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
One thing I have noticed about people is that whether they are up or down on the income scale, it affects their desire to photographed. Rich people are afraid—afraid of what I do not know but they are afraid. Usually, they decline the opportunity to be photographed by a stranger. I suppose with money, there is always the fear that someone will take it away from you. That is probably the case, but the guy taking it away from is not the photographer—most likely its a relative, or a professional con artist.
When you have nothing, its different. There is nothing to lose, and someone is paying attention to you. It’s only an occasion to interact with someone.
This guy was in a poor neighborhood in “Old Havana”. Things were bad—very bad but he was tanking outside his home and he said hello. He invited us into his home which was very sparse, chickens running across the floor and some guy sleeping off a stupor on a couch.
Life in Havana is rough but the people are great.
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Tags: Havana, Opinion, People, photography, Travel