Sometimes I can look for days and never get a good shot. There is nothing skillful about opportunities—you just have to be patient and be open to whatever may pop up. In 2001 I was visiting Rome with my wife and we ended up at the Castello San Angelo which is a famous landmark near the Vatican. It was where the early popes dispatched their enemies where they would be tortured and disposed of in various ugly manners. These days it is a museum. When I am traveling with my wife, I do not care where we go. She picks the designation and I follow with my camera. That way we both get to do what we want and on this day it was the Castello San Angelo. There was nothing going on creatively, inside the museum and I was getting bored but after climbing the stairs to the tower, I noticed this couple kissing. I snapped two shots and it was over.
Well, not quite over. After I took the two shots and they moved on, I went over to the window and looked down. I saw this scene and took a few more shots until the man and dog in the corner moved on. The rest of the day was unremarkable. I must have had my camera around my neck for 6 hours but these two shots were done in under a minute. The rest of the day was just pleasant—nice lunch, nice walk, no other photos.
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Tags: Art, Black & White, Europe, People, photography, Rome, Street
Nobody ever said that making good photographs is easy—in fact it is the opposite. I can remember very few occasions where golden opportunities just happened. Of course there were many times when I stumbled into situations that were ripe for good picture-taking, but I still had to work at it. I mean I still had to work at finding the right situations to stumble into.
A few days ago, I decided to do some shooting on a project that I had been working on for a few years, on American small towns. I decided to visit some towns in upstate New York and eventually my travels brought me to Port Henry. It is a charming place, on a hill, overlooking Lake Champlain. It is not really a tourist spot like some of the towns further north on this lake. It is in fact a real town—a working class town, and that is what I was looking for. I walked around, and walked around and walked around and shot a few so so shots but there really was not much going on. “Perhaps I should drive up to Ticonderoga,” I thought. The problem with this town was that there was nobody on the street—the place was deserted. I thought this might be consistent with most small towns these days. With the car and box stores, most of the action was always on the edge of town. In any case as Winston Churchill was fond of saying, I thought I would just “bugger on” and so I kept looking. After another half hour, there was still nothing happening and it occurred to me that I was only walking up and down main streets and nowhere else so I decided to try some side streets. The first few did not pan out but then I turned down one street and saw this wonderful old diner—straight out of the twenties. It was in immaculate condition—almost brand new and the sign on top said “Miss Port Henry Diner”. I thought for a moment that it was deserted, but I walked around it and took a shot or two and then noticed a sign on the window that said “OPEN”. Since there wasn’t much happening on the street , I thought it might be time for a burger and coke so in I went.
There were 4 people in the place besides the owner and waitress and the man closest to me as I walked in said “come on in. best place in town.” That was my opening because I immediately started talking to him and he soon introduced me to the owner. I ordered my burger and asked if he minded me shoot some pictures in the place, and he said go ahead and I did. After a few minutes, everybody lost interest in what i was doing and went back to having their lunch. That’s when I took this shot of the woman sitting in the corner.
This has happened to me many times over the years. Its all about hanging in, being receptive, and never being discouraged. It difficult but nothing some determination and focus can overcome.
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A few weeks ago in Montreal, my wife and I decided to have a late lunch at one of our favorites haunts— a bistro in Outremont by the name of Chez Leveque. We like to sit side by side and we were seated facing this woman as she was finishing her lunch. She was a ‘regular” because the waiters seemed to know her very well. My guess was that this was her Saturday afternoon routine—a lunch, a cigarette, a drink and a slow passing of the afternoon. I really wanted to take her picture but without appearing too obvious, I just had to wait for my moment. Eventually, a small child, impatient with the lunch routine, started wandering around the place and eventually ended up between me and this woman. I picked up my camera and started shooting a few shots of the little brat. The woman noticed me and I saw that with my left eye as I shot pictures of the little kid. Eventually, the kid went away and I continued shooting this woman who no longer was aware that I was still taking her picture.
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These days, taking pictures of children can sometimes get you into trouble. Usually, I try to refrain, or even ask the parent (which usually results in an affirmative). however on occasion I just snap on automatic and quickly move on. I prefer this to asking because I do not loose the moment. Sometimes people may notice me photographing them and say “you should have asked.” I don’t really have a response for this, although I do know if I ask, the moment is long-gone and I am left with a face with a shit-eating stupid grin. Thats not what I want to photograph so I try to be as subtle and inconspicuous as possible. This photograph was taken last year at Hollywood Beach in Hollywood FL—one of my favorite haunts. Most of the time I try to pass when kids are my subject because parents can be kind of weird about me taking photos of their kids. I don’t really know what the potential danger may be—for instance posting this picture is quite innocent and non-perverse but these days, people for the most part are weird. A few weeks ago in LA, someone objected to me photographing on the street in front of their store because his store window was in the shot. I told him there was no law forbidding photography on a public street and he answered that the window was private. Private! I guess some people are just natural-borne schmucks.
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Tags: Kids, People, photography, Street
Way back in the last century, from 1971 to 1984, I worked as a medical photographer in a Montreal hospital. In many ways I enjoyed the work but in others, it was also quite depressing. When things became barely manageable, I would escape down to the animal quarters in the research institute and chat with my friend George who ran this small department. He had had some accident a few years earlier, and was confined to a wheelchair, and i was always amazed at his attitude when dealing with this unfortunate event. Last year I wanted to look him up and see him again after such a long absence, and I found out he had passed away a few months earlier.
The two men in this photograph (Mr. George, and Mr. Paul), worked for George as animal attendants. One day as I was talking to George, he mentioned that they had worked for him for at least ten years and they absolutely hated each other. Mr. George was from Barbados and spoke with a thick Caribbean accent. Mr. Paul was Greek and spoke with a very thick Greek accent. He chuckled when he mentioned that to me because he did not really understand how they managed hate each other when they could not even understand what each one was saying when they spoke to each other. (George on the other hand, came from Hungary and I could barely understand him but that was fine with me.)
Anyhow, after George told me this I grabbed my camera and asked the two men if I could take their picture and they said yes.
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Tags: Black & White, Montreal, People, Portrait, Thoughts
I just posted this photo on to my Facebook page. I don’t know why because usually I only post recent photographs and this on wis 12 years old. I took it in Paris at le Louvre in 2002. At that time i used film and since I always hated the way color labs printed my work (the always printed them too light), I used film—Tri-X, specifically. I loved that film. I used it and only it for 30 years. The only change I ever did was in my processing. At some point I switched from D-76 to Rodinal and that was all. The one thing I loved about film was the darkroom. It was a wonderful moment when I could go downstairs, put on a Charlie Mingus CD, turn off the lights , and start printing. It was blissful! I loved the whole routine from developing my film, printing contacts and editing on my huge 5×8 foot cork bulletin boards. The really weird thing though is that I did not shoot as much as I do now. I distinctly remember that trip to Paris. I shot around 20 rolls of film, got back to Vermont around 4 in the afternoon, and by the time I went to bed, they were all developed. I loved that part of it. The next day I made my contacts and I was rolling. These days when I go on one of those trips I shoot a bit more—perhaps as many as 2000 frames which are the equivalent of about 100 rolls of film. I really miss the developing part though. Now I just come home and pop the little disc into my computer and press a few buttons. It’s not the same.
I originally thought that I would be shooting film for the rest of my life but things are always changing and that is not a bad thing. In 2006 We purchase a winter condo in Florida and the thought of not developing my film (there was no room for a darkroom) concerned me. After some though I decided to purchase a digital camera for those 6 months down south. There was Photoshop, but no Lightroom so I used other programs to organize my files. It did not take long for me to fall in love with digital photography—after all a picture is a picture is a picture. it does not really matter what it is printed on, or what medium is used as long as the image is strong and grabs the viewer to look into it deeper. That is what it is all about.
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Tags: Black & White, Europe, Film Photography, Opinion, Paris, photography
One of the reasons I loved my Leica was that nobody noticed it. After all it was not like 10 years ago when you walked around on the street with a huge DSLR with an erect zoom lens sticking out of it and everybody would yell “nice camera” as you walked by trying to appear cool and distant. My cover was blown every time. So in 2009, I bought a Leica M9. I would walk around the street with it and nobody said a word because nobody knew what it was. I was invisible again. That is until last week in Denver when it started again. As I got out of my rental car when checking into the hotel, the car attendant asked “Is that a Leica?” It happened again when some young kid stopped me on the street a bit later and asked the same question. I guess they have done a good job of promoting their brand.
Years ago when I was a small kid who was just getting into photography, I knew of this camera but was so out-of-reach. There was a camera store down the street from where I lived called NDG Photo and I would go there every now and then to get my Kodak Tri-Chem pack of developer, stop bath and fixer for making my little 4×5 prints. At the end of the store there was a glass counter and under the glass was a Leica lllG and an M3 and two lenses on a red velvet mat. There was also a salesman by the name of Terry who had a distinct British accent, a handlebar mustache and always wore a green turtleneck wool sweater. He was very knowledgeable about the cameras and was always very helpful to potential customers but me, being a know-nothing 15 year old was not worthy of his attention. I would have given my right arm to fondle that M3 but it was not to be. As I would edge over to the counter to get a closer look , he would shoo me away, fearing that I would negatively affect a future sale.
It was years before I was able to purchase my first Leica—in fact another 40 years would pass. When I did, there was nothing else, and I loved my 2 M7’s—that is until digital came along and I saw the writing on the wall. I was forced to sell them in 2006 when my favorite paper developer was no longer available, ands I switched to a huge digital DSLR. It was OK, but I really missed that small, sleek, black rangefinder. I missed the simplicity, the lack of endless never-to-be-used features, bells and whistles that Leicas represented. So I waited for technology to catch up and eventually in 2009 it did.
The photo above is from my Cuba series from a recent visit. The nicest part of it was it was a place where nobody knew what it was—it was just a camera and I loved that. It was simple, subtle and invisible and I loved that. Did it help me take better photographs, not really. It was just more comfortable to carry around, and it certainly felt better in my hands. That to me is worth a lot.
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As June approaches, I resume my annual trek north from Florida to Vermont. It is an annual event that has been going on now for 10 years but this time it will be a bit different. We used to bring our cats along with us and that meant we had to do the trip in two days because as you may know, especially if you have a cat, they absolutely hate hotel rooms. However over time, they have moved on—victims of old age and tis time our trip will be taken a bit more leisurely. Hopefully I will be able to stop in a few places and perhaps take a picture or two as my old friend John used to say.
The photograph above was taken one summer evening in Burlington on the shores of Lake Champlain. I went down there because I had little else to do and I was feeling a bit restless. I noticed that as the sun began to set, people from the town would migrate to the shore to watch the sunset. It was a nice experience.
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Tags: Girl, People, Vermont
A few weeks ago, I visited Havana, Cuba on a photo tour. That seems to be the only way Americans can visit Cuba these days but it is not entirely a bad idea. What was interesting to me was that we had an Itinerary of places to visit and photograph. There was a boxing club, peoples’ homes, a school, and what probably interested me the most—a ballet school. It is something I had always wanted to photograph, with their movements, balance, and wonderful gestures which had always captivated me. We were scheduled to visit the school on our last full day in Havana and I was ready—really ready. We had to meet at 10:00AM for the bus but I awake early that day as I had been doing so I could go our for an early morning stroll, since the light in that city was so beautiful at that time.
Three blocks from the hotel, as I walked along the street in that old crumbling city, I stepped on a steel grate in the middle of the sidewalk. I heard a noise, my foot dropped, the grate gave way, and I fell straight down. For some reason, my left hand managed to grab the edge of the sidewalk and I dangled over a dark bottomless pit. “FUCK!” I yelled. I must have yelled again, and then I noticed to my right, a steel ladder. I could not see down, and I had no idea what lay beneath me so I made a grab for the ladder—and missed. Down I fell to the bottom. I was a bit stunned but I seemed for the most part intact. I started to climb the ladder out of the hole, and then I saw about 20 hands at the top offering help and screaming in Spanish. They pulled me out and asked if I was OK. I thought all I had was scrapes and bruises so I declined their offers to take me to the hospital and made my way back to my hotel. By the time I reached the lobby, my right thigh had swollen to the size of a hot-water bottle and the hotel nurse told me to grab a taxi and go to the hospital.
As I waited in the emergency room, I thought about getting back in time to visit the ballet academy. I worried whether I would make it or not. Time passed. More time passed and it became apparent that I would not get back in time.
By the time, I had finished and gone back to the hotel, I realized I was too late and would miss the visit. I was pretty banged up but also very disappointed that I would miss the ballet school. As I waited in the lobby, trying to figure out what to do, Neyla, the Cuban Government guide came up to me,and asked me what had happened. I told her. She asked if I was alright and said that the group would be meeting for lunch at the Hotel Nacional after the ballet schools and would I be up to joining them there. I said i was.
Two hours later, I arrived at the hotel, received a round of applause from the other members of the group, and sat down for lunch. I was sitting next to Peter, the group organizer, and I mentioned that I was sorry I missed the ballet school visit. He very kindly suggested that perhaps one of the other guides would take me back there after lunch, since the rest of the group would be on a walking tour and I probably was not up to that.
I leaped at the suggestion. I would be at the ballet school, on my own, without any other photographers jumping in front of me as I click the shutter or stumbling into my shots. After lunch, I got into a taxi with Alain (one of our guides) and off we went to the school. We went to the director’s office and he told her the story of my accident. “Of course she said” I could spend as long as I wished photographing the class. For the next 45 minutes I had the place to myself to work in. There was nobody except 4 or 5 students, the director and her assistant, and Alain in this huge rehearsal hall.
I am always amazed at where my photographs come from. 4 hours earlier, I never imagined that I would have this shot. Life is an endless series of surprises. I love that!
Filed under: On being a Photographer, People, Photograph | Leave a Comment
Tags: Cuba, Groups, Havana, People, photography, Street