Category Archives: The Human Condition

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

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Also posted in Social Documentary/Street Photography, Street Photography Tips

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.

 

 

 

Also posted in Nikon, Social Documentary/Street Photography, Street Photography Tips 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.

1 magic 2 magic 3 magic 4 magic 5 magic 6 magic 7 magic 8 magic 9 magic 10

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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.

 

 

Also posted in Social Documentary/Street Photography, Street Photography Tips

20 MINUTES, 14 IMAGES

The subject was the Havana harbor early in the morning, with the sun shining through the dark clouds of a passing rain squall. The figures in the foreground were constantly moving which provided me with many opportunities to make photographs that I thought would best describe the situation of the Cubans and their environment, and the frailty of man, or the strength of man in relation to the drama of his existence.

 

I don’t make many exposures with the hope of getting one acceptable image. Each of
the fourteen exposures of the subject area was done with careful thought about
the many variables that made up the subject and how all these factors
influenced the center of interest. The constantly changing scene, offered me
many chances to make different images of the same subject area as it changed in
the brief time that I was there. The rapid fire technique of some photographers
makes me wonder how many of those quickly made exposures were guesses instead
of well thought out attemps to create a relationship between the various
details that are present in the subject area. Guessing scares me, knowing that
I might miss the best instant because I was too busy clicking away without
thinking enough. In forty five years of doing this kind of work, I have learned
how transitory a subject can be and also how important time is and how crucial
it is for me to catch the significance of a situation in one image.
The subject area changed constantly, giving me new opportunities to make images that would show various aspects of the situation. The available lighting was difficult to work with, as it was very early, with the sun shining toward my lens. The dramatic qualities of the sky encouraged me to keep working the subject as it changed over the twenty minutes that I was there.
I chose the vertical format to include what I thought were the important details in the situation before me. The details are very important, in order to give the viewer of my photograph enough information to perceive the subject as I did. (I did, however, make one horizontal image so I could include all of subjects, the motorcycle, the boy, the man with the hat). I had a wide sweeping view of the area in which the main subject, the figures in the water, were located, so I framed the photographs so that unnecessary details were eliminated.

 

 My intent was to show the contrast between man and his environment, which in this case was the water, clouds, ship and the frailty of man and his relationship to his surroundings. Too much of any detail would have diminished the center of interest, which in this case, is the man or men. The focus was placed on the figures in the water. The sky was an important factor, because of its dramatic qualities and the dark and violent nature of the clouds.
Over the course of the twenty minutes, the human drama continued to play out before me and since my presence did not affect the subject, I continued to photograph, leaving my mind open to the possibilities that might present themselves to me. The tension is always there in a situation such as this. Constantly evaluating what is before my lens and trying to imagine what my best vantage point and intent is as it relates to the subject. I managed to stay with the subject for twenty minutes, but the situation did not last, as the sky became less dramatic and the figures became less noticeable as more people moved into the subject area.

 

 

 

 

(I did choose the horizontal format in one image to show the change in the scene and the relationship of the machines – the motorcycle, the boy, the man with the hat and  the ship.)

 

I photographed this subject, both as a photographer and a teacher. I wanted to show how staying in the same place after the first exposure can result in many valuable images. Why stop photographing after the first image has been made?

 

 

 

 

 

Also posted in Social Documentary/Street Photography, Street Photography Tips, Street Photography Workshops, Uncategorized, Workshops Tagged , , , , |

CUBA

My wife Wendy and I recently went to Cuba on a music tour which was organized by Wendy’s sister Nancy Covey, who operates Festival Tours International. It was a People-to-People delegation organized by Project Por Amor.  At first, I thought that there would not be many chances to make photographs while riding across Cuba in a bus. Usually I pick the spots where I feel I will find the best subject matter, and not participate in an organized tour, so I had resolved to make the tour, more for the music than for the photos.

The trip on the bus across Cuba with many friends was a fine way to spend two weeks and see Cuba at the same time. The bus turned out to be a great way for me to photograph. I could relax on the bus and prepare myself for the next stop and all the subject matter that I found almost everywhere.Nancy knew that I would always be looking for subjects and told me that I could always go off by myself to photograph, but I stayed with the group more times than not and was also able to find subjects to work with. Subject is everywhere in Cuba. Nancy planned such  great trip that I did not have to think much or worry about anything, because it was all taken care of by Nancy. All I had to do was think about photos and be back at the bus on time. The trip was wonderful and I made about 200 photos.

I have been back from Cuba for two weeks and in that time I have spent about 150 hours in the darkroom making prints from the six rolls of film that I used in Cuba. My friends who use digital cameras can have a good laugh knowing that I have spent the last two weeks in the darkroom making prints. I have made about 150 prints and now with Wendy’s help, we will put some of them up.

My approach to photographing in Cuba was to combine street photography with social documentary photography, which is why I carried two cameras. I have used Nikon F-3 film cameras for thirty years and I am too afraid to change over to digital and have to learn to be quick all over again. Also, the people who purchase my prints expect traditional fiber based silver prints, so I am still laboring with film. Part of the time, I carried three cameras, because I had done the foolish thing of bringing some color film with me. What was I thinking? I do not like color in my street or social documentary photography, because it is so hard to control in the real world. The person with the yellow hat will be seen first and the point of the photograph might be lost because of the distraction caused by a bright color. I use color when color is content, which is rarely ever found in street photography. I made about twenty color photos and felt silly making them. Who cares what color the car was as long as it’s shiny?

The Nikon F-3 camera was made for pro photographers more than thirty years ago. Pro cameras usually show 100% in the viewfinder, which is very important to me, because I do not like to crop. This is a very fine camera which is very durable and has the finest lenses that I have ever used. No one wants these gems and they can be had for $100.00 with lens. I still have a good laugh when I think that I am using one of the finest cameras ever made and I buy them for $100.00.

I do not enjoy using two cameras, because they slow me down. When I find a subject, I have to imagine it through a 55mm and a 28mm in order to decide which one to use. This is wasted time. Using just one camera with one lens solves this time problem. We must be quick. Using the two cameras worked out well for me. The streets in Cuba can be quite narrow and congested with life, so I used the 28mm much of the time. The 28mm is a sports car type of lens, in that it is very dangerous. The 28mm must be used up very close to the center of interest, or, the wide angle of view might provide too much information to the viewer, and the center of interest might get lost because of so much being visible in the frame. Up close, it is a valuable tool.

I tend to look for three things in a potential subject and then try to form some connection between these three elements, factors or details that when properly framed, make a visual statement about a subject or event in one well timed photograph. I found that the people of Cuba are lovely and will give the photographer no trouble at all. They are a relaxed and happy people and are very polite and easy to be around.

This photo was made while I played one of my favorite games, which is called the isolation challenge. The photographer must make a photo without changing position. This image was made from my seat at lunch with our group in a small fishing village. The image shows the condition of Cuba and the how the people are still rebuilding after the devastation to the southern part of the island during hurricane Sandy.

The photo of the young woman sitting under the photograph of an older woman was made from my chair at a musical event we all attended. This game forces the photographer to make the best of what is in the general area.

Also posted in Social Documentary/Street Photography, Street Photography Tips

Los Angeles 2001

A man’s fingers hold a photograph that I made and gave to him in 1974 and he has carried it with him for 27 years on his meandering across the country, riding freight trains and living by his wits with just the clothes on his back and my photograph.

What is the value of a photograph to a man who seemingly has nothing?

My documentary project in the Los Angeles freight yards, photographing tramps and runaways, ended after ten years in 1983, but in 2001 I returned to the yards just for old times’ sake. As I walked alongside the mainline tracks into L.A. a voice called out. “Hey Mr. Picture man where you headed?” I remembered the unchanged voice instantly and turned to see my old friend smiling at me. He hugged me hard with one arm and with the other, drew his prized possession from his pocket and held it up for me to see, a horribly mutilated, tattered beat up piece of paper. A photograph I had made and given to him in 1974.

We were two old guys hugging by the tracks, each with tears in his eyes as we looked at the tattered photograph that meant so much to both of us. I thought, how could this be? First of all, how could that little photograph have lasted this long carried in the pocket of a wandering man, a rough and tumble man of the road, super tramp among men. He did what most men cannot do. He could be anywhere with nothing and survive and be happy doing it. For 27 years he had been doing that with my photo there in his pocket, ready to be brought out to make him smile. He had tough times, but my photo brought a smile and some comfort to a poor, huddled and cold man who lived this very dangerous lifestyle and would take it out in good times to show off.

“The road is going to get you” the older men will tell you. The freight train is an iron beast that will beat a man to death in a few hundred miles. A boxcar door can slam shut on your dangled legs when the brakes go on and those big steel wheels take your legs away, leaving you to bleed out by the right-of-way. There is no right of way for the tramp, only for the railroad and “if the railroad don’t get you, a predator tramp will wait and hit you upside the head and you dead.” The road gets most men in five years at the most.

He survived, because he was not an alcoholic and he knew in his mind that he was doing something that most men and women could not do. “Put me down anywhere and I will find scrap metal and copper wire and I will be sitting pretty.” He lives his way along the railroad “right of way” and is at peace with himself.

The greatest and most emotionally moving shock that I ever got was when he pulled out my photograph from his dusty pocket. How could this be? What is the worth of a crumpled photograph of a group of bums sitting around together in a trash filled field hard by the main line tracks? They sat at the end of the line and I took a picture and then gave a print to my friend. He is not even in the picture that he loves so much. No one can ever take this experience away from me, or him, and that makes me cry.

My photographic journey has lead me on a search for truthful photographs that might speak to men of other men and each man to himself, and to make photos that could lead to a better understanding and love for others. Oh yes, the camera and my heart have led me to places where maybe some understanding is needed. The camera records the emotion and personal reactions of us as we make photos with the hope that something of value will result from this collaboration of heart mind and soul. This is my love story of my searching journey of love and understanding through photography, and with it reach out with visual poems that might have the power to sooth and make a smile.

During my ten years in the yards, I made photographs of men and women who I would meet again and again over the years as they passed through on the way to nowhere. Many became friends and I always tried to give them photographs, because I saw them swell with smiles and thanks as they held my photos. No one had ever given them a photo of themselves. They called me the “Picture Man” and I love them so. The photographs that I do on assignment are paid for and then go away, the photographs that are purchased by collectors give me money and pleasure, but the pictures I give away, are mine forever.

My photograph had come back to me and I wanted to make a photograph that would somehow preserve the feeling of that special meeting there by the tracks. . The question for me when making a photograph is always what to include in the frame and why? How much information do I need to show in order for the viewer to understand the situation in the photograph? What is the center of interest and what details should I include that might give more strength and meaning to the center of interest and result in a meaningful photograph. What do I need in the image to tell the story?

In this image the center of interest are his hands and the tattered and torn photograph that he held and that was so dear to him and to me. No face. Including the face would distract from the photograph and the face is not important to the story. There are no names when one is on the road.
The most important requirement for the social documentary photographer is to get in close to the subject. Close in with the camera and close in with understanding and compassion for the subject. Getting in close is always difficult in sensitive situations and the method I used to get close to the tramps is for another blog post.

My workshops are designed to show photographers my technique for getting in close, without disturbing the subject and without getting into trouble. I have worked the streets of the world and have developed methods for avoiding any trouble and also methods for getting out of any trouble. The street can be a dangerous place for the unwary or unprepared photographer. I enjoy sharing my technique and philosophy about this wonderful medium.

Also posted in Social Documentary/Street Photography, Street Photography Tips, Street Photography Workshops Tagged , , , , , |