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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35mm, 5D, 6x6, analogue, black and white, color, digital, Ektachrome, iPhone, New York, Rollei, street, studio, USA

William Coupon . Photographer

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Coney Island, New York City

Coney Island, New York City (Rolleiflex with Tesar Lens, 400 ASA Kodak B&W film)

GL: You’ve worked with every possible format that photography can offer. What motivates your choice for a given project? Is it a practical decision or an emotional one?

William-Coupon-Miles-Davis

Miles Davis (Rollei 6006, Kodak PanX 32 ASA)

WC: Completely practical as I am looking for the viewer to firstly view the content. Of course, that tends to become an emotional decision but I first want to see the information and not whether or not it is a platinum print or digital one. I have done both and it’s the information that you need to convey first and foremost.

I have two distinctly different approaches to photography. For one of them, I am a traditional studio photographer doing painterly like studio portraits. I set up one of my backdrops (that I painted in the early 80’s), set up one light source shot through a Chimera lightbox, set up my camera (this could be a Rollei 6006 or a Canon 5D) and the sitter has to be in one consistent setting: comfortable. Often, especially with the ethnographic images, the sitter is a bit bewildered but settles into their own quickly. A celebrity often has “set” poses – they’ve done this before, and often. Especially in the earlier days, I had always used Polaroid SX-70’s to give to the subjects. It was not only a “gift” and a record of the shoot, but it also gave them a clear idea of how I was depicting them in the studio setting.

William-Coupon-IMG_3607_2

Coney Island, New York City (from the series ‘iPhone America’)

I also do street photography: see it as it appears, and with photography, appearances are pretty much everything.

GL: What catches your attention?

WC: It depends. In the studio I look for something classic, something where the light hits the subject in a new way. With the street work, I look for irony and sometimes, edginess.

When I started in 1978, with Studio 54 and Coney Island and then on to my earliest Punk portraits from the Mudd Club, I thought I was really on to something. At that point I realized I could photograph the world. I got off to a pretty good start, but I realized it would take a lot more work than originally anticipated.

GL: Street photography is about ‘catching’ moments. How do you feel about this metaphor?

Coney Island, New York City

Coney Island, New York City (Rolleiflex with Tesar Lens, 400 ASA Kodak B&W film)

WC: I don’t hunt – I gather! You know it when you see it, and you don’t see it much. This process is more like learning to see. And then learning how to see again in the edit process. I am not a techy. I have my ‘tricks’ and they serve me well. It is, as I said, all about appearances.

GL: Technically: what cameras do you use? What motivates your choice?

WC: I started with the old Rolleis then went to Hassleblads then to the Rollei 6006’s and now I do digital with my 5D. For the street work I often just use the iPhone 4, or these days I have the Sony RX100.

William-Coupon-IMG_3823_2

Coney Island, New York City (from the series ‘iPhone America’)

The reasons? Content over ingredients, i.e. I am really only looking to get substance with design, and if that means the iPhone, then so be it. Of course, for street work there is the unobtrusive element to the camera size and the inherent dismissive nature to the fact that it’s a phone. People wouldn’t suspect I am getting the kind of quality I achieve on it – it’s not a “real” camera.

GL: Does holding an iPhone as opposed to a medium format film camera ‘change’ you? Does it change your relationship to your subject?

WC: I like to be as gadget-free as possible. The “tool” defines the moment. Therefore, an iPhone, being ‘flippant’ is a more disposable perceptor to both the subject and the photographer. It’s easy. It’s quick. And these days, it has good qualities so it’s very difficult to dismiss its capabilities.

GL: How do you perceive the iPhone? Freedom? Severe technical limitations?

William-Coupon-iPhone America-Betlehem-Steel-Pennsylvania

Bethlehem Steel Plant, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (from the series ‘iPhone America’)

WC: It’s a device that is quick with quality and leaves content intact. The phone is, from my experience, only good in VERY good light. It is not good in low light so I do not use it then. That in itself is a certain big limitation, especially when working with people.

GL: How do you measure light?

WC: In the studio I have the settings fairly well in place after 35 years. I do use a longer exposure to capture some of the ambient light. I like the aperture to be down to near f/16 to get decent depth of field. For the street, it’s a guessing game. I haven’t used a light meter in ages.

GL: Has the amount ‘post’ you do changed with the transition from film to digital?

William Coupon Neil Young

Neil Young (Rollei 6006, EPR 120, Ektachrome 64 ASA)

WC: I never like to crop. For decades I only did square format, the older Rollei black and whites were shot as straight as can be with 400ASA film. The studio portraits are shot on low-speed film, like EPR120, and Ektachrome 64 film. I use an app for the iPhone shots called Plastiq. I love it as it gives the impression of a 50’s technicolor veneer but retains depth and grain in the dark areas.

In the digital darkroom I hope to do very little and I stick to that generally speaking. It is about the content and the contact that has already taken place that determines the image. I am not particularly a technical person and I don’t think that will change going forward.

GL: Could you imagine doing a ‘classical’ studio portrait session with someone well-known on the iPhone? How do you think that would work?

WC: Not so good. For the studio work, when there is that option, you may as well go with more quality in your film. After all, there you are not constrained by time or space, so what would be the point, unless for some stylistic choice. And for that alone it may be intriguing. But for the studio I like the tightest grain possible with a camera that gives me the greatest mobility.

I usually use the iPhone for candid shots and street images. I could use it for studio work but the dynamics don’t really work there as the studio is a controlled environment – the cameras in that environment should also be of greatest quality to take advantage of the lighting.

William-Coupon-iPhone America-Manhattan

Freedom Tower from Fulton Street, New York City (from the series ‘iPhone America’)

It’s more important to see it than to photograph it. Of course, without documenting what you see, you would not be able to share it.

(To see more of William Coupon’s pictures visit his website at www.williamcoupon.com. All images © William Coupon 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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35mm, canon, color, documentary, flash, Kodachrome, leica, Lumix, New York, point-and-shoot, street, T90, transparency, USA

Jeff Jacobson . Photographer

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Jeff Jacobson Melting Point New York City 2003

GL: Looking at the image of the red dog I can’t decide who was more surprised, you or the dog. But you were definitely the faster one.

JJ: The picture of the red dog, which became the cover image of my book, Melting Point, was made in a split second. I was walking along Houston Street, in New York, with my wife and a friend, when one of us noticed the dog, who was standing in a doorway next to a bar with a yellow incandescent light over its head. I had my camera with me, as always, raised it, took two quick exposures, and walked on. What initially grabbed my attention was the stance of the dog and the ghostly light pouring over it from above. I shot quickly so the dog did not have time to react and change position.

GL: One aspect of street photography that fascinates me is the need to be constantly alert. I often find myself thinking about it in terms of hunting.

Jeff Jacobson The Last Roll Deer in HeadlightsJJ: This kind of intuitive, responsive photography is crucial to someone like me who photographs the world as I see it, not as I create it. I don’t approach photography like a hunter. I think this metaphor is way overused, and damaging. There is a big difference between going out into the world and “hunting” photographs as opposed to being in the world in a state of mind open to receiving images that the world presents to you, almost as a gift. The hunting mode is way more aggressive, and often leads the photographer into the morass of his or her own ego which creates photographs in the mold of the photographer. When you are in a more receptive state I feel the photographs go deeper.

It’s a problem for working photographers who shoot on assignment. When you are being paid to produce photographs you must come back with the goods, so the tendency is to push, push. But even on assignment I’d argue it’s better to put yourself in the physical space of the assignment and then wait for the photographic moments that are presented rather than trying to push reality into your own photographic mode. Space and time, those are the essential, unique elements of the medium.

GL: What camera did you use? Film? Digital?

Decorative-Grass-Reflection-HottubJJ: The picture of the dog in the doorway was made with a Canon T90 camera, 50mm lens, and Kodachrome 200 ASA film pushed 2 stops. This was the photographic formula I used on most of my pictures from around 1990 until all processing of Kodachrome ended at the end of 2010. I had worked exclusively in Kodachrome for 35 years when the film was discontinued. I published three books, My Fellow Americans, Melting Point and The Last Roll, all shot on Kodachrome.

GL: How did it feel when Kodachrome, ‘your’ film was discontinued?

Girl-in-Chair-PurpleJJ: When Kodak announced they were discontinuing Kodachrome, I was very angry and sad at first. I knew that Kodak had destroyed the market for Kodachrome in the 90’s when they tried to make a new processing machine for Kodachrome so that more labs could afford to use it. They convinced A&I, in Los Angeles (where I was living at the time and processed my film) to junk their perfectly operating processing machine and go with the new one. A&I was the largest processor of Kodachrome in the world at that time. The problem was that the new machine did not work, A&I’s Kodachrome processing was down for many months, all the large institutional users of Kodachrome in LA switched to E-6 film and never went back. The market for Kodachrome never recovered, digital technology just finished the job Kodak’s own mistakes began.

But my anger and sadness passed. Nothing lasts forever. Photography is an industrial art, dependent on the capitalist market for its tools. We live by the sword and die by that same sword. Technology drives the market and we photographers must move on, even though we feel buffeted by those market forces. I am still taking pictures and still love the photographic process. I never would have dreamed I would be using a glorified point-and-shoot digital camera, and be happy with it. I have learned to never say never.

GL: What kind of digital camera do you use nowadays?

My Fellow Americans-42JJ: Since the end of Kodachrome, I have been using a small point-and-shoot digital camera, a Lumix LX-7. It is a 10 megapixel camera with a Leica lens. It is a very complex machine masquerading as an amateur camera. I love it because no one pays any attention to me when I have my Lumix as everyone assumes I’m a tourist. I can, and do, shoot anywhere. I dislike the hyperreal, plasticity of digital photography, and the smaller end digital cameras, like the Lumix, or even the iPhone, have a funkier, grainier (or more pixellated) look.

GL: How do you go about setting your exposure?

JJ: In my Kodachrome work with the T90, I always had the camera on shutter priority and focussed manually. The Lumix has an auto-exposure/focus button that, once set, allows me to shoot rapidly without any delay. It is slow to manually focus the Lumix, one of the drawbacks of this camera. But the autoexposure/focus button allows me to quickly choose my point of focus and exposure and go forward.

GL: What about lighting? Do you use flashguns? And what is your attitude to flash photography in general?

My Fellow Americans-9JJ: When I first started working in color, in the 70s, I pioneered a technique of using flash combined with long shutter speeds. At the time, I was making my way as a photojournalist, having joined Magnum in 1978. My technique was considered very controversial there at that time as it directly violated one of Cartier-Bresson’s hallowed dictums against the use of artificial light. My framing was more influenced by the Americans, Frank, Winogrand and Friedlander than Bresson, so, that too was considered controversial in that world at that time. I continued use of this technique after leaving Magnum and throughout the 80s and it resulted in my first book, My Fellow Americans. Since then I rarely have used flash. I moved to Los Angeles in 1990 and was captivated by the light and space. I was also getting older with a more fragile back and didn’t want to schlep a flash and battery around. I never use flash with my Lumix. Digital doesn’t like flash as much as film does.

GL: What attracted you to using flashlights initially? The technical possibility? The quality of the light? 

My Fellow Americans Superman

JJ: I initially started working with flash by accident. I was experimenting with slow shutter speeds and just got the idea to pop a flash off in the middle of it. The effect created a foreground/background differential which added layers to the picture plane. It also seemed to add layers to the time in the photograph. I could see the moment just before the flash went off, and the moment after. Time in the photograph became more fluid, or so it appeared. I also liked the way flash mixed with artificial ambient light. Whatever the flash covered in the frame was balanced for daylight and was highly illuminated, popping off the incandescent or fluorescent background. I loved the weird mix of colors at that point in my life. When used in daylight, especially at dusk, I loved what the foreground/background separation did to the sky.

GL: How does using a flashlight change a photo? Apart from the obvious technical aspect you, as a photographer, make your presence obvious. Is this something you liked to do? Or simply didn’t mind?

JJ: The flash made it impossible to be invisible as a photographer. It announced my presence. I tended to work in situations where people were not surprised to find cameras, often public events. I was photographing the public life of America so it worked for me. I could still make photographs where my presence did not change the situation too much, but I had to announce my presence and then get people to relax and forget about me. It was good training.

My Fellow Americans-17

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

JJ: I don’t do much post-processing. I was never very good in the darkroom when I started out and shot transparency film for 35 years where I never printed my own work. My skillset in the technical realm is extremely limited. But one thing I do like about digital technology is that I can now make my own prints, at least the work prints. I’m good enough at Lightroom and Photoshop to get my images into some recognizable form where I can evaluate them, if not hang them on the walls. Digital is more like negative film than transparency, in that with digital, as in a negative, you look at the image as a starting point and make decisions about how you want the final image to look. With Kodachrome, it was more of what you see is what you get, in that I always wanted a print to refer as closely to the original Kodachrome as possible. So I find that digital post presents me with questions I never had to consider in Kodachrome. I like that as it forces me to learn and keeps my work fresh.

GL: What does technique mean to you? Initially, we experiment with the technology that’s given to us and then, certain people at certain times come up with something novel or exciting. And then, in their own photographic (artistic) lives it becomes technique. How do you see this process?

Red-SilverwareJJ: Technique in photography is important but it only works if the picture underneath the technique is compelling. What I love most about photography is what makes it unique as a medium, which is that it can render a still image in a specific moment in space and time. That’s it. No other medium does that. All the art world hullabaloo over images which are created and staged by the photographer leave me cold for the most part, with a few exceptions. That kind of work is usually more about the ego of the photographer than the meeting of one photographer with the world.

I became known for the flash and long exposure technique. I could have kept doing it the rest of my life and had a safe, predictable career. But at some point I became bored with it. I was repeating myself. I could go into an event with a Leica and a Vivitar 283 blindfolded and come out with pictures that looked interesting. Some photographers find one way of making pictures and stick with it the rest of their lives. Others constantly change. I have always been attracted to the ones whose work varies in form and content, like Andre Kertesz, and Josef Koudelka.

Jeff Jacobson The Last Roll Sundance, Mt Tremper, NYI never made a conscious decision to change technique, it just happened. When I finished My Fellow Americans, I started photographing outside the United States, especially in Mexico. I moved to Los Angeles and was photographing more in the American West. I became more interested in landscape, or cityscapes, where people were less central to the image and I didn’t need flash to illuminate a dark environment. I was aging and didn’t want to schlep so much equipment. I began using an SLR instead of a Leica because it became important to me to know where the edges of my frame fell. I slowed down. All these factors mitigated against the use of flash. There are very few flash pictures in my second book, Melting Point, and none in my most recent, The Last Roll. Since the end of Kodachrome, I have been using a small digital camera, a Lumix with a Leica lens. It has four aspect ratios. The camera is spurring a new change in my work, one that I can’t, and don’t try yet to define. It will emerge.

 

(To see more of Jeff Jacobson’s pictures visit his website at www.jeffjacobsonphotography.com. All images © Jeff Jacobson 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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35mm, 5D, analogue, black and white, canon, color, digital, documentary, leica, rangefinder, travel, USA

Elaine Mayes . Photographer

Friends of the l1ght!

L1GHTB1TES has moved. Its new permanent home is at l1ghtb1tes.com. This wordpress site will be discontinued in the coming weeks and will serve only as an archive. Please read this article HERE and visit l1ghtb1tes.com to subscribe and receive regular updates.

Thank you! See you there!

Foreword

This blog is just as much about my love photography as about my interest in the people who create images. But to be honest, I am more interested in people than in photography. L1ghtb1tes is a hi-tech excuse for me to meet people. Dear Elaine, thank you for meeting me and letting me to get to know you a little bit in this strange, 21st century manner. And for those of you who do not know her yet, well, meet Elaine Mayes.

The Coach

Elaine Mayes Autolandscapes Coach

GL: Simple, elegant, lonely – these are the words that came to my mind when I first saw your picture of this coach.

EM: Well, this is the old bus image… I like it a lot. It is part of a series I did called, Autolandscapes. The series is from my moving car while driving from San Francisco to Massachusetts in 1971. It was 6 AM, I was driving my car East at about 65 mph in Utah. I really got lucky.

GL: How did this picture happen to you?

EM: Most all my photos are spontaneous reactions to what I see. In the case of the Autolandscapes I intended making an image each time the landscape changed. I love the idea of skill combined with serendipity. I also was interested in formal issues and the way when one shoots out the side of a car the near landscape is blurry. I further wanted to make images that felt still and like there was not movement at all. I wanted to see what normally goes by too fast to be seen the way a camera can stop motion.

GL: What camera did you use?

EM: A Leica rangefinder camera, and the shutter speed was 1/500th of a second at either f/16 or f/11. I always try to have my camera ready. I judge my exposure by knowing how the film will respond to particular light circumstances. I used a 50mm Leitz lens and Tri-X film that I processed myself using Rodinol or a similar developer. There was no digital system then, but now I use digital, and my newer Autolandscapes have even better stop-motion because the system can employ much higher shutter speeds than a 35mm film camera.

I used a Leica because it makes high quality pictures, and I like the rangefinder system because it allows me to see the image without seeing any distortion caused by a lens. I prefer normal or wide angle lenses because I like maximum depth-of-field.

Time

elaine-mayes-across-america-13

GL: Why did you decide in 2010 to embark on a new (photographic) journey that in many ways is a reflection on the 1971 trip?

EM: I photographed across the country West to East only twice. My two trips called Autolandscapes (1971) and Across America (2010) were my way of recording my moving from one coast to the other with the car full of my belongings, nothing more. The journeys came first. The decision to photograph them came second. All my work in some manner reflects my life, as my subject matter comes from photographing my life experiences. I am not trying to document my life, but my photography always accompanies my life, and in this sense I see my images as creating a diary of my life experiences.

GL: What has changed for you in those four decades?

elaine-mayes-across-america-10EM: Now the world is more crowded than it was in 1971. What has changed for me is that I have gotten older and have had many more life experiences. In 1971 I was 34 years old. Now I am 76 years old and have experienced more dimensions to life than when I was younger. I no longer teach photography. In 1971 I had been teaching photography for only three years. I have moved to many places since that time, and I have lived nearly a lifetime.

GL: To my mind both Autolandscapes and Across America are about time. First, about time in the sense that you also mention, in the form of more or less motion blur, i.e. a side-effect of shutter speed. Second, it is about your perception of how time passes while on the road. Personal time. And finally, it is about time as a reflection, time measured in decades when you look at your American landscape and you realize not only how much it has changed but also how much you have changed.

Elaine Mayes Autolandscapes HighwayEM: For me both trips are about the same, except I have had a lot of practise and have done many other projects in between. None of my interest is beyond the way I see and the way a camera can work except for my formal horizontal idea the first time, and my long-standing idea that I am interested in things in the world. I am primarily an observer and feel that what I have to express is part of what I make, not something extra or added.

None of this work had for me anything to do with time passing except that being in a car for hours can be boring, and I wanted to distract myself from being bored. Of course when I photographed during driving I was taking the idea I began with and went one step further. The photographing had turned into an idea. The blur to me is not a side-effect of shutter speed, but in a physical sense is about what happens with relative motion seen up close and then photographed. Then with the digital camera one can stop the blur except for up close because a faster shutter speed is possible. I believe we don’t look at the blur because it is distressing to the eye, until of course one decides to focus on it. I always choose my “good photos” after the fact, when I see them either on contact sheets or in digital files.

Digital

GL: Technology plays a major part in both journeys. First, your beautiful Leica. And now a digital camera. Why did you choose digital the second time?

EM: I changed to digital for economic and personal reasons. I lost most of my income in 2008 when this country had its downturn. I lost my major source of income (the bank I had invested in all my life went broke) and have been trying to learn to operate with less. This has meant much confusion and living-style changes. It has meant moving around and renting my houses for income. Along with several times staying with friends because I rented my houses, I moved back to New York from Oregon, renting my Oregon house, and in the moving back I decided to repeat my focus on taking pictures while traveling.

elaine-mayes-autolandscapes06I chose digital for practical reasons. The world changed, and I needed to change with it. I did not decide to minimise blur, but I found that my digital camera when set on automatic can render a sharper image because it uses faster shutter speeds. I learn with every effort, and I try always to keep learning. I wish the world had stayed the same, but life in fact is about change, and the cultural changes that I don’t much like are the way it is. I feel it is important to go with the flow, to embrace what is necessary in our changing culture.

elaine-mayes-across-america-07Also, in 2010 my eyesight was very bad, and I broke my glasses the first night out, so my partner, Randy had to do all the driving. All the photos on the second trip are from the passenger seat. I needed cataract surgery, and I could see well enough to shoot pictures with my practised method but not well enough to drive a car. I bought drugstore close-up glasses so I could see the image later. I used autofocus and auto settings, primarily with my new 5D Canon camera with its zoom used mostly on its most telephoto setting which was about 60mm. This meant I was free to take pictures without much technical consideration.

By the way, I always set my digital cameras 1/3 stop under so as to not overexpose the whites. On the second trip I decided to look in any direction not just out the side, and I was thrilled to discover that the shutter speed was making the background very sharp indeed, and also the foreground was less blurry. I also used a G10 point and shoot Canon when I left my battery charger in a motel room. The Canon 5D with its zoom was the cheapest good way for me to continue working. Its limitation is its inaccurate finder.

Reflection v. translation

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

EM: I like digital printing. I like digital photography less than analog otherwise. I prefer digital printing because it means more corrections can be accomplished than when using a darkroom. (I had given up working in the darkroom because it was impossible to maintain one while living in a number of places.) But I almost never crop my pictures because I believe the entire frame is the photo, and I like the 35mm film shape.

elaine-mayes-autolandscapes04I remain interested in light and how to render light with both technologies. I fear that digital-only trained photographers will never know the wonder of light and light senstive materials. I bring this kind of knowledge to my digital photography. I never manipulate except to correct color and contrast. I have never been interested in “creating” photographs but always interested is seeing them and then making prints that are true to what I see and what the camera can do. For me the difference between analog and digital is reflection v. translation. I remain attached to the idea of reflection, and I bring this idea to my digital efforts.

Seeing what there is to see

elaine-mayes-autolandscapes08GL: There are obvious visual parallels between the two series. Were you looking out for these? Or does this come from the nature of the project, as there are only so many types of views you can have from your car?

EM: I was not trying to be parallel. I was just trying to photograph in the best way possible with the materials at hand. I did realize that I was revisiting an old project, but I never thought about the changes except when they occurred. I am not much interested in technique but want to see the world. I try to live in the present and see what I see, and my entire life I have been trying to see what I see only.

elaine-mayes-across-america-05The main difference between the two groups is letting go of the horizontal idea some of the time during the second round. Both trips were for me journeys that I photographed quite deliberately with the equipment I already was using at the time. Both trips involved primarily seeing what was there to see. I found more culture near the road on the second trip. The first trip was only a few years after the interstates were built, and the roadside culture then was primarily truck stops. Now there is more traffic and more business next to the road.

GL: Why did you choose color for the second series? To avoid nostalgia?

EM: I have been using color since 1978 and also before for commercial work. It was not possible to make for me good color images in 1971. But as technology changes, I do my best to use the best of the new methods. My work primarily has been in color since 1978, so choosing color was natural. In 1971 color was not as good as it can be now. I originally was worried about permanence, and black-and-white was the only way to get images with a long life. With digital the images when properly stored and printed using archival materials can last. I love black and white, but color is what the world is about. Black and white offers greater abstraction; color shows us more or less the colors we see without cameras. I appreciate showing the colors of things in the world. I say more or less because the materials used always affect the results. Photography is always an abstraction because with black and white or color the world becomes flat.

GL: How does digital photography ‘feel’ to you compared to your Leica? Did your DSLR change your approach during the second trip?

EM: I do not change my approach except for the limitations of the technique availalble to me. I do take a lot more photos with digital because I can, and digital does not cost as much as did film, so I can expose more exposures without spending a fortune.

elaine-mayes-autolandscapes14I like and prefer fixed lenses, so that seeing is part of my collaboration with the equipment I use. I would love an M9 Leica camera, and maybe one day I will be able to afford one. I have lost a lot of potential photos using point and shoot cameras, and I find it difficult to take the pictures I want to take. Maybe someone will award me a Leica soon, or maybe I will sell some prints so I can afford to purchase one.

If I could afford a good quality rangefinder Leica I would get three lenses and not look back. I would get a 35mm, a 50mm and just possibly a 105mm. But I would most likely use only a 50mm and a 35mm. Maybe I would get a 28mm, too. I like to use one simple approach without changing my vantage point by using a zoom. I like to work with my eyes, my emotions and the materials I have. I believe that the technical part should be best for what I want to do. I am not the least interested in technique except for making the best seen photos I can.

(To see more of Elaine Mayes’s pictures visit her website at www.elainemayesphoto.com. All images © Elaine Mayes and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

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

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35mm, analogue, black and white, contax, Rome

Anders Petersen . Photographer

Friends of the l1ght!

L1GHTB1TES has moved. Its new permanent home is at l1ghtb1tes.com. This wordpress site will be discontinued in the coming weeks and will serve only as an archive. Please read this article HERE and visit l1ghtb1tes.com to subscribe and receive regular updates.

Thank you! See you there!

petersen-anders-36

As I am sitting down to edit our conversation with Anders Petersen, I realize that it turned out to be much briefer than what I was hoping for. While at first I felt disappointment, I have come to understand, that his words are like his photography: he has the power that only true artists and scientists have, the ability to tell you volumes with just a few words. And so, I now understand that his dialogue with me is not only about a mysteriously intimate portrait of a woman, but a lesson in being concise and to-the-point.

GL: Can you tell me about how you took this picture? How is this image part of your Rome? I’d like to know more about the context in which you took this photo.

AP: What counts is meeting people and asking questions. On the streets or in bars, sometimes in somebody’s home, yes, anywhere. I don’t know how I take the pictures, they are less important, what I like is the meeting, the identification and the learning process and, of course, the communication.

GL: As it is with all good pictures, it’s hard, if not impossible to say why the moment they catch is so powerful. How do you get ready for such moments? And how do you make sure that the image is going to be okay technically?

Petersen Anders - Rome, A Diary 2005 3AP: It’s not about a good or a bad picture. It’s more about being believable. When I feel the temperament and the emotions of the person behind the picture, then it works even if it’s technically bad. It’s simple: photography isn’t about photography. You ask about shooting mood. It’s back to basic. Being curious and motivated and then it’s all about your focus. And innocent enough.

GL: What’s your attitude towards preparation before the shoot? Or do you rather improvise and react freely to what’s in front of you?

petersen-anders-19AP: No preparations. I need a working camera and a lot of films. I have no fantasy, it has been the same all the time.

GL: What camera did you use?

AP: I mostly use a Contax T3. It’s a simple, small, analogue camera with a sharp 35 mm lens. I prefer small tools I can have in my pocket.

GL: How do you measure ligh? Manually?

AP: When you have been shooting for some years you train yourself in different lights, so I don’t measure it. It’s become a kind of habit.

GL: How were you focusing? Manually? AF?

AP: Nowadays AF.

GL: What about lighting? What time of day did you take this picture? Is it “found” light or did you light this scene?

AP: I like available light. Sometimes flashlight. And mixing sun and flash. This picture is from the late afternoon inside the apartment.

GL: How much do you usually work with with your stills in ‘post’? What about this image – could you talk about the relationship of the original and the final output?

AP: I have no rules, but I keep the negative format. I really don’t understand why, it’s disturbing. I print until something is coming out, trying many different ways and also using bleach.

GL: What do you like about this picture most?

AP: The presence.

*

p.s.: I liked Anders’ answers a lot and was hungry for more and more so I kept on asking. And while this is not something that I’d normally do, I cannot help but quote his last email to me:

“I think it’s fine you are showing interest. But my writing is poor and my English is even worse. So it takes too much time. Another thing, I have difficulties in explaining how and why I’m shooting. I’m sorry, but I’m more a photographer than a writer.

Best regards,
Anders”

And so, dear Anders, here is my private public reply to you:

“Thank you. And that has been the whole point. That you’re a Photographer.”

(To see more of Anders Petersen’s pictures visit his website at www.anderspetersen.se. All images © Anders Petersen and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

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

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