technique for achieving this invisible factor in a photograph is to supply the viewer with only the bare essentials as they apply to visual information in the photograph.  It is important to attempt to narrow down the view to only the important facts and their relationship to each other and to the center of interest, or main subject. I always try to include at least three things in my photographs.

I use a 55mm lens which allows me to eliminate any distractions, narrow down to the essentials and portray relationships that have been established through effective framing, focusing and timing, and imply some form of connection with each other. Magnetic waves, or some type of an invisible aura to tie the facts together, and in doing so, imply something which is not visible in the print. My goal is to affect the viewer’s emotions and to connect and the brain and its reaction to what the eyes see and to what the heart feels.

Here are two examples of this concept.

Dublin 1970The time was late afternoon in Dublin. My reaction to this scene was based on all that my eyes had seen and my heart felt in a lifetime of 29 years. Tired of riding the bike alone, the child runs ahead with the other children, but what about the bike? Dad will bring it along for you. Dad is always there to bring the bike along for you. I was aware of this when I made the image and I knew that I must give the viewer of my photograph enough visual information for an understanding to be felt. To provide the correct or effective type of information and relationships between elements and factors in the scene must be established. These relationships, if effective, will lead to an emotional reaction by the viewer. The relationships in this photograph speak for themselves, but dad is there and the bike is with him as the kids run ahead into the cathedral rays of light that seem to bless the scene with Irish softness and a love for their children at the end of their playing.

 

 

homeless woman, human conditionMany years ago in Venice Beach California this woman was reading a letter and I happened to be passing by. My interest halted me there as I tried to make something of the scene. I established in my mind, the relationship of the old woman, the shopping cart which gave more information and the plastic gloves that indicated mental illness. Still, there was not enough there for me to make a photo yet. I needed more. My eyes went to the letter and I saw the “Dear Mom” and it melted my heart and I made the image and moved on. Later, after I made the first print, I was able to read parts of the letter and my heart was melted again. The “Dear Mom,” the gloves, the clothes, the shopping cart and the letter, which had been folded and unfolded for seven years by the time the image was made. With a magnifying glass, I could make out the date of the letter. Seven years of reading a heartbreaking letter to herself. All alone with only the letter to hold and wonder at with that fading mind and heart.

 

 

Posted in Social Documentary/Street Photography, Street Photography Tips, The Human Condition

BUILDING SUBJECT USING THE CHALLENGE OF THREE

Building Subject Using the Challenge of Three: Examples from Barcelona and Lisbon

I made these photographs during my recent three-day workshops in Barcelona and Lisbon. I would not have made (or printed) some of them if I had been working on my own, but I was playing my game, the Challenge of Three  with my students as a way to warm up for a day of street photography.

I developed the game to help my students find subject and then photograph the subject in the most effective manner very quickly, because time waits for no one. Sometimes a potential subject comes our way and we miss the shot because we are not ready and the visual masterpiece is lost forever.

We must be ready to push the button exactly when the mind makes the command after considering all of the elements that make an effective photograph. Time is the big barrier that we documentary and street photographers are forced to deal with. Situations are always moving, so we need to develop methods for photographing very quickly.

The game, Challenge of Three, is based on my 5F’s system for finding and figuring out subjects and then photographing the subject with carefully considered framing, focusing and only then firing off the shot. It is a simple Guide to help photographers build their own effective working technique. (More on my 5F’s system is described in previous posts).

The game can be played alone or in a small group. I have always said that keeping things light relieves the tension of trying to find subject and helps photographers relax and have fun. The main thing to remember is this pastime is supposed to be fun. The rules are simple:  nothing posed or fabricated and every photo needs to have at least three connected considerations or relationships between people or objects.

Little pieces or parts of subject are lying around everywhere to catch the attentive eye. When my eye is caught by the smallest insignificant detail. (“finding”) the game begins by evaluating the detail and deciding (“figuring”) how to make it part of a worthy subject. I call this building subject.

We need to find at least three things in the subject area that we can control only by moving the position of the camera relative to the subject in such a way as to bring the important elements, details and factors together to give the viewer an accurate rendering of what the subject is all about. We need to find three elements about the relationships between values in the subject area. It could be the background and how it relates to the center of interest, or the foreground and how it relates to the center of interest and to the background. It also could be how much of the background or foreground is going to be included in the frame and for what reason. There are many, many questions to consider.

Too much of any one detail might detract from the center of interest. Too few of the important details and the viewer will not have enough information to understand the photograph and your intent.

In street and documentary photography we need to get in close and photograph situations in a smooth and quiet way so as not to disturb the subject or the surroundings with our presence. In my experience, to accomplish this we need to not make quick movements and always be polite and smiling. The object is to get in close. Henri Cartier-Bresson said that one must be a part of what one photographs, therefore, getting in close is very important.

A still life challenge is a great way to slow down in order to learn how to photograph at the speed of life. A still life can offer us a unique opportunity to take as much time as is needed to make the photograph. This gives us practice in the 5F’s and the importance of including at least three elements in a photograph. The subject is still, not moving, and will not change in the next few minutes so we have tmie to slow down and consider the subject at length in order to better determine how to use the various parts in the subject area to effectively build an interesting photograph out of what’s just lying around. The framing of the desired image may take a few minutes, with constant checking of the framing and focus placement, then re-checking each corner of the frame and how a slight movement of the camera, or the placement of focus, can have a large affect on the intended photograph.

A close-up photo of an ordinary item changes that item into something else, perhaps something beautiful in its coincidence of line, texture and light.

During the workshops we all laughed at the absurdity of what we were doing, watching each other get into strange awkward positions to make sense of the framing of an image. This was a good way to keep warmed up. To be very quick in the actions, and doing if for hours at a time, prepares us for that shining moment when we notice  a very powerful subject situation and we are warmed up in body and mind and ready to quickly make the photograph with our practiced skill in figuring, framing, focusing and firing. The photographers who play this game are more apt to be ready when a great opportunity comes their way.

We spend the days photographing simple subjects and events, subjects that would not pass our strict criteria that we normally hold for our subjects. However, these simple subjects allowed us to be constantly considering subject material and gave us practice in framing and focusing , which kept us fluid and precise in our movements so that we were ready when the real and powerful potential subject came our way.

My subjects ranged from a man digging a hole, with an ironic twist involved, an abstract photo of discarded construction material, an action photo of a boy caught in mid air, a drunken street person pretending to attack a photographer and a boy having his photo taken with the approving look of a woman in the background. I included three things in each photograph that were tied together with effective framing and a good sense of trying to create photographs that stand on their own without the need for a caption.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I photographed a group of young boys huddled by an immense and ancient wall, with three things being evident in the image, the huddled boys kneeling down, the wall and the boys’ relationship to the tall and aged wall and their relationship to each other. Not all of the three things need to be visible, but at least three things must be considered and must be evident in the photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The street fighter image includes information that is needed if the photo is to be understood by the average viewer. What is needed? The street fighter in a threatening pose, the photographer in the act of photographing and little else so as not to distract fro the important center of interest (the fighter and the photographer). The second image of the street fighter includes a person holding a cell phone nearby, who seems unaware of the fight situation, adding a whole new element to the photograph.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This abstract photo of some old boards and other pieces of wood shows how I considered each piece and its placement and relationship with the other objects. Another decision I had to make was where the focus should be placed, and, if there is little light, and therefore little depth of focus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this photo of a group of boys trying to get water out of a fountain, I included the boy standing and holding the top of the fountain, the relationships are there to see, and all the information was considered very quickly before the event disappeared forever, to be lost to us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What did I consider in the photo of the boat in a lake in a park? First, the setting, which means to me to include the foliage in the foreground which acts as a frame. Since the boat was the center of interest, I needed to focus on the boat and place it in the water within the frame of bushes, and then to include what was happening in the boat, that is, the young boy being taught how to row. The composition makes itself when all of these logical considerations have been made concerning a subject.

 

 

 

Someone once said that there is no composition, only facts. I enjoy this perception of a good photo. The inclusion of the important facts in the frame of the viewfinder will make the composition automatically. I made a photo of a small girl in front of an immense machine, which might be called an example of contrast and irony.

 

 

 

 

Another example is a group of men drinking. What is needed to make the photo effective? The men with smiles, the drinks on the table and little else which might distract from the men and their good time together.

 

 

 

 

The most ironic and magic photo that I made, was the first image I made on the first day of the Barcelona workshop. We met in the middle of a famous square, and then after a brief talk explaining the game we were to play, we started our day looking for subject. Unfortunately, the square was almost empty so I suggested that we look in the refuse containers, which I have found to be an excellent way to find abstract images.

Sometimes I will find my own last name in the trash. The first container I looked into had a homemade sign in English that read “freedom.” What was the chance of finding something like this in the first container? In all the trash containers in Barcelona, or even all of Spain, what are the chances? This, for me, is the magic of photography.

In the whole six hours of working at the game, I used only a roll and a half, which for me is about 50 images. Even though we were in effect practicing, I was able to make several photos that I like. The first photo of the first day of the workshop and it was made of the contents of a trash container and had the greatest word that people all over the world cherish, lying cast-off as worthless. Even more ironic for me, is that it was written in English. A trash container in Spain with the word “freedom” written in English.

 

Near the end of the day in Lisbon, after we had been working at our game, we came upon a ceremony in a little square. People were there with the police putting a wreath on a monument and since we were all warmed up and practiced, we were ready to finish the day with some close-up photos of the serious subject. We photographed respectfully and quietly and I produced these photos of the event.

The Challenge of Three game is fun to play while practicing the 5F’s, and is an excellent way to always be ready and it will improve our ability to make photographs at the speed of life!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Social Documentary/Street Photography, Street Photography Tips, Street Photography Workshops, Workshops Tagged , , |