Category Craft

Hops and Millimeters

I will admit, there is this internal conflict when it comes to one of my photographic heroes, Henry Cartier-Bresson. The work, the elegance of it, the preservation of a moment in time … it resonates with me deeply.

But then there are pieces I read, interviews and stories, and I’m left wondering whether he was a charlatan of sorts. He was, at times, so dismissive of the craft, of the effort.

Lines like this, excerpted from a 1973 interview with Sheila Turner-Seed:

I see different things, I presume. But not more, not less. The best pictures in The Decisive Moment were taken right away, after two weeks. [ . . . ] That’s why teaching and learning don’t make sense. You must live and look. All these photography schools are a gimmick. What are they teaching? Could you teach me how to walk?

So, I’ll put aside my defensiveness because of my occupation and say I agree there’s a certain level of innate vision the best have. But that vision needs to be developed, it needs to be explored and prodded and poked at, it needs to be put in context and critiqued. A photograph is not an isolated thing, it is an arc that connects moment and the witness and the viewer, bringing them back to the moment.

Maybe it’s more of a circle. Hmmm … maybe there’s something in there to teach …

The precision of his work and the way he talks about it, that has always resonated with me:

The difference between a good picture and a mediocre picture is a question of millimeters, a tiny difference. But it’s essential. I don’t think there’s so much difference between photographers, but it’s that tiny difference that counts, maybe.

And the way he talks about watching a great photographer work, the elegance with which they move, I get that, too. There’s a fluidity we should all be striving for, the insert ourselves into the ebb-and-flow of life, to be swept along but at just the right distance to be able to see not just this moment, but how it connects to all the others.

As I said, I have some inner conflict.

Auto Photo Business

If you’ve spent more than four minutes with me, you know one of my passions lies deep in the automotive realm. Old cars, new cars, broken cars and the old, new and broken people that go with them – I love being a part of those stories.

So it should come as no surprise that I tend to look at a lot of car photos and read a lot about the people who also love cars. Amy Shore has been taking the automobile photo world by storm of late and she’s put together a very long, very detailed post on what you need to know to get into the business. Really, even if you never want to photograph a car, the processes she talks about apply to you, too.

You can have a crap photographer with the best camera on the market and they’ll create high-quality crap photos. Or you can have a fabulous photographer only shooting with their mobile phone and get more Instagram followers than you or I will ever have because their ‘eye’ for an image is amazing.

It is well worth a good chunk of your weekend.

She was also profiled on the Mercedes-Benz site, which concludes with a short video of her.

Gordon Parks, Back to Fort Scott

This was posted two years ago, but it’s still worth putting in a little time: A collection of images Gordon Parks made for Life magazine about segregation.

It’s about both access and understanding the story you’re trying to tell, both are needed to succeed.

Photojournalism’s Future

Two interviews that James Estrin did this week at The New York Times Lens blog have had me pondering the future of photojournalism.

Up first was an interview with Donald Winslow, the editor emeritus of the National Press Photographers Association’s News Photographer magazine and a long-time supporter of photojournalism.

A few days later, Leslye Davis, a staffer at the Times, stopped in to talk with Estrin about her views and they were almost the polar opposite.

I’ve known Mr. Winslow for a long time and have had many wonderful discussions with him – his encyclopedic knowledge of our craft’s history and the characters within it is unmatched, his passion and commitment unquestionable.

But Leslye Davis is my new hero:

Before pens and paper were accessible people were carving their ideas into stone tablets. I bet when pen and paper came along the writers were skulking around grumpy like, “now everybody thinks they’re a writer.”

I was part of that golden age, at least the very end of it. It was thrilling and important, helping my communities better understand themselves.

It was also staggeringly limiting – sometimes you needed to hear someone’s voice to understand, sometimes you needed to see how someone moved within their realm to understand. We can do that now.

For many years, we took the easy route, covering the obvious events for our daily deadlines. Every now and then, we’d get to do the deep dive story and really be a full fledged Storyteller.

Today, social media feeds fill the need of the instantaneous this-is-happening void. We, who are devoted to the craft, can now focus on the Why, not just the What, the How that explains the Where and the When. We get to deal with the Who as a complete portrait, not just a two-dimensional series of inked dots.

The golden age of photojournalism, limited to and by those who had access to the gold, has passed. In its place we get to build an organic, comprehensive and democratically necessary era of visual storytelling.

And that phrasing is specific – we need to Build this. There are many challenges, but isn’t that what photojournalist deal with everyday?

Seeking Visual Truth

Screen Shot 2017 01 17 at 12 59 44 PM

This piece ran on The New York Times’ Lens blog last month but I held it until now. John Morris has had more to do with how we visualize our world than, perhaps, almost else and yet no one knows who he is.

“If they no longer think truth is important, that’s the end of journalism,” Mr. Morris said. “It’s a very serious situation. I hope for the best but am fearing the worst.”

What’s Important Is the Next Picture

Nice, short interview with Bruce Davidson at Time’s Lightbox blog where he talks about his 1959 photographs of a Brooklyn gang.

Want to get images this intimate? Follow this advice:

I was close and I stayed longer.

Worth sticking through the pre-roll ad.

Castro In Photographs

The morning brought news that Fidel Castro had died at the age of 90. A click to The New York Times brought me to this video that has some of the amazing work that Jack Manning did during a short trip to Cuba in 1964. Even if you turn the sound down (which I don’t recommend you do, as Richard Eder’s story is fascinating), the images are a text book example of how to document a person within their place and time. 

A Visual Discussion on the Human Condition

One of my long-time favorites is Peter Turnley. Early on in my studies, I saw something in his work that resonated deeply with me, but I’m not sure I was able to articulate it then.

There was a warmth, a connection. The people in his images were never just subjects, there was something more in the relationship separated only by some shards of glass.

The below video was made to coincide with an exhibit in Cuba. It is full of gems, but there’s one line that, at last, explains his work to me:

… the only thing that empowers everyone is love.

And that, from the joys of his Parisian street scenes to the horrors of war, is what I’ve seen for decades. Every image, no matter the destruction it may show, is about that which empowers all of us.

This is well worth your time.

A Documentary film about Peter Turnley – MOMENTS OF THE HUMAN CONDITION from Peter Turnley on Vimeo.

Would HCB Use a Cellphone?

It’s an interesting question, whether Henri Cariter-Bresson would convert from his Leica to a smartphone were he alive and working today. William Dalrymple believe he would have and, as much as I adore the craft of photography … I guess I agree HCB would be wielding an iPhone 6s. But definitely not a 6s Plus, that would be too big.

I do make images with my phone, but it still doesn’t give me the level of control and separation I want. It’s all about the sensor size – and not for the pixel count, but the focal length equivalents.

Photography Without Vision

Om Malik has a wonderful piece up at the New Yorker, triggered by Google’s announcement it is making the Nik Collection of software tools free.

This idea that we are photographing everything, never seeing anything and, perhaps worse, not remembering anything is troubling to me. I have a very large collection of family photos, somewhere in excess of 20,000 images, made by myself, my father and my grandfather. And that may seem like a massive amount of images, but it dates back more than 60 years. Each one of those images is a trigger for actual memories – they bring back the emotions of the moment for those who were there. (Or, for me on the older ones, the emotions of having heard the stories behind them.)

My grandfather and I shared a concern for describing the images individually, he in notebooks and me with captions embedded in the files. My father, as methodical a man as ever wandered this earth, not so much … there are images that I don’t understand because the one who was there has been gone for nearly 30 years.

Now, you can accuse me of having this same insatiable desire to make images as I’m some 1,600 days into a photo-a-day project myself. But I’m not photographing everything, and I’m certainly not posting everything. To me, it’s a visual journal – but one that hits the highlights of a day, not every moment of it.