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!
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.
A few years ago we were vacationing in Sicily and returned home by way of Paris. We had a three day layover and I was of course looking forward to it. Unfortunately, I had picked up some bug in Sicily and was not at my best. I remembered something my doctor had told me years ago about stomach bugs. He had told me to starve them and try not eating for 24 hours. This was hard to do in Paris—almost impossible but I did it. The next day I actually started feeling a bit better and could actually go out walk around and feel a bit more comfortable—albeit quite hungry.
We walked along the Sienne and I spotted this couple kissing on the other side. Fortunately, I had only a zoom lens and it came in handy for this shot across the river. Although I have always felt that I needed one of these gizmos (zoom lens), the truth is that I hardly use them at full zoom. When I check my shots in Lightroom, it can tell me what focal length was used for the shot and I have noticed that not matter how strong my zoom, the vast majority of the shots was shot at focal lengths between 28mm and 100mm. These days I hardly bother with them and just walk around using one camera and a single 35mm lens. I have a feeling that I am taking better pictures this way—at least for the present.
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.
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.
A family Holiday in Rome turns into a photo excursion. We had planned a holiday in Rome with my two daughters, their men, and a grandchild months ago and I was really looking forward to it. I had rented a large apartment close to the Piazza di Popolo for us to stay in. It had rooms, terrace, and lots of Roman charm. It was perfect! I did not think I would be taking many photos and that I would be occupied with my family most of the time but it did not turn out that way. Since none of them had ever been there, they had a huge list of what they wanted to see so that left most of the days free for Sharon and I do do what we always did in Rome (and anywhere else we went for that matter) and just hang out.
We would meet up every evening somewhere, either at our apartment or some bar for an “apertivo” and then go out somewhere for dinner. Since our afternoons were free, I took my camera, Sharon and wandered the city. Our only break during the day was the customary 2-hour lunch with lots of wine. The afternoons somehow turned out better for photographs than the mornings—I wonder why.
I had read something from another photographer about keeping your head clear, your mind open and to be receptive to what was around you and I tried to follow that principle. There were good days and bad days and all in all, creatively it worked out. You can check out the images yourself by clicking here.