“An Early Experiment with Light.” An Interview with Michael Philip Manheim

“This was an early experiment with light, in my amateur photographer era. I learned, practiced, experimented, tried out the twists and turns that led to becoming a professional photographer. My explorations ranged from lighting, in this “Girl Smoking” photograph in 1959, to the kinds of photojournalism that I admired in the picture magazines of the time.”

Michael Philip Manheim sat down for this interview with the American Society of Media Photographers after winning a Best of 2017 award from the association.

ASMP: Is there anything unique about your style or approach?

Michael Philip Manheim: Photography became an outlet not only for creative expression, but for dealing with feelings, as well, in what now seems like a straight-laced decade of the 1950s. We didn’t directly express feelings in my family, to be sure, since we were expected to know what the other person was thinking.

As a result, my photography tuned in to body language, to feelings. A photojournalistic approach to my people pictures sharpened my reflexes, creating an ability to react while simultaneously forming a compositional frame. I later developed a multiple exposure technique for a fine art photography exploration that fit well with galleries and museums, led to residencies, and went online

ASMP: When did you join ASMP and what do you find most valuable about your membership?

MPM: I joined ASMP on January 1, 1969 when I became a professional photographer full time. These were learning days, long before more than a handful of us were interested in business practices. I didn’t know, for example, what to charge for stock photography when I brought out my own catalog in 1969. I turned to ASMP for so much information, and for help when needing to confront agents and others who sought to use my photographs without compensation.

ASMP: What kind of gear do you use?

MPM: Cameras have always been tools for me,  and I ended up with Nikons for the better part of my career. I was a member of Nikon Professional Services and the F3HP with motor drive let me create my multiple exposures. With digital Nikons it became cumbersome and I had to switch to Olympus cameras.

ASMP: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started taking photos?

MPM: Pricing for assignments and stock, now easy to come by but taking much research back then and other business practices now readily available, but virtually unknown back then.

ASMP: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your work?

MPM: Turning pro was a natural outcome, after finding an exciting creative outlet when I was 13. Music, painting, tap dancing, stamp collecting and more didn’t do it for me, but photography became a passion. I was lucky that my local high school offered a class that in 1955 became a club for me and some kindred souls.

When I hit my teens, having tried out so many other creative outlets, I realized that I had found my medium. A camera went almost everywhere with me, and I introduced available light with 35mm cameras to my high school classmates who were using flashbulbs on the Speed Graphics we were assigned.

I was expected to stay in the family clothing store. I spent much of the first 25 years of my life devoted to that enterprise. Photography was understood to be my enthusiasm indulged on the side. As I started winning in contests, however, I had developed a fervor that wouldn’t quit.

Developing film and creating prints helped give me an essential grounding in the technical aspects of photography. At first enamored of equipment, I did come around to regarding cameras as tools that would serve my sense of composition, lighting, and empathy. Embracing the digital era was a logical next step.

I’m still active, photographing as well as going into my archives and editing out a series of monographs that are offered on Amazon.

View this interview and learn more about the ASMP.

Alma Mater

crowd cheering at football game

University of Pennsylvania boosters hailed the alma mater at a football game. I used a telephoto lens to compress the crowd, and picked the decisive moment to capture the enthusiasm.

 

The past and the present are closer than we often realize,so I’m going back into the archives to see what I saw long ago First up is this sampling of my documentary photography, a nostalgic collection of How Once We Looked. I’ve selected images that seem memorable, from the perspective of a life spent pursuing my passion. Here’s how the See-Saw collection now appears on Amazon:

http://a.co/4zsuZb2

Little Sister

little-sister

Little did I know, in creating this snapshot of my four-year-old sister, that photography would someday become my career. I was seven years old and using a twin-lens box camera that my older cousin Bill had given to me.

When I became enamored of photography as a teen, I had also become enamored of cameras. I soon learned, however, that it’s content that counts. Cameras are only tools to extend your vision.

“Little Sister” is proof of that, and became the cover for the book I produced as an adult professional, titled “See-Saw.” Its content comes from the editing that I did as that professional,seeing now what I saw back then.

 

The past and the present are closer than we often realize,so I’m going back into the archives to see what I saw long ago First up is this sampling of my documentary photography, a nostalgic collection of How Once We Looked. I’ve selected images that seem memorable, from the perspective of a life spent pursuing my passion. Here’s how the See-Saw collection now appears on Amazon:

http://a.co/4zsuZb2

The Smoking Fifties

girl smoking

Back in the 1950s, smoking was fashionable. Ads even touted health benefits. I was experimenting with lighting effects during that time. Pat was a smoker, so we got together to create this photograph.

 

The past and the present are closer than we often realize,so I’m going back into the archives to see what I saw long ago First up is this sampling of my documentary photography, a nostalgic collection of How Once We Looked. I’ve selected images that seem memorable, from the perspective of a life spent pursuing my passion. Here’s how the See-Saw collection now appears on Amazon:

http://a.co/4zsuZb2

A Boy Lost in Play

boy on top of cannon

I call this Reverie, a boy lost in play at Artillery Park in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. I was out strolling with camera, came upon him out with his grandfather, and moved in until this composition appeared just as his expression put him in another world.

 

The past and the present are closer than we often realize,so I’m going back into the archives to see what I saw long ago First up is this sampling of my documentary photography, a nostalgic collection of How Once We Looked. I’ve selected images that seem memorable, from the perspective of a life spent pursuing my passion. Here’s how the See-Saw collection now appears on Amazon:

http://a.co/4zsuZb2

Bringing Darkroom Awareness to the Digital Age

May 20, 1956 one month before my 16th birthday

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!

 

You can see this image and more, in my See-Saw book, previewing on Amazon

http://a.co/4TpEK1a

Delightful Instants

Capturing a Moment in Time

Delightful Instants

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.

 

Join the Conversation

 

Fine Art Photography and the Photographic Art

Collectors and Photographers:
Please Join Me in Pondering the State of
Photographic Art

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.

boys-at-the-wailing-wall-copyright-1980
Boys at the Wall ©1980 Michael Philip Manheim

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.

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Moving On

I learned more about the process, more about the marketing, more about the human condition. I gravitated to photojournalism, happy with candid photography…

B42-10 Father&Family&Liberty Bell5X8

 

…and grateful to people willing to share their lives for my magazine assignments:

College Educated Cops in April 1971 Pageant Magazine

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.

M93-28.tif

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.

 

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The Circus Comes to Town

The circus would roll into Alliance, Ohio every spring.

___Entrance to Old-Time Circus---Use this 5x8__prime w white ©
In 1957, it was the traditional circus.
Elephants provided pulling power
for trucks stuck in the mud,
 31A-3 Circus Elephants Pull Truck_Prime w © white 5x8
and townsfolk were eager for entertainment once all was in place.
I was a witness, a budding photojournalist knowing none of my subjects,
eager to hone my skills.
I was using a Leica IIIF, with distance and exposure pre-set, so that my reflexes could take over. No time to think, only to spontaneously react.
 This was the practice I needed.
Have you ever sought out events where you could photograph this way?