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Tamás Dezső . Photographer

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Sébastien van Malleghem . Photographer

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35mm, analogue, black and white, documentary, leica, rangefinder

Edward van Herk. Photographer

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35mm, 4"x5", 6x6, analogue, black and white, documentary, Gowlandflex, Kodak Tri-X, leica, M7, New York, portrait, Rollei, street

Erica McDonald . Photographer

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Erica_McDonald_windowGL: How did you ‘meet’ the woman behind the window?

EMD: It happened close to the end of the time when I was working on The Dark Light of This Nothing. I had the bones of the series laid down but was out looking for the kinds of moments I had missed in the previous months. The woman just happened to be looking out her window – we saw each other and shared a moment.

The Dark Light was done as personal project. Up until that point I had been focused on the single image, and I had decided that I’d like to invest myself in a long-term story. Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey runs a site called Burn and he had been encouraging a group of readers to see what they could accomplish over a period of a month or so. I met with David and told him about a few of my ideas, and together we came to the conclusion that I should focus on this one; what was started as a month-long project became a several-year endeavor.

GL: There are two kinds of images in the series: street photos and more formal studio portraits. You look at the people in your images from various points-of-view. Where did this approach come from?

Erica_McDonald_06-2EMD: The series had a very specific arc. I had intended to shoot only large format portraits against white backdrop on the street – that was the initial idea of the whole project. I had been looking at Richard Avedon’s In The American West (which was shot over five years) and wanted to shoot a very miniaturized homage to him over the course of a month. Shooting the portraits on a street corner in NYC involved getting assistants, a permit and working around the weather as well as my schedule and in the end took a few months to complete.

I had hoped to shoot all the portraits with this amazing 4×5 Gowlandflex – it’s a rare large format camera that operates as a twin lens reflex camera, like the medium format Rollei I had been using regularly; this kind of camera is terrific because you never lose sight of the person you are photographing, even at the moment the shutter is released. It was my first time with a large format camera so I had a learning curve, and I was doing audio interviews and getting model releases and running across the street to get people to come over. There was a lot going on, and a little wind could knock down my portable backdrop, and passersby didn’t always have time to sit for the time it takes to make a large format image. So after awhile, I brought a second camera, my medium format Rollei, and did some of the portraits this way.

GL: The series is from between 2008-2011. Starting a long-term project is simple, but how do you know when to stop? What tells you that you have reached the end of your road with your theme?

00027032-SPP-TheDarkLightOfThisNothing02-009EMD: When I felt like I had built a representative body of portraits of the long-term residents of the area I scanned everything, did an edit and sat with the work for a month, and realized that what I had shot was only a part of the story I wanted to tell. Photographing the neighborhood consistently for a full year to cover the four seasons seemed like it would serve to express what I hoped for.

So I started that way, this time working with a smaller 35mm camera to be able to move more quickly and intimately in a documentary style. When this year was over, I sat and looked at the work again, and saw what I needed. The last handful of successful images came very slowly, over the course of two more years, but I was only going out looking for them occasionally. There came a point when I got several rolls of film back without any keepers and then I knew I had nothing more to say that would add meaning, and that the project was completed.

GL: Do you always reach for your camera when that happens? How do you react to what you see?

Erica_McDonald_07R_gatedEMD: I’ve always been what you might call a watcher. With or without camera, I’m framing and shooting mentally. My greatest weakness as a photographer might be that I sometimes get so involved watching that I forget to shoot, even though my camera is in hand; I try to train myself out of this, but I actually don’t mind it that much – sometimes this uninterrupted watching actually informs the way I shoot at another time.

GL: How did your choice of material influence the way the project took shape?

EMD: For The Dark Light of This Nothing reportage images I made an aesthetic decision ahead of time about what I wanted the work to feel like and that informed my choice to use Tri-X film pushed to 1600 ASA. The quality of light I wanted happened at, and after four o’clock in the afternoon, so that dictated my schedule. I knew how much I could open up the aperture when I lost the light and still be able to shoot above 1/30th of a second and built my project around these details – out at four whenever possible, and home when the light was really gone.

Structure really helps me, keeps excuses at bay and then within these confines I start to play little games to challenge myself. With this work, I had very set geographic boundaries that I extended by three blocks after the first year when I learned that some old timers thought of the boundaries of Park Slope differently. This was a huge gift to myself as sometimes I felt like a hamster on a wheel and would spend whole afternoons searching without even taking single image. The upside is that people in the neighborhood became used to seeing me, and if I was without my camera they’d ask why.

GL: What film camera did you use for the project? And why not digital?

Erica_McDonald_dl_partyhatEMD: In the end I used three film cameras for the body of work: the 4×5 Gowlandflex and the medium format Rolleiflex for the portraits, and the Leica M7 for the reportage. As this was my first long-term project there was no question that I wanted to shoot it on black-and-white film; so much of the work that has inspired me – Eugene Richard’s Dorchester Days, Bruce Davidson’s Brooklyn Gang and East 100th Street, was shot this way. Money wasn’t a serious consideration for the 35mm because I shoot very few images when I use the Leica and a friend was processing my film at his home affordably, and then I scanned everything. The cost of the 4″x5″ was killing me though, and this partly dictated my decision to also shoot the portraits with the Rollei.

GL: How much do you work with your images in post?

EMD: The goal is to get what I want in camera, so hopefully little post-production is needed. As for framing, all the images are as shot – I only crop if at the time I saw the image, I knew what I wanted but it was physically impossible to shoot it without the rest of the elements in frame – but usually these images aren’t in the final cut anyway.

GL: How do you measure light?

Erica_McDonald_howlEMD: Both my Rollei and Leica have built-in light meters, but I always carry a hand-held meter anyway and do my readings that way for street work unless the light changes swiftly in an unexpected way. There is a certain formality combined with intimacy that happens when you meter for a portrait that sets up the moment of shooting nicely – you move in close and talk with them for a second, they take the process seriously.

GL: How do you focus? Manually? AF?

EMD: The only time I might use auto focus is if I am shooting digitally – my film cameras don’t even have the option.

GL: The series is black and white. But you also do delicate color photos. What is your attitude to color? When do you go for black-and-white and when for color?

EMD: The choice to use color or black-and-white is usually easy to discern as an intuitive thing, but a bit complicated to explain. It has to do with the intended voice of the work and texture as well as the quality of light.

Erica_McDonald_parachutedropOne of the little games I play is that other than for an assignment, I can’t shoot with a camera or take an image unrelated to the project I am working on. I have a lot of miscellaneous films in the freezer, and cameras I don’t use for long stretches. Occasionally, when I’m not working on anything specific, I’ll load a camera and then purposefully forget if it is color or black-and-white, and just take note of the ASA – it is a sort of test to see if I can make strong imagery irrespective of the film color tone.

A reason that images can work without the knowledge if the film is color or black-and-white is because you are looking for elements beyond that to create meaning. And then the color becomes a bonus, or the black-and-white functions as it should because you are thinking structurally anyway, and that includes things like shade, and light and dark. It’s like when you take painting 101, you do what is called a value exercise when starting out, so you aren’t influenced by hue or actual color – instead you see relationships between grey tones. Vermeer did this in an elevated way by using his so-called “dead coloring” or underpainting method. Interestingly, it seems Vermeer may have used a camera obscura as part of this technique. Going back to the film question, it comes down to training yourself to see what is before you in terms of tonal value.

GL: I really like your ‘landscapes’ from the series (rain, snow, sleet). It’s dumb to put it like this, but they are ‘my kind of’ landscapes: landscapes/cityscapes with a context, not just pretty trees and stunning colors. How do you feel about landscapes in general?

Erica_McDonald_snowlightEMD: I’ve just returned from hiking in the remote wilderness and I didn’t photograph because the beauty is greater than I can translate through my camera – or perhaps simply already perfectly authored. Urban landscapes are made in conjunction with man, and I feel comfortable adding my voice to that equation.

GL: How much do you get involved in the lives of the people that you meet over such an extended period? How do you see yourself in such a project? Observer? Participator?

EMD: The experience of participating in others’ lives always has different meaning and results for me, and at times has yielded friendship and at other times taught me lessons about personal boundaries, but I always try to remain mindful about what my presence may mean for the persons I am asking something of. I know I have a responsibility when someone lets me see into their life.

GL: Have your subjects seen their pictures? Did you show them? Were they interested? How did they react? (People have such a hard time seeing themselves on pictures.)

EMD: Depending on the circumstance, sometimes I’ll make prints for the people I have photographed – I did that for Surf Manor, because these were the only recent portraits the residents had of themselves, and they very much wanted to see what I saw in them, and most displayed them proudly in their bedrooms. But that isn’t always practical, so I am sure to tell people my name and that I have a website, and the project name so if they are curious they can see if the image we made was part of the final story, and request a file.

When you work in a context where you will see the people again, it is terrific to get feedback. One man sent his portrait to his daughter, another significantly changed his attitude – for the better – toward the idea of me photographing ‘his neighborhood’, another thought his family wouldn’t like the image and asked me to take it down, so it varies but is usually a positive experience. On the other side, there is a man I run into weekly who I have photographed several times and interviewed, but he hasn’t taken the time to go look. I tease him that I’m going to stop him and make him watch the multimedia version of The Dark Light of This Nothing on the street one day.

(To see more of Erica McDonald’s pictures visit her website at ericamcdonaldphoto.com. All images © Erica McDonald and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer also teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.

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Bruno Bourel Lovers
35mm, 6x4.5, analogue, black and white, Budapest, documentary, leica, M6, Mamiya, Polaroid, R4, R6, rangefinder, street

Bruno Bourel . Photographer

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Bruno Bourel Lovers (Flirting with the Photographer)

GL: Any image is a record of two roads crossing: the person behind camera walks onto the path of the person in front of it. How did this meeting happen?

BB: This picture was born like many others of mine, like almost all of them. First, I check out if something is happening today in the town (or in the world) I am living in. For the past almost 20 years this city has been Budapest. That day in 2004, Hungary was celebrating joining the European Union. Having lived here – at that time – for more than 10 years, I knew that e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e was waiting for this moment. A huge, festive weekend took place and I was out with friends and kids, strolling on the waterfront, on the Buda side. When I had the feeling that something was about to happen I stopped and waited and told my friends that we’d meet somewhere later. Ninety-eight percent of the time I am alone when I work, but I remember that this day, there were many of us around.

GL: The metaphor we use when talking about ‘capturing a moment’ is misleading in some ways. A moment like this is about the years, months or minutes leading up to it that get you ready, as a photographer, as an observer to capture it.

Bruno_Bourel_Jaszai Mari ter-2BB: This is very difficult to explain. This is maybe the essence of the medium. To reach that rare moment of grace where everything is (?!) or seems to be perfect, seems to fall into place for the structure of the image: light, composition, emotions and above all – for me – the strength of a picture to go beyond time, the particular date or year that it was taken. No relation to time, just an instant extended to a whole lifetime. I think an image could guide or live with you until you die!!!

One has to disappear in front of the model, being at the right time at the right place and being willing to share a human emotion. I think I am walking on a very thin line: many subjects and topics all guided by the light that surrounds me and the goal is to go beyond the surroundings and to show the inner light!!!

And yes this requires concentration, paying attention almost every minute while at work. After all, everything is in front of you, but you do have to pick it up!!!

GL: Technically: what camera did you use?

Bruno_Bourel_nykv-2BB: Technically: I keep it simple, simple, simple. Photography to me is related to what the eye sees and has nothing to do with any technical matter. Your eyes, your emotions. The question is if one has something to say with this medium. Does the photographer really have a ‘world’ to show with this medium?

This takes a life. Who’ s willing to sacrifice one’s life to that? I don’ t have an answer to that.

GL: Film? Digital?

BB: Film. Kodak Tri-X, Ilford HP5. In 1987 I spent a few weeks in Tokyo discovering Fuji black-and-white film. It was very good, still is. My camera is a 20-year-old Leica M6, sometimes an even older Leica R6 or it could be a Mamiya 4.5×6 I bought in Budapest for next to nothing… but it still works perfectly well.

Bruno_Bourel_29Digital or analog? Nonsense. A good picture is not a question of the technology that it comes from. As Lajos Parti Nagy, the Hungarian novelist with whom I have published a book about Budapest (Fényrajzok – Light Drawings) wrote: “Taking pictures is a must. If with the worst rubbish of a camera, then with that.”

This, by now, is and will forever be an aesthetic choice. The richness of silver grains on an acetate base has nothing to do with the world of pixels. But this is very difficult to judge.

GL: What was the original picture format? Did you crop it?

BB: I never crop my pictures, but if I felt that I wanted to crop it I would do it. If it needs to be cropped for one reason or another, it’s okay. I very rarely do any cropping because I started photography in ‘77 with the Polaroid SX70. A whole world in itself with no cropping or retouching whatsoever.

GL: What lens did you use?

Bruno_Bourel_Polaroid SX 70 007-2BB: The lens I have used every day for almost 20 years is a 35mm. When I moved from Polaroid to black-and-white photography I used every day a Leica R4 with a 50mm lens. I still have it but I don’t really use it. But the 50mm was always great for me, half of my Budapest book was shot with it. The ideal would be a 45mm lens – almost the field-of-view of the eyes- but that’s a lens you’ll rarely find.

GL: What were your settings?

BB: I do not remember precisely – it’s been almost 10 years now. But it was in May. A bright, slightly cloudy day – probably 1/250 and f/8.

GL: How do you measure light when taking pictures like this? Manually?

BB: The Leica R and M cameras have a light meter that works more or less fine and I often go for aperture priority.

Bruno_Bourel_Esernyok uj-2It’s very difficult to say how the camera is set up when I leave home. But the one thing that’s certain is that it’s always around my neck or on my shoulder. Light conditions are always changing, e.g. Budapest gets lots of sun and even in the winter you can have very strong light. I just cope with it and setting the camera can be done very quickly.

GL: How do you focus?

BB: My focusing has always been and hopefully will always stay manual!!! The least of an issue for a photographer.

GL: How much do you usually work with your stills in post?

Bruno Bourel Lovers (Flirting with the Photographer, contact sheet)BB: There is never any ‘post’ whatsoever. I have scanned the piece of contact sheet for you to see what was ‘before’ and ‘after’, that should say it all.

There is, of course, plenty to do in the darkroom if some part of the image needs to be worked on. I did lots of practice in the lab and when I started with black-and-white I got used to developing and printing every film and picture. I have to admit that nowadays I give the film to a lab, scan the negative and I see what comes out. But everything is on film.

GL: Most of your images are black-and-white. Do you also shoot some of them on a digital camera?

BB: I have no digital camera, except my telephone which I use more and more. If I could get a digital Leica I would work with it with the same intensity. I think Europe is maybe not really the best place to do colour photography.

What we see today is either a reproduction of the colours around us or a manipulation of them. Very few people have a world of colour to show.

It’s obviously utter nonsense to turn a colour picture into black-and-white with just the push of a button. Digital technology will never help anyone to become a better photographer.

GL: Being from Budapest and looking at your photos, I am amazed how your images often transform the city into Paris. After 20 years, are you still able to see Budapest in this different light?

Bruno_Bourel_16BB: It is difficult to say if I ‘do’ Paris in Budapest. I often meet people who say: “Your work is very Hungarian!” The only fact is that my visual culture was made in Paris.

GL: As I am getting older, I somehow find that photography for me is becoming more and more a question of subject distance, how far away from me that other human being is.

BB: Yes, I try to get closer and closer to my subjects in order to get their emotions. This image is a good example of approaching it successfully.

A photographer must have, more than anything else, a point-of-view and has to show his position regarding the world that surrounds him. Mine was never related to strength, violence, poverty, misery. I do see that every day, but do not feel that I have the right to add my tribute to the flood of images on that subject. And they are easy to do.

I think I have never disturbed anyone and I never will, that is who I am. I am a rather silent man. I have been trying to practice on my piano for 15 years every day now and music is my second passion but someone once said that my photography is silent.

(To see more of Bruno Bourel’s pictures visit his website at www.brunobourel.com. All images © Bruno Bourel and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer also teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.

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