swimming_pool_83

Westmount Swimming Pool, Montreal, 1983

30 years ago, my photo opportunities were slim. I had a miserable job, a shaky marriage, and probably smoked too much dope. But I persevered, and tried to form my picture-taking to suit my lifestyle. My youngest daughter, Megan, would take swimming classes at the Westmount pool every Saturday morning, and I would take her there and wait, and then return home with her. It was a perfect opportunity to have an hour or so to myself and take a few pictures around Westmount Park. I actually became very familiar with the place and some of my favorite shots from that period were taken there. When my hour was up, I would return to the pool and take Megan home. I liked those Saturdays—they were very peaceful tranquil moments for me. Sometimes I would just hang around the pool and shoot but that was then. Now if I did that I would be classified as a pervert, squads of SWAT cops would surround me, take me down and spend the rest of the day interrogating me, checking my computer, and questioning my neighbors about my “suspicious” behavior. Sometimes progress can be a bit unnerving.

man_dog

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…

Venice_beach_shadows

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.

Vernon

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.

ask

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!

Lisbon_fog*

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?

 

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.

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.

ft_pierce_2009

Who knows why some people like certain photographs? If anyone has an answer, I would like to hear it. One of the things that I love about photography is that it is very personal. Some people love certain images and others will hate the same ones. It really does not matter who the photographer is—famous or not—each image finds its own audience. To prove this point, all you have to do is look at competition winners and runners-up. Although I may agree with the judges on occasion, more often than not, I think some of the honorable mentions were the better photographs. It is not a cut and dry case. With the internet, there is plenty of photography to see but it is not all that good, at least in my opinion. But I am only one person and others may see my tastes in photo quality as mediocre. I suppose that is the beauty of it. As I said, it is a very personal thing.

For instance, I do not like posed situations. Those photographs where the photographer places his subjects in a sort of tableau and shoots the picture are for the most part uninteresting to me. However every now and then some of the images  strike me in a positive way, and I do not know why, but they do. I am not a big fan of landscapes—especially when the photographer is trying to show the beauty of a scene. However, every now and then I see landscape that strike me as brilliant because the photographer has gone beyond the prettiness of the image and added something extra—something special. What it comes down to is that it is not only personal, there are no rules. You either like a picture or you do not.

I like this photograph a lot and I am not sure why. It was 5 years ago, almost to the day that I visited Fort Pierce Florida and stumbled on a Christmas pageant taking place here. I wandered around, took a few shots and then this lady asked me what I was doing. I said I was  a photographer visiting from West Palm Beach and came across this event and did she mind. On the contrary, she told me she was a riding instructor, and walked me around pointing our some of her students and asking them to pose for me. Posing is not one of my things but I know there are moments in between a pose where an interesting moment may lie. I shot this one just as she was turning to face me. Why do I like it? Who knows? Is it the angle, the ominous sky, the white dress? Or is it simply that it was a wonderful day and I had a wonderful experience shooting that day. Or is it all of it?

woman_walking

It occurred to me today that it has been about 10 years since I closed my darkroom and switched to digital. Unlike a lot of photographers who have done the same and either struggled with it or were slow to warm up to it, in my case it was swift and painless. I think it had a lot to do with attitude, since I did not take this step reluctantly, but more important, I was pleased with my initial results and was excited to explore the possibilities in further depth.

We had purchased a small condo in Florida where we planned on spending the winters. It did not have space for a darkroom and I was reluctant to send out film for processing, nor did I want to wait until spring when I returned to Vermont to develop all the film I shot the previous winter so I bought a cheap Canon DSLR to carry me through. I started shooting with it immediately and was surprised by my initial results. It was not the camera that turned me on —it was what I could do to my RAW files in my computer. I realized I had far more control over my images than any amount of darkroom skill would allow. For all of my life, I had shot strictly B&W because I never liked the results that labs printed for my and I never had any desire to process color myself. All of a sudden, I was a master color printer.

I began to see things differently, almost from the start. As a B&W shooter, I had preferred shooting on cloudy days as opposed to direct sunlight. Now direct sunlight became far more interesting. My photographs began to change and I think for the better.