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A Couple of Daves

Mar 5

In Links, Thoughts at 12:24pm

I could have continued, and done, you know, Raves for a Couple of Daves, or, These Daves are Faves, or…..well, you get the drift.

Hubert HumphreyWhen I got into this business, my aims were pretty simple. I wanted to do some cool pictures, and make my pix decent enough to enjoy the respect of my peers. Pretty straightforward. I remember wangling a student credential to the 1976 Democratic National Convention in NYC, and getting in there in the limited way I could, with my Nikkormat and a couple of lenses. I was overawed, not by Carter-Mondale, or the convention itself (though Barbara Jordan was pretty cool) but by the shooters. These guys were pros. Big time. I didn’t know any of them of course, but I had heard of them. I couldn’t believe I was watching Wally McNamee and Danny Farrell work, for instance. Completely unflappable. Kept their eye in the damn camera while the whole world was crashing down and people were shouting and shoving and just in general gettin’ pretty wild eyed. (And this was not D3, auto focus, auto exposure, auto white balance, auto registration of your images with the Library of Congress, auto park the car and walk the dog territory. This was the days of the F, F2 if your paper was fancy, with lenses darker than Fanghorn Forest and focus rings so stiff you needed a crescent wrench to crank ’em.) Still, they would just shoot, and nail it.

DemonstratorsBy contrast, I would stand open mouthed at something going on, and then remember after it was too late I had a camera around my neck. Good old Mr. Nose for News.

Now, fast forward 30 plus years, and I’ve gotten to know a whole bunch of great shooters, and call them friends. I wrote a paper about Jay Maisel in school, for instance, and now I call him friend. (He calls me a bunch of different stuff, which is cool with me.) It’s one of those gifts continuing to endeavor in this field gives you, along with the knee surgeries, the nights alone in places by the side of the highway, and the continuing angst over when the next good frame will come your way, and how the hell you gonna pay next month’s (make it this month’s) Amex. But that is for blogs tk.

[More after the jump]

I call David Hobby and Dave Black friends. And mentors, and shooters, and legends, and teachers, and…well, not to get too overblown about it, keepers of a certain kind of trust and history.

David Hobby (better known as Strobist to about a million photogs out there) has defined an amazing new role in this digital age, that of community builder. I was blessed that he felt strongly about The Moment It Clicks, and spoke in heartfelt fashion about it.

We’ve talked a bit over email, and both of us hearken back to that time at newspapers and wire services when deadline would hit, and the staff would be back at the wet darkroom, sloshing film through hypo and printing wet negs as 5:30 closed in and giving each other a ton of shit and a brief oral history of their day in the field. Tips and tricks were exchanged, Tri-x frame numbers were picked with an Agfa loupe by fluorescent light, and when the deadline passed, the bar was around the corner, and the conversation continued. Young photographers learned, and grew. Competition for space in the paper intensified everybody’s efforts in the field. Big stories became team efforts, with bags of film being thrown from platform trucks rolling with the motorcade, and motorcycles buzzing and copy kids hitting the subway. (Hell, during a Papal visit to NY the Times even enlisted the NY Road Runners club to network a bunch of their strong marathoners to run film bags back to the paper, so scared was everybody of the city just locking up, traffic wise.)

Things change. That’s all gone, and some of the memories are certainly more fun than the experiences actually were. But the point is that training ground is gone, too. I have always told young shooters to get an internship at a paper, it is the best training there is. But one young assistant did that a few summers ago, at a major metro shop, and spent the summer there, and did not meet 70% of the staff. Makes sense. Assignments come and go via email now. Gone are the days of going to the picture desk and raiding the feature/futures file to see what press conference might have a freebie lunch that day, as some of the gang at the Daily News did.

David has replaced that back-at-the-shop mentoring process with his blog and the lessons contained therein. It is a non-stop, wide open faucet of information, daily, so strong and constant that an entire network has grown up around it. Strobist groups meet around the country, and share pictures and ideas at a fierce rate. It’s cool, and David, by being free with his time and knowledge, has done what all shooters really want to do… have impact. Real, serious impact. He changed the deal, used his site as a go to source, re-defined what it is to know about light, and gave us all back a big chunk of something that has gone missing–community.

Dave Black has done the same thing. His history as a shooter of record in the sports community has grown, really, as he has rolled up all that road time and thirty years of his graceful eye in the lens into the Workshops at the Ranch, his far reaching web site. We have taught together many times, as he has noted, a bit like Penn and Teller, goofy to be sure, and certainly not as funny. (He has definitely heard some of the wackier stories in Clicks a few times.) But his capacity to instruct, and the range of his knowledge, from how to light an arena to how to light a cowboy with a Maglite or an ice locked canyon with a 15 million candle power bazooka of a flashlight, is extraordinary. So is his generosity.

I give their sites out at every workshop I teach. In the fragmented, often isolated digital ether where we shoot ones and zeros instead of a strip of acetate, they have given us all an anchor, a weigh station. It is cool, and even cooler to call them friends.

Mentioned in this post:
Nikon F
Nikon F2

Rick says:

on March 5, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Wow – I’m feeling the love. Cool stuff.

Jay says:

on March 5, 2008 at 1:35 pm

Awesome. I paid my way through University working as a press photographer. I can still smell the chemicals, and reading this brought back so many memories – one being how the editor would pull my still damp negs through his hands – held above his head so the lights gave him a better view to make his selections. That was in the days when he didn’t have time to wait for my 8×10 contact sheet (also delivered wet). Oh and the day he yelled at me and took all my lenses off my bar a 35mm, “Get in closer, get me faces kid, or get another job! Faces sell newspapers, not landscapes!” Good advice then and good advice now as well….

Larry Eiss says:

on March 5, 2008 at 2:03 pm

Great post! David Hobby has done a lot for my photography, I can tell you that. As I finally come to understand some of the basic concepts he discusses, I am all the more impressed with the depth of his knowledge. People like Hobby, Moose Peterson, Thom Hogan, Laurie Excell, Scott Kelby, and others are doing a great service to neophytes like me who want to learn more. I have foregone posting much in my Gallery of late because I have been learning SO much from all of you. Soon, I hope to find a few shots that demonstrate that I actually *am* learning to add to the ones that are good-but-not-great I already have up there. Keep it up! PLEASE!

Phil says:

on March 5, 2008 at 5:16 pm

Agree fully with Larry – there are some really amazing people out there who give so much to their craft – I’d certainly add Chase Jarvis to your list, and many other too numerous to name. I am really very grateful for all the knowledge that I am picking up reading stuff on the Internet.


Mike says:

on March 5, 2008 at 5:24 pm

I never went into news, but this post sure makes me miss my time as photographer and PE back in college. The darkroom smells, fighting over posh assignments, and teaching the younglings how to get a decent frame every now and then. Great words of advice came down from above like “Crop ’em till they bleed!” and other great words of advice from those above me and before me.

As much as these guys help, I really miss the darkroom stories and camaraderie. There’s nothing like instant feedback, especially when you say something without editing it 100 times before posting it.

These sites rock though, I visit them every day (from work!) and learn so many new things every day I just want to leave work and go shoot. Too bad I forget most of what I learn before I get out there, then have a forehead smack moment later. (Like David Hobby’s post recently on how to light a knife blade… dangit, I *knew* that, but didn’t apply it in my last shoot!)

Keep up the great work, and thanks for sharing all the knowledge.


Will Foster says:

on March 6, 2008 at 9:57 am

What’s film?

Billy Mitchell says:

on March 6, 2008 at 8:58 pm

Joe, Did I tell you that I worked as a newpaper photographer in 1962. Night shift. Two years. Fun. “f:8 and be there” was the motto in those days.


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