A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.
Advice to a Young Photographer from an Old One
Saturday, March 25, 2017
a new friend in Medium asks me for photographic advice I find it hard
to respond. As an old obsolete-redundant and retired (soon to be a
country song!) magazine photographer and journalist from an era in the
20th century when I was paid to go to many cities of the world It is
difficult to give out advice without feeling smug.
I will try not to be smug.
In the mid 80s writer Les Wiseman and I (we both worked for a healthy Vancouver Magazine) decided to expand our horizons by going to New York City in search of work. We went to Rolling Stone, Esquire Magazine and Trowser Press.
Only the latter ever gave us any paying work. The folks (at least the
art director) at Rolling Stone had a telephone screening process. I was
asked if I had any concert shots of rock bands. My negative answer
passed muster and I saw the art director who told me, “Your photographs
taken back stage and in hotel rooms are excellent but currently we are
not interested in any Canadian bands and that includes Red Rider.” At
Esquire we saw the now legendary editor Adam Moss. He told us he liked
our work but added that both Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney were boring
and he could not think of anything in Canada that would interest
Esquire. And that was it and we returned to Vancouver..
what I learned from Rolling Stone I can pass here as advice. It may
seem complicated but it is really not. The Holy Grail of photography for
me is to develop a distinct personal style. This is tough if you shoot
street scenes and bands in concerts. Your mike shot is not going to look
any different from someone else’s. Street photography had style (it was
unique then) when Cartier-Bresson pioneered it. Of present street
photographers I can only cite that I admire(she is dead now) Mary Ellen
you attempt to shoot Ansel Adams landscapes it really has been done and
done well. My advice to myself when I see a lovely landscape is to buy a
postcard. I feel the same about that terrible photographic term “to
record” as in “I am recording the fire plugs of the Bronx”.
I am driving at is that for me the search for that unique personal
style found me in front of people whose portraits I took with a medium
format camera and with seriously big lights.
has changed in that actors, rock stars, film directors no longer give
access to photographers and writers in a physical environment. It now
happens with phones, Skype, email or Whatsapp.
I began professionally in 1975 I had the only option of film. I
developed my own style of shooting my films of choice and I interpreted
my b+w and colour negatives in my own darkroom. In the 20th century
magazines demanded (before the advent of the scanner) slide film and
larger slide film called transparency. An art director wanted to see the
original which was the personal interpretation of the individual
photographer. That aspect of photography is gone.
My only advice would be to find something that nobody else is doing and do it.
for cameras the Nikon FM-2 always served me well. I own three. I also
have a Pentax MX mated to a remarkable 20mm wide angle that is so
rectilinear that used carefully nobody would suspect a wide angle has
been used. A year ago my wife and I moved from a large house (with an
excellent darkroom) to a small duplex without one. I have learned to use
a Canon Pro-1 inkjet printer and with my Epson Perfection V700 Photo
scanner I am able to get very good scans of all my film photographs and
printed 8x10s. It was my wife Rosemary who “forced” me to buy a digital
camera three years ago. I got very good advice at Leo’s Camera in
Vancouver and purchased a Fuji X-E1. I have a safe sync adapter so I can
use my studio lights with the camera. Its ability to shoot panoramics
is a positive added asset.
just returned from a two-week trip to my hometown of Buenos Aires. The
Fuji worked beautifully. I had an extra battery and charger. Every few
days I would switch to a new storage card (just in case).
My Photoshop is a 13 or 14 year-old one. It has the one feature I could not do without. It is called Shadow/Highlight.
I use the more extensive option. It can bring detail (that has always
been there) in my slides and negatives. For “fixing” some of my pictures
I use the very cheap and excellent Corel Paint Shop Pro X2. Unlike most
anybody else I shoot jpgs.
A useful tool to accurate exposure is a good Minolta flash/exposure meter. I have two IIIs.
friend of mine has often said that one of the surest ways of improving a
photograph is to use a tripod. Because m y workhorse is a Mamiya RB-67
Pro SD a tripod is a necessity. When I use my Fuji I still use the
tripod (in a studio situation) so I can carefully frame my shots. This
cannot be done well if you shoot loose.
Any photographer should remember that like a gunfighter one is as good as one’s last shot.
is one of mine taken two weeks ago in Buenos Aires with my Fuji. I felt
a bit restrained by having to use window lighting! :
M Bella Vista, Provincia de Buenos Aires March 2017dd caption
photograph in the beginning of this essay is an example of one of the
few street shots I do. This only happens when I travel. I was at the
Buenos Aires cemetery of La Recoleta when I noticed this woman with the
violet hair. I was ready to shoot and when I pressed the shutter my
Argentine painter friend Nora Patrich moved into the frame and “ruined
it”. Once I saw the resulting exposure I realized that Patrich saved it!
Lauren on Calle Corrientes on an uncharacteristicaly pristine vereda. Buenos Aire March 2017
In English you have a sidewalk. In Spanish Castilian you
have the cold acera and in Mexican Spanish the unwieldy banqueta. In Argentina
we have the far sweeter vereda. Strangely a Mexican composer wrote Vereda
Tropical, lyrics and link below
A sidewalk by the sea shore (in a city) has the nice
sounding word malecón. Havana has its malecon as does Veracruz, but Barcelona,
to be different has Las Ramblas.
Back to veredas. Since I can remember my Buenos Aires has
always had sidewalks that are tiled. These tiles are called baldosas in
Argentina even though we all know that the beautiful tiles from Spain or
Talavera in Guadalajara, Mexico are called azulejos.
From the moment I notice women in Buenos Aires I had a
fantasy that I shared with many boys my age. This was to wait outside our homes
on a rainy day and watch for a young woman in heels walk by and step on the
many loose baldosas (then and now in 2017). She would step on that lucky (for
us) baldosa and water would skirt up her skirt! I have no need to go any
further as to mention what the young woman would do next.
If I can be frank about the state of affairs with my
hometown is that something has not changed. If anything the situation is worse.
The lovely and romantic veredas of Buenos Aires are a mess. It was particularly
difficult for my wife Rosemary who now walks with a cane to navigate these
It seems that as soon as a vereda is repaired, within
days a pipe bursts and…
The freeways (there are many and all are tolled) of
Buenos Aires are in excellent shape as well as most streets. Sidewalks are not.
It immediately came to mind that Vancouver is the opposite. Are sidewalks are
nice while our streets are in terrible shape.
Tucumán corner with San Martin
The folks who lived (are they still there?) on Burrard
from Drake, south all the way to about 16th have suffered for more
than a year with a closed road. Even side streets are blocked. There is that
stretch from Drake to Pacific that has been two narrow lanes now for over a
year. The city does not tell us why or for how long this will last. My
suggestion is to import ancient Egyptians (if any un-mummified ones can be
found) and if they could build the pyramids in under a century perhaps they
could do better at Burrard and Pacific.
Tucumán and San Martin, our hotel, the Claridge on the left right after the tall building
As terrible as Buenos Aires veredas are and can be it had
to be Julio Cortázar who would write a delightful poem about them.
de Buenos Aires – Julio Cortázar
De este texto nació un tango,
Con música de Edgardo Cantón
De pibes la llamamos la vedera
y a ella le gustó que las quisiéramos.
En su lomo sufrido dibujamos
Después, ya más compadres, taconeando.
dimos vueltas manzana con la barra,
silbando fuerte para que la rubia
del almacén saliera a la ventana.
A mí me tocó un día irme muy lejos
pero no me olvidé de las vederas.
Aquí o allà las siento en los tamangos
como la fiel caricia de mi tierra.
Sidewalks of Buenos Aires
When we were little
we called it the walkside
and it liked the
way we loved it.
On its suffering
back we drew
so many hopscotch
Later, full of
ourselves, boot heels rapping,
the gang of us
would strut around the block
whistling as loud
as we could so the blonde
at work would come
to the window of her shop.
One day my turn
came to go far away
but I never forgot
Here or there I
feel them in my boots
like the faithful
touch of my land.
Impossible to translate is the modified use of vereda by
Cortázar as vedera. Argentines like to do this so a café con leche becomes a
feca con chele. The almacén of the poem is translated to shop. Not correct. An
almacén was usually a corner grocery store run by a crusty Galician from Spain.
It was in the almacén on the corner near my house that in 1949 and 1950, Julio
Cortázar, a friend of my father's would send me for his brand of cigarettes,
Arizonas. The crusty man was called Don Pascual.