Tag Archives: black and white street photography

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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CHRISTMAS IN THE L.A. YARDS

Social documentary project LA YardsOn a cold dark Christmas Eve a very long time ago, two figures slowly walked in search of shelter for the night. They had no money for a room, or even a bed and were exhausted by their long journey. This was the Los Angeles freight yards of 1974 and the two men had ridden for many hours in the bottom of a “Gondola” car which was part of the freight train that had finally stopped in Los Angeles, the farthest west one could travel. They were at the end of the line, which for many, who rode freights west, it surely was the end of the line.

 

The two men were brothers-in-law and had been on the hard road for many years now. Chasing or running, who knows, but it had started to rain and the men were forced to climb a chain link fence and seek some small shelter in the parked cab of a garbage truck that had no doors. There was a big white crown painted on the side of the truck. Crown Disposal Company, the sign read, with two cold princes of the road huddled inside, while the heavy rain beat a drumming racket on the steel top of the truck, which made sleep impossible, but there was a half gallon of red port between them and also the photographs in his wallet that made the man smile as he looked at the faces by the soft glow of a nearby street lamp.

 

The photographs were of children lined up for the camera that day seven long years ago, about the time he was to leave forever for a wandering life on that hard, hard road that many men and women have to walk. Two men, haunted by the faces in the wallet and the past lives that lay in ruins without them. Two men in a truck in the cold rain of the seventh Christmas Eve that they have spent on the road, but they had a bottle of wine between them.

 

 

Christmas day found them waiting for a train that would take them out of this very dangerous place where hundreds of tramps, runaways and predators came in the winter to escape the cruel cold of the east. Head west they said. Pick oranges off the trees and sleep on a warm beach. There were no oranges or places on the beach, just a hard cruel place where other men waited for the unwary to drop their guard and end up badly beaten or dead at the end of the line.

 

It was Christmas day and after my wife and three year old son and baby girl had our celebration of presents and cookies, I headed down to the Los Angeles freight yards where I had photographed for a year on a project that was to last for ten years. Ten years of photographing the tragic lives of rail road tramps, hoping that maybe my photographs might in some way provide a more compassionate understanding of the severely damaged and mostly unprotected men and women who wandered on foot along the outskirts of what we call society. Tramps are shunned as bad, dangerous or crazy souls who must be avoided. The truth that I found in that bad, bad place was that these tramps were someones brother or son or father, who had had a bad shock in their lives that they could not handle and so they took to the road of remorse and pain.

 

It was a loving and very understanding wife who did not mind me leaving on Christmas day for a couple of hours to do what I had done almost daily for the past year.

 

The brothers-in-law were sitting on the dirt by the side of the main line in and out of L.A., waiting for their destiny to arrive in the form of an outward bound freight train that would take them somewhere else. Anywhere but L.A. I approached them with a smile and a Nikon F, with a 28mm lens, which would force me to get so close that some of their misery would invade my heart and stay with me these many years later. We talked, we shook hands, I photographed as I knew I must to share this subject or life story with others through my photographs. It was so hard for me to listen as their lives poured out to me and me clicking away with tears in my eyes and heart. I must though, because this little situation or life drama that I found myself in was important in some way.

 

The man with the hat had once been a Cadillac dealer in one of the most affluent cities in the country. He had two families which were unknown to each other. One in Mexico and one in Texas. So many faces in the wallet long gone, with a bottle of wine between them. Seven years gone, with the brother-in-law from Mexico he had persuaded to leave with him on a long search or escape from themselves.

 

The photographs were of the faces of children who were now many years older. The boy would be fourteen now somewhere, but there was a bottle of wine between them. The bottle was always there, even as he showed off his long ago family, the bottle was there in the background. The empty bottle.

The brother-in-law from Mexico said nothing. He was in pain and mostly sobbed as he turned their last coin in his hand over and over again. Round and hard like the train wheels that beat them up for so many miles. We were friends for the twenty minutes that we spent together on that Christmas day so long ago. In twenty minutes the life story of two tragic men had been poured out to my saddened ears. I still carry their pain. Their stories were very similar to the many stories I was to hear over the ten years of my documentary photography project.

 

The pictures will never go away. The words are here to stay and I was there. I made these photographs and wrote these words for everyone, but the best thing is that I was there. I photograph because I must.

 

Posted in Social Documentary/Street Photography, The Human Condition Also tagged , , , |

ELEMENTS, FACTORS AND DETAILS

dorothea lange, social documentary photography, human condition, framingElements, factors and details.

He has been kicked off his land where he has lived for many years, a sad time for him.

I wanted to make a photograph to display the sadness and despondency of the moment. The level that is leaning against the wall, by the door, is not level. The scale that is visible in the lower area is broken as is the record that can just be seen at the very bottom of the photograph. It was a sad coincidence that these items where in the area of my potential photograph. I was lucky that these elements were there.

To make the best use of these items, that add so much to the situation, I decided to use a vertical format which would allow me to include all of these elements, factors and details. That the man is holding some American flags adds to his effectiveness and the irony of the photograph.

Elements, factors and details that can be found in any potential photographic situation must be noticed and included in the frame without distracting from the center of interest. Anyone can do this, but it takes constant practice. The name of the game is the relationships that can be established in the photo because the photographer was aware of the situation and was able to notice and include these important elements which add meaning to the finished photograph.

For this photograph, I used a Nikon F-3 film camera with a 50mm f-2 lens. The F-3, with its 100% viewfinder coverage, allowed me to frame the photograph to include those important elements, facts and details that provide so much more strength to the center of interest.

The excitement and the heartfelt exhilaration that I felt at the time of making this photograph cannot be described in words. The true and valuable purpose of social documentary photography is to show man to man and each man to himself.

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