Please join us for this MEMBERS ONLY event on Tuesday, February 17th at Local 16
We know that one of the hardest things in this business is to meet and network with the creatives who license and use photography. APA|DC has teamed up with our peers at the DC chapter of ASMP to help you do just that! We’ve invited members of the DC Ad Club, AIGA, and the Association of Women in Communications, as well as other specific members of the advertising, design, and publication industries to be our guests at an informal, creative industry happy hour on February 17th, in DC. This is a fantastic opportunity to meet the people who use photographs on a weekly basis and who, more importantly, hire photographers.
This is an informal happy hour and the purpose is to get everyone to meet each other.
Here are some quick tips:
This is not the time and place to show off your images. (That comes later.) Bring your business cards but leave your promos, iPads and portfolios at home.
Art Directors often say that they want to like the photographers that they hire. Be the kind of person that you would want to hire.
Don’t lead with your business card. If you talk to someone and find you have a connection and/or could have a mutually beneficial business arrangement, by all means swap information.
Rehearse your elevator speech. Remember the key words and concepts that you want to convey– what makes you different, what your interests are, etc.– and practice saying them over and over in a slightly different way each time. This way you’ll have something to say but it won’t sound like a sales pitch.
Above all else, be positive. Enthusiasm is contagious. Always talk about your successes, not your failures.
The $15 ticket price covers one drink, light fare, and automatically buys a drink for a creative. Sorry, no guests at this event– this is your membership working for you!
You’ve worked hard all year– marketing, negotiating, shooting, processing, billling, [repeat]. You must be all tuckered out! Now it’s time for us to take care of you.
Please join us on Tuesday, December 30th at the Madhatter in Dupont Circle for a New Years Eve (Eve) celebration of our chapter and our members. Bring a guest and enjoy some light food and a few drinks on us. We’ll be sharing our members’ work, catching up on the past year, and making a few resolutions for the new one.
But, we need your help with decking the halls! Send us 5 of your favorite images from 2014 and we’ll put ‘em up on the big screen for all to see. Please size them at 2000 pixels on the horizontal axis and send them as a .zip file to Erikia (email@example.com).
One of the most useful ways to start a career in photography is by beginning as an assistant. But, the common problem persists, how do you begin your career as an assistant with no experience as an assistant? APA|DC is offering a 3-Part series on assisting to help interested students and new photographers make the transition. While no amount of workshop instruction can replace on-the-job experience, each session builds on the previous one and covers a comprehensive list of topics, ensuring that participants are introduced to standardized material, appropriate for each level.
* * * * *
Part 1 of the series is a basic introduction to assisting, comprised of a gear demo, presentation on roles and responsibilities, and a panel discussion with veteran photographers and seasoned assistants. It is designed for people who are new to the photography world and have no or little experience on a photography set. We’ll cover the basics– the sorts of things that you need to know whether the project is studio-based, architectural, or location portrait.
Attendees will immediately break into two groups for two 45-minute sessions of cursory- yet very fast-paced- information about the real world of assisting. There will be a lot of ideas, tricks, and know-how packed into these two sessions– attendees will want to take notes.
• The 1st section will give students a look at (and feel for) some of the basic photography gear that they would be likely to encounter on a small photography set, from cameras to lighting gear to grip equipment, courtesy of f8 Rentals. We’ll cover the proper way to wrap a cable, set a light, and secure a set as well as many other fundamental skills.
• The 2nd section consists of a presentation covering the rights, responsibilities, and general etiquette for assistants. We’ll go over an assistant’s tool bag, location etiquette, roles and responsibilities, and some strategies for billing and invoicing.
After the two sections conclude, we’ll all come together for a panel discussion with photographers Renée Comet, Jon Feingersh, and Max Hirshfeld, and several experienced assistants to hear stories, opinions, and thoughts on how it all comes together. Hear firsthand what photographers look for in assistants, what some going rates are, and a few anecdotes from the field.
Thursday, November 20th, 1200 U Street NW, Washington DC. (1/2 block from U Street Metro on the Green & Yellow lines)
5:00 pm Registration Begins
5:30 – 6:15 1st Section
6:15 – 6:30 15 minute break and switch sections
6:45 – 7:30 2nd Section
7:30 – 7:45 15 minute break, gather in auditorium for panel discussion
7:45 – 8:30 Panel Discussion with photographers and assistants
9:00 Must be out of facility.
This will be a very busy evening so all students must plan on arriving on time.
Students/APA contributor and supporter levels $25; General Public $35;
APA Leader, Professional, and Associate levels – FREE
The first thing you might notice is that we’ve moved the site over to a .org, where it belongs. This reflects our status as a 501(c)6 professional organization with a mission to help support professional photographers. With a completely new interface, this modern design is much easier to read and find out what APA is doing across all of our chapters. News, events, articles and more now appear in a tiled format to make browsing much faster. (We’re visual people, after all.)
It’s now easier than ever to find and take advantage of all your professional discounts and member benefits. Additionally, we have simplified and condensed our membership levels to make joining easier and to give our members the benefits that are right for them.
Another highlight of the new apanational.org will be new a partnership with Behance to host enhanced photographer profiles. This will complement, but not replace, our valuable “Find a Member” feature and makes it easier for clients to find YOU.
But, as we all know from Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.” All of these great new changes will require a teeny bit of work from you. If you’re a current member, you’ll have to log-in and update all of your information again. Think of it as some spring cleaning.
To do this, visit: http://firstname.lastname@example.org, follow the instructions, and if you’re on the monthly plan, re-enter your billing info. (Need a little incentive? The monthly payment will now actually be cheaperthan before!)
If you’re not already a member, now is the absolute best time to join. We’re offering a 20% discount for anyone who joins by May 16th! That means that the most basic level starts at $40 for the first year. That’s about the same as a large fancy latte at Starbucks. (Without tip, of course.)
As with any website launch, there might be a few bumps in the road. Please be patient with us as we work to make your membership a more valuable asset to your career. Feel free to email matt [at] apadc.com if you need any help and let us know what you think.
Share the news on twitter with @apanational or #joinAPA and bask in the glow of an interconnected world.
Are you an APA Professional member with a story to tell? Let us feature you on our website. Email matt [at] apadc.com to find out how.
They say that April showers bring May flowers. But what does April snow bring? The answer, aside from allergies, is a May co-hosted happy hour with the DC chapter of AIGA. Please don your fanciest shoes and get ready to rub elbows with one of the busiest chapters of THE trade group for professional designers. We’ll be getting our Gestalt on at The Board Room in Dupont for a relaxing evening of chitter chatter, probably followed up by an impossibly intense game of Mousetrap. (We can only hope that nobody loses their right index finger.)
This is a great time to meet other interesting and outgoing people in an adjacent creative industry. Pop in on Tuesday the 13th!
Tuesday, May 13th, 6-8:30 pm
The Board Room
1737 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20009
closest METRO – Dupont Circle on the Red Line.
Good times don’t have themselves.
AIGA advances design as a professional craft, strategic advantage and vital cultural force. As the largest community of design advocates, we bring together practitioners, enthusiasts, and patrons to amplify the voice of design and create the vision for a collective future. We define global standards and ethical practices, guide design education, enhance professional development, and make powerful tools and resources accessible to all.
March 2014’s featured photographer Jim Darling, is one of APA|DC’s newest members. A DC-based portrait, interior and wedding shooter, Jim comes to the photo industry with seventeen years of graphic design experience, including stints on both the board of DC’s AIGA chapter and the Art Director’s Club. Aside from his professional work, he has developed a reputation for his mobile phone photography and is a founding member of the International Mobile Photo Group, InstantDC, and has lectured on the subject locally and at the Apple Store in New York City. Jim sat down with February Featured Member Jon Goell recently to talk about the transition from design to photography and much more.
You got your start in graphic design – Where did you study?
I went to school at SUNY New Paltz in upstate New York and graduated in December of ’91. My sister and her boyfriend had just moved down to Maryland from New York so I followed them down here February of ’92 – just days after the Redskins won their last Super Bowl, actually, so it’s been a long time. But I didn’t get a design job for a couple of months. I basically drove up and down from Gaithersburg to Rockville and Bethesda looking at graphics places and walking in. That’s how I got my first design job but I don’t recommend that as a strategy anymore.
So what led to the switch to photography?
I got a digital SLR in 2008 after joining Flickr in late 2007. I had point-and-shoot for a couple of years before that and I was starting to really fall in love with photography again. I just always had this in my head that I was going to be a graphic designer even though I felt like I really liked photography and I was really good at it. Ever since I first picked up a camera, I was drawn to taking portraits. So, it was always something in the back of my mind, but I think photography changed so much from ’92 to ’08, and I went a long time without even having a camera. But it was 2008 where I started to notice sort of a new passion arising.
When I was laid off at the Mortgage Bankers Association in March of 2008 I started a personal project, shooting street portraits of strangers. I was still working as a designer and had a series of short-term contracts and freelance jobs over the next two years, but all the while my photography was getting better and starting to get noticed within the local community. By the end of 2009 I noticed the imbalance between my passion for design versus photography – and photography was winning. I landed a part-time design job at the start of 2010 which allowed me the flexibility to also pursue work in photography, while still having the stability of a regular paycheck. The job ended last April and since then photography has been my only source of income. The relationships I had built with the design community over many years, as well as some exposure in local gallery exhibits, were integral in getting my foot in the door, especially with the designers that were now hiring me as a photographer.
So your connections came through? How did you build that network?
When I got into graphic design, I joined the local AIGA chapter where I ended up being a Board Member for 5 years. Then I was on the board of the Art Directors Club of Metro Washington, which now, sadly, is defunct. But having those connections in the graphic design community really helped with doing photography and getting jobs by word-of-mouth. But I didn’t really know about APA or ASMP or anything. I joined a social group on Flickr and got to know other photographers, hobbyists and professionals.
You started through Flickr?
I guess you could say that, yeah. I realized very quickly that there was a social aspect to it. I noticed local photographers going out on photo walks, doing happy hours, and putting on shows. I remember, after one of the DCist Exposed photo shows in the spring of ’08, sitting at the computer thinking, “Wow, I wonder if I could do that?” “I wonder how they got into a photo show; that sounds amazing.” Through Flickr I reached out to Kai Harth, one of the photographers I started following early on, and I asked him how I could get involved. He directed me to the ‘DC Social’ group and I went on my first meet-up with them in June of 2008. Some of those people are my best friends to this day.”
And a lot of this was also mobile phone photography…
I didn’t start until 2010, but quickly became involved with the mobile photography/iPhone photography genre when it was first coming up I was asked to join an international collective, the Mobile Photo Group, and I think that Flickr and Twitter got my iPhone work noticed. James Campbell, founder of InstantDC, actually tracked me down on Flickr because I was the only one shooting portraits on my iPhone in the area and that’s how our friendship started We put on a show and through that first show I met Greg Schmigel who was the founder of MPG, (Mobile Photo Group). I’ve been profiled on Mashable and done two talks at the Apple Store in New York City– all on mobile photography.
In those years, when you were starting to make the switch, did you do any photo workshops or get any training? Or are you mostly self-taught?
I guess you could say self-taught, or left over from high school and college. I learned 35mm and twin lens reflex and shot for my high school and college year books. I also studied some 4×5 view camera in college which I really enjoyed
That’s great. I want to backtrack a little. During any of these years that you were in design, either independently or working for other outfits, did you ever work with outside photographers?
I did. When I was at the Mortgage Bankers Association we had a photographer come in to shoot a stock library for us, using our staff. He did head shots and business lifestyle stuff and he probably shot over three days. Later, I worked with Thomas Arledge on an ad campaign that the MBA was doing. I learned the process of location and talent scouting, and was on the shoots with him and watched him light and art direct. Little did I know that I was going to go down that road. But working with him helped me learn that there was so much more to it than just buying pictures. That was really good. I’ve worked with him since and he remains a friend and mentor.
So, do you feel that your design background has a strong influence on your photography? If so, how?
I see my design influence in the way I compose a photo. Especially with environmental portraits, the space that the person is in and where they are in that space is very important to me. With fine art or landscape photography I’m constantly looking for interesting combinations of shape, color and texture.
Looking at your portraits now, you show a wide diversity of people in your personal work and an underlying feeling of sincerity and trust. How do you go about approaching a stranger on the street to photograph them?
I feel that one of my strengths is my sense of humor and my ability to connect with people, which is why I have always sought out portrait photography. [When approaching someone] I meet on the street, often times there is a brief interaction with the individual where I can quickly assess whether or not they’d be into having their picture taken. Even if there is hesitation in their approval you can usually tell that they are flattered at the same time. I’ll explain to them what it is I see in them that I think would make a great portrait. And I always give them a business card.. When I schedule ahead with the subject, like with corporate clients, they have time to prepare for the shoot mentally and I think that can make a difference. I do my best to explain my vision or scope and how long I think it will take. More creative shots, with people I know, we can be a lot more flexible and we take the time to try new things or just experiment with light, etc. And I can get their feedback while we’re shooting.
Who are some of the photographers, commercial or otherwise, who you admire and why?
I love Noah Kalina’s work. His environmental portraits are moody, mysterious, and beautifully lit. They have a Edward Hopper feel to them but can also evoke a slight sense of humor.
Also NY/San Francisco designer-turned-photographer Michael O’Neal. His work dispels any feeling that Instagram isn’t a place for real photographers.
How has the APA been helpful to you? What have you learned?
It’s been helpful to create relationships. Sometimes just the emotional support that comes with belonging to a group of photographers, even though I am new at this. I’ve learned a lot from different members, because they are open to helping me with questions that I have. I can call Matt Rakola; I can call Jason Hornick. Jason assisted me on a photo shoot with one of the Washington Redskins and that was really good. He was basically my lighting guy and that helped me focus on communicating with the subject. I’ve gone to them with questions about bidding and things like that. I think I learned through my involvement with AIGA and Art Directors Club that by belonging to a club you are supporting your industry, and that’s important to me. I’ve always been an advocate for personal connections. Even though you have followers on Twitter and Facebook, personal connections are still the most valuable to me.
So as you’re developing your own style you have to be thinking, at least a little bit, on where you want to take your photography. So the age-old question- “If you could get paid to shoot anything, anywhere what would it be?”
I would love to get paid travel to new places and spend time with the people that live there and photograph them and their environment. I think I could deliver a nice combination of portraits and landscape photos that tell a story. Basically be sent somewhere and be told, OK, find some street/stranger portraits here and come back in a week. Oh, And I’d like to photograph Tina Fey and come up with something hilarious but beautiful, like her.
On March 27th, APA|DC is happy to reintroduce everyone’s favorite educational series- the Brown Bag. For the uninitiated, the Brown Bag is a small informal evening focusing on a single photo-related topic. It’s a relaxed way to learn a little something new, meet some folks, and enjoy the photography community. This month’s BB features APA|DC Chair, Matthew Rakola, talking about compact location-lighting kits…
Photographers are frequently asked to complete editorial assignments that require multiple locations in a short amount of time– often without a budget line for an assistant. The key to making, well-crafted images in this environment is the ability to work quickly, flexibly and efficiently. Better low-light camera sensors and fast lenses allow the photographer to work with the ambient light, not against it. Add to this some new technologies and a handful of good-old fashioned tricks of the trade and a compact kit can be incredibly versatile. This is not a presentation about how to shoot a job on the cheap, but an overview of some of the new sophisticated equipment available today and a few lessons learned the hard way. While there is no single way to pack for a shoot, this evening is about swapping ideas and strategies and re-imagining the tools at your disposal.
Some things we’ll hit on:
Ideas on packing with an emphasis on portability and flexibility and speed;
Getting the most out of every piece of equipment in your kit;
Canon radio-controlled Speedlites, Elinchrom Quadra Ranger, “dumb” strobes, and other battery-powered lighting options;
LEDs and other alternative light sources;
Grip and modifier options and hacks;
Manfrotto QSS (Stacker) stands and other space saving light support;
shooting wirelessly to an iPad with CamRanger.
Thursday, March 27th
6:30- 8:30 pm. (Presentation starts at 7:00 pm)
Free for APA members/ $10 for the general public. No reservations required.
Light food and drinks will be provided.
Matthew Rakola is a DC-based photographer specializing in “real people” editorial, educational and institutional projects. More hustle than bustle, he believes that camera gear should never get in between the photographer and the subject. He’s spent the better part of 13 years figuring out how to bring the most amount of gear to a shoot with the least amount of sweat. His clients include corporations such as Fidelity Investments, publishing companies including National Geographic, non-profits such as the USO, and various universities around the country. His work can be found at www.matthewrakola.com and www.thelearnproject.com.
March 8, 2014 | 9:30-5:00 | Calumet Photographic at Tysons Corner
SOLD OUT! (email email@example.com to be added to a waiting list.)
Do you want to add video to your skill set for your clients? Interested in honing your HDSLR video skills? Need more than just the basics? Then join us for a one-day workshop exclusively created for APA-DC by Momenta Workshops on March 8, 2014 from 9:30-5:00pm at the Tyson’s Corner Calumet Store.
Momenta proudly created this customized itinerary for our members with instructor John W. Poole from NPR’s multimedia team. Joining John is award-winning documentarian Gaston Lacombe to support the demonstrations and software lectures. This schedule of learning was created to help you learn the structure and set-up of a quality interview from A to Z. By focusing exclusively on filming an interview, students should expect to leave the session with a clear understanding of the skills necessary to produce their own 2-3 minute interviews. As a special bonus, we will take the last hour of the program to cover the process of estimating, bidding, and billing a small video production.
The morning session will walk you through how to conduct a DSLR interview in the field, with a special emphasis on various audio recording techniques. We will be hosted in a private demo studio using available rental gear from Calumet so you can recreate this shooting environment again. During lunch the footage will be made available to everyone. The afternoon session will focus on downloading, editing and exporting tips with Adobe Premiere CC, which is fast becoming the industry standard for multimedia production.
This program is designed for working photographers who have already mastered the basic aspects of professional still photography but are being asked by their clients to shoot video as well. All students are expected to know their cameras, and basic photo production, inside and out. The program will not entail learning how to use your camera, except for the purpose of producing videos.
10:00-12:30 Studio Lighting, Audio & Camera Hands-On Training
12:00-1:00 Lunch Break
1:00-3:45 Tips & Tricks for Adobe Premiere CC Video Editing
4:00-5:00 Panel Discussion: Pricing Video for Clients
What to bring: your laptop computer with Premiere***, a pen and notepad, and lots of questions for the Momenta team!
Momenta’s Lead Instructor John W. Poole is a video producer for NPR. He makes documentary films and multimedia presentations for the web and digital platforms, extending the reach and power of traditional photojournalism with moving pictures and sound.
In 2007, Poole came to NPR to help develop a visual media strategy, combining the organization’s audio storytelling strength with still and motion photography. His work has led to two national Emmy nominations for the NPR Music series ‘Project Song’ and one for an investigative series on traumatic brain injury. Over his 15-year career, Poole has covered a range of subjects, including national elections in South Africa and the United States, the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and their aftermath, the effects of global climate change, and conservation issues in Peru and Namibia. Poole was part of a small team of visual journalists who developed the documentary video department at The Washington Post in 1998. That work was recognized with the first-ever Edward R. Murrow award for multimedia journalism in 2004. His work on a feature story about violinist Joshua Bell contributed to a Pulitzer Prize in 2008. The White House News Photographers Association has honored Poole with more than 20 awards for his work, including the 2005 Video Editor of the Year. His film, “The Sheriff of Gay Washington,” produced for The Washington Post, screened in festivals across the country and was optioned by HBO Documentary Films in 2006.
Momenta’s Supporting Instructor Gaston Lacombe is an award-wining photographer and filmmaker specializing in documentary narrative. Born in Canada but lived all over the world, he now calls Washington, D.C. home.
Gaston studied at the B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. levels in History and holds a degree in Photography from Boston University CDIA, D.C. campus. His work has been featured in PDN Magazine Wired Magazine, Burn Magazine, the Washington Post, the UK’s Daily Mail, Germany’s Die Welt, Italy’s Il Focus, and many others. Most notably, his photos series “Captive,” which looks at the living conditions of animals in zoos around the world, has attracted international attention. “Captive” was also a featured exhibit at Photoville in New York City in 2013. He is currently working with Smithsonian Institution on production of a film about reviving Native-American languages. His short film from his experience in Antarctica, “Living Esperanza,” has been shown worldwide and was an official film selection for the WiLD 10 World Wilderness Congress. He serves as the Communication Coordinator at the International League of Conservation Photographers, where he works with many of the world’s top photographers on projects and expeditions to help save the planet’s endangered places, animals and cultures.
About Momenta Workshops
Momenta was founded by three passionate media professionals who were all working for top tier photography companies. As the media struggled with cutbacks and diminishing budgets, each founder saw the need for change in the industry and the way stories were told to the public. Their goal: find like-minded photographers around the world and encourage social change with powerful images. Our workshops are not a “travel with a camera” experience. We seek to show our student’s new ways to witness the world, meet new people and explore new ways of storytelling. It is challenging. It is motivating. It is rewarding. And it is a helluva lot of fun. Trust us when we say this: these workshops will change your life. Learn more at http://momentaworkshops.com
About Our Host
Calumet Photographic has made this event possible through the generous loan of their facilities and rental equipment. Most or all of the equipment shown in the demo will be available as a rental package. APA|DC members get a 20% off discount of rentals from Calumet.
Show them some love today.
And a special thanks to PNY and Momenta Workshops for providing 32GB thumb drives for each attendee to take the footage home with.
Jon Goell has been teaching photography at Montgomery College in Maryland since 2000. Before that he was a commercial, editorial and advertising photographer in Boston, Massachusetts and Washington, DC. His clients have included The Boston Globe (where he also served as photo critic), Business Week, Fidelity Investments, and Polaroid. He holds an undergraduate degree from Boston University and an MFA from George Mason University. He currently has a 50-year retrospective showing at Montgomery College through February 21, which includes work from Paris, Italy, Turkey, and the United States. There will be an opening reception on Wednesday, February 12th.
So the first images that appear on your website and in your current one man show at Montgomery College are images from Paris from when you were studying abroad while at Boston University. What really struck me is that they felt very familiar. The specific places and faces are different, but I could see echoes of my semester abroad in London. I also see similarities in subject matter and approach between your work and what young shooters, almost fifty years your junior are shooting today.
Photographers are born opportunists. I was studying in Paris and I had some friends who were familiar with the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau, who had been shooting street stuff since the 1940’s. Doisneau’s work was sort of funny and offbeat and HCB was, of course doing composition for movement. I was just blown away by the books of these two photographers. It just hit something that I can barely describe– it was extremely deep. The trip coincided with the time that my father left me his black 1935 Leica around December of 1963. At the same I was traveling around Europe on vacations a little bit and everything was brand new. It was as if the fog had been peeled from my eyes, and this camera was my way of experiencing it. I was aware of the photographs I was looking at by others and I was also unconsciously aware of the compositional training I was using in art school and just started snapping away as much as I could afford. I was absolutely in love with it. By the time I got back to Boston University in 1964 the writing was on the wall so I knew that I would eventually switch. I started shooting for the Boston Globe while I was still in school (it was easy back then) and I never looked back. All I wanted to do was shoot. I was like a dog with a rubber ball and that’s all I wanted to do.
I agree, I think photography is born both of opportunity (HCB‘s “decisive moment”, for example) and the physical barriers inherent to the existing technology of the day. It’s unlike painting, for example, where you can really just make it up after the fact.
For the first thirty (plus) years of photography, photographers were extremely influenced by painters– by the composition, by the use of light, by the way you had people facing in group portraits. All of this came out of painting, and a lot of early photographers were very aware of the painting of their time. In fact, Louis Daguerre was a painter.
And you started off as a painter as well if I remember correctly…
I had already started off taking the history of art, art studio, and had already gone through a year of art training at Boston University in the early sixties, but I had been drawing all my life and my mother was an artist as well. So I knew a lot even then about design, depth, and the use of light.So, when my dad gave me that Leica, which was ancient even then, I was able to take it and run with it.
And once you began shooting professionally, how did your photography change?
For the first ten years I couldn’t not shoot. Ironically, it was when I started getting busy professionally that I didn’t shoot as much because I didn’t have as much time to wander the streets. but I always did, and always do, have a camera with me, even if it’s just my iPhone.
When I was studying photography in college it was still a very step-by-step oriented program, especially when shooting 4×5. Loading the film holders in pitch black closets, composing upside down and backwards, mastering camera movements, checking focus, processing B&W, C-41, or E-6, printing, etc. It was a very tactile (and often smelly) experience. How do students think about and learn about photography today?
Very few student know how to learn by reading anything now. Too many don’t understand how to get the knowledge by reading a chapter. Going back to the 1840’s, cameras were functionally mechanical devices, with three major controls: focus, shutter speed, and aperture. It didn’t take too long to get into what those those three controls were and not only how they controlled the technical aspects of photography but also how they allowed you to do creative things with your pictures. It wasn’t too hard to get that from reading a book.
In modern life everything is digital. It’s meant that a lot of younger people coming up- almost anyone under 35- really don’t have a sense for mechanical things. Not just cameras- everything. It’s all little buttons now– you learn what you need to do, but if it’s a physical thing you don’t know how it works because your mind was never trained to think in that way. I hate to be one of those, “well when I was a kid” people, but I will. As a teenager in high school I was like anyone else. I’d pull the carburetor out of the car and put it on the kitchen table to repair it. It wasn’t that big a deal and I was no genius, but I did understand how to use tools and how mechanical things worked together and how to listen for the right sound versus the wrong sound. It made it easy to learn the basic mechanics of photography- not so much processing film and printing it well- but you could learn it.
I feel badly for the younger students in my classes now who are struggling so hard and love photography but don’t know how to do it any other way but through digital devices and usually with a fully automatic pocket camera. That doesn’t make their images less valuable, or less well composed, because some of them are just brilliant at that because those rules still apply. But the mechanics of dealing with capturing– “capturing”, because that’s what it’s called now– has changed and it’s a huge mindset that’s changed not just with photography but with all devices of any kind.
I accept this because I have to and because, frankly, people looked at my generation when I was a kid and said “I can’t believe it, you guys are just never going to manage, you’re never going to succeed…”
And the larger format shooters said, “35mm… that’s so small. How can you ever work with a negative that small???”
The very limitations and deficiencies of film contribute to it’s beauty.
So what do you think about the computer and smartphone apps that emulate film? It’s like they’re reintroducing limitations and deficiencies, but sometimes only after the initial image has been captured. Do you think that that takes some of the magic out of it?
I understand why they’re doing it and for some people it will be a really good thing. In another way it’s phony and it’s theatrical. You’re asking one process to imitate another process, and my tendency as an old-fashioned guy is to say that you might as well go back to the original process.
Look, everybody in every generation has their tricks that the former generation will say sucks. Take Paul Strand– I knew Strand. He did stuff that people before him would think was insane. Take for example his famous street shots that he did with a 5×7 camera and glass plates. He didn’t point the camera directly at the blind lady or the other folks in the street in 1914. He had a little right angle mirror attached to his camera so he could pretend to be pointing it down the street when he was really shooting ninety degrees to his left at something four feet away. So in a sense that was cheating also. But, photographers are opportunists, like I said, so anything they can find that will help them get the results that they want is legitimate. So, it’s going to happen whether the previous generation likes it or not.
So do you think using a device like that [90 degree finder] was a way of avoiding human contact?
It was a way to avoid confrontation with another human being that he was were trying to take a picture of. Remember, in those days there was no sense of privacy like there is now, at least in this situation. Strand was looking for a certain kind of picture that would be a shocker to the audience. The picture of the blind woman at close-up range, street survivors, the guy with the bowler hat, etc. (Alfred) Stieglitz absolutely loved them, and he had been doing similar things in the 1890’s but on a tripod. They were both about making pictures of life in the raw but in their own ways, based on the technology that they had available. Strand didn’t consider it cheating, he considered it a way to show the world a different kind of image of life on the street. He wasn’t doing it long by the way. 1914 to 1916 maybe, and after that he was doing different kinds of work.
Three years- that’s like three different generations of iPhone and a dozen different photo apps. You mean he actually stuck to the same tool for that long?
[Laughing.] You know I exchanged letters and phone calls with him in the late 60’s when I was a grad student in Arizona. (I called him on a dare.) I later interviewed him twice in ’73 and ’74 when I was serving as the photo critic for the Boston Globe. He and his wife were very cordial. I had lunch with them and he gave me a tour of his home in Orgeval, France. He still had those 5×7 cameras, but I looked in his darkroom and he also had all of the latest gear in there. So he was up on whatever was new.
I’ll tell you something else I admire about Strand– he shot right up to the day he died. He was in his garden shooting a picture with his Rolleiflex and keeled over right there and died.
To this day my favorite camera is my old Rolleicord. I had another Type E with the Planar lens, but the smaller one just felt better in my hands and the shutter makes just the sweetest little whisper. Do you think younger photographers still have the same loyalty to the actual camera as perhaps some older shooters do?
I think they really do have a loyalty towards photography, as we all do, but I think the digital revolution has gotten us all used to the idea that every eighteen months something really new will come along that will make their photography better. What they are committed to, I think, is getting better and sharper pictures with bigger files. And whether the camera is this particular Nikon or Canon is less important to them than the idea that the camera with the higher resolution, and lower noise allows them to get the kinds of pictures that they want more easily than they could a year or two ago.
I think that what we’re talking about is a shift between photography being based on a physical thing- a negative, a print, a mechanical camera- to being more conceptual. You never really hold your original image in the same way that you did with a negative. When you’re working with images in a database program like Lightroom, you’re never actually altering the original image, you’re basically just giving it instructions for what to do when you export it. How do you see this shift?
I actually enjoy that aspect of it and I have no conceptual problem with that being the norm today… with one exception. My preference as an older photographer in the digital age is to still do as much as I can in-camera, because you can get lazy, assuming that you can fix it later in Photoshop. I like the simplicity of that [doing the work in-camera], but to someone now it is not necessarily how it’s done. It’s simpler for them to plan on getting it done later and just capturing the picture (or pictures) now. It’s like capturing words and assembling the sentence later. That’s the current ethic and the people who learned that way are comfortable with it and do it well. In twenty years they’ll look at a younger group of photo students and gripe about how they don’t do it their way. I see this as a continuum that will never, ever, ever change.
When a younger photographer comes up to me and wants me to look at their work, one of the first things I always ask is, why do you want to make pictures for a living? Photography is something you can do as a hobby. (I know many hobbyists who are better than a lot of pros out there.) Everyone has their own reason. What made you want to choose this for a living? What’s your motivation?
I couldn’t have answered that question at that age either. I am an opportunist without planning. I’ll carry a small camera, something will come up, there will be non-sequitur moments, and I’ll whip out the camera and I’ll shoot it. Occasionally some of those things will show up in a show like this. Looking back it’s always been a way of experiencing the world and preserving what that experience was. I also came out of an art background so I had a basis in design, composition, lighting, etc. and it was just really interesting to try with the camera. I also loved using that ancient pre-war Leica that my father gave me. The very mechanics of it were fun, the sound of the “click” was fun, taking pictures of people without them knowing was fun. I couldn’t have told you why if you asked me at the time, except that I was absolutely taken by it.