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Archive for June, 2012

Friends With Books

Jun 27

In Books at 10:19am

Tim Mantoani, for most of the last 5 or 6 years, has been a man on a mission. His self assignment was the most daunting of tasks–to document historically important photographers, a group notably reluctant to trade places and get in front of lens instead of behind it. Further, he could not simply go to the photographers, and meet these constantly circulating creatures at such places as hotels, or airports, which they are known to frequent abundantly. No, he had to convince them to come to the camera, in this case, a behemoth Polaroid 20×24. Not exactly a street camera, its lens offers up a remarkably beautiful study of the subject standing in front of it, in this case, photographers, holding a print of their favorite, or most famous image. The camera, married with Tim’s simple, one light approach, has a certain stately quality, a rectitude, if you will, it seems to stamp its subjects with. Given the somewhat motley, ragtag assemblage of subjects constituting Tim’s project, this is a good thing. With each turn of the page, the book gains power,  authority and fascination. The photogs’ choices of imagery alone is intriguing, and offers a visual road map to some of the most famous images ever made, along with a look at the person who made it. It’s a worthwhile investigation on Tim’s part, a benchmark of photographic determination and tenacity. Well worth the time it took to create it. Very worth the time to turn the pages. Here’s a link to more info. And below, some of the subjects.

Neil Leifer

Barbara Bordnick

Douglas Kirkland

Jay Maisel

At the Polaroid studio, and an amazing array of portraiture.

Alex Webb has been on the streets and borders of the world, shooting color in his truly distinctive way, for over 30 years. The result is his new book, a startling, arresting survey from one of the most expressive color shooters in the history of the field. He has always been not so much after the facts of a place, but more of the feel of it. Called The Suffering of the Light, it was cited by American Photo as one of the books of the year.

Alex’s photographic energy flows from the street. An inveterate wanderer, he has never really hewed close to a narrative, rather, letting the wander itself become the narrative. You don’t really get the specifics and information of a place on earth, having looked at one of his many books, but you do get an emotional notion, be it a quiver, or a shudder, feel in the gut, for what it might be like to be there. He’s continually able to mesh the disparate, seemingly conflicting elements of turbulent, vibrant street life with a beautiful awareness of light, and the results are not so much answers or facts, but questions in color.

His mate, Rebecca Norris Webb, also a color photographer, just published an personal reminiscence of her time growing up in South Dakota, called My Dakota. Recently profiled in the NYT lens blog, the book is an intensely personal journey through open spaces, running counter to her most recent book, The Glass Between Us, which largely dealt with walls and confinement.

We all feel things when we’re kids, without really knowing what they mean, and those feelings, when you’re a photographer, inevitably surface in your work. The book is a return for her, I suspect, both visually and emotionally, to truly open skies and an earth not papered over with concrete, such as here in New York where she currently resides. Remarkably evocative, there is no urgency to the turn of the pages. Rather, with its color palette and framing, it encourages a certain languid type of looking, a slow and thoughtful pace, similar to the pace one might adopt if one were actually confronted with the heat, the skies, and the land of a truly sparse place such as South Dakota.

By contrast, there is an urgency to Stacy Pearsall’s book, Shooter. Though not available quite yet, it has already provoked strong reaction. Long time picture editor Jim Colton, formerly of Newsweek, currently at Sports Illustrated, said in a review: “The powerful images put a face, not only on our troops, but also on the civilians who are involuntarily brought into the fray. The images do not glorify but rather document the reality of war….through both critical and intimate moments. After seeing the photographs, the viewer will feel like they’ve just ridden shotgun with our troops abroad.”

There is the intensity of the observation of combat, made all that much more compelling by the simple fact that Stacy was not simply an empathetic observer, she was a soldier, on the streets with her unit. The fact that the soldiers she photographed were her friends, people she lived with, walked with and ate breakfast with, makes the book more than simply a compelling document. It makes it personal and emotionally resonant.

And Ron Martinsen, who just topped a million viewers of his blog, came out with a definitive guide to printing. Printing 101, An Introduction to Fine Art Printing, came out as an eBook recently and has rapidly gained a following as a definitive guide to getting the most out of your ink jet printer. Replete with interviews with printing masters such as Eddie Tapp, John Paul Caponigro, and Greg Gorman, the book is a 90 page road map to great prints.

And Steve Simon has chipped in with his latest book, The Passionate Photographer. A veteran observer of the human condition, Steve offers not only his pungent and heartfelt images, but a large store of practical advice for the shooter thinking they might be poised to take a plunge into the world of documentary photojournalism. As the cover suggests, he takes you through, step by step, the logic behind the passion–the planning, the research and the underpinnings that go into any sustained documentary effort. If you are taking up a camera with documentary intent, it’s well worth the read.

More tk….

Heading to Canada, with a Couple of Lights….

Jun 25

In Tours at 5:12am

Heading to Canada for a Kelby Tour!

Almost two years ago, I did a Kelby Media tour stop in Tampa, Fla. It was a fun day, knocking about, working with flash, and trying to do on the fly problem solving with light. The crowd was great, and Scott Kelby, the man himself, stopped by. After we went to dinner, and I was decompressing from the day by giving mouth to mouth resuscitation to a bottle of Merlot when Scott leaned forward, put his elbows on the table and got kinda serious. (Truth be told, we actually embraced, but that’s for another blog. Joe make joke.)

He looked and me and asked, “Joe, what was the most number of lights you used in any particular setup?” I thought for a minute. “Uh, six,” I replied. He nodded.

“Joe, how many people in that audience have six lights?”

“Uh, well, uh, I guess, you know, there might be a few. Some of those folks looked kinda crazy.”

“Joe, how many people in the audience have five lights?”

“Uh, well, maybe, you know, I would  think……uh…”

“Joe, how many people in the audience have four lights?”

“Well, gosh, you know there were some out in the audience who had this wide eyed stare, eyes really bloodshot, you know, twitching a bit. I mean, they coulda either been wards of the state on furlough for the day, or you know, avid speed light users.”

“Joe, how many had three lights?”

“Uh, mumble, mumble…..”

“Two lights, Joe?”

At this point I was in a fetal position, on the floor of the restaurant, feverishly clutching the one speed light I had with me in my bag, hissing, “My precioussssss……”

That didn’t happen, either. But right there, at that table, a couple years ago, the One Light Two Light Tour was born. (Actually, in the literature, I give myself a rabbit hole to run down. I actually say at some point, well, I might use three, maybe once or twice.

The point of the day is keeping it super basic, super simple and super fast. When I did the video that became the template for the five hours of instruction being offered on each tour day, Cali, who was working with me looked over and said, ‘You know dude, you’re in the second hour and you have not used a modifier yet.” I was like, “Oh, yeah, light mods, I forgot about those.” I do use light shapers of all types, some found objects, tiny soft boxes, bigger ones, umbrellas, beauty dishes and the like. With an offering of an apology to all those in the crowd for whom I show and tell that which they already know, I start real, real simple. And pretty much keep it simple right through the day, right up till the last hour, when I create a couple examples of big flash, and then replace them with small flash to see the differences, and the drawbacks, on both sides of the fence. I use a lot of TTL. And a lot of manual. (Please don’t tell Hobby!) And I start with one light. (Please don’t tell Zack!)

Kinda a bit like the shot above. TTL, with a hand held shoot thru umbrella, done in less than five minutes. (Everybody has to help me out and wear a green dress they can throw around a bit.)

It’ll be fun…’s the link for the dates again.  More tk…

First Weekend Home in a While…

Jun 23

In Uncategorized at 11:42am

Not doing much of anything, except downing a coffee, glancing at Annie in the sunshine, and listening to the Chieftains in the background. The music harked me back to all the times I’ve been to Ireland, and the truly gregarious, gracious, and wonderfully fierce place that it is. Back in the day, when Kodak bestrode the world of photography like a giant yellow colossus, we would be summoned to do do a book in a day. The “Day in the Life” series was  a grouping of books, about one a year, done on various countries, cultures and themes. Shooting for them was a bit of a lark, without too much pressure applied. The assignments were loose at best, and after a central gathering of the photo clan at in a major city of whatever poor country was about to be visited by 100 photojournalists (Haven’t those poor people suffered enough?) you were spun into the countryside, laden with Kodachrome.

Shot there, vacationed there, taught there, and asked Annie to marry me there. During that very nervous week leading up to the popping of the question, I managed to steady my hands long enough to make a picture of a horse in a field, close by an Irish wall. Always reminds me of quiet time on a weekend….more tk.

A Society of Photographers

Jun 19

In Links, News at 7:52am

There is now a website, The Photo Society, which has gathered working National Geographic photographers together under one roof on the internet. Now, getting any group of photographers together to do anything, in unison, is difficult. Getting this particular bunch of disparate personalities, egos, interests and formidable skill sets on the same page to act collectively and all show up at the same time requires something roughly akin to an act of congress, or perhaps even a forcibly worded subpoena. This is a collection of passionately individualistic people, who, in the field, spend a lot of time alone, working things out for themselves. They rely on instinct, not press releases, resolutely avoid the pack, and seek out the path less traveled, all in hope of an angle or perspective on a story that has not been seen before. They bridle at uniformity, being utterly, confidently convinced that their vision is the truth of the matter, and that vision is pursued relentlessly, often at great risk. Our rare gatherings are lively indeed,  and vaguely reminiscent of the wild Celtic street celebration seen above, shot by the endlessly talented Jim Richardson.

As youths, in school, we were most likely deemed unruly, headstrong, and destined to engage in a lifetime of problematic, irritating behavior. Or perhaps become photographers. (Is that redundant?)

The price of admission to this website is actually being assigned and doing a National Geographic story for what is routinely called around the shop, “the yellow magazine.” Because of the degree of difficulty associated with doing this type of work, the photojournalists presented here constitute an exclusive club indeed. By my count, 86 all told. This group has done the core visual work for what is routinely referred to as the best picture magazine in the world for the last 30 years. What the Photo Society is doing here is drawing back the curtain a bit. What most folks understandably respond to are the pictures in the magazine– at turns stunning, daring, pictorially mesmerizing, thoughtful, searing, emotionally wrenching and always story driven. What they don’t see is the risk, physical and otherwise, the emotional involvement, the intensity of commitment, the first steps and ball games missed back home, the marriages set adrift, the financial brinksmanship routinely engaged in, the utter solitude of the decision making process in the field and the fevered, interior second guessing that induces in even the most confident of individuals. It is not, in short, for the faint of heart.

The site has been created and maintained by the hard and generous work of a gifted few, such as Randy Olson, George Steinmetz and Stephen Alvarez, who have done a great deal of the heavy lifting. They continue to develop it as an ongoing gallery, a repository of essential work. If one is aspiring to be a storyteller with a camera, it is a necessary resource, and should be a frequent stop on your internet travels.

There are flat out geniuses on the site, photographers whose work has informed and changed the way generations of shooters have looked at the world and approached doing stories. For instance, Bill Allard, whose stubborn, gruff independence as a visual communicator has inspired readers for 40 years.

And David Doubilet, an utterly indispensable underwater photographer, whose risk taking and visual daring defined the craft for generations.

And Lynn Johnson, whose quiet sympathy for people has created an archive of nuanced, subtle observation about the human condition.

There are also photogs who have literally created their own niche, driven by a singular passion for a place or people. George Steinmetz, who routinely straps the equivalent of a lawn mower engine and a ceiling fan to his backside and runs off cliffs to get airborne, has done aerial views of most if not all of the world’s deserts.

And Gerd Ludwig, who has specialized in Russia, the Eastern version of the wild west, and has risked greatly to define the ongoing tragedy of pollution and radiation contamination in the former Soviet Union.

What I love about the site is an area called “vignettes,” where the Nat Geo photographers share pithy, brief descriptions of their time in the field. If you peruse it even casually, you’ll notice it runs vividly counter to the imaginings that perhaps abound out there about the life of a National Geographic photographer. Contrary to myth, lore and legend, it is not a lifetime of abundance, first class air tickets, and luscious sunsets in exotic locations. Take a look below. It doesn’t read like a travel brochure.

Make a visit, if you would. It’s a rare and rich grouping of images, and a look at the ornery, gifted folks who created them. More tk…

Back to the Blog Tomorrow…

Jun 18

In In The Field at 9:56am

Been off blog duty a bit lately, given travel and assignments. Finishing up here in the Pacific Northwest today, where I have continued my career long exploration of why expensive electronics and large bodies of water don’t mix well. Did a bit of street shooting in NYC over the last week, experimenting with the D800/D800E. Interesting learning curve. My muscle memory is so wrapped around D1, D2, D3, D4 that the differences in this camera, ergonomically, are small but significant.

Shot really my first official job with the camera yesterday, standing in an icy river all day, pushing and pulling around ladders, tripods, and a hi roller stand with a 74″ Octa with a Ranger flash in it. Yikes. Glad I didn’t drop anything. But, the client specifically wanted the hi res of the new 800 camera, so that’s what we went with, naturally. Life as a shooter remains interesting.  Always new stuff to learn.

More tk….