It’s often funny what one sees when walking about. Sometimes I walk out the door and think about what I want to see and as always I am disapointed because I will never find it. I know expectations can be fatal but I slip into it much too often. The best times are when I leave with no expectations in mind and my subjects mysteriously appear in front of me as if by magic. I love those moments. Last week along a walk in Venice Beach CA, I had reached a “dead zone” where there was not much going on and I was getting a bit restless. Just as I was about to head back, I noticed these small towers that were used for shade and saw this guy checking his cell phone (What else is new?). It did not look interesting until I noticed people on the bike path behind him and patiently waited until my shot showed up. They usually do.
My last post was about subtly taking pictures of people without their permission. This is not the first time I wrote about it and when I have, it usually evokes arguments on both sides. In fact some of them are quite vocal, accusing me of being sneaky, and “invading people’s privacy”. Absolute bullshit! If one is concerned or should I say obsessed with being “politically correct” when you shoot, you will be guaranteed to end up with a days worth of mediocre photographs. Good photographs come from everywhere–meaning you walk, you see you shoot and every now and then–perhaps more often then that you encounter people, get involved and still shoot good photographs. Why should you be restricted to shooting only one way.
Last week I was in Taos Pueblo, NM, wandering through the place looking at the buildings and taking a few shots. All I had ended up with at that point were a few shots of the church–something that was far from original–having being shot thousands of times before by thousands of photographers. I wander into one adobe and saw a photograph of President Nixon shaking hands with a native (The B&W photograph at the top of the photograph).
“Who is that?” I asked
Vernon replied that the photo was of his father. The land had been seized by the government for some reason back in the ’30s and it was now being returned to them. This little photograph was from the presentation ceremony. Vernon was very friendly and we chatted for a while and I was about to ask him if I could take his picture when I heard a shout from outside the hut.
“David! Help me”. It was my wife telling me to come outside. I ran outside to see her holding a Kleenex to her scalp. It was stained with blood. She said she had accidentally hit her head on a metal sign that was hanging outside the store. Vernon rushed out with some paper towels, told her to sit on the bench, and press the paper towel to her head. He said the bellied should soon stop, and he was right. He then suggested I go back to the parking lot, get my car and enter through the local entrance, tell them at the gat I was visiting him and picker her up, which I did. By the time I got back, the bleeding had stopped, I put her in the car and was about to drive off to find an emergency clinic. I asked Sharon if it was OK to stop for a quick picture. She said she was fine so I grabbed my camera and returned to the hut. Vernon asked if she was OK and I replied that she was.
“Mind if I take a few shots of you” I asked.
He smiled and told me to go ahead. I snapped a few, thanked him and off we went to the emergency care clinic in Taos. All turned out well. Sharon was fine. I had my shot. Hopefully I will make a print one day, return to Taos and give him the picture.
On the subject of asking permission to photograph people, I think about a third of my shots do not have people in them. Another third of my shots, the subject is very far away, in shadow, or partial—unrecognizable. The other third of my shots are like the one above where I encounter someone, get a bit involved and then take their picture with their permission. Probably about 2% of those are more subtle—meaning I just take it because of the moment. These the ones people complain about. Who cares. In my book every picture tells a story.
Last week, I attended PrideFest in Lake Worth Florida. I usually do it because its a lot of fun, I have no problem getting people to have their picture taken, and it usually results in a couple of great shots. This year was a bit different though. I decided to just photograph the Gay Pride parade—or at least the initial setting up before they actually went out and paraded. This is when the people are concentrating on what they have to do instead of performing in front of a camera. It results in what I think, are more honest pictures—pictures of people just being themselves.
At the far end was this group of kids setting up and rehearsing with this large banner which they were going to use in the parade. I snapped a few shots and just after this one I heard—
“You’re supposed to ask, you know.”
I looked up and there was this other girl at the far end of the banner yelling at me. “Your supposed to ask, you know” she repeated. “Why” I asked, and she replied “it was only polite.” I began to tell her that if I asked, I would end up with a shitty picture of the subject grinning, all teeth for my camera and this made for boring photographs but she was not listening. She was to into being offended.
What the fuck is wrong with these kids today and where do these rules come from? They are about to march in a fucking parade in front of two or three thousand people and one would expect that a few of them have cameras or cellphones. Do they not expect people to take pictures of them? Why are we supposed to ask? I certainly do not impose on people when I shoot them (in fact I am the opposite and try to stay invisible) and the chances of them ever seeing a copy of this photograph are next to zero so what is their problem? Actually, I think I know what the answer is. People feel so alienated and ignored these days that they feel they have to seize power over people wherever they can find it. Everybody has to make a stand—no matter how ridiculous, or pointless it may be. These days people quite often confront me when I take pictures because they feel either I am invading their privacy, stealing a moment (I like that one), or I am just an everyday pervert. All of this is bullshit. They could simply turn away, but that makes them feel like a victim for my camera. It is too passive. Confrontation is much more effective—at least in their twisted logic so they blurt out stupid comments like,
“You’re supposed to ask, you know. Its only polite”
No I am not supposed to ask. At my age (72), I have been around a bit, and I do not need an uptight politically correct teenage prig to tell me what politeness is. Making up stupid rules for strangers to follow, telling people how they should behave, and what they should or should not do is anything but polite. It is downright rude!
Sometimes I get depressed. I feel I have taken my last photograph and there is nothing left to do. Its a good thing, I have been around because I know from many past experiences that this is just a passing phase. Like everything else in life, this too will pass. Most creative people have experiences this many times in their career. Its inevitable—there is nothing left to do but sit it out.
I took this shot in New Orleans a few weeks ago. I did not notice it on my first edit but then upon looking over my shots—voila!… there it was. I liked it. I liked it a lot so I put it up on my Facebook page. Then something strange happened. For one brief moment, I though I would never again do anything as nice. The initial shock quickly passed but moments of doubt, lack of confidence, feelings of inadequacy lingered on. So I stopped. Every now and then I pick up a camera but I have not done anything much. I went to Daytona Bike Week, got bored after one day and came home. I was supposed to go to Caile Ocho in Miami, but I changed my mind. Last night I was planning on going to the Northwood neighborhood in West Palm Beach but it rained. Feelings of doom rained down alongside it. Nothing works.
So I do what I always do when this happens. I play some golf, eat nice dinners with my wife, putz around the house and go over old photographs in Lightroom. Guess what happens? While going over old shots that I took a few years ago, I find something new, something different, something fresh, something I never saw before. In a few days all this shit will be over and I will resume the quest_the quest for my next photographic gem.
The photograph above is a fake! What I mean is that the fog effect has been added after the fact in Photoshop to make it look like something that has never really happened. The truth is that it was a sunny day in Lisbon, I took the shot, it was boring because nothing was really going on, and I fucked with it until it became sort of pretty. I one level, I actually like it but that is as far as it goes. I will never exhibit it, or even sell it. (I take that back. If someone offers me and extravagant sum like Peter Lik, I will break down and sell it).
Recently, I have been reading about the World Press Photo Awards “scandal” in which a significant number of entries had been disqualified because they had been altered. It was interesting because I think they overdid it. I am not a journalist—far from it but of course I have opinions—lots of em. If I had entered the shot above, it would have and should have been disqualified. No doubt about it, its a complete fake. The scene never existed, except in my imagination. But lets not get anal about it. For years in the days of film photographs were manipulated in the darkroom by burning in, dodging, cropping, and intensifiers to bring out the shadows. They bore no resemblance at all to the original negatives. I read that the year previously, a photo was disqualified because the photographer had committed the ghastly act of removing a piece of litter from a corner of the frame via Photoshop and that constituted a violation of the rules. (He could have easily cropped the offending garbage out and that would have been OK.) My only interest in photography is in exhibiting and publishing in books and magazines—not news reporting so I come from a different angle on this subject. In my book anything goes, but I do have personal ethics about my photographs. 99.999% of my images are unaltered. Nothing has been removed or added except on that extra 001%, I have done the unmentionable—I removed and offending element from the frame. Sometimes I try to remove it by burning in but I cannot so alas Photoshop. I have never added anything in and I would not—except I have never had to until now but who knows? I usually never crop, but every now and then I do. I burn in and dodge like a maniac. What I am saying is that in my world anything is fine as long as it creates an interesting image—one which my audience would appreciate. Since I am not recording anything that I saw, only what I felt, what I do to my images after the fact is not a sin. Journalists are supposed to act as witnesses, and as a result their images have to be a bit more on the level. Its too bad really because I happen to think that some news images are outright boring and a bit of enhancements would not harm the original intent, which is to record, however I am not a journalist. I just seem to think, they should lighten up a bit. On the other hand if they did, where would it stop and how far is enough?
I have always considered myself to be a documentary photographer but I never really thought of myself as a journalist. The reason is that I probably would not have been very successful at it because I have frequently experienced looking for one story and ending up with another. In journalism, I think that is considered failure however having never studyed it, I really do not know. But it is safe to say that failures of this sort notwithstanding, what I do end up with is sometimes more interesting than what I was looking for. (I suppose that would make me an artist.) For instance, last week I went to New Orleans because I had an urge to photograph Mardis Gras. I wanted to show the color and spectacle of this annual event but alas I got sidetracked. What I found instead of color and spectacle were a bunch of drunks shouting at women on balconies to show them their tits. One can only go so far with this shit so, I moved on and started going to some of the parades. That was also pretty boring because all it was were these floats going by, and the crowds were intense to say the least. Then I noticed that the parades ended close to my hotel and that the floats were siphoned off in one direction and the marchers and bands directed in another direction to await the buses to take them home. That is where I planted myself and as the bands finished their 3-hour marches, they rested, joked around, and fooled around with their instruments. They were a nice crown of kids from high schools in Alabama, Mississippi and Norther Louisiana. Well-behaved, polite and always happy to talk, kid around and pose for photographs. I had a ball. I could not stay away and thats what I did for the next few days—sat myself at the end of the line and photographed the bands as they winded up their parade. As I said, the original story faded quickly but another one replaced it. pays to keep your options open.