Mardi Gras time.

The future.

Not so far in the future. Maybe just up to Mardi Gras parade time. Anything more would be wasted because as a not-so-wise boxer once said, “You can make all the plans that you want, but once you get punched in the face all the plans go out the window.” That’ll happen with Mardi Gras plans as well. The minute the season starts, everything will change. I have to be on the scene to understand the plans.

My biggest question is do I shoot what I’ve done for the last seven years and work the start of the parade? Or, should I do something different? What that is, I’m not sure yet. Hopefully, it’ll come to me in a dream, or in the shower.

There is also the yearly question of scheduling a number of events. They need to fit somewhat neatly together. Once I’ve got that clear in my mind and on paper I can fit the rest “stuff” into the year.

That’s another thing.

Although I do my scheduling on a digital calendar, I’m going back to paper for the details. It’s a better way to remember and it just feels better, which is like the debate between digital capture and film photography. They both have their place, but to me digital capture is like working on an assembly line in a factory. Film photography feels crafted and a little more artistic.

The picture. A very early Mardi Gras parade image. It was made on film and scanned much later. I forgot about it because somehow it was filed in the wrong archive. It was lost until I started digging. In those days I mostly worked with Fuji Velvia. Its ISO was 50. It really did better when you rated it at ISO 40. That’s slow. Very slow. That made working at night a challenge if you weren’t using strobes. I don’t use strobe at events like that because unless you hit the light dead on the picture looks way over lighted.

Instead, I would work for motion and ambient light. That allowed me to make pictures like this. The only sharp part of the image is part of a motorcycle wind screen is in the middle of the frame.

A picture like this one is impressionistic. That makes sense because of all the photographers who inspire me, painters inspire me more.

That’s the story.


Another first… Mardi Gras.

A lot of firsts.

As I work through my archives and share newly “found” images with you, I realized that you are seeing a lot of firsts.

A few days ago, you saw my first New Orleans picture. Today you are seeing my first Mardi Gras picture. I made this picture in 1999. On film. Fuji Velvia to be exact. The film was slow, even for its time. I usually worked at ISO 32. That explains the total movement in this picture. Even at f2.8, the shutter speed would likely be around 1/4 of a second. Way too slow to stop motion, especially in the darkness in which I worked.

I made it even harder, by liking to work at F 5.6. That meant the shutter speed would be around one second. You can stop no motion with that shutter speed.

Working this way, at night, meant you either failed entirely or you made something dreamy and moving. The images could look like a watercolor painting, or they could be a mess. Even with all the working knowledge I have, pictures like this depend on a couple of things. One is clicking the shutter where there is just enough light. The other is a kind of luck. Not photographer’s luck, but the kind where everything comes together in one second. With practice and experience you can approximate that.

It surely was a different way of working than today when everything is gauged on sharpness. Today is a time when new photographers look at work by Henri Cartier Bresson and say, “but everything isn’t sharp.” It doesn’t matter. As a wise old professor used to say, “sometimes your best picture isn’t your sharpest one.” HCB is a touchstone for every working street, documentary and journalistic photographer.

I think that’s why a lot of very experienced photographers are moving back towards something more artistic after working on making pictures that are tack sharp for over a decade. We want the pictures to hit you on an emotional level, not a technical one.  Sheesh, we own cameras that we can control in any way possible. Why limit ourselves to technical perfection? With a smart phone anybody can do that.

For me, this picture might be as good or better than anything I’ve produced  in almost 20 years of Mardi Gras pictures. It captures the energy of a big parade. You feel the controlled chaos. And yet, you know where you are. St. Charles Avenue. The never moving street sign says that.


Chinese door.

More tinkering.

I think, for the foreseeable future, this is where I’m headed. I like the notion of bringing more to a photograph than just pushing the button and letting digital processes do all the rest. This feels like my version of photography. Something a little ephemeral. But, at the same time tangible. Something that you can hold in your hands. Or, hang on your wall.

There were a couple of interesting comments yesterday on a couple of pages. One, about certain filters emulating a certain film “look” got me thinking. I actually don’t think a digital filter can be made to look like a certain film emulsion. You can come close. Better yet, it’s jumping off place to someplace better, newer and unique. Something that is yours.

Then, the equipment thing raised it’s head. Again. To be honest, I guess I helped that a little. I think people get confused and attach status to things.

Things.

Like phones, cameras, cars. This prompts them to buy stuff they really can’t afford. And, likely can’t use to its fullest potential. All of these things are tools. Even, for most people, a car is a tool. That’s all these things are. Tools. Like a hammer. I suppose some people might collect hammers, but I don’t know them.

When you get clear of that status thing, you’ll focus on the two things that really matter. The process. And, the final outcome.

This picture. I made it in Shanghai, China, before the city became modernized. In those dark old days, Shanghai people used to say that it was faster to communicate by mail than it was to try to make a telephone call. Many streets were pitch black at night. There were few cars. Then, things changed. For the better. Or, at least for the modern.

So.

I took this picture on black and white film. Tri-X. I made a traditional wet print in a darkroom. I used it for some published piece and it went into a box. In my closet. Eventually, I found it. I scanned it. And, started tinkering around. What you see is the result. An, almost 30-year-old picture brought back to life and made a little more contemporary.


Keeping the beat.
Keeping the beat.

Boom. Boom. Boom. Bang. Bang. Bang.

The beat. In the groove. Keeping time. He was very, very good at it. I photographed this young musician in Winston-Salem. North Carolina. The assignment, as I recall, was great fun. Technically, this is my way of bringing the studio with me. It’s also my way of being a living Boy Scout motto. As in, “Always be prepared.”

Here’s what happened.

I was just going to go to his home, probably to make my usual environmental portrait. Unfortunately, the house didn’t say very much about him. In fact, likely it would have taken away from his musical skills.

So.

I lit it up. I made the background black and put just enough rim light on his head to separate it from the background. In those days, we used Visitor 283 flashes. I’ve used all kinds of lighting help. Nikon flashes. Norman portable strobes. Studio strobes. Paul C. Buff portable strobes. I even used a Singer bare tube flash. But, I always liked those 283s. I still have some. I don’t use them much. But, they are around if I need them.

Of course, you know the rest. Camera, lens, film stock.

This is about it for the this series of black and white images. Yes. I know a lot of you like these images. I do too. But, it’s time to get back to current work. Not to worry. I’ll do this again. Soon. I have enough black and white negatives to post for the next couple of years if I didn’t feel like producing new work for Storyteller.


Rainy weather in New York City.
Rainy weather in New York City.

Bad weather.

I like working in it. Rain. Snow. Slush. Ice. Even wind. I often quote National Geographic’s Sam Abell who said, “When the weather turns bad, the pictures get good.” I probably live in a good place for that. Although we don’t often get snow or ice in New Orleans, we do get a lot of rain. Misty rain. Sprinkles. Hard rain. Sideways rain.

This picture was made in 1995. In New York City. I was mostly working with a lot of color slide film by then, but often I would shoot a little black and white.

Just because.

Generally, I was falling into one of the patterns you see today. Some of my better work was produced while I was on my way to someplace else.

This picture was made with a Nikon F90. Yeah, the “Rest of the World” version of the of the N90, which I believe was only sold in The United States. I’m not such a gear guy, that I know those sorts of things. For sure. Especially something from 20 years ago. The lens was a 105mm. F 2.8. The film, as usual, was Kodak Tri-X black and white film.

Here’s where the fun begins.

The film was rated at 320 ISO. The lens was set to f5.6 and the shutter speed went wherever it needed to go using auto metering. I’m guessing this picture was made at 1/4 of a second. I also took off the lens hood. Doing that made me a little less conspicuous. Mostly, I wanted to capture the feeling of being in a rain storm. I usually think feeling and sensing are better than documenting.

All that weird refraction and blur along the edges of the picture was caused by photographing through rain drops on the lens. Yes. I know. That’s not a great idea. Protect you gear at all costs. But, what’s the point of having cameras and lenses if you can’t break them while you are making pictures?

Seriously. The lens didn’t stay wet for very long. It does illustrate how far I’ll go to make the picture in my head.


School days.
School days.

A long time ago. In Blacksburg, Virginia. 1980 to be exact.

I have a lot of thoughts about this picture. First, I took it just as my time in Virginia was coming to an end. Second, everybody in the picture including these boys’ moms who are cropped out in the background, knew I took the picture. Third, rust never sleeps.

It was a little hard to work at this time. New River Newspapers had been sold. The new owners bought our competitor and included that in my responsibilities. They were tight-fisted and didn’t really care about journalistic quality. I was on my way out. I was looking for a new job. In order to find I new job I had to keep producing. So… Wash, rinse and repeat.

I think about the emotional climate in 1980 when I took this picture and that of today, in 2016. When I photographed this scene, I stopped and talked to the mothers, I got their IDs and their children’s IDs. They were excited to be in the newspaper. Today? Not so much. With all the fear in the air, I might likely be stopped. Detained. Questioned by the police. That’s where it might stop, especially since after working 90 hour weeks for two years, I produced a lot of pictures. With credit lines. A lot of people knew my name, if not me. But, the places I worked were small towns.

Finally. Rust never sleeps. Neil Young wrote that line. It’s as right as rain. I took this picture 36 years ago. These little five-year-old boys are now around 41 years old. If you’re not paying attention, time passes in the blink of an eye. I hope they are still friends.

The picture. Nikon FM and a 180mm f2.8 lens. Kodak Tri-X film at ISO 400. Just remember, this picture is 36 years old. It’s not new work. I write this is response to somebody who thought she was paying me a compliment by saying how much my work has improved because she like the black and white work. I can only think one of two things. I’ve actually regressed in almost 40 years of taking pictures, which is certainly possible. Or, she’s convinced herself that black and white work has more gravitas since anybody today can take a color picture. Even my dog.

Do you think that I’m kidding?

I attached a little GoPro video camera to her collar. I hit the start button and let her walk around making a video of her world. I hate to say this, but it looked better than a lot of stuff that I see on YouTube.


A sheperd cleaning the campsite.
A shepherd cleaning the campsite.

A long time ago. In the Arizona desert.

Here’s how it goes. After we left the South — the first time — we moved back to California. Eventually, I went back to school. I changed my career path. I went from taking pictures to editing. I managed other photographers. I worked with them to produce the best images that they could. I represented photography in the newsroom. I designed some news pages. I did the things you do at a newspaper.

Then I stopped doing them. I left the newspaper world and moved on to the kind of work I do today. I worked at a couple of photo agencies. A little one and big one. The big one was one of four large agencies that were rolled up and became what you might know today as Getty Images. The one that I worked for — The Image Bank — was owned, at the time, by Eastman Kodak. I worked in the corporate office which was located in Dallas, Texas. The South part two. And, I spent most of my time in Hong Kong.

Anyway. It was during my time working for West Coast newspapers and the little agency — called Westlight — that I started mostly working in color. Still working in film. But, color film. Digital capture was only a gleam in some people’s eyes.

However, I still liked working in black and white. I shot it when I could. These pictures were made in 1990. I was well into shooting color film. I went to visit a friend who lived in Payson, Arizona. We worked together in Virginia. He was the sole editor-reporter-photographer of the little newspaper in Payson. Normally, I’m of a mind that doing all those jobs at once never really works. Something suffers. But, my buddy could really shoot. And, write. And edit. A very rare combination. While I was there, he asked how I’d feel about taking a few pictures. We’d do what we used to do… sounded good to me. So, off we went. We did our old roaming around looking for pictures… and stories. We had some fun.

We stumbled into these pictures. Shepherds and their flock of sheep.

The pictures. By then I was working with Nikon N90s and 8008s. Smaller, lighter cameras than the big “pro” cameras. I suppose I was already thinking, lighter and more easily portable. These two pictures were made with a 20mm f.28 lens. The film. What else? Kodak Tri-X rated at ISO 320. By then I realized that under rating the film was the way to go. Better shadow detail.

Sheep on the range.
Sheep on the range.

And, a final thought.

Muhammad Ali passed last night just as we were falling asleep. Well, after that, tried to sleep. I knew what was to come. All very well deserved, but endless tributes, on every possible social media. Sharing from every possible news, photo and sports site. As when other “famous” people pass, I made the conscious decision to say very little. I really don’t need to add to the billions of words that have already been written. What more could I say? That hasn’t been said? He was transcendent. He was beloved. For those of us with certain beliefs, he spoke for a generation. How many people can claim that?

Just know this. Our hearts are very heavy today. We retreat into who and what we are. We work. Harder.

Because.

The work is the prayer.

Always.

 

 


Somewhere in Arizona.
Somewhere in Arizona.

Way out there. West of Seligman, Arizona.

This is an image from a road trip that we took in 1981. From North Carolina to California.  You can see some of my current style just starting to emerge. Unfortunately, I haven’t traveled like this in a long, long time.

These days, we always have to get somewhere on time. Make a deadline. Keep a commitment. Think about what to keep in. What to leave out. Wait a minute! That’s a whole other song. The title is from a Neil Young song. These past few words are from a Bob Seger song called “Against the Wind.” Maybe I need to settle down when I write this stuff. Heh!

It’s getting about time to get on the road and wander around a little.  I’ve talked about this in the past. In the recent past. After thinking about it, I think I want to head west. I miss those open spaces. Those long vistas. Those big, huge skies. Maybe I’ll made some “desert in the hot summer” pictures. I’m a sucker for self-abuse.

The picture. I took this with a Nikon FM. A mechanical camera. I used a 20mm f2.8 lens. And, as always back then, Tri-X black and white film. Unfortunately, there is something that I’m seeing after I scanned this image that I don’t like. Technically, it is just horrible.

There is always one thing to remember about scanning old film images. Every imperfection shows up. In a big way. In this case, the entire left bottom side of the image is soft. There is really no reason for that, except lens quality. Lenses have improved dramatically over the last 30 years. Even the most inexpensive of third-party lenses are sharper and better than most of the highest quality lenses of the past. Sometimes that can work in your favor. The quality of the glass affects the final image. It can give you a look and feel of earlier eras. Sometimes. Usually not.


A real cowboy in North Carolina.
A real cowboy in North Carolina.

I used to call this picture, “The Real Marlboro Man.”

Remember that dude? He used to advertise cigarettes? The models were chosen because the were manly men. The kind who roped and wrangled. The kind who smoked cigarettes. Perception is everything. I guess. I actually knew one of those models. He is a very nice guy. He didn’t ride horses. He didn’t drink. And, he thought tobacco was death.

Anyway.

I made this picture in North Carolina in 1981. I was driving around out in the country and saw a horse farm. I thought it might make a nice Sunday feature story so I sold the idea to my boss and the Sunday Editor. This guy was very appreciative of the fact that I even cared about what he did so he gave me free rein. So to speak. I spent a couple of days out at his farm. They are farms in the South. Ranches in the West. He was also impressed that I would take the time to do this kind of work. And, that I could ride a horse. I think my riding abilities helped more than my photographic abilities.

The picture. Luckily, even when I was working for metro-sized newspapers I was able to negotiate control over what my photo stories looked like when they were published. This picture was a “point picture” at the top of the page. A tight portrait. It was smallish, but it let the reader see the subject quickly. Even though I worked with a full complement of cameras and lenses, I made this with that Nikon 400mm, f 3.5 lens that I wrote about earlier. By about this point in my Winston-Salem career, I started calling it my “magic lens.” It seemed to make everything better. The body was a Nikon F3. The film, as always for black and white work, was Tri-X.

Oh. Those snow flurries you see? By the time we finished, they turned into a pretty steady snowfall. By the time the storm ended, it was one of the heaviest snow storms in North Carolina history. Everything was snowed in. Even the interstate was partially closed for a time.

And, so it goes.