Tag Archives: Los Angeles Street Photography Workshop

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 , , , , |

PHOTOGRAPHER AS MACHINE

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

MY “FIVE FS” SYSTEM: NUMBER TWO, FIGURING

street photography tips, black and white film, street photography workshopMy “5 Fs” (finding, figuring, framing, focusing and firing) was conceived to help photographers remember the things to consider when photographing a subject in real life situations. If you practice this system it will become your working technique as a street photographer.

The second “F” is FIGURING.

Hooray! You see a situation or subject that you think will make an exciting photograph. Now what?

Throughout a subject area, there are many elements, factors and details that when effectively combined in the photograph, help give the center of interest more strength. The only difference between the average photographer and Henri Cartier-Bresson is that Bresson considered every detail and he only included those that would enhance the center of interest and he excluded those that would detract from it.

To figure this out you must take an instantaneous visual inventory of what you have to work with and then you must consider which to include and what to eliminate. Ideally you will include at least three things to put together with the center of interest that will strengthen the photograph.

For example, when I saw the two boys in this photograph I realized they would be a great subject because of their movements and their excitement about bathing in the Ganges at dawn. I knew that there were other important details, such as the empty boats in the foreground, the crowded boats and the lighting, that I wanted to include. I wanted to emphasize that it was dawn so I wanted to show the light on the water which would give the photograph a mysterious quality. I also knew that moving in close to the boys was the most important thing of all so I eliminated parts of the boats. I also thought it important to include that the boats in the background that were crowded with the people as a contrast with the two boys in the water. I chose the vertical format so all three elements were visible and I positioned myself so that the boys were the center of interest and were between the two boats in the foreground and the crowded boat in the background was still visible.

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