Tag Archives: 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

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

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

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?

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.

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

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 , , |

STORY OF “THE LETTER”

homeless woman, human conditionThe place is Venice, California in the mid 1980’s. A sidelong glance revealed “Dear Mom” on the much read letter dated September 26, 1977. The gloved hand, the dirty coat and the shopping cart told me the story that I wanted to record in a photograph. As a son, I was captured and my heart was melted by the “Dear Mom.” Two quick shots and I was gone. Nothing was interrupted and no invasion of privacy as there was no intent. It was not until later in the darkroom that I was able to read the contents of the letter. Here are the fragments of the letter that are visible in the photo.

Dear Mom.

Thank you for your letter telling us where you are….Happy to learn you are well….although Gloria…me that you have a high blood pressure problem. That concerns us. I hope it’s not serious.

You know I was in Los Angel.…places looking for you. I….you in advance becau.…usually tentative….Los Angeles more….is base….weekend you arr….

Karen was….baby girl….She had….and she….defect.

Archie….corresp….in a pho….

Just last year in London, I was showing the photo to a friend and he asked where it was taken. I told him it was taken in Venice and he asked the specific location. I told him it was on the boardwalk in front of the Jewish Center. He was very surprised and said that coincidentally, he was building a house just a block away.

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FINDING SUBJECT: THE CHALLENGE OF THREE

Subject is everything. Without subject, there can be no photography.

Finding subject can be frustrating. The serious student of street photography knows that subject is everywhere. Subject is lying around outside and it is also inside the photographer’s mind. Everything we have witnessed in life or have learned is tucked away in our subconscious. We use all this accumulated information and emotion, combined with the situation, to build subject from these bits and pieces of life that make up our daily world.

Instead of walking around looking for subject, why not try to build subject from all the various elements, factors and details that are found anywhere? The brain and imagination must be trained and conditioned to notice these elements and details and how to put them together in some logical manner so that the viewer of the photograph is emotionally affected or moved by the image.

In my workshops, we play a Challenge of Three that I designed for photographers to keep in shape. In this challenge, photographers exercise their ability to use my Five F’s System (finding, figuring, framing, focusing and firing) to find and photograph a subject very quickly and quietly. The photographer must include at least three things when building subject. These three things must be either visible in the photograph or must be something that the photographer was thinking when the photo was made. The back ground, the foreground and their relation to the center of interest, must be established visually.

Instead of looking for a whole subject, the photographer can now look for bits and pieces of a subject. A small detail can lead to a powerful photograph when it is combined in the frame with other relevant details and factors. The challenge is to find simple subjects quickly, quietly and effectively, using only the details in the subject area and the photographer’s vivid imagination to arrive at simplicity of expression.

I made these photographs during my recent New York and Chicago workshops that were held in April and May to demonstrate to the students how to build subject and then how I can get in close to photograph the subject without disturbing it with my presence. These photos demonstrate how I used Challenge of Three during the workshops. The Challenge keeps us warmed up, conditioned and sharp, so that when the big event or moment comes along, the photographer will be ready to react instantaneously to the opportunity.

1. The three things in this photograph that I wished to combine are the portrait on the wall, the man and his glasses. The glasses are relevant because it shows that he took them off in order to better see the portrait. All three things go together to create this subject. One of the important parts of this photograph is not visible, the fact that the man has removed his glasses for a better look. All of the factors in a good photograph do not have to be visible in the image

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. The comical nature of the man’s white feet combined with the child walking through the water in the background are included to create an entertaining photograph. I placed the focus on the center of interest, the legs and feet. I included the child in the background  but kept it out of focus so our eye would go to the man’s legs first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. I had noticed the boy doing handstands and waited for this instant, when the boy’s spread legs framed the girl in the background. The timing and framing of this shot were important, as was the placement of the focus on the boy’s legs. I wanted the viewer to see the boy doing a handstand first, then his sister in the background. When photographing strangers at close range, it is important to be careful about not disturbing the subject. A big smile on the photographer’s face always helps smooth the waters of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Two frames are visible in this photo. The window on the right has a man looking forward into life or backwards at life, while the child jumps through another door, or frame, without caring about the past or the future. The third element does not have to be visible; in this case it is the relationship between the child and the man. Darkness, light, black and white and square or rectangular frames were combined to form a visual mood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. The back of a junkman’s truck can be a special place to build subject from the junk. Diagonal lines, forms balance and light and placing the camera in the most effective spot, turn junk into abstract images that captivate the viewer’s imagination. This is a subject that requires a vivid imagination and a skill in quickly perceiving the details and forms that give the photograph meaning. We can find beauty anywhere, even in the back of a junkman’s truck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. The mother and child, the boats and the arm gesture of the mother, all add up to a special moment caught by the brain and camera to evoke a warm feeling. I moved in closer to eliminate some distracting elements (other people) in the foreground. Using a vertical formal also eliminated distracting elements. The question is always, what are we selling? What do we need in the frame to sell it and what must we eliminate from the frame that which is distracting to the image.

 

 

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