One of the best things about being a photographer is where you end up. If I dod not take photographs, I probably would never visit some of the places that I stumble upon. Such is the ceremony of Yemanja in Brazil where the inhabitants of Salvador (and other cities) go down to the sea and offer flowers and prayers to Neptune, goddess of the sea. I had to get up at 4:00AM for this and I usually never and up at this time unless it has to do with taking pictures. When I arrived, the ceremonies were in full-force with people lighting candles, walking into the ocean, smoking weed and drinking beer. It was strange, very strange but fascinating all the same. I have never seen anything like it and probably never will—unless I return someday and that is always a possibility.
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!
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?
Every now and then, I Google myself to see what comes up. There are always surprises. A few days ago, I stumbled on a site that referenced an article I had written years ago regarding the difference between photographs that are taken, and those that are made. What I had said was there is a distinct difference between the two, but whoever had written this blog misinterpreted what I had really meant. In short, what I was discussing was that some photographers simply take a picture and print it as is, without any manipulation whatsoever. I thought that photographs in this category were dull and really did not have anything to say except this is what I saw”. I mentioned that I preferred photographs that are made—meaning that in order to be interesting, the photographer (or printer) should enhance these images to illustrate what the photographer really felt when he/she took the picture. The writer was under the impression that what I was saying was that photographs that are “made” were heavily manipulated via Photoshop to show something that had not really existed. What I had really meant was that being an old photographer who had learned my skills in the darkroom for 40 years, the acts of dodging and burning in were well-stuck in my genes and therefore part of my images. Most young photographers today simply do not understand this. In my photographs, I dodge, burn-in and adjust the color the same way photographers have always printed or shown their work. I don’t put things in that were not originally there, I hate HDR, and I never re-arange backgrounds to create a flakes image. I only wish to show what I feel when i see these things. In my opinion, what I see is of little interest to anybody. Its just not my style—except for the image above. Every now and then…
The original RAW file is actually quite dull and lifeless. It was taken from a French chateau one year while I was on holiday, and it never struck me as interesting. So one day—one rainy day when I had little to do but putz around on my computer, I tried enhancing it. I do not even remember what I did to make it this way but I liked it. Given the fact that it is heavily manipulated, I would never really show it alongside my regular work but somewhere in my hard drive, there is a collection of these images—mostly landscapes. All I really did do was fool around with the color a bit, not a real travesty, and add some fog. It really a false image as a photograph but I like it just the same.