In my world, there are two kinds of photographers. The first is the deliberate one, the guy who checks every setting twice, focusses very carefully, checks exposure again, and then spends the next two or three minutes framing their shot. One can take a lot of photographs in two minutes. A lot of times, I have come across these types of photographers, and not wanting to ruin their photograph, I patiently wait for them to finish, before walking through. On many occasions, I run out of patience, and after waiting for a minute or two, I say “fuck it” and walk through their pictures. They never notice me. The second type of photographer is the slob—that’s me. For the most part on a sunny day I set my ISO at 400, camera at F8 and out the door I go. I see something that interests me, I raise my camera and shoot. Its all over very quickly. It may take me a half second to raise the camera and frame my shot and 1/125 of a second to snap the shutter and its all over. The photography above is a perfect example. I was walking through the Piazza di Popolo in Rome, and noticed this couple kissing. I was about 20 feet away and decided to get closer. As I approached, I pre-focussed for about 10 feet walked up, raised the camera and shot. They never noticed me so I continued to adjust my framing, and waited for a split second or two for the right moment and shot three more frames. This one is from the last three frames. It was all over in about three or four seconds and I was gone.
This was a different situation completely and is about as anal as I get as a photographer. My wife and I were in Montreal and went for a late lunch at Chez Leveque—one of our favorite haunts when we visit there. We like to sit side by side, and the waiter begrudgingly obliged. Across from me was this woman, finishing off her lonely lunch with a glass of wine. I saw the shot but did not want to attract her attention so I refrained. I was very itchy to do something but experience had taught me that this was one of those situations that required some patience. In a few moments, a small child who was bored sitting with his parents got up and started to run around the place. When he ran in front of the woman, I raised my camera and pretended to shoot him, but was actually focussing on the woman at the table. The woman smiled at me as I pretended to shoot the obnoxious little brat and the ice was broken. She did not pay any more attention to me. The kid left, she took a sip of her wine and looked out the window. I slowly raised my camera which was already focussed and took two shots and it was all over.
In both situations, I spotted what I wanted to shoot, and acted spontaneously and quickly when I saw the moment. If I was like the other type of photographer, I would have come up empty—the moment passing before me as I got myself ready. I am sure there are times when it pays to take one’s time making a shot, and I am sure I am guilty of that from time to time. However those occasions usually do not have people in the frame. Then I have all the time in the world.
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.
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.
A few years ago, we were in Bologna Italy. We actually went there to sample their signature dish—Fettucini Bolognese. We found the right spot , had a wonderful lunch, and then went to check out the city. At some point, we needed a break and stopped in this bar for a coffee. So much for the dime-bag travelogue. What I really wanted to talk about was Black and White.
Every time I go to Italy (or anywhere else for that matter) I end up working on my images in color. I have been doing this since I first bought a digital camera in 2005. I suppose it might be laziness on my part that I did it this way because that is what comes out of the camera when you take a picture. The automatic tendency is to shoot in color. In the days of film you had a choice because you could choose what film you put in the camera. Now its global—you can make it anything you want after the fact. So that is how I evolved into a color photographer. It was very passive.
Lately however I have been consciously thinking in Black and White and this time when we leave for Italy I will still be doing so. It’s not really so big a deal though because I can always change my mind after the fact. I guess that is what is really interesting about this new century. You never really have to commit to anything and I do not know whether that is a good thing or not.
I guess I will post some of tem on my blog when i get back. You can check out more of my B&W at: www.dsaxe.com
This photograph was taken on the day I discovered the Piazza di Popolo in Rome. We have visited this lovely city on many occasions. Usually, when we go somewhere for the first time we do the major sites but I am slowly (actually hastily) growing tired of this routine. The problem is tourists (which includes myself) that seem to pollute most of the places I visit. Unlike Sharon and I. who comprise a total of two tourists, the rest of them are comprised of mass hordes of wandering people in large groups being led by a guide holding up a plastic rose on an umbrella so that these wandering numb nuts know where to follow him to the next destination. It might be fine for them but they interfere with my photos all the time as they aimlessly wander in front of my camera. (It might make an interesting theme however.)
So much for lemmings. The Piazza di Popolo is situated at the intersection of three streets near the Villa Borghese (a beautiful park). Although the tourists invade this part of the city as much as the rest of Rome, on this day it was just a quiet Sunday the streets leading to the pizza were closed to cars, and people mostly local were just hanging out. All three of these streets converge on a round piazza and at the center were these very attractive women handing out free samples of Fanta orange drinks.
I had overlooked this photo for the past 6 years but since there is nothing going on today in my life, I have been going over old photos looking for lost gems. I think this is one of them.
Many years ago, I ran a photography department in a major Montreal hospital. Twice a year we would get a visit from the local Kodak rep. He would arrogantly march in to my studio and sit himself down and for the next hour or so, extol the wonderful benefits of their latest color print film. I would always have to interrupt him and remind him that departments such as ours never used color print film. Although I had mentioned this to him on many occasions, he never remembered and in spite of my reminder, he would continue with his pitch. Every now and then, he would come in and talk about a new slide or black and white film (which interested us) but his explanations of why they was superior to the previous films was always far too technical and utterly useless. Finally I would ask him to send us a few samples to try out. His response was always the same.
“Kodak does not supply free samples.”
That was that. We used Ilford black and white products. The rep would visit about every second month. He always has a box of 100 sheets of enlarging paper with him and he would talk about his products briefly, and then go into the darkroom with us to jointly test them out and compare the with the the older version. If there was ever a problem with any of their products, we would call him up and a replacement would be delivered the following day.
That was 30 years ago. I never remembered the name of the Kodak rep but I will never forget the name of the Ilford rep. Business is all about creating and maintaining relationships. Kodak never understood that.
The photograph above was shot on Kodak Tri-X—one of the best products they ever made. The reason I posted it is because it was shot on my last visit to Italy using a film camera. The following year I bought a digital camera and have been using one ever since. The other reason I posted this picture is because I was thinking about Italy and wondering what me next visit (in the fall) would be like.
Day 8, Project 14
Ah, a boring day in Rome. Nothing is going on as I schlep my way up behind the Monument Victor Emmanuel to an obscure little museum which is tucked in behind it. I don’t even remember the exhibit I saw—oh yah M.C. Escher and not a bad one, but when we came out there was this small terrace which overlooked the city and St. Peters in the background. I just took a few quick pictures and forgot about it almost immediately. That was over 5 years ago and suddenly I rediscovered this one. Orgiinally it did not look interesting—they never do but with some work…
There is a district in Rome called “The Meat Packing District” which we thought would be similar to the one in New York—you know, trendy shops, art galleries, cool restaurants, etc. so of we went. It was a bit of a come down because it was actually a meat-packing district—dumpy warehouses, poor housing, and restaurants specializing in entrails and other leftovers. But we made the best of it and while Sharon was using a bathroom in a grocery store (Italians are not uptight about people using bathrooms. (They recognise the human urge to pee.) I took this picture of a customer arguing with one of the store owners while the other silently watched. Naturally, I have no idea what they were arguing about.
A few years back Sharon and I were in Rome and while wandering through the Piazza Navonna, we stumbled on this scene. At first we couldn’t figure out what was going on but eventually after doing her stretches, the lady and her partner laid out a 60×60 foot parameter with some rope, put down a boom box and started doing a Tango. They were great!
The Piazza Navonna is one of my favorite places. In spite of third rate restaurants, with the waiters dragging people off the streets, it stilll is an interesting place because of the entertainment. My favorite is an old guy who does a finger puppet show. He reminds me of Charlie Chaplin (hey have the same blank stare) as he does his slow preparation, setting up his little stage, putting the costumes on his fingers and starting up his boom box. As the music plays, he gingerly moves his fingers around and does a tango—the man on the index and forefinger of his right hand and the woman on the index and forefinger of his left. His finale is a Michael Jackson number including a two-finger moonwalk. The first time I saw him I left $5 in his hat because he was so good. He thanked me. The second time was a year later and he came up to me and said it was nice to see me again. I don’t know If he really recognized me or not but I never saw him do that to anyone else. He was so professional and probably did quite well for a street performer at that location. Unfortunately I have never been able to get a nice photograph of him—at least not one of my standards. I have plenty of pretty tourist shots but none that I would ever publish or exhibit—except in my new magazine “Voyeur”.
We are both alike in some ways. We both depend on being in the street for our creative juices
It looks like I’m back to Black and White — At least for some shots. Kids are always hanging around in Rome intertwined in weird ways. Kind of nice. I thought bum shots were restricted to cable installers.