Early Photo Blog Journal Jan. 2000

1-6-2000

I took the plunge and added a popup banner each time the user clicks to see a picture. This is obviously annoying, but using LinkExchange, its the only way to generate enough hits so that I get my banner exposed on other sites. Currently this site gets about 5500 page views per week. Its been very exciting to get mail from all over the world. A lot fo teh mail comes from photography students asking for advise.

It seems to me that there is a definite caste system in place, possibly with about 5 levels. At the top level are the Gods of Photography, living or dead. The HCB’s the Westons etc. Then, directly below, are the top working fine artists. Making a living is not the main issue at tier 2. Then you move to tier 3. Making a living is a problem. There are a lot of lean times. And there are those at level two, like myself trying to move to level 3. Below that are those who want to get up to level 2 etc. And what is absolutely wild about the web, is that almost all of these levels are communicating. Each level tends to talk to the level one above them, looking for some magic advise. I know that I’ve done that. And yet at the same time, I’m answering questions from the students etc. who want to move to level 2.

It reminds me of a sort of electronic apprentice program.

Anyway, in about a week, I’ll be working half time at my programming time, and spending the rest of my time trying to get shown in a New York gallery. Should be intreresting.

* * *

I’m still taking my G2 to work on the train every day — but I’m pretty bored. What I really want to do is put the camera over my head, during a particularly crowded ride and snap away. That’s the only view that has the potential. Would need to use the f2.8 21mm. But I’m too chicken!

Most of my shooting has been relatively secretive, from the hip. The know the feel of the camera enough to know when its focused properly on something — and I usually wait for some noise to distract people. But to put the camera above my head is to call attention to myself — plus I would be in a the part of the car far from the door, most probably, and not that easy to make a quick getaway. Still, I’ve done crazier things, like the time I took the Rolliflex on the train on a tripod — set it up with a cable release in my pocket and snapped away. But even that was just odd to most people. Many people have written to ask how I’ve managed to get some of the close subway stuff without people noticing. My answer is — very carefully. Walker Evans did it with the camera under his coat, often with an accomplice to distract people.

And on top of all that — it isn’t enough to simply get an overhead shot — people have to be arranged properly for it to work. You really want faces! You want people looking at you, or at each other. You don’t want to have the whole foreground blocked by the back of some guy (as it was today). You don’t want someone right on top of you blocking the frame! In short — you want to know your depth of field — and have people arranged so that they don’t completely null each other out.

* * *

Which falls under the category of crazy things I’ve tried to capture the subway experience. For a long time, I dreamed of a shot where the train would be coming straight at you — the perspective as if you were on the track — the train blurred and obviously moving. On the side of the photograph were the hords, waiting to get on the train. One day, I realized how it could be done. With a long monopod, an autofocus camera — and a long cable release. All I needed to do was pick my spot near the end of the platform where the train would be slowing, hold the monopod with the camera at the end of it over the track — angled slightly in towards the track. Again — it meant, making myself the center of attention — which I hate. But just one of those things you just have to get over. I went down to 42nd street to test out the theory. The platform was not really crowded though. And as I stuck the camera out over the track, the few people who were standing nearby began to move away from and turn their backs!

It was not the shot I wanted. The basic idea worked. I snapped. Quickly pulled the camera away before the train hit it. And then waited for the next train. I did this for about a half hour — but never quite got the effect of the crowd (since there wasn’t one) that I wanted. I mean to go back and try this again.

* * *

1-7-2000

Sitting on the #6 train, on the way back from the advertising job — I had the G2 with the 21mm lens out for the first time in a long time. I felt very relaxed. There were high school students fooling around. Some of them were tearing the signs that are plastered on the seats denoting these areas for the handicapped off. It was a very noisy train. The brakes squeeked at every stop. The announcer shouted the usual uncomprehensible squak. And somehow, a seat opened up and I slipped into it. I’ve perfected a way of hiding my finger on the shutter, by covering it with the strap from my camera bag. I was in good position. I tilted he camera up, towards the two straphangers who were hovering over me and snapped away. Whether the camera focused on them, or on the ceiling, I won’t know for a while. But the perspective was a new one for me. After a while, I got bored with that perspective, and got up and moved towards the door. Turned, and began shooting again from the hip — this time very very close to people (only when the train stopped). At ASA 400, with a 2.8 lens, its impossible to get anything without serious blur while the train is moving, although sometimes that effect is also interesting. You need to shoot a lot, like this to find anything halfway decent in terms of composition, or expression. I really have fallen in love with the G2 over the last few years. It is practically the only camera I use now. Compared to a Lieca, it has its plusses and minuses. But I like to say that it is a perfect camera for a blind person. The viewfinder is awful. Hard to see much through it compared to a Lieca. But for shooting from the hip, there is nothing like it. It is quiet enough for subway work — but not quiet enough to shoot in a really quiet place like a church. It can easily be set to zone-focus, like a Leica, if that’s your preference. But if you are going to put the camera to your eye and carefully compose, the Leica has it beat.

The other advantage, is that you don’t need to manual wind it after each exposure. This would be a dead give-away on the subway. My guess is that with a Leica you would get one shot, and that’s it.

If you are in the mood for really getting sneaky, you can put a cable release in your pocket, and trigger it like that, but I’ve found this to be unnecessary most of the time. Oh yes, one more advantage — automatic exposure. Very desireable on the subway where the lighting is high contrast and changes constantly. And the lenses (except for the 35mm) are all excellent. That’s a down side — as most photojournalist, really like to work with two main lenses — the 35mm and the 90mm. Instead, I often work with the 28mm and the 90mm.

Anyway, the weekend is here, and I’m going to buckle down and do some printing. I have orders to fulfill, and have some people who have been waiting for months to get their prints (mostly friends who understand that I procrastinate like crazy about printing).

Printing is the hardest part of the process for me. It is not a mechanical process. It takes just as much creative energy as the actual shooting. Maybe more. I live in a small apartment, and in order to get ready for printing, especially for large prints, I almost need to rearrange the furniture. It’s also a very isolated procedure. But orders are coming in and its time to get back to printing. Ideally, I would love to find someone to print for me — but it is simply too expensive right now. Well, I’ll put on a little Dylan, and get to it tomorrow.

* * *

1-8-2000

Traffic to the site has been increasing through the LinkExchange program (those annoying popup banners when you go to look at a picture) — but one of my best friends just wrote to me and said he refused to look at the site again until they were removed. Probably, my biggest mistake in designing the site was the size I chose for the images — 300 x 500 pixels. Much larger than you usually see on sites. This basically leaves no room for banners, hence the pop-up. But since instituting the popup banners — more than 1/3 of my traffic comes from the LinkExchange. I guess I could go back and shrink all the images to make room for one banner per page — or wait and see if I lose any other friends over this.

1-16-2000

I was told by someone, that during the first year of trying to ‘make it’ as a photographer, probably 75% of your time goes into marketing. I have found this to be true so far. Although most of the marketing is through the web. Today, a company called asking if they could use one of my images for their company splash page. This is very exciting, but I need to find out the legal implications since it features a person in the foreground, and I don’t have a model release. In fact I don’t think it is possible to get model releases given the way I’ve been shooting lately. I myself, often don’t even know that I’ve got an interesting shot until weeks later when I notice something interesting in the shot.

I’m also finding that a lot of galleries, both on-line, and brick and mortar, want submissions made with slides, which of course I don’t have any of. So I’m going to have to pick up a SLR solely for the purpose of shooting slides of my work.

I’ve got a backlog of about 30 rolls of film (normal for me) that need to be developed. I have a few orders that I need to print up, but have been procrastinating doing. I also have some interesting work from about 20 years ago somewhere that I’d like to put up on the web site.

Next week — for the first time — I’ll be working half time at the Advertising agency. So I should have time to get around to all these tasks. I’m also in the process of trying to write an article about the Contax G2 vs. the Leica — always a hot debate amongst street photographers. I can tell you that there is no particular winner. They both have their pros and cons — if you want to see a preview of my ideas on this debate click here.

Another thing that I’ve noted is that the Scenics screensavers are downloaded about ten to one over any of the other screensavers. Probably now getting about 50 downloads per week of all screensavers.

Hopefully a time will come when the web site will release me to go out and start shooting again, which I really haven’t done seriously in months.

I guess I’ve been hiding behind the website development, which is very safe — for a while now — and its time to go out into the real world.

1-18-2000

Today I learned the value of shooting the back of people’s heads. Since it’s nearly impossible for me to get model releases for the street photography I do — most of these images cannot be used for commercial purposes. I was told by a respected art buyer who specializes in stock photography buys, that if the subject is recognizable — you must have a model release to use it commercially. I always knew this, but here was confirmation.

So I guess, if I’m to shoot street photography and have any hope that it may be used as stock — I’ll make sure to shoot people from behind 🙂

C’est la vie.

* * *

A number of galleries that I contacted wanted slides of my work. I did some tests with Scala black and white slide film and bought a cheap copy stand. Waiting for results. One thing I learned here is since it costs about 3.50 to make dupes, its a lot cheaper to shoot a lot of the same shot while you’re in the process of doing it. Much cheaper than having to make dupes later.

1-20-2000

Just had our first snow in a long time in New York. Took the Nikon FM2 with a 35mm F1.4 lens and headed out to Central Park. It’s always a problem getting good white values on snow — but over the years I’ve found that giving one more stop than what the meter reads works okay. Its a variation of the zone system. Anyway, at twelve noon, the park was basically deserted. Empty. The snow was still fresh, and hadn’t taken on the sooty look it will have in a day. It was great to work with an SLR again. This is a terrible thing to say, but I do think that sometimes I need a different piece of equipment to get me in the mood. I found myself composing carefully — something I rarely do with the G2 — and quite happy being able to see the depth of field. Also, F1.4 is just so bright. It made me realize some things I had been missing out on with the auto-focus G2 — mainly shooting reflections, and shooting close-up. You can shoot reflections and through glass with the G2 but its hit and miss. Anyway, the most exciting thing that happened, was as I was leaving the park, one of those dog walkers that you see in Manhattan, with about ten dogs was coming up towards me. I took two shots — with the whole empty, white park in the background — and hope for the best. I was so excited to get the shot that I yelled ‘Hi’ at the dogwalker as she passed by, and she smiled and went on.

1-22-2000

I was thinking about my mother the other day. She was an amateur painter, and a fine pianist — and I realized that two pictures that I had taken — The Chess Players in the Park, and the five chinese women (which is not on this site) were actually almost copies of paintings she had done which were hanging in our living room while I grew up. And when I think back to the time of taking the picture of the Chess Players — I believe I knew this. How much of what I choose to shoot is based on sub-conscious memories? Or what I decide in that great editing moment is important is because it relates back to something I saw before. Her painting took place during the day. But we also had Van Gogh’s Starry Night up for a while. Of course, you can’t get stars in New York City — but you can get the moon.

I was inspired, again subconsciously, by the stories of Van Gogh going out into the fields at night with a hat with candles on it to paint. Maybe the subway stuff is as close to the Potato Eaters as I’ll get.

I was in France for a while — and did a lot of shooting of piles of hay. I knew at the time that I was trying to mimic Van Gogh’s Haystacks. Unfortunately, at the time, I had no idea of what I was doing technically — and although I saw the same famous light which was softer and more diffuse than I had seen anywhere else. A lot of the film was poorly developed and I couldn’t get a decent print.

Hopefully it will snow again this week-end. There is a shot that I’ve wanted to get of Central Park during a snow storm that has been in my head for a long time. It’s basically a Japanese style, image with the Skyline of the upper east side barely visible through a white blizzard. Usually, if I go out with some idea of what I want, I end up with something completely different — often better.

* * *

Well, it didn’t snow. But I went out to the East River park with the Nikon FM2. I seem to be moving away from people stuff — but I ran across a homeless type surrounded by birds in the park. Walked up to him with the 85mm on, and stopped. Watched him and the birds for a while. Then I said, ‘Lot of birds you got there.” You never know how or what is going to happen next. But he smiled, and said, “They’re my only family.” I said, “Do you mind if I take a few pictures?” He said, “No problem, let me get out of the way” and began to move away. I said, “No stay! Just keep feeding them. A bunch of birds flew onto his lap. I began snapping away. Fairly far away, so you could see all the birds, but also see him from waist up. A lot of bird commotion. I just couldn’t believe my luck. Had the right lens, right light, and everything else was just spinning around. After a few moments, I nodded to him and walked away. Then I began to think it over. Maybe I should have been closer! Get the expression on his face. Oh well. I got the shot I wanted. Couldn’t get everything.

Then I was in another part of the park, and a squirel walked up on a branch about 1/2 foot from me. Went to shoot, and thud, I was on the last frame. Any way in the world this squirel would wait while I switched film? Nothing to do but reload and see. The whole time I was reloading, the squirrel waited and watched me from less than a foot away. They don’t know any better in NYC. Then, just as I was about to take the first shot, it sped away. Oh well.

Later on, I found a squirrel in a tree and did some more squirrel shooting. Its as close to wild game hunting as you get in NYC.

* * *

1-29-2000

My screen savers were listed at http://www.screensaver.com. I used to get about fifty downloads a week — now its up to over 500 downloads per week. And traffic on the site nearly doubled. Very surprising. Of course, I’m giving these screen savers (is it one word or two) away — so its not that surprising. Still — screensaver.com shot up to the top of the list as far as how people found my site.

Still walking around with the Nikon FM2 — and usually two lenses — the 85mm f1.4 and the 35mm f1.4. I’ve shot about twenty rolls with this camera, and should be getting results back tomorrow. It’s certainly a totally different shooting style then with the G2 — but when you want to have complete control, it’s a great way to go. I found myself rediscovering depth of field, which I never played with much with rangefinders (obviously its a guess). I also found myself doing more close-up work than I had been doing with the G2. Both lenses are very close focusing.

I know, according to MTF charts that neither lens is as good as Leica lenses wide open — but closed down, both lenses should be great. I also notice according to MTF charts, that where you lose out — is on the wide side. I don’t see any wide angle lenses with a Nikon mount that are anywhere near either the Contax G2 or the Leica lenses. I know there is lens design issues with SLR’s vs. Rangefinders — but the 21mm for the Contax SLR is one of the best lenses around. As far as long glass goes — there’s plenty of top notch lenses for the Nikon mount.

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Dave

My name is Dave Beckerman. I am a photographer and programmer working in New York City.