Mirror, Mirror On The Wall...
Saturday, January 16, 2010
We photographers, or perhaps I should just speak for myself, are very much like Snow White’s wicked queen/witch. The queen looked at herself in the mirror and wanted the magical mirror to reinforce that she was indeed the most beautiful woman of her kingdom.
This photographer has to be reinforced every once in a while and told I am the best. In the many years that I have been in the business of magazine photographer I have rarely noted a fashion photographer who approved of another colleague’s. Fashion photographers, by their very craft are in Vogue and out of Vogue very quickly. It is difficult for them to remain at the top for long. Since 1975 I have seen fashion photographers come and go. Few ever stayed to linger. One, the best ever was Howard Fry who retired to Salt Spring Island. His end came with the demise of department stores and their lucrative catalogue and newspaper flyer/brochures. Fry’s work was always crisp and original.
There was another whose name I have forgotten who made his female models look like women you would want to date on the spot. I remember a spread he did for Vancouver Magazine where he photographed them in a bathroom. The last Vancouver Magazine editor, Malcolm Parry ever heard of him was that he had absconded with a shipment of lingerie the magazine had sent to him in Italy where he was going to shoot a spread. I had my first suspicions that the photographer was more, or perhaps less, than he seemed when I found him in a room (the Tropicana Motor Inn on Robson) with Johnny Thunders
and Thunder’s girlfriend. Was it the booze (a bottle of Courvoisier)? Was it the heroin? Was it both?
I am not a fashion photographer and by that very fact I have had a bit more longevity. But I still look at myself in the mirror, figuratively and literally. There are some days when I think I am all washed up and then there are days when someone might tell me I am very good. Unable to accept that kind of praise my usual comment is, “After all this time, if I weren’t any good I would be terribly stupid to continue. I would have switched to plumbing a long time ago and prospered, too!”
The picture here, Claire Love at the Marble Arch, is one that I can objectively say speaks of a talent that I was born with. The talent in question is to know, sometimes at least, when to press the shutter and to make sure some sort of viewable image is left that can be used, printed or in the case here scanned and posted on this blog.
When I look at this picture I feel that I can face that talking mirror and its lips will say, “You are good; at least for today.”
P.K. (Patricia Kathleen) Page & It Wasn't A Dogwood
Friday, January 15, 2010
P.K. Page’s picture caught my eye in today’s Vancouver Sun
. I was saddened to find out it was her obituary. She was 93 when she died on Thursday. I immediately remembered my day with her and her husband Arthur Erwin some 15 years ago. Rosemary accompanied me on my assignment for Western Living to capture one of those At Home With… It was early spring and the only blooms in P.K. Page’s Victoria garden were bright red tulips. Getting ready for her pictures she told me, “I thought I would wear shoes to match the tulips.” While I had several chats with her the one who spent more time with her was Rosemary. P.K. Page confessed to Rosemary the problems with living with a man who was so much older than she was. He was not well and he was simply difficult.
I can attest to this. He was snarly with me so I opted to take his picture from far away in the garden and use the red rhododendrons as a foreground foil. At one point I shouted in his direction, “Mr. Erwin it is very easy for me to focus my camera on you because of the dogwood flower pin on your lapel.” Immediately Mr. Erwin shouted back, “Young man, come here.” This I did. He stared at me and using his index finger for emphasis he told me with a sneer, “Young man, this is not a dogwood, this is the Order of Canada!”
Spending the day with P.K. Page was like spending the day with my mother. I thought there was a physical resemblance and I got the impression that P.K. Page was a gentle snob just like my mother. I was posing her by one of her Garry Oaks and I asked her not to smile. She was reluctant. I explained that as a poet she could be romantically serious and get away with it. She gave me a full smile and then said, “You are absolutely right,” she turned serious and gave me an expression much as my mother would have that we in the family called the Sarah Bernhardt.
Of all the poems by P.K. Page that I have read my favourite is her incredibly romantic Adolescence. I live in a delightful anticipation of being able to read it soon to Rebecca who is now 12 but going on 15.
Adolescence by P. K. Page
In love they wore themselves in a green embrace.
A silken rain fell through the spring upon them.
In the park she fed the swans and he
whittled nervously with his strange hands.
And white was mixed with all their colours
as if they drew it from the flowering trees.
At night his two finger whistle brought her down
the waterfall stairs to his shy smile
which like an eddy, turned her round and round
lazily and slowly so her will
was nowhere—as in dreams things are and aren't.
Walking along avenues in the dark
street lamps sang like sopranos in their heads
with a violence they never understood
and all their movements when they were together
had no conclusion.
Only leaning into the question had they motion;
after they parted were savage and swift as gulls.
asking and asking the hostile emptiness
they were as sharp as partly sculptured stone
and all who watched, forgetting, were amazed
to see them form and fade before their eyes.
Pornography But No More Oldsmobiles
Thursday, January 14, 2010
I had admired the writing of Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent (the First Gulf War) for the New York Times so when I saw a book of his at my local Vancouver Public Library (the Oakridge Branch) I grabbed it. It is a fast read which means that the book has just been published and when you take it out you get it for only a week. For every overdue day you pay $1.00.
Fast read, is one thing this book, Empire Of Illusion - The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle
is not. It consists of five chapters which are essays on what is wrong with the United States, and by a most logical extension what is wrong with our Canada.
I finished the second chapter, Illusion of Love last
night and it left me shocked and deadened. When the subject is pornography I am a naïve amateur.
My first foray into pornography happened in 1973 when my wife, two small daughters and I drove our VW beetle from Mexico City to San Francisco. While there I decided I needed to see a dirty movie. I had read about Deep Throat
. I told Rosemary, “I am off to see a pornographic film called Deep Throat
.” She said nothing.
I sat behind two black men who ate popcorn through the whole film. I left with the realization that if I saw too many of these films I would end up impotent. I simply was not into pornography. Deep Throat was the last and first porno movie I ever saw.
In the mid 80s my friend Les Wiseman was writing a rock column, In One Ear
for Vancouver Magazine and he used this as a justification to interview ( I went along as the photographer) porn star Marilyn Chambers at the Four Seasons Hotel. The justification had all to do with the fact that Chambers was the lead singer of her own country and western band and it was playing the evening after at the Commodore.
When we left the interview I asked Les, “Do they really do it in the movie. Is it for real?” Les snickered and answered, “What do you think?”
About 10 years later I rang the bell at Les’s coach house pad near City Hall. I was there just for a visit. He let me in and told to sit down in front of a wooden cabinet. He opened the doors to a largish TV set. He pushed a few buttons and I was soon watching a detailed close-up of Marylyn Chambers having sex. He said, as if those 10 years had been only 10 minutes, “You see they really do it.” I did not ask for more details as it bored me and I left it at that.
A friend of mine, a very good local female photographer decided to try her fortune in Los Angeles. A couple of years later she had a really well paying job which consisted of finding good motels and locations for porn films. I was shocked and a bit disappointed in my friend.
Hedges’ chapter on pornography is so incredibly brutal that I could not believe what I was reading. His descriptions on what these more recent films include and how it affects the health and the well-being of the women involved are all shocking. The fact that after all kinds of multiple penetrations by dozens of men within a few hours, one of the men will grab the woman and drag her to a toilet. He will then plunge her head into the toilet bowl and flush it (it's called a swirlie) was, paradoxically the tamest of what I read and the only description I will put here.
Then I was hit by the statistics. Here they are:
There are 13,000 porn films made every year in the United States, most in the San Fernando Valley in California. According to the Internet Filter Review, worldwide porn revenues, including in-room movies at hotels, sex clubs, and the ever-expanding e-sex world, topped $97 billion in 2006. That is more than the revenues of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix, and EarthLink combined. Annual sales in the United States are estimated at $10 billion or higher. There is no precise monitoring of the porn industry. And porn is lucrative to some of the nation’s largest corporations. General Motors owns DIRECTV, which distributes more than 40 million streams of porn into American homes every month. AT&T Broadband and Comcast Cable are currently the biggest American companies accommodating porn users with the Hot Network, Adult Pay Per View, and similarly themed services. AT& T and GM rake in approximately 80 percent of all porn dollars spent by consumers.
Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges, 2009
I felt compelled to write about pornography when I had a phone conversation with a Vancouver colleague, Hans Sipma. I was telling him that the latest art craze at Emily Carr University of Art And Design is the Super 8 movie. Sipma sent me a YouTube link (it is no longer there now) to a Super 8 movie he happened to take in 1982 when he was working in a studio for Eaton's on Robson and Granville (in the very building where I had my studio until this past September). It features a street demonstration headed by then city counselor and religious minister Bernice Gerard. The demonstration was protesting the screening of Caligula
in a conventional (not a porn establishment) movie house on Granville.
I guess that had I seen Gerard then I would have thought her some sort of a fringe nut. Now as I listen to her talk to Sipma’s camera she seems to make sense.
My photographic grab shots, taken in the early 80s, of stripper and nude performance (streaking in baseball and football games) artist, Annie Ample, somehow promoting a non-smoking campaign and with the odd participation of the Penthouse’s Joe Philliponi seem to be quaint and innocent. The shots are almost laughable. Where those times (in comparison to the hell Hedges writes about) really that innocent?
The Medium Suggests The Method
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Miss Scarlet did it in the studio with a hammer. Or was it a screwdriver?
Sometime around 1982 I was driving my spiffy Fiat X 1/9 on the Trans Canada Highway freeway not far from our home, (I had gone shopping to a nearby Safeway) in Burnaby. Suddenly the gas pedal seemed to collapse and I lost all power. Luckily I was able to pull over and I was not rear ended. I opened the motor compartment (right behind the rear window but in front of the rear trunk (the X 1/9 was a mid-engine automobile). The cable from the gas pedal leading to the carburetor had been severed. I sat down to think and remembered I had purchased bread. In those days bread still came secured in paper coated wire bread ties and not with those rectangular plastic thingies that are used now. I used the bread tie to temporarily secure the gas pedal cable to the carburetor and I gingerly got home with no problem. Mail had arrived and there was a envelope from Fiat Canada telling me about a recall that had all to do with the sudden breaking of gas pedal cables. I was to report to my dealer as soon as possible for the installation of a beefed up and improved connection.
I have been privy to heated arguments between fellow photographers who argue about their cameras (and in particular their digital cameras). In this age of uniformity they argue “My Canon is better than your Nikon.” They argue back and forth until someone tired of the shouting simply says, “A camera is a tool. It is how you use it that really counts.” I have been made speechless by how often I hear this statement that I gave it some thought some years ago and came up with the comparison of cameras with two ubiquitous tools, the hammer and the screwdriver. These are specific tools that are made for a particular purpose. The hammer is used for hammering in nails or for removing them. The screwdriver is for screwing in screws or unscrewing them. But there are other uses for these specific tools if you put some thought into it. The hammer, wrapped in a cloth, could be used to hammer in and firm up the loose joint of a chair or table. The screwdriver can make thin holes in the ground to plant seeds. I don’t think that Miss Scarlet ever considered using either tool as a murder weapon in the board game of Clue
, but in a pinch, either would do quite well.
Of late I have been thinking a lot about cameras as tools and just a few days ago I came up with the pseudo McLuhanesque expression, the medium suggests the method.
I will use my medium format film camera the Mamiya RB-67 as an example. It used to shoot 20 exposures (6x7 cm in size) of 220 film or 10 exposures in the half-length 120 film. As soon as most manufacturers discontinued 220 film I was stuck with 10 exposures per roll. The camera comes equipped with removable film backs so I can load them up (I have three) and shoot one after the other.
But from the beginning this large and heavy camera “suggested” to me a frugality in shooting. It’s big viewfinder helped me look at every corner of my frame and I would note all the corrections I needed to make before I exposed film.
Back in the 70s, or later on when I sometimes used 35mm film cameras, my assignments could be executed with 36 exposure rolls. Even though I knew I had my shot (usually early on) I would tell my subjects that I had to finish off the roll as I did not want to waste film. “Film is expensive,” I would tell them.
In the last 10 years as the editorial jobs from the Georgia Straight began to peter out and their editorial rates were kept pitifully low while their demands for what they wanted increased I learned the frugal trick of shooting one Polaroid test in b+w and then doing the job with two or three exposure of a 10 exposure 120 roll of Ektachrome. When possible I tried to stack together more than one job and I would do two and even three with one 10 exposure roll. Doing this was exciting and I was never asked by the folks of the Straight, “Do you have other versions of this?”
My Mamiya RB when placed on a heavy tripod is secure but if you wanted to twist the camera on its side to go from a vertical format to a horizontal format it would be a time consuming job. The folks at Mamiya rose to that occasion by designing a film back that rotates so you can turn it to the vertical or horizontal mode. In my years as a magazine photographer (beginning around 1977) I have rarely had my photographs cropped. I would always shoot a vertical and a horizontal version of everything. And the folks at the Straight demanded only vertical pictures for their arts pages so I never had to opt for shooting those two or three shots as horizontal versions, too.
Because of my frugality I have always used a very good flash/exposure meter. By making sure that every exposure I took was the right one I never did waste film in what many photographers call bracketing. This means shooting a burst of at least three exposures with half-f-stop increments either way of the supposed correct exposure. My experience is that the portrait with the perfect expression was the one that was too light or too dark.
My Mamiya has an accessory Polaroid back (I shoot Fuji instant film now). From the beginning I standerized my photographic method by using film that was always the same ISO speed rating of 100. I noticed that when I removed the battery from either of my two Minolta meters that when I would re-install it the meter would automatically read 100 IS0. For many years I always duplicated my shooting by doing so in colour and in b+w. The Mamiya allows the photographer to shift back and forth between two different kinds of film and ultimately with a as many as you want if you have a film back for each. So I used 100 ISO b+w film and Kodak Ecktachrome 100. I never had problems in setting my meter to match the film in the camera.
The fact that my Mamiya RB is fully manual and has no built-in light meter has meant that I never had to override any faulty exposure failure of the built in meter the camera did not have.
My adaptation to my tool (the Mamiya RB) meant and has meant that I had a very low incidence of photographic failure. In editorial photography this means being able to provide a magazine or newspaper art director with one useable image with no excuses.
As a dinosaur of the film age I have not adapted my photographic procedure in any way except to realize that film and my good film scanner combine to give me a pleasant cushion to save an unforeseeable (not frequent with me since I have duplicate equipment in my camera bag) exposure. A slightly overexposed slide was toast. Now it can be fixed. The dark under exposed slide can be brightened up. But my scanner has never been a crutch. I depend on my two identical Minolta meters to keep my exposures accurate.
This means that in many respects my camera (my Mamiya RB) is much like the hammer or the screwdriver I mention above. I have adapted to the camera’s design assets. That it is heavy has meant that I have learned to use a tripod and then without having to worry about moving myself around (or moving my hands and arms up or down) I can concentrate through that big viewfinder to notice the nuance of expression of my subject. I can move the camera up or down millimeters or centimeters on the tripod column and notice how this affects the look of my subject’s face. When I find the right place I can take two or three shots and play with the expression knowing that the angle of my camera is the right one and secure. While Mamiya did make an expensive zoom lens I could never afford it nor did I ever want one. I use really only three focal lengths, a 50mm wide angle, a 90mm normal lens and an extremely sharp 140mm longer lens. In the wings I have a 65mm and a 250mm telephoto for special situations. This means that my pictures are never taken at 98.76 mm or 53.85 mm. The shutter speeds of my Mamiya lenses are mechanical so I can opt for 1/250 or perhaps 1/15 second. Modern electronic cameras give you stepless (to me confusing) speeds like 1/753 of a second.
In short my medium, my Mamiya RB and other ancillary items (important) as my one light soft box method and a gray wall, has “suggested” what has in the end (but early on) became my recognizable and fairly lucrative style.
To put that in another way this style has been my adaptation (listening to my camera’s silent suggestions) to the reduced parameters of my camera. I have found that reduced parameters lead to creativity while over-choice does the exact opposite
Now in the 21st century we have fewer camera manufacturers but they make incredible machines of miniaturized electronic engineering. They are wonders of what we are capable designing. These cameras come with so many options that their manuals are as complex as the motherboards of the on-board processors of these Digital Single Lens Cameras or DSLRs.
The back lit viewing screen that pops up on the back of the camera after each exposure guarantees (almost as those storage cards, the closest equivalent to film in those cameras, can become corrupt), at the very least an approximation that all systems are working correctly and that the picture is in focus (or not) and correctly exposed (or not) and that the chosen crop is the one want (or not). Many of us make fun of these photographers that check (chimp) after every exposure. But few of us remember how dependant we soon became to checking, every once in a while, what we were doing with a Polaroid back on our medium format cameras or bigger 4x5 and 8x10 view cameras. There were some very rich American magazine photographers that had special Polaroid camera backs made for their Nikons!
I do believe that chimping with a DSLR somehow results in a sort of photographic coitus interruptus. It makes the photographer work in a jerky manner. While I do believe that one should cultivate a relationship with ones subject (particularly for a magazine shoot) the moving of the camera to our subject so that both of us can see the little picture in the back forces some sort of instant closeness that might affect one’s objectivity as a magazine or newspaper photographer.
As a Mamiya RB shooter I see myself as sharpshooter with an instrument where each bullet (or exposure) must count. I see DSLR shooters as Gatling Gun operators hoping that in their spray they might hit the target.
I can list here the many advantages of the modern DSLR. There is the obvious one that if you travel you need not worry about airport security x-rays fogging up your film. A DSLR’s ability to adapt with white balance to any kind of lighting situation or to even make a cloudy blue day into a more cheerful one is another. But many a digital photographer, unable to force themselves to shoot with accurate exposure by using a good meter, is forced to shoot in the RAW format This results in long hours of post production work flow (not paid by most customers). The RAW format gives a photographer ample room for exposure failure correction and even white balance correction.
What this means is that the DSLR photographer will shoot bursts of exposures showing a person without much change instead of the photographer taking the time to pick the right expression.
DSLR advertising tells us that with one of these in our hands we can do anything. Camera advertising has been spotty since the beginning. I remember Olympus harping that their cameras came equipped with ESP! With the digital wonder in hand we will rarely decide to use supplementary lighting. It is supplementary lighting that helps to take a picture’s look away from that uniformity of the norm that we see in Flicker. The camera is then capable of doing anything and this anything is the very anything that all those photographers with a camera like you are doing.
It is a DSLR’s capacity to do anything that makes the photographer flounder in over choice. It is up to the photographer to somehow talk back to that digital wonder and suggest back, “I want to do this, and you are going to do just that and shut up.” Until each individual photographer does that photographs are going to have the boring uniformity of Flickr.
into change in the 21st century.
The Age Of Flickr
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
My friend Ian McGuffie often says that 20 years ago if you walked around Stanley Park you would occasionally run into people with a camera around their neck. These cameras were often expensive or moderately expensive Nikons, Canons, Pentaxes or Minoltas. McGuffie also says, “You could never tell what kind of pictures those people took because they could not publish them or show them anywhere. It is because of this that I cannot assert that photographers then were any better than the ones we have now. Perhaps the photographers of those days were terrible, but we have no way of knowing.”
The advent of the digital camera, in which a $150 point-and-shoot can take pictures that not only “turn out” but can be quite nice, has evened the playing field. Not too many in those Stanley Park days of yore could afford a Nikon FM-2 or a Pentax LX. The digital camera has evened the playing field much in the same way that the mass-produced Colt .45 made a gunfighter’s day decline with competition. The freelancer of the 20th century, the professional photographer is much like that freelancer of the 19th, the gunfighter. The 21st century has made me as obsolete as running boards and horse whips.
In 1979 or thereabouts I lit my photographs using what at the time was a rare item. It was a rip-stop nylon portable tent (similar to the modern camping tent) called a soft-box. The pictures with the soft box had much less contrast than pictures taken with a direct flash. The soft box soon became part of my style (the pictures here were all taken with such a device) and brought me lots of magazine and annual report work. I would light lumber mill workers in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan or Lumby, B.C. with them and soon I was being paid a week’s worth of lofty day rates to repeat the pictures in mills across Canada, from the ground and from the air in a helicopter (no soft box, natch).
The diminishing of the logging industry in Western Canada happened at the same time that film-based cameras and related photograpy began their downturn and the emergence of the digital “peacemaker” or “equalizer”. Any photographer today can imitate and improve on my photographic methods and do it much more cheaply. I am a hired gun in a peaceful community where the rule of law has replaced the free range.
Like that rare gunfighter who somehow managed to retire without being gunned down by the latest town hot-shot, I can observe that the playing field has resulted in a uniformity of technique. Pictures look much like each other. McGuffie might say, “Contemporary photographers are not better than those from the past. The difference lies in that they now have the power to “publish” them in social network sites.” I like to use the word Flickr as a verb. It is my contemporary replacement for "to make the same". Photography, particularly that in social network sites, is being Flickrd.
Today I gave my last class, Style Development, to the 7th generation of students at Van Arts. They are DP7 (Digital Photography 7). I spent most of Monday night trying to figure out how to help (even what to say) to a generation faced with the photographic uniformity I write about above. How are they going to achieve what I call the Holy Grail of Photography
, a readily observable personal style, in the age of Flickr?
Here is the handout I wrote. Those of you who are photographers might understand some of the points and some might not. But the questions I raise and the assertions I make are not written in stone. Perhaps there is another way. If there is then I can soon sleep well at night knowing that the Age of Flickr is past and that individual style is back in a new renaissance.
The pictures you see here were all taken with a single light attached to a 2x3 ft Chimera soft box. These pictures would have been unique in the 80s and 90s. My contemporary students can now match and improve on this style. One of the elements I have harped about to my students is to take pictures with a theme. The theme here is my mother's red Mexican rebozo that was given to her around 1953. I have used it to photograph many people through the years. I often take it to class and my students use it. Their pictures look like mine. I have been equalized!
January 12, 2010
Last two classes
I taught high school until 1974 in Mexico City. We decided to sell our house and move to Vancouver. We quit our jobs. Suddenly we could not sell our house and I had to make money
in some way. With a Pentax S-3
, and 55, 36 and 120mm lenses I went into business shooting the children and teenagers of wealthy Mexicans. I used Kodak Tri-X
exclusively and I had no lights. I printed and processed everything in my bathroom. I made good money and for a while we almost thought we would change our mind.
We moved to Vancouver in 1975. I could not get a job as a photographer so I washed and rented cars for Tilden Rent-A- Car on Alberni Street.
After a year I was able to get work. By 1982 I had established myself as a photographer with a very definite style.
By 1986 most ad agencies were looking for a universal (no style) photographer and I was shunned. Having a recognizable style was a bad thing in Vancouver then. I can count with one or perhaps two hands the jobs I have done for ad agencies. I made the mistake of stressing magazines and did not promote myself too much with all the head offices who were giving out jobs in annual reports. Yet I did quite a few of them for very good money. Magazines wanted unique styles. They wanted pictures that would draw viewers into reading.
It is Monday night and I am trying to nail down what style is and how to go about it. In a compilation of projected pictures I have divided them into themes:
1. Borrowing from art.
2. Working with artists
3. Shooting landscapes
4. Using unusual lighting techniques like Hollywood lighting.
5. The cliché works because it is a cliché
6. The use of hands
7. Literature and reading inspires ideas.
8. Nostalgia offers a wealth of inspiration
9. Religion even if you don’t practice it or believe in it is a mine of inspirational images and tradition (the cliché)
10. The narrow theme (in my case my mother’s red Mexican rebozo) is a source of ideas for shooting portraits. I find that the less freedom you give yourself the more likely you will come up with an original idea.
11. Just like literature and art can inspire so can music and films.
12. Shooting dance and dancers is extremely important in teaching you to pose those who are not inherently graceful.
13. You must shoot nudes as nudes seem to awaken a desire to experiment in ways you might not think of with other more mundane endeavors like documenting fire hydrants.
I cannot tell the class what they should do to develop a style that is their own but I can look back to what I did (without really knowing what I was doing ) which brought me to have a style.
It is obvious that in our contemporary world there are more photographers than ever before who are no longer stifled by being able to appear in hard copy. Pictures can now be "published" and placed on the web.
Just like many Japanese cars look like Audis and many a Mercedes looks like a BMW there is a fading away of a unique style not only in car design but in conventional TV entertainment. The same has happened to photography.
How is it possible to take unique pictures if thousands upon thousands have the same equipment you have?
My style came when I eschewed my 35 and opted for the 6x7 camera. I was one of the first in Vancouver to use a Chimera soft box and I am still one of the few who uses spotlights (both focusing and Fresnel) with gobos. I use a ring flash in a different way that came about by an accident.
But if I would narrow down what it is that I do that gives me as style it is:
1. I have never used zoom lenses.
2. Any lens is a portrait lens, especially a moderate wide angle. The lens that gets you closest to your subject will in the end be the best one.
3. I consider the photographer to be no different from that of a cook. This means that while you might specialize in one thing (sea food could be an example) you must know how to do everything else with some good level of confidence. Photographers must look at what they know how to do just like a mental recipe book. You cook what is needed and you must accommodate that one person who says she is a vegetarian just when you put the roast beef in the oven.
4. The ignorant photographer will be a lousy photographer. The more you read, the more you look at paintings and photographs, the more you listen to a varied repertoire of music, the more hobbies you have such as gardening (that’s my case) the more original you will be in the execution of your photography. You will get along better with those you deal with you and your arts awareness and reading will help yo connect with your subject.
5. I don’t think it is possible to have a unique style unless you are prepared to light your photographs.
6. Not bracketing and making sure the exposure is the correct one means I took fewer pictures. Shooting fewer pictures to me meant less expense and to you it will mean less work in post production after you shoot.
7. The revolving back on my 6x7 forced me to think in vertical and horizontal versions of every shot I took.
Today we will look and critique your past efforts. I will bring hard copy photographs for you to look at and you must not be afraid to ask how they were taken. The only secret I will not reveal (even though I try a lot) is that the key to my photography comes from inside and not from equipment. It comes from connecting with those I photograph.
You might consider that in this perfect world of the perfect photograph, the flaw, a flaw, might just be what will point you in the direction of style.
And you must not forget that:
The medium suggests the method. I will explain this in class today.
French Woman With Log
Monday, January 11, 2010
When Rosemary really nags me (and she did yesterday) to pick up all the unknown envelopes in my basement room floor, where I keep my photographic filing cabinets, I go down and file for a while. She is absolutely right as I have not vacuumed the room for a long time. It is impossible to navigate around the photographs, the envelopes and the unidentified negative sleeves. Filing can be an adventure and a surprise when I find stuff I had forgotten about. Or it can be depressing when I find material that could be defined as a failure. It is particularly sad when I cannot remember the people in a strip of negatives or a sheet of slides and I throw them away. By throwing them away I am relegating these forgotten people to a final death. I have always thought that if you have the names of the people under old pictures in family albums those people are somehow alive. When we can no longer remember the woman sitting by the ferns in a Victorian sitting room and can only guess that she could be a great-great aunt then her existence inexorably fades and is no more.
One of the envelopes I found last night was indentified as French Woman with Log. I know I took the pictures on Wreck Beach and I know the period of time to be somewhere in the late 70s or very early 80s. It was then that I was obsessed with the way skin was rendered by Kodak b+w Technical Pan Film.
I remember that the woman was indeed French and that somehow she and a man had come from Paris and knew someone I knew. Rosemary and I took them to Wreck Beach. In some of the other frames I can discern a bikini on the French woman. I don’t remember anything else except that I was struck by her profile as that is all I took, profiles except for the one below. When I took it I remember telling her that with her eyes closed there was a passing resemblance with Napoleon's death mask.
I will file her in my nudes section (even though I was much too shy to have asked her. What an idiot I was!) and the file will be named, as it was, French Woman and Log. I will linger for a while in life and some day someone will look at a picture of me and not know it was me. But I do know, at least for now, that I am the man who photographed the French woman and the log.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
In 1986 Vancouver Magazine’s
editor, Malcolm Parry came up with the project of having a spread of photographs taken in Vancouver that would be done in the style of a big budget magazine like the National Geographic
. The issue which was to come out in the summer was to reflect the sophistication of our city to all the visitors that would come to Expo 86. I was given the job of directing the project and finding photographers to do the jobs. I did a couple of them. These shots were called Hot Shots by Malcolm Parry.
How I came to shoot the picture here is in my memory. I remember the camera and lens (Pentax MX and a 15mm rectilinear wide angle lens). I don’t remember how I came about the concept. Once I had the idea of a beautiful, lightly dressed young woman sunning herself on a West End roof I asked Vancouver Magazine fashion editor, Linda Guthrie if she knew of a possible woman who would fit the bill. She told me of a woman that had a “tight” body and would be perfect for the shot. She ended up being Katheryn (when I met her she was still at her Cathy stage) Petersen of whom I wrote here
and John Lekich wrote about her here
I am not all that happy with the picture nor was I happy then. Since I had to use a powerful hard flash to light the scene from the edge of the higher roof I ended up with the unsightly hot and bright spot at Katheryn’s feet. I could have avoided this by centering my flash better and then checking the picture with a Polaroid on my bigger camera. But I am still happy with the little private joke of including William Gibson’s first novel Neuromancer
as part of her reading material. That British first edition is now worth around $1500.
As Katheryn Petersen left the scene in her bright red pickup it occurred to me that I wanted to photograph her again. As you all know this is something that I did do again, many times.