Photo Blog March June 2001


I’ve really given up on the digital black and white printing. I guess I experimented with it for about six months. The results weren’t bad, but not the same tonal range as the darkroom stuff I’m doing. Also, the equipment, seems more finicky. The printer was working fine for a month or so, and then I started getting banding. I spent a lot of money on cleaning, using different inks etc. but for sure the results when you are doing a large print were not as good. This, does not seem to be the case for color.

Today I’ve been printing for a few hours, and I’m really banging them out. The secret, at least for me, is to keep very good notes, which is not really in my character, but I’ve learned the necessity the hard way.

And the Zone VI enlarger, which I’ve been using for ten years or so, has never failed. I guess the bulb will eventually need to be replaced, but that’s about it.


Well, I’m doing something I’ve been meaning to do for a while — showing the prints matted. I think this gives a better idea of what they really look like. It’s a lot of scanning etc. but I think it’s worth it. I guess I’ve done about 15 so far


The web site really does pull you in. Tinker, tinker, tinker. I keep fooling around with the navigation. I can do better graphics, but the original idea was to let the prints speak for themselves, as much as possible. Sales trickle in, but I’m now at a point where I’ve cut down on the number of images I show, so that I can keep stock and not have to run into the darkroom every time an order comes in. Most of my packaging and shipping problems have also been solved. Believe me, there’s a lot of cardboard in this studio now. It’s stuffed everywhere. Behind the couch. Under the bed. I’m thinking of going into the retail cardboard business.


Some thoughts on influences…

I would like to replace the word ‘influence’ with ‘learned from’.

Walker Evans spent about a year shooting on the subway of NYC. I had seen his work, and thought that given the use of Autoexposure, Autofocus, better film stock ie. technical advances, that in some ways I might be able to improve on what he had got. I actually don’t think that I succeeded, but that my subway images are different than his. The idea seems to be to be aware of what others have done, and then to forget about it.

Cartier-Bresson once said that he could tell if someone was a good photographer by walking along the street with them and watching how they ‘held the camera.’ And that’s a piece of learning that I got from him that influences the way I take street pictures. I know that he walked around with a 35mm and sometimes with a 90mm. That also influenced me for a long time, and in general I do the same. But the subject matter, that I shoot is different.

I really don’t think that Ansel Adams did very much interesting work with the small format camera and/or people. But he did come up with a way of showing and describing how to think about the tonal values of black and white (the Zone system). Although I don’t use the Zone system exactly while walking along the street, its something that I have studied and it influences you later, when you print.

In short, learn, emulate, understand other photographers (artists) and then try and forget it and do your own.


I was reviewed in Black and White Photography Magazine, apparently published in the UK And apparently favorably. What’s amazing, is that they didn’t even both to let me know. I found out about it by one of their readers in the UK I’ve been trying to contact them to get a copy. So far, no luck. The web is a weird and mysterious place. That’s for sure.

I have an invitation to show at the Barcelona Art Fair in October. I’ve been mulling it over, but I think I’m going to do it. This is the year for me to force myself off the safety of the web, and out into the so called real world. I’m generally not a procrastinator — but I haven’t really pushed myself into these fairs, galleries etc. with the same energy that I’ve worked on the web site. I’m really not sure what the hold up is. Everytime I have made the effort, its been successful. But I still seem to resist. I wonder whether its just a basic built-in shyness. I was asked to submit sample work for a show in Westport, and I procrastinated until I missed the deadline for entry. Dumb. But there it is.

The other day, while I was on jury duty, I walked around Soho, and browsed the photo galleries. There’s a place for me there, but its a lot of leg work.

On a technical note, I’ve been walking around with the $150 Yashica T4 for about three weeks now. I haven’t developed anything from the camera, but there are some things about it that I like a lot. The main thing is that it just looks like a cheap point and shoot. The other thing is the tiny waistlevel viewfinder. I’ve always been more comfortable looking down into the camera than picking it up and pointing it eye level. So that part of it has been fun. You can sort of stand on a corner, looking down at this little image, and pretending to fiddle with the camera. I also began using it for flash in the subway, something I didn’t feel comfortable doing with the more expensive G2.


Took the Hexar to my Aunt’s funeral. I wasn’t sure if I would use it or not, but when her son took out a digital camera, I figured it was all right. Still, my sister moved away from me when I took the camera out of my suit pocket as they were lowering the casket into the ground. And I don’t blame her. I moved around so that the sun was at my back and I took a few pictures of her middle-aged children as the rabbi spoke to them.

Changed the naming conventions for the type of prints from RC and Limited, to Limited Edition and Not Limited. This was on the advise of a customer who thought that by stressing the type of paper, people would get an idea that the RC prints were really cheap things that weren’t up to the standards of the Limited Edition. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t sell anything that didn’t capture the feeling of the print, because it just doesn’t make any sense, either as an artist or as a business person to put junk out there. For me, the big reason for using the Portfolio RC paper is not the cost, it is fairly expensive paper, but the time involved in processing. The RC paper takes less than a minute in the developer, about a minute in the fixer, and much much less time to wash properly. It’s also much easier to mat since it lies flat when dry. But I still do the same dodging/burning etc. when doing the print as if it were a limited edition.


Interview with a street vendor

I approached the table, set up outside the metropolitan museum. A nice sunny Spring day. Realized quickly that I was looking at photographs which I had seen before. Oh yeah. Must have been about two years ago outside the Met.

Me: Hi. I think we spoke sometime, a few years ago?

Photographer: (He recognizes me) Yeah. I remember you.

Me: So, how’s it goin’? I’ve been thinking about setting up a table out here.

Photographer: It’s tough.

Me: What’s tough.

Photographer: Oh, people out here. The only thing they want is the Flat Iron Building, The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building. That’s all they want.

He had several images that were more artistic, but apparently no one was interested in them.

Photographer: It’s crazy. I went out one day and shot the Brooklyn Bridge. Similar stuff to what everyone else has out here. You know what? That’s my best seller.

Me: Yeah. Its just stuff for tourists I guess.

Photographer: Guess so. But that’s all that sells. And the other vendors — they’re a pretty rough group. Russians, Chinese. They’ve got some kind of a lock on the city. You’ve got to get out on the street at 5am if you want to get a spot. Otherwise, all these other vendors, who aren’t even selling their own stuff, get the best spots. They come around in vans at 5am, and just stake out all the spots.

Me: I see you’re selling this stuff for $15, framed. How do you afford it?

Photographer: I’ve got a guy who can get me really cheap frames and mats. It costs me about $3 per frame.

Me: Wow. Not bad.

Anyway, he goes on to tell me that its worth a try, but don’t expect to sell anything really interesting. I go on to tell him that I’m selling stuff on the web. That its going o.k. Not really enough to make a living on, but it pays for my film and equipment. At that point, I’m standing there with my Rolliflex Twin Lens (ancient camera) and a guy walks by and starts talking to me. Somehow he says something which makes it clear that he’s more interested in my camera than the stuff this guy is selling. The Photographer gets mildly insulted. “Thanks a lot”. I move off to the side with this guy who proceeds to take three cameras from his bag. Things I had never seen before. We talk about the old cameras for a while, and then he takes a glance at the photographers display and walks off.

Anyway, I had a good day. I spent a few hours with the Rolliflex outside the Met, mostly shooting close ups of people as they walked by. Very pleasant way to spend the afternoon.


Bought a couple of lights and light stands today. I’ve had the urge to shoot carefully lit subjects. I think I’m trying to capture that old feeling I had when I was doing lighting on films. After setting up the lights, I searched around the apartment for something to shoot. I set up a black cloth, did some Rembrant style lighting, and began putting different objects on the cloth — shoes, bottles with water, crumpled pieces of paper. Nothing seemed interesting. Here were these interesting lighting effects, and nothing to put there. I wanted to do still life, but bowls of fruit were out. I put a roll of toilet paper on the black cloth and arranged in various ways. My sister came buy, saw what I was doing, and asked if I had gone nuts. Who would want to see a shot of toilet paper? No matter how artistically it was lit. Could be she was right.

After about six hours of this meandering, I gave up and watched t.v. for a while. I was watching the ‘honeymooners marathon’ and out of the side of my eye, saw an old incense burner that hadn’t been used for about a year. A simple square box and some smoke, and I was off the couch, backlighting the smoke. I still haven’t shot anything, but it has some appeal. Sort of like shooting currents in the ocean. I plan to shoot this with the view camera. But that’s tonight, tomorrow it may seem like a dumb idea.


Things are changing. I’m going to be showing at the Downtown Westport Arts Festival July 21st and 22nd. Although I’ve shown at some small crafts type fairs sponsored by the ad agency where I work, this is my first real showing. There might even be the wine and cheese thing. The first thing that I’m realizing is that once I do a showing like this, I have a problem pricing between what is on the web, and what is at the fair. Prices for limited edition framed work should be in the $400 to $500 range at such a fair. I can’t continue to sell limited edition prints on the web site for prices as low as $125 as I’m doing now. I’m also going to a festival in Barcelona in October… at least they’ve invited me, but I haven’t heard back from them as far as particulars yet.

The other thing I’m realizing is that the idea of sellling prints in so many sizes on the site may not be the best idea for a number of reasons:

1) Sometimes the 5 x 7’s don’t really do the print justice. Some prints are fine, and were meant to be relatively small. But Promenade at 5 x 7 is just not the same as at 11 x 14 or 16 x 20.

2) Its really difficult to maintain stock for prints in all these sizes (many prints are shown at 3 sizes).

I think that this weekend, I’m going to re-think all of this. I’ll only sell two sizes for each print. And the smaller size must be able to present the print well.

So, if I raise the limited edition prices on the site — no one will buy them via the web (unless they might have already seen them at a fair or something). On the other hand, most of what I sell through the website are the lower priced prints so I’m not really giving up that much.

We’ll see. I know that I wanted to make limited edition prints reasonably priced so that anyone could afford them, but the irony may be that I can’t afford to do this.


Now I’m starting to get nervous. The Agora Gallery in Soho has agreed to ‘represent me’. This means an exhibit in New York’s Soho area etc. I guess more on this when I figure out when and where etc. It does seem like a lot of stuff is happening at once.


Well, this has been a busy few weeks. I really seem to be mostly involved printing and packaging. Looking back over the last year and a half, I would say that since I decided to ‘become a professional’ the main thing that has changed is that I shoot much less. I think in the last year and a half, I have one or two good shots. Most of the stuff on the site is over four years old already. I probably have some interesting stuff from Sedona, but that’s already six months old. I spend most of my time matting, wrapping, and printing. Three of the most boring things in the world. Okay, I know, I’m complaining a lot here, but as I’ve said before, that seems to be what journals are for.

The shots at my Aunt’s funeral were not good. At least they don’t seem good now. Maybe a few years from now I’ll notice something interesting in them. I seem to need to let the actual experiences of the shooting dissolve into the past before I can objectively evaluate the shots. An example: The Shot of Trees at Yosemite was sitting around for close to eight years before I printed it again. I remember looking at it many years ago and feeling there was something there. But never did the work to print it properly until a month ago


Sent out portfolio and gallery agreement to the Gallery. So now another phase begins. It took almost three days to put the portfolio together. Nothing fancy, just sleeves in a loose-leaf, but flipping through them… had a good feeling to it. I’m afraid my stuff is all over the place. No definite style. What’s the relationship between Promenade and Good Careers? Once the gallery prices go into effect, the prices on the web site will have to be up there also. Maybe 25% less. Its not fair to sell at one price in a gallery and then have people be able to buy the same print off the web for half the price. Anyway, this pricing thing is all new to me… but it does seem that the same print that sells in the Gallery for $1000 could be much cheaper at an art fair. The overhead is much lower. Who knows.


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My name is Dave Beckerman. I am a fine art photographer working in New York City.