Sunday, October 27, 2013

Light Reading

I do look a lot at other blogs, if for no other reason than to try to figure out how they manage to post so often.  A couple caught my attention today as they addressed things I have either blogged on or referenced vaguely before.

Photography Talk has an entry on the "Six Most Annoying Trends in Photography" that I pretty much agree with.  I must admit I blanched a bit when I got to Number 6: "Professional Know-It-Alls," but was relieved when I found I hardly fell into their definition, which involved those who live by rigid rules. 

Meanwhile, Japan Camera Hunter (an oddly named blog these days, as it has expanded into a rather interesting spot for thoughts on street and film -- as opposed to digital -- photography) has a piece titled "Why your phone is not your friend."  The hed caught my eye, and again I feared that it was something it is not. 

Lately, on my other blog -- or "phlog," as I like to call it, as it centers more on my pictures -- I have been forced to admit that, though Leica is in its name ("The Guy with the Leica") I've not been able to process the film I've been shooting in my Leicas.  It's a money thing that's been going on for some two years now, and frankly I choose not to blog about that merely because I think it would come across as whining.  That's neither here nor there.  My point is (and, as Ellen Degeneres would say, "I do have one") that I've had to substitute pictures I've shot with digital Nikons and, more often, my iPhone.

This was not shot with a Leica.

When I first broke down and posted the iPhone pics, I did it under the "camera you have" rule (as in: "The best camera is the one you have with you"), but I've got to say as I've returned to them, they're not that bad.  Maybe, I feared, I was missing something.  Nope.  Japan Camera Hunter is merely afraid that, with one's head down on the little smartphone screen, one is missing the real world passing by. 

Finally, here's another from the endlessly fascinating PetaPixel site, "Five Painless Steps for Getting Rid of the Fear of Street Photography Once and for All."  Again, I'm not sure that it's directly on the mark implied by the title (which is a real mouthful -- don't they have copy editors over there?)  It will only take a minute to read, but I can save you even that by saying it comes down to two things: Engage with people to stop being afraid of them; most people like having their picture made.  Still, worth the minute to get all the thoughts and encouragement in between.

Amongst those thoughts was an interesting take on the famous Robert Capa quote, "If your photos aren't good enough, you're not close enough."  The author, Oliver Duong, thinks Capa has been generally misunderstood by having his words taken far too literally.

"What Capa meant was to get closer to your work, to what you are doing," Duong writes.  "If your photographs aren’t good enough, you are not connected enough. How does that help in regards to fear and street photography? It tells you that you do not have to get physically close to your subject as the sole goal."  Frankly that sounds more like Cornel than Robert to me, but I've been very wrong about things like that before.  (Remind to tell you my embarrassing story about "Stonewall" Jackson someday.)

I think his point is valid -- I once read that Henri Cartier-Bresson complained about having to use his 35mm instead of 50mm lens too much when he shot in the US -- but I think Capa is misunderstood on a much more literal level.  Many new photographers are afraid to get right into the midst of the action, and so they produce pictures that reflect their distant, stand-offish attitude.  A better picture brings across the feel and swirl of events, and usually that requires the photographer to get right in on top of them.

Also, let's remember Capa was primarily known as a war photographer (though I'd bet war pictures only make up about a third or a quarter of his work).  An AP photographer once told me he covered war with a 20mm and a 300mm lens, as the action was either right next to you or really far away, and I noticed pictures of another photographer friend, Frank Johnston, when he covered Vietnam, inevitably showed him with only two camera bodies: a Leica with something wide angle (a 28?) and a Nikon F with the immortal 105.

Look at all those great war photographs.  I'll bet you can count the ones shot with a long lens on one hand.

Frank Johnston shooting for UPI in Danang in 1967.

Also, when I called it up, there were some intriguing titles at the bottom, like "Joel Meyerowitz Says He Despises Bruce Gilden's Attitude, Calls Him a Bully."

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pop the Bubble!

Or perhaps, more grotesquely: Lance the boil!

Apparently I have been blissfully unaware of a tiny tempest out there over a pair of photographers (or perhaps "photographers" -- more on those irony quotes later).  As best as I can tell from this Peta-Pixel piece, a pair of wedding photographers became stars of the seminar and blogging world from their appealing marketing methods -- exciting speaking engagements, clever Tweets, etc.  It has since been established that some of those blogs and Tweets and so on were plagiarized.  I actually took a moment to read through some of the supporting material hotlinked in the Peta-Pixel article to figure this out -- when I saw plagiarism, I jumped to the conclusion that they had lifted photos from someone else's website or something, but that's apparently not the problem at all.  And that's the problem.

This doesn't appear to be about pictures in any way; it's about image and marketing.  As the article says:
"As DSLR ownership proliferated, the audience for workshops and conferences moved from the traditional professional to the photo enthusiast creating a huge opportunity for new faces in the world of education. At Rich Clarkson’s Photography at the Summit workshop two weeks ago, I bemoaned the rise of 'internet famous' photographers, and commiserated with titans like Jodi Cobb and David Alan Harvey about their relative anonymity in today’s world of photography."

There are two issues here:
1. The obvious one, that people like Cobb and Harvey and dozens of others I could name (including many unjustly forgotten) aren't celebrated and feted and learned from as they should be.
And 2. less obvious but more important, that the rising mob of DSLR-enabled anticipatory "photographers" think that, with a couple of energizing seminars with these exciting "teachers" (the irony quotes are getting thick around here), they can become just as good as someone who has chosen and worked at photography for their careers.

Says Allen Murabayashi in Peta-Pixel: "The 'rockstar' photographers might not be great photographers, but they are master marketers and they provide inspiration for a certain segment of photographer that is disinterested in what has preceded them – a segment that the old guard wasn’t satisfying, so it’s hard to begrudge their success. And let’s face it. Being a good photographer doesn’t mean you’re a good teacher, and vice versa."

No no no.  Here's the thing: I do begrudge them their success.  Why?  Because it's the empty success of an inflated balloon.  The "old guard" he quickly celebrates and then dismisses worked hard to make real pictures that meant real things.  These were the "concerned photographers" that Cornel Capa celebrated, the true masters who toiled in obscurity in the old Life magazine and National Geographic.  (And don't argue with me about that obscurity thing; you know that no one outside the photo world could easily name, for example, who shot the picture of the Afghan girl from Geographic's cover.  It was Steve McCurry.)

I don't care that a thousand people think that they have the talent to be professional photographers.  I don't care that there's a massive, hugely profitable market in teaching them -- or rather running seminars in which they think they are learning -- how to be professional photographers.  This does not, or at least should not make superstars out of people with a talent for exciting a room full of hopeful artistes or writing intriguing blogs.  These people, in my mind, are not important.  They are charlatans from the get go, regardless of who actually writes their blogs.

Is it a tragedy that Henri Cartier-Bresson never taught a course on street photography?  Should I wonder whether Alfred Eisenstaedt had it in him to fascinate and encourage a roomfull of students?  Maybe.  But I will not be interested in someone being a "rockstar photographer" until they are first a photographer.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Why I'm Not In PR

My alternate hed for this was: "Well, That Was Weird"

October 16 was my last post here, and that day I had a remarkable 38 views.  38.  That's like five times my normal rate.  It's back down to the normal half-dozen or so now.

On that day, I did a post referring to a post I did the same day on my "phlog," The Guy with the Leica.  I was actually pretty proud of that post, a series of pictures shot at Jimmy "The Boogie Woogie Man" Valiant's wrestling camp.  Obviously, I thought, someone hit that in a Google search on pro wrestling or something, and I had an unusual surge of viewers who normally wouldn't have seen my stuff.  Perfect sense, right?  Except that Guy wth the Leica had ... 0 (as in "zero") views that day.

So what does it mean?

Two days before that, I did a post on artist Cy Twombly's studio here in Lexington.  Is that what caused the jump?  Did I drive people to my site with a reference to Van Gogh?  Twombly? Lexington?  If so, why did it take two days?  Who Knows?!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I quit PR after one short year in that business.  I don't know why people do things.  I just know what interests me .... and if you read this, you're just along for the ride.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Not Yet ...

So I just finished another posting in the "phlog," The Guy with the Leica, titled "Loosen Up," which really seems to have nothing to do with the content.  (Does anyone actually look at the headlines on these things?)

Frankly, it was a little message to myself.  If you're one of the half-dozen or so who have followed my stuff, especially at the phlog, lately, you know money's been tight and, as a result, the output from the actual Leicas -- film cameras I own from the 1950s and 60s -- has been two years in the waiting.  I've been shooting old film I had in the 'fridge, and just can't afford to get it processed.  I know there's some good stuff in there, but it sits in the 'fridge, carefully stored in a tidy ziplock labeled with the year it was shot in.

Anyway, I decided that, after posting pictures shot on my Nikons and even my iPhone, I just needed to loosen up.  I can't wait for the day that I get to process and post the pics from the Leicas (and I still carry one with me wherever I go) but in the meantime "The Guy with the Leica" needs to be more about the kind of pictures I make, and less about the equipment it's made on, I think ...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Another Project Slips By ...

There's a story that, when Van Gogh committed suicide, his landlord in Arles was furious.  It was bad enough that he had to put up with the crazy artist who's rent was uneven at best (Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime) but the lunatic had painted all over his walls.  In addition to everything else, now he was going to have to pay for all these crazy drawings to be painted over.

In the 20th Century there was another artist, Cy Twombly.  He did significantly better than Van Gogh.   (At a Southeby's auction in May, a page full of scribbles done by him in 1971 over housepaint on a piece of card about 16 by 20 inches sold for a little over $2 and a quarter million.)  Twombly died a couple of years ago, and one would think the price would be significantly elevated as a result, but his work has sold in the millions for years.

For $2,285,000 this too could be yours.

Twombly was originally from Lexington, Virginia, where I live now, and he maintained a home here where he would spend anywhere from a quarter to half the year.  The rest of his time was generally spent in Italy, where he preferred people thought he lived full time.  All the same, he had a nice home here and even rented a local storefront as a studio, where he would work.

When he died in July of 2011, the gallery and lawyers swooped in.  They had his assistant seal the studio, and strictly forbade any photos of the place.  I nonetheless was fortunate enough to befriend his assistant, and did a piece for WDBJ in Roanoke on Twombly of which I am unnaturally proud.  (The link has long since aged out of the system, I'm sorry to say.  I have it on tape still -- yes, actual, physical tape -- and should digitize and upload it here sometime.)

Butch, his assistant, let me into the studio, and we filmed his interview there.  I was forbidden to shoot the studio, but I stood Butch so that in the background, on the wall, were marks ... the paint that had smeared off the edge of the canvas Twombly had tacked to the walls as he worked.

Some time later, the gallery people took everything away, and the storefront has been available for rent for months now.  And for all that time, I have meant to call the agent and ask to be let in, just so I could photograph those marks.  A part of me wanted to do it for posterity, and a part of me thought they might be interesting abstract artworks in and of themselves.

But as I have gone past in the last few days, workers have appeared within ...

Shot today with my iPhone as I passed.

I fear the tragedy of Arles is being repeated.  A new owner has been found, and the last marks of Cy Twombly (you can see some quite clearly to the right of the ladder on the right) will be gone.  Frankly, I never could quite think of how to start the conversation with the realtor.

Once again, I must learn: when I have these ideas, I need to act.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

In the Meantime ...

I have been working on another post -- on and off, in between the day job -- and I promise it is forthcoming ... or perhaps I threaten it is, as it is another one of these grand philosophical things.

In the meantime, I helped on photographing a Virginia Military Institute reunion weekend a little while ago, and I was pretty proud of what I did, four pictures especially.  I plopped them on my "phlog" (get it: Photo blog? Phlog?), The Guy with the Leica.