This is one of my oldest photographs, that I still like today. It was taken in 1983 when I went to Vancouver on my own for 3 weeks. I travelled to Vancouver and hung out with Brian for a week and then south to SF where I stayed with my friend Harvey. At that time i was feeling that my life was almost over. My marriage was crumbling, my job sucked, and I was feeling completely drained. In fact, it turned out quite the opposite—I was starting anew—although I did not know it at the time, my second life was about to begin. This photograph was taken on the BC ferry as i travelled to Gibsons to see an old friend from my youth.
New Orleans in one of my favorite cities. Not only can one get a great meal, almost anywhere in town, but there is always something to see, something going on, and something to make you stop and look. Where else can you stumble on Alice in Wonderland, chatting with her bunny?
One thing I liked about Havana was that there was always something happening on the street. Probably their homes were simple, crowded, or too hot—so thy liked to hang out on the street. I was fascinated by this woman just sitting on a chair reading her book, while the world walked by. She was oblivious to it all.
Its funny what ones first thought is when we wake up. Today I awake and thought of France—the Loire valley to be exact. I don’t know why, but that is what was in my head. Perhaps it will be because I will be traveling soon and I am getting a bit excited about it but on this sunny cool, Florida morning, I thought about this place. We visited it about 6 years ago and after arriving in Paris, We drove to this lovely hotel outside of Tours in a driving rainstorm. It took twice as long to get there as we planned because of the rain and all I could think about was what a way to start a holiday. I should know better. Just as we arrived at the hotel, the rain stopped and everything became really misty. It was lovely. Our room was in a small chalet in a forest—actually it was one of the nicest hotel rooms I had ever stayed in. We were exhausted and after a small dinner, we went to bed. In the morning, I awoke, grabbed my camera and walked out onto the balcony to witness this scene in front of me. It was splendid!
A few years ago, I spent a week in Havana, Cuba. I loved the town, the people and the general spirit of the place and hope to return soon. What I noticed however while i was there was that shooting was pretty easy. The city was a gold mine of great shots and when I would get back to the hotel at night, editing them took a very long time because of the choices I had to make. If you look at it as a “batting average” on most days 1 or 2 good shots out of a hundred is a good day. Sometimes it gets better and I end up with 4 or 5 good shots and on other days I can come up empty (“0”). Thats my batting average—1 or 2 per hundred is a good day.
Havana was different—very different. My “batting average” soared to 10-15 shots per hundred —it seemed I could not miss. I still do not know whether it was the place or simple chance but this has never happened to me in 45 years. It could be that this was my first visit to a third world place and everything was new but this scenario is unlikely. What is probably more probable is this. Since Cuba is a CommunistCommunist country, one cannot just travel freely around (at least not Americans). On this trip we had to guides who would show us around and because of that I stumbled into places I would not ordinarily go. We entered peoples homes, visited boxing clubs, elementary schools and ballet academies. The other thing is that on the occasions I was alone, the people on the street saw me as a curiosity and approached me all the time. This made it a lot easier to”connect”.
It was a bit of an adjustment when I got back because I was expecting the same results in Florida where I live but after a dog or so, I came back to earth. Soaring batting averages are like baseball. Some days, you can go four for four, and other strike out four for four. The latter is far more common, but on those rare, special days…
Every photographer has their own way of working. It doesn’t matter what discipline you practice, you will, over time develop a method and routine getting the best picture possible. I am no different. As a documentary photographer, I have, over the past 40 years developed a way of seeking out and making photographs that bring out the best in my abilities. It all begins with looking. In order to see, one must look. Some photographers like to wander, and as they do they observe scenes or people and then shoot. Others like to hang out—stay in one spot and wait for the picture to come to them. It’s a matter of personal preference. I like to do both. When I leave my house/car/hotel, I walk—I like to get a feeling of the place where I am, the rhythm of the street, the pace , the mood—all of it. So I spend the first hour or so walking and looking. I usually do not see much but every now and then I can get lucky. I usually will just snap a few shots of mostly boring situations—not that I expect anything good, but just to “warm up” so to speak. As I am doing this, I do not look straight ahead. I look up. I look down. During that hour or so, I know there are certain places that have some sort of attraction for me so I go back and then enter my “hang out” period. I just wait and see if anything is happening for me. This can last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. Then I move on to my next place and do it all over again. All the time I am looking sideways, up and down.
When people walk, they are always looking straight ahead at eye level. It is a very limited field of view. I look sideways, I look up and I look down. I even turn around and look back because the scene that you just walked past looks completely different when you look back. A lot of time I walk over the same streets back and forth many times because the scene is never static. If fact most street scenes change continuously on a regular basis. For instance, a few years ago I was in Austin TX taking pictures at the university near the main library. In front of the building was a beautiful grass square where people were reading, playing, chatting etc. I decided to walk around the square and see what was happening and the results were quite interesting. It took about twenty minutes to make a complete circuit, and after every complete turn, the scene in front of me changed completely. People got up, people sat down. other joined groups, some left, lovers caressed, people argued, children played—life goes on. I walked around that square for about 2 hours—round and round, and every time I came to where I started, the scene was different. I took many pictures. Some were good, some were just OK but I felt good about it, I was getting somewhere. As I mentioned, after about two hours I thought I was done and started looking on the outside of the square. At one end was a wall and across from the wall was a fountain and beyond was downtown Austin. I looked over the wall and saw this kid playing in the distance. He was running around and eventually would make his way closer to me so I waited. After about 10 minutes he was “in range” and I started shooting. This is one of my favorites! As I said you have to do everything because that gets you where you ought to be.
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.