superman_walking

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.

A walk in the Fog

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.

drinking_03

A few years ago I wandered into this bar in Beatty Nevada one sunny morning and ordered a beer. The lady at the bar served me and then mentioned that they were in the middle of a “ladies group” meeting, but I was welcome to hang around. I did, and asked if they would mind if I took pictures while I had my beer. They all said go ahead, and so for the next hour, I drank my beer, took pictures of the bar and the woman having their meeting. The photograph above is from this series and at first glance, it appears that the woman was not aware of her being photographed but this is not true. The simple fact is that she was completely aware of what I was doing and did not really care.

From time to time I read articles, or get emails mentioning that the photography of people without their permission is rude, sneaky, and dishonest however I must strongly disagree. In a lot of cases (such as the one above) the person is actually aware, but it is not apparent. When the subject is unaware, this practice is harmless and doesn’t hurt anyone, and makes for an interesting photograph. A few years ago, I wrote an article in BlackStar Rising on this subject titles A World Without Photographs. I have updated it and posted it below.

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Over the past few years I have read articles, or had people mention to me that photographing strangers without their permission is rude and constitutes an invasion of their privacy. I got the impression these people thought photographers were a crass lot, incapable for any feelings toward their subjects. I even got the distinct impression that they would like laws passed to enforce this notion.  What kind of world would we have if there were actually laws that prevented people from photographing strangers without their permission? First of all, we would never had the pleasure of  enjoying the magnificent work of Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Robert Frank, and countless others. Their work would have been considered illegal.

The photographic record/history of the 20th century would have been very different. It would have consisted of pictures of empty streets, devoid of people. The only pictures of people from that last 110 years would have been of people, standing still, posing for a camera. Photography would have been forbidden at sporting events, wars, public places, store openings, movie premiers, crime scenes, travelogues, dog shows, etc—anywhere where crowds were present. It would have been a history totally absent of people. Snapshots would be entirely different. You would have to take special care when taking snapshots of family friends and children to make sure no strangers were present in the background. The same would be true when taking pictures at your kid’s birthday party. You would probably need a signed release from the parents authorizing you to take pictures of all children present. Weddings would be different of course because some guests would not want to be photographed. Of course they could also sign releases.

Of course news reporting would be entirely different. There wouldn’t be any. Newspapers always contain photographs of people in the news, the spectators, the crowd and passers-by-— that would all stop.. All they could include in the way of photographs would be formal portraits (most likely of politicians) of those in the news. The same would be for TV news—there would not be any news because most stories are about and include people. All that would remain is a world consisting of formal portraits, of people stiffly posing in front of cameras posing. To liven things up they could jump in the air when the shutter is snapped.  Its so exciting!

Of course that is only the beginning—why stop with people. It would not be long before those who wish to protect their “privacy” would attempt to pass laws protecting photography of homes, offices, monuments and such. This is actually happening. Have you ever watched reality TV shows lately? Thanks probably to lawyers, logos on baseball caps and T-shirts, signs on buildings, brand names of any kind are all crudely blurred out.

Although this scenario may seem a bit extreme, that is the type of society that can evolve when allow ourselves to by driven by fear, political correctness, stupidity and ignorance. Photographs harm absolutely no one. We all have the right to refuse to have our pictures taken —all we have to do is politely say no. But to presume we are protecting the general public by restricting these activities in others is fundamentally wrong. I consider myself a sensitive person. Sometimes, I ask permission to take someones picture if my intent is that obvious. On other occasions, I like to be “invisible” and if someone happens to notice me, I walk away. I try to stay out of the way and if someone objects when my camera is pointed at them I respect their wishes.

There are two ways to go through life. One way is to be timid, constantly worry about offending others, never take chances, and always side with the majority. People like this seldom are very creative. The other way is to be out there, hunger for discovery, be curious and follow your own path. This is the road I choose to take and if people think it is offensive, its just too bad!

 

Red Umbrella

I haven’t been to busy lately. For the past 3 months I have been sort of inactive as a photographer. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “creative block” because I don’t really believe in it. It’s just that I am busy with other things (moving in to a new house) and thought I needed a break. This is not the first time this has happened to me. 5 or 6 years ago the same thing happened and it was at the same time of year. I just sort of stopped for a few month but when it was over—it was really over and I probably did some of my best work. It goes like this.

There comes a time when I feel I have to shoot just because I have to, not because I want to. So, I grab my camera and hit the streets with no particular ideas in mind. I might grab and interesting shot or two nothing really gels. I get no feeling of  excitement or creativity when I am out there. You might say that whatever passion I may feel as a photographer has dried up. I suppose the good thing about self-assigning is that there is no pressure to produce, I can simply step back and wait until the energy is back—and it always returns. As I mentioned, I do not really believe in “creative block” and if it exists, it’s not a negative thing—its exactly the opposite. I come back stronger. So, every 5 or 6 years I go through this 3 month hiatus and concentrate on other pursuits without the guilt associated with not taking any pictures.

This time, it is almost over for me now. We had purchased a new home and it was being renovated for the past three months. At my age and given my temperament, having to deal with that and shooting in the street would have been a bit stressful so I laid back. Next week it will be over, we will have moved in and I can have my life back. In a few weeks it will be as it always was and this period will be over.

There was a time in my life when I did not take a picture for 7 years. That happened after a divorce and subsequent meeting of my second wife and the passion of taking pictures was absent. Then, one day, I woke up and decided to begin again. That was in 1996 and my photographs, in my opinion, became better—much better. In fact there are only 1 or 2 pictures from before this period that I consider any good at all. That’s how it goes. What I am saying is that taking a break is not a bad thing because you always come back—come back stronger.

Capri_2007

Why am I posting this picture? Sometimes, even I cannot answer my own questions. Its a beautiful landscape that I shot about 5 years ago on the Island of Capri in Italy. That day was for the most part a disappointment because it was just too touristy—even for me. It was 5 hours of constant hustling and being assaulted continuously by people trying to sell me everything from trinkets to ice cream. I really was not into taking any good pictures, or at least I was not consciously into taking any good pictures. When I become bored or tense, my creative juices just disappear— I just go flat. I suppose it is hard to stay up for everything, all the time. I am sure even the greatest of photographers have their bad days from time to time. I am no different and when these events occur, I just turn off, look for a good bar and wait for it to pass. It always does. In this case, Instead of taking pictures, I just got into being a tourist, enjoying the views, and having a good lunch. It prevented me from being bummed out all day and certainly made me better company for my wife.

For the most part I am a documentary photographer and most of the time, I have no interest in landscape photography, either as a viewer or photographer. The reason is that most of this stuff is just pretty—and that is not enough to peak my interest. This is not always the case. There are of course great landscape photographs, taken by great photographers, but for the most part, these type of images are just pretty, and nothing more. I look at them—briefly and then quickly move on. They never register with me in any emotional way. So on this day, in this place, being uninterested in shooting my types of images, I shoot landscapes to pass the time. Are they good photographs—not really, they are just pretty, that’s all. However I am sure there are people out there who would think that it is brilliant. Photography is funny that way. Everybody sees their own picture and there is enough of it for everybody.

4_figures_hollywoodbeach

I look at a lot of photographs these days. I cannot help it because the web is saturated with photography—both good and bad. Sometimes you see an image and like it immediately—it just sucks you in. Other times you look at a photo, and you are puzzled—you just cannot connect with what the photographer is trying to say, that is until you read the paragraph(s) below which explain it all and you go “oh ya” and that is it. It is more intellectual than passionate. Personally, I am not fond of those photographs because if the purpose has to be explained, that is another step which separates the photographer and the viewer. Appreciation in my mind should be immediate and that is all there is to it.

You may either like or dislike the photograph above. No explanation is needed. In my mind, I want the viewer to either like it or not immediately—sans statement. Sometimes I can comment on how the picture was made, or why it was made, but what it is about is solely at the discretion of the viewer. I want the viewer to make up their own story because in my mind, that is what photography is about.

 

the kiss

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.

axis

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.