I was visiting with my friend Jack Waugh and realizing that he needed an updated portrait. He agreed, and we tried out different locations, including at his computer and in his library. As is normal for me, in portrait situations, each venue looked good, and presented a good portrait. But as is also normal, I kept pondering what we hadn’t tried. Well, Jack is an historian as well as a writer, with a Lincoln and Civil War era specialty. I kept looking at the desk, at the whole setting near his computer and realized that the perfect shot was right in front of me.
The camera I used? I’ve long regarded them as tools, and what I had on hand was an iPhone. I used the available tool to advantage, then switched to Photoshop for straightening and cropping and sharpening.
One month from my 16th birthday, I created this 1956 version of a “selfie.” Easy to do when you’re photographing into a mirror. The alternative was to use a self-timer. In either case, it was difficult to line up with a rangefinder camera that resisted getting two edges of the mirror’s frame straight. So what to do? Easy enough – just wait! In our era of Photoshop. I simply lined it up.
My point? Even then, the darkroom translated handily to the digital age. I had long ago appreciated what you’ll see on a histogram: the range of tones from whitest white to blackest black. Arranged properly, this gives you not only a range of tones but a happy medium, so you have readable mid-tones and a pleasing contrast as well. The effect then is snappy, what we used to try to achieve in creating a print. So now I have both vintage prints, the ones I created close to the time I developed my negatives as well as pigmented ink jet contemporary prints.
These are just as archival but with today’s technology. It lets me tweak my images into a pinpointed perfection not possible in the early days.
Ah, it’s a great time to be digitizing my archives!
Art should be everywhere – or so the gallery site Daylighted declares. As part of this tribute, Daylighted recently chose me as its Featured Artist of the month.
Daylighted is a service that places visual artists into non-traditional exhibition spaces such as hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and more. It seeks to “change the way you see art. Daylighted transforms places…into digital art galleries and offer[s] them an opportunity to easily display and sell an exclusive collection of art from worldwide and local artists.”
Daylighted is featuring my nostalgic photography, particularly the images in my most recent monograph: “See Saw: How Once We Looked.”
These images reflect my overall fascination with movement as well as with light. I see that I developed reflexively and intuitively, in capturing the essence of a moment. I see that the innate compositional sense expanded into a style. And so on, all insights offering me a chance to pause and reflect as I go forward.
I see too many empty photographs passing for art these days.
Too many empty photographs are passing for art these days. I want images with life and meaning, action and humor. I want them to capture life, to be alive:
George Eastman created a world of photographers in 1888 with cameras that lived up to the slogan, “you press the button, we do the rest.” Perhaps today’s cameras are too easy to use. Point and shoot techniques can lead to empty, lifeless photos. I want to take the concept of picture-taking one or two steps further, from merely taking pictures to makingphotographs: composition, lighting, finding that decisive moment. I rebel against decision makers who influence collectors into thinking that barren photographs are fine art.
In an era of flashbulbs and press cameras, I was exploring what available light had to offer. It presented the world as we saw it, without the harsh effect of a single flash. Both techniques froze a moment that goes by in a blur.
Photographing peak action stopped the movement at its height. It allowed slow shutter speeds in an era of slow films. And it preserved a feeling forever.
Collectors and Photographers:
Please Join Me in Pondering the State of
My circuitous route through a long career in professional photography has swung back to my roots. So many bloggers are picking up my images.
And curators and collectors appreciate photojournalism as fine art.
There’s a message there!
Hence into the archives I go. I’m digitizing a series of nostalgic images.
It’s satisfying to capture the human spirit, framed in a meaningful composition. I’m fascinated with portraying people relating—to each other, to their surroundings—-in this case a family of Hasidic boys at their lessons with their father at the famed Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
I learned more about the process, more about the marketing, more about the human condition. I gravitated to photojournalism, happy with candid photography…
…and grateful to people willing to share their lives for my magazine assignments:
College-educated police, from the April 1971 issue of Pageant magazine.
Photojournalism sharpened skills that applied as I tried out other phases of photography, following the twists and turns of a rapidly changing profession. Reacting to my own decisive moments, I sought emotional content whenever it might appear, meaningful composition as a frame, and the feel and shape of the situation.
I remember wishing that I had had a mentor back then, someone experienced, with an overview to help guide me. Instead I created a composite, picking up bits and pieces from so many people I met.
Now I have become one of those who nurture. I have stories to tell, I have realized, after participating in panel discussions, lectures, gallery talks, any events where people gather around. I’ve come to recognize that, wow! I’ve learned something. And I learn even more as I explain to, and consult with, others.
I hope that collectors and curators might want to join in, to share insights with anyone wanting to improve their photography.
Nixon rally at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia in 1960
Vice President (For 8 years under Dwight D. Eisenhower) Richard M. Nixon ran against Senator John F. Kennedy in the closest election since 1916.
Kennedy was the youngest President at age 43 and the first Catholic. His win came from an Electoral College vote.
Kennedy proved a media master. Theirs was the first televised presidential debate, and image played a role. Three of these photographs seem to telegraph a feeling for the times and for that would-be urbane college crowd.