Early Photo Blog June 2001

5-26-01

I bought a Leica yesterday. The M6 with .85 magnification. I traded in my view camera which I hadn’t used in over a year and a half, so it didn’t cost me anything. I had been shooting with a friend’s Lecia for a while, hoping to get this out of my system. But instead I fell in love with it.

5-31-01

Started with the m6 with the .85 magnification and the 35mm f1.4. The lens of course was great. I didn’t like the .85 magnification. Too difficult with the 35mm to really see the whole frame at one time. Also, the meter was off, about 1/2 stop more than it should have been. I returned it to Ken Hansen. No problem. Got the .72 magnification. Much better for the two lenses that I use most often, the 35 and the 50. Once in a while I will use the 90.

Some of the shots that I did with the 75mm wide open at f1.4, with available light were really beautiful. Took one of the best portraits of someone that I’ve ever taken. The problem that I had with the 35mm and the .85 magnification was that I simply saw things so well in the frame, i.e. details of expressions of people who were small in the frame, that I forgot the fundementals — don’t have stuff in the frame that is irrelevant. I also knew that the meter was wrong, so I didn’t trust it, and was off with a bunch of exposures. But with four rolls under my belt, the biggest obstacle is trying to keep my fingerprints off the viewfinder when I change film. Another downside of the .85 mag, is that you lose one of the really great features of the rangefinder, being able to see what’s happening on the edges outside the frameline.

Metering on the second body seems to be right on, and the frame lines for the 35 and 50 are perfect.

June 1, 2001

I shot a roll to test the 50mm f2, and the 90 f2 apo, (not to mention the new body) with XP2, just so that I could drop it off at the local color lab and get it back in an hour.

Its not a very scientific test, but I basically walked around with the 400 film, looked for stuff like writing that would be very, very tiny in the frame, and tried to shoot as much as I could in the shadows so that I’d be wide open, or nearly wide open. The results, looking at the negatives on a light-box with a 16x loupe — as good as I’ve ever seen. The best lens I’ve ever used was the Zeiss planar 3.5 on the Twin Lens Reflex. It could resolve beyond the capability of 100 film. And also gave a kind of depth to the photos. These lenses are right up there. But what was really interesting, is that both lenses had ‘pop’ wide open.

The metering in this second body also seems right on, and it rewinds more smoothly than the first one. I think the first one was a clunker. I guess that’s surprising from Leica, my friend also said he had trouble with the first body he bought and returned it.

And — none of this was done on a tripod, but I was shooting at either 1/500 or 1/1000 of a second.

I’ll give you an example. I’m shooting on across second avenue (a fairly wide street) with the 50mm. On the other side of the street is a Korean grocery. In the window of the grocery is a small cigarette ad. Now, looking across the street I can’t see this ad. But in the negative, with the 16x loupe, I can just make out the writing which must be less than a hundreth of the frame. Each letter is about two or three grains of halide and is still readable. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten results like this from other glass — but not wide open.

So, that’s it for now. I’ll send in the registration cards, and get used to the camera over the next few months.

— Began wearing a contact lens is just my right eye. This gives me almost perfect vision, and at the same time I can see things closely very well also. The optomotrist said that most people have trouble doing this, and actually asked me to sign a piece of paper saying that I had been advised not to do anything dangerous while using this monovision technique. I told him that my ‘pilot’s license had expired’.

This method is perfect for use with the rangefinder, because you can get your shooting eye closer to the viewfinder.

June 3, 2001

I guess this stuff about the Leica won’t be interesting to many people. Eventually I’ll put my experiences on a separate page. Suffice it to say, that I’m shooting again. Of course, now I’ve let the printing slide… can’t have everything. Its weird weather today. Sun going in and out. The 2nd avenue fair is nearby, and if its not too sunny, I may get something there. The average person sees a bright sunny day as the perfect time to take out the camera. For me, I’ll take a dark overcast day anytime.

June 7, 2001

The M6 has given me a new lease on life. My shooting style is changing tremendously again. Example: there was a shot that I had been wanting to take for sometime in the subway at 51st street. Just a hoard of people coming towards me, but the lighting is pretty good, and I was able to get several shots at f2 without feeling that I was compromising anything by shooting wide open. I know walk around with the 50mm f2 as my normal lens. I even asked the optomotrist to pose behind the ‘eye machine’ whatever that thing is called… and took two shots, and the whole thing was just very easy going. I cannot explain any of this, but these are shots that I would not have taken with other cameras. Go figure.

I think that I’m going to take a leave of absence from my part-time job… It looks like the Soho show will be from Aug. 21st to Sept. 21st. Is that a good time? Who knows. People kind of away… whatever. The timing is good for me, because I will have the Westport and Soho shows within a month of each other and get it over with. The tiny little studio will be filled with frames etc. Also found out that I’ll need to put up some sort of tent/canopy thingy at Westport. Basically they just give you the space on the street, and you supply the rest.

***

What in the heck is an artist anyway? People write to me asking me as an artist to tell them what or why I do what I do. However many times that I explain it, it comes out wrong. The woman in the gallery says, “we try to make it as easy as we can for the artist’. The student in Wichita asks me, why I decided to become an artist. Somebody recently asked me ‘what contribution I had made to the history of photography.’ I’m not kidding. Somebody else told me that the artist needs to stake out a certain area for himself. Needs some kind of gimmick. Why did I first get interested in photography? Why did I decide to make it a career. The simple answer may be that its the only thing that I didn’t fail at. Ten years in the film business and what did I have to show for it — unproduced screenplays, little lighting touches on lousy films… What if that picture I wrote and sold had actually been produced? What if Lee Marvin hadn’t died before the picture was made? What if? My life has been more like a pinball machine. Picture the silver ball rolling down between the flippers… I keep trying to hit with various flippers… and then one of them connects. So I end up in photography. So the answer may be chance, and continuous attempts.

Anyway, I’m phasing myself out of the 9-5 world… so it sort of feels like walking off a cliff, but I guess that’s the way it has to be.

June 9, 2001

Finally had a chance to print two of the shots from the last week or so of Leica shooting — and the results are quite beautiful. One is a shot of a friend at work, shot with the 75mm f1.4 wide open, at about 1/125 of a second. What is amazing is the overall sharpness on the plane of the fellow’s face, and the way the focus softens as it moves towards his shoulders and ears. Now any lens wide open will do that, i.e. have a very narrow depth of field — but what’s amazing is that the plane itself is so crisp, and the way the rest of the picture moves out of focus so smoothly. Alright. I can’t put it into words. The other shot is looking down into a complex geometric structure — old cobblestones, stairs at strange angles, gates, fences etc. with a wide variety of light. This was shot with the 35mm f1.4, closed down a few stops. The picture has the feel of the old Leica stuff I remember from HCB books. I know the arguments about lenses etc. wage on forever, and I won’t get into that here. But there is something special about the look of these lenses that I am not able to describe.

June 10, 2001

Did some shooting at the Puerto Rican day parade. After walking around through the crowds, I thought to myself, I wonder if I can actually find anything touching or beautiful here. Not the normal type of street photography grab shots. And turned around and there was a guy who was selling flavored ice from a rig he made out of a wheelchair. Maybe I got something there.

I’ve been wearing one contact lens in my shooting eye, and have had trouble getting it out. I had the Leica pressed against my eye and turned it to do a vertical shot, and my contact popped out! Maybe there are other uses for this camera?

June 11, 2001

I had to raise the prices of the prints on the site. I was selling about four or five prints a week at the 5 x 7 size, and one or two at the larger sizes every few weeks, but it simply wasn’t worth the time and effort. Also, now that I’m doing more exhibiting, if someone finds that they can buy the same print for half-price on-line, they would feel cheated. My idea was to make prices on line about 1/3 less expensive than at the art show, with the idea that the person at the art show is actually seeing the print and knows exactly what they’re getting, while the person on the web is going on faith.

Last night I framed the picture of my friend that I had done with the Leica 75mm, and am very happy with it.

June 14, 2001

Yesterday, I took an extended unpaid leave of absence from my part-time job at the ad agency. For better or worse — I’m now doing photography full-time. The last day was full of sad partings from friends.

Did some testing of VC Fiber paper today because I wasn’t happy with some of the prints done on graded paper. Results are promising.

June 17, 2001

What is an artist? Here’s Laurie’s definition:

“An ‘artist’ is an extremely sensitive person that appreciates the view of the
world in a different light than a “non-artist.” They also tend to do what
they want to do, when they want to do it! ”

I don’t know about that. They may be sensitive, but many have been quite cruel to the people around them.

Is it the pursuit of ‘beauty’? Do they have a different take on the world? Ansel Adams described his work as trying to convey the same feelings he had when taking the shot to the person who looks at the print.

I like to think that it is an emotional experience for the artist to create the work. But Thomas Mann wrote 3 pages a day, or something like that, and its said that he would simply stop in the middle of the page if he had fulfilled his word count for the day. Doesn’t sound like he was exactly carried away by the moment, yet he wrote some beautiful work.

Michaelangelo said that you should be able to look at a blank wall, and envision something beautiful there.

Van Gogh, fought, bickered, and alienated all around him. Yet his quest and passion are in every brush stroke.

For me — I guess its always been a desire to create. I wrote movies, poetry, music, even at one point did some painting. Its as if I was always looking for an outlet for things that I thought were novel, or unusual. But were they really unusal? The best I can say is that it takes the form of some kind of obsession, that cannot be blocked by financial or societal influences. Its no different than wanting to be a great athlete, or a great accountant. But the target is different.

Anyway, if anyone has any other definitions or ideas about what an artist is, let me know. Its pretty unclear to me.

***

So, those tests that I did with the VC Fiber paper really paid off. They are dry now, and I compared them to the old prints I had — and the black are better in the new prints. I don’t put myself anywhere near the company of Brett Weston, but I remember seeing some of his prints at a gallery, one in particular of some trees along a canal in Belgium — and i had that in mind in re-printing ‘promenade’. I wanted to preserve good separation in the mid-tones of trees in the background, while getting a rich dark black for the foreground trees, and a sense of light to the walkway. And after much experimentation — I think I got this. Now I can’t say exactly how I did it, because I changed three variables at once: I increased the ratio of selenium toning and extended the toning for 6 minutes; I used Dektol 1:2 instead of 1:3 as I had been doing; and I switched papers to VC Fiber, which gave me better control of contrast. Now, I really like the print again.

6-18-01

Today was pretty much of a waste. It started off okay. I was all prepared to print, when I realized I had no selenium left. Now that I’m using higher concentrations, I go through it pretty quick. Too lazy to take a trip downtown, I called B&H to see how long it would take to ship some. That was stupid. At least a few days. So I got on the subway and went down to Adorama and brought back as much Selenium as I could carry.

On the way upstairs, I checked the mail, and received a money order for an order from Canada. So I decided to get those prints packed and shipped before setting up the darkroom. Big mistake.

First I put the prints in a Fedex box, and as I was filling out the international form, realized that it was going to a P.O. Box. I figured this would be a problem, but the thing was already wrapped and taped, so I walked up to Fedex. Sure enough — they wanted a phone number and would then hold it for whoever but wouldn’t deliver to a p.o. box. Somehow I knew this was true for the U.S., but thought maybe they felt differently about foreign p.o. boxes. Duh!

And I had no phone number. Also, they wanted $45 to ship it. I had quoted the Canadian $10. Okay, so I take the package back to the house. Look around for something to put it in. After some futzing, I get it into a U.S. Priority Box. I like those boxes. Then off to the Post Office. Nice long line. Really hot. Everyone gets to the counter and realizes that there’s some form they didn’t fill out. Things are dragging badly.

Finally get up to the window and the guy says, no way can you send it to Canada like that. You’ll need to get paper and cover every part of the box that says U.S. Priority. Anything that’s blue or red needs to be covered. I should have figured that. Why was I being so dumb today.

There’s a line to get brown paper, so I walk back home.

In the house, I unwrap this one again, and now try to figure out another way to wrap it. I finally hit on taking an old photo paper box. Wrap that in brown paper, re-address it, and off I go. Of course now the line is even longer. So I ended up sending it air mail to Canada for $4.50.

In case you’re wondering, I simply don’t have these problems shipping to the U.S. If its an inexpensive order, I can put it into a mailer, or a U.S. Priority box. If its a bigger more expensive print, I can do the Fedex box, or even take two cardboard boxes lying flat and tape the print between them. But once it goes foreign — watch out.

Time spent wrapping, walking, labeling, unpacking, standing on line, etc — I would guess at least three hours.

Oh yeah — but I did figure out what those damned things are called that you use for getting a credit card impression (for the upcoming fair) — imprinters. And placed an order via fax to the company that makes ’em.

Well — tomorrow’s another day, and I’ve got plenty of Selenium.

And one more thing — I did some shooting on the way to all these places. I’m getting good at focusing while having a package under my arm.

6-19-01

Gripe du jour: since I’ve been on the internet, I’ve probably received about 40 requests from students asking for more information from me about my photographic life. Everything from a college student who is doing a report on the psychology of creativity, to high school students who have selected me as their photographer to study. Each time, I ask the student to send me a copy of the report when its finished. So far, not a single one has sent me a copy of what they wrote. This must have something to do with the nature of the internet. But often I feel as if I was doing the person’s homework for them.

Today I’m trying to decide whether to re-print ‘Marsh’ or ‘Flat Iron and Equitable Buildings’. I have to admit that I’m putting more into the printing process now, since I know the prints will be on exhibit. I even went so far as purchasing some retouching inks (for spotting out dust etc.) — which I’ve never had the patience for. Its not that I haven’t tried hard to make beautiful prints, but there is a little bit extra effort going on here. Maybe like the athlete who finds himself in a race for the pennant or something.

Somewhere, not that far in the back of my head (since I’m aware of it) — I’m trying to match the brilliant printing I saw of Brett Weston.

Maybe its more like an actor who’s in a long run of the play. How do you get yourself up for the 200th performance? I guess I’m going to go for ‘Flat Iron’ because with the new formula I’m using lately, it should be interesting to see if I can achieve rich blacks and still keep some detail in the flat iron part of the picture.

Of course, the gallery wasn’t interested in anything but the ‘popular beautiful’ type of print. These to me are more about technique than anything really original. But hey, what do I know? I’ve sold more of Promenade than any other print, although I believe that the shot of the guy spitting out mouthwash, or the funeral chaufeur are much more unusual. O.K. enough griping, let’s go setup the 16 x 20 trays…

3pm Done for the day as far as printing goes. Ended up doing ten 16 x 20 prints of ‘Marsh’. That’s as much as I can dry at one time. Took from 9am to now.

One other interesting idea — instead of doing contact sheets, I’ve started scanning the negatives with a flatbed and transparency holder — which gives me the equivalent of enlarged contacts. Really a great thing, and I wish I had thought of it sooner.

It seems to me that this whole controversry about digital vs. traditional techniques actually went on in the music world when syntheziers were first introduced. Now, there are computerized instruments, samplers, that can give you the exact sound and quality of a Steinway Grand piano. Similar feel to the keyboard action also. But have the replaced traditional pianos? My guess is that they’ve cut into the market, but not replaced pianos.

Maybe twenty years from now, digital cameras will have 75% of the camera market. Maybe. But that will only increase the value of those who are still laboring in the darkroom. And I guess the real point is that its the person behind the equipment, whether its an old Hammond organ, or a Casio syntheziser (forgive the spelling) that will always be the crucial ingredient.

Or put another way — video monitors and computerized effects have taken over movies — but without a story, without some artistic innovations, vision etc. they are as useless.

6-20-01

Just spent $1000 for frames from lightimpressions. (about 30 frames ranging in size from 11 x 14 to 20 x 24). I hope that I sell a few prints, or my studio is going to be impossible to walk around in.

So I say to the guy at lightimpressions — don’t ship me a partial order. I want to get it all together. And he says, ‘I just want to tell you something.’

Me: What?

He: Right now, the 16 x 20 and 20 x 24 frames are out of stock. While you’re waiting for these items to come back into stock, another part of your order that’s currently in stock, might go out of stock. In other words, you might wait months for your order if everything isn’t in stock at exactly the same time (if you want the full order shipped together).

Me: Okay, forget what I said. Just ship whatever you’ve got.

In computer programming — this would be called ‘an infinite loop’. In philosphy, a tautology. And in the photo business, something to be avoided.

***

You have to put the frames together yourself. The thing that takes the longest is removing the sticky paper from both sides of the plexiglass. Maybe I’m doing it wrong (can there be a wrong way?) — but yesterday, it took about ten minutes to remove the stuff from one 20 x 24 plexiglass. This could be a new form of exercise. An olympic event perhaps? And oh yes — do it without getting any fingerprints or sweat on the glass or you get disqualified. Would the plexiglass removers form be important? On the adhesive paper, it says to make sure you have the correct side facing out? One side I guess has some non-glare coating or something. O.K. second part of the contest — which side goes out? Try as I might — both sides of the plexiglass look the same to me.

* * *

Latest screw up: Had stacked my fiber prints from yesterday on screens to dry. Usually, I spread them out all over the floor on the screens. So I go to flatten them in the dry mount (as I usually do) — and after about doing five flattening sessions, the sixth print seems to stick to the mat board in the dry mount. Huh? I gingerly pull it off with a slight sticking sound. I do another one. Then it hits me, the prints on the bottom of the stacked screens weren’t fully dry yet. I’m not sure if I ruined these prints or not — as I may re-wet them, and let them dry again.

6-21-01

Anyone who’s trying to sell prints over the web might be interested in this — after I raised the price of the smaller prints, I haven’t had a single sale. This was exactly what I expected. Maybe its coincidence and has nothing to do with the pricing, but I doubt it. Other photographers had told me that the prices were way to cheap for hand-printed work, but I had said that web denizens simply have a lower price in mind then if they were standing in front of the actual print.

Btw, if the prices are too low, they also won’t sell because the buyer thinks the print must not be very good if it is selling too low.

So here’s my experience — for a 5 x 7 on 8 x 10 mat, the price that has done the best is $25. For the 8 x 10 on 11 x 14 board — $40. Add ten dollars to each of these prices and sales drop to next to nothing. And as far as the limited edition prints go — I’d say about $150 is the top limit.

I feel like putting something on the home page like: Support Your Local Artist (Support Your Local Sherrif with James Garner was a great movie) — but like my father always said, ‘the world don’t owe you a living’. What I do find annoying is that its always so much easier to make a living doing something like computer work which in the long run has almost no value, or at least a transient value at best, then trying to ‘make it’ as an artist. Yeah, yeah, gripe and grrrrr. I’m probably feeling second thoughts about having given up the steady but unsatisfying lucre of the ad agency job. Still, if I don’t sell a couple of big prints at the next two shows — I’m going to question some of latest life choices.

* * *

I strongly suggest that unless you have a stomach for tedium, you skip this next session. I just want to document what the printing process is like for me at the current time. I implore you to read on at your own risk:

I live in a studio which is 275 square feet. That includes a kitchen you can barely stand in, and an equally small bathroom. There’s one window which has a black cloth that can be dropped over it. Its held to the wall with velcro. So the routine is something like this:

1. Drop the black cloth over the window, and press the sides against the velcro. Then, there’s a second normal curtain that is a few inches from that which you need to press against the walls with tape or something.

2. I have a fold-out table — with formica-like top, that I pull into the center of the room, and open up two leafs. Its a bit wobbly, so I have an old glove which I stick under one of the wheels.

3. Assuming that the chemicals are already mixed, pull the big 16 x 20 trays out from where they are stacked on top of the print-washer in the bathoom and place them on the table. There are four trays in all. Each a different color so I know which is for which chemical.

4. Walk back and forth from bathroom to table with 1/2 gallon pitchers filled with chemicals. Pour the stuff in without splashing too much — or I might splatter something on one of the boxes that contain mat material.

5. Turn on the darkroom light.

6. I have negatives in three formats: 35mm, 6 x 6 cm, and 4 x 5 inches. Each format has its own lens. So if the wrong lens is in the enlarger, you unscrew it, and put the proper lens in. This has to be done in the dark, with the enlarger light on — to see that the lens is screwed in at the right angle, parallel to the easel.

7. Hunt for the negative. I have four used 4 x 5 boxes filled with strips of 35mm negatives. They’ve been separated into various sections of the alphabet: a-f, g-k, etc.

8. Put the negative into the holder, and do your best to get dust off the thing. I use a ‘radioactive brush’ first and then use compressed air on both sides of the neg. Once in a while, you find a bit of something stuck to the negative that simply won’t come up. This means trouble later, as you’ll probably need to do some re-touching on the print.

Up to this point may take anywhere from a 1/2 hour to an hour, depending on how many of the chemicals were already pre-mixed.

9. Now you turn on the safelight, turn off all the other lights, and go for it. If you’re lucky, you’ve got notes from a previous printing of the neg. to refer to. I have been keeping pretty good notes for the last two years or so.

Its at this point that I usually turn on music. It can’t be too loud, because I’ve got to be able to hear the timer which beeps to tell me how much time the print is being exposed to the light. Assuming that you’ve done the print before, the rest is routine. If its the first time you’re printing, then who knows. You can go a day or more on a particularly tough print.

10. Frame the print again on the easel. No matter how many times you’ve done the print, this always takes time. Simply making sure that the image size is right, and that the thing is straight, or crooked, or however you decided to do it.

11. Expose the print. If there is dodging and buring (which there almost always is), do it. Practice moving your hands or whatever around under the lights. A little ballet goes on here.

12. 2 minutes in the Dektol. 10 seconds in stop bath. 1 minute in rapid fixer. Don’t get your hands wet or when you go to pull out the next sheet of paper, you’ll leave marks on it.

13. After the fixer, the print goes in another tray (the 4th tray) which is just tap water. Kind of holding tray until the final wash etc. is done.

14. Turn on the incadescent light and look at it carefully. Are the tonal qualities what they should be? Is the print composed correctly? Remember that when the print dries, it is going to lose about 10% of its brightness (the dreaded dry-down effect).

15. Assuming all is okay, repeat the process for as many prints as you’ll be able to dry. For me, I have room on the drying screens for TEN 16 x 20 prints. So that’s all I do in one session.

16. Turn off enlarger, safelight — and if its a nice day — open the window and get some air in the place. Then before anything else…

17. Start emptying out the trays of chemicals. This means pouring the stuff into a 1/2 gallon pitcher, walking the pitcher back to the bathroom, and pouring the stuff into either the sink or the toilet. Do this for all the chemicals. Now I…

18. Bring the empty trays into the bathroom tub to be washed. Once the trays are washed I can…

19. Attach the hose of the print washer to the bathroom sink, and start to fill the print washer with water. Once its filled I carry the prints from the wash tray to the print washer, one or two at a time, dripping water/hypo on the floor as I go.

20. Get all the prints in the washer; adjust the water-flow so it doesn’t flow over into the neighbor downstairs, and

21. Take the washing tray into the bathoom. Clean it out, and fill it with print wash solution.

22. After prints have been in washer for a while, put them into print washing solution (maybe four at a time) and shuffle them by hand in the stuff for about 10 minutes. The print wash solution starts to turn purple. Take them out and put them back in the print washer.

(wow, I always knew this was a tedious process, but didn’t know how tedious until I tried to describe it)

23. Finally, the prints are in the print washer (I won’t even go into what the process is if Selenium toning is to be done).

Now you are free for a while. Relax. Clean up the stuff thats on the table. Fold the table back and roll it back where it belongs so its not in the center of the room. And…

24. When the prints are done washing (maybe an hour) — get the drying screens out of the closet.

25. Pull each print from the washer, one at a time, and I place them emulsion side up on my refridgerator where I wipe them gently with a squeege. Then I place them face up on a drying screen. I continue this process, building a stack of screens about ten high until all the prints are being dried.

The next day (if its not too humid) the prints should be dry.

I’m not going to go into matting and framing, because it is even more tedious. Remember, I warned you!

* * *

6-23-01

Buried in boxes from lightimpressions — and all that packaging paper.

Into third day of matting and framing. When my sister suggested that I show at some fairs — seemed like the thing to do. OK, I’m learning a lot about framing — like out to stick those little metal pressure things in so they don’t pop out and hit me in the eye. If someone buys a print from me, and tries to take it apart and one of those pressure bars pops out and blinds them — am I liable? I think I need to put one of those manufacturers’ warnings on the back —

This frame contains no servicable parts. Disassemble at your own risk. Not to be taken apart by anyone without wearing protective safety glasses.

6-25-01

O.K. According to my schedule, I was supposed to do some more printing today — but I think I’m going to take the day off. I’ve printed most of the stuff that interests me and can’t get the energy up to re-print the few things that are left that don’t really excite me much anymore. I can’t do any framing because I didn’t order enough of the little things you use to put the frames together (ordered more this morning). Its a beautiful day in NYC (not particularly good for shooting) so I guess its time to get out and walk around a bit. And I’m pretty much ahead of schedule. My carton box is filling up with matted prints, and as I say, have done all the framing I can do for now.

* * *

So you see I was feeling burnt out, and finally left the house with the leica, the 50mm, and the contact lens in my right eye (in case you haven’t been keeping up with all this, i’ve been wearing the one contact lens since i started using the rangefinder) — and headed out to the east river. Sat in the sun for two hours. I figure ‘o.k.’ nothing much to shoot and head back to the house. As I’m walking along I see a very expensive framing shop — and sort of keep going, but then I feel like there’s something there, so I turn back.

There are these two large ornate frames in the window, and through them you can see two guys sitting at their laptops. Sort of. There’s a lot of glare. But I take a couple of shots. One of the guys in the store comes out. I explain that I’m just curious about the frames, etc. etc. and he invites me in. (was this because of the Leica luck??) — and I walk in and he says ‘you can take pictures of anything you like’. The two guys are on the phone. One is negotiating a price on a frame from $1 million to $1.25 million.

I look around, and take the neutral density filter I was using off — and notice a cat curled up with these amazing frames in the background. Click, click. No one in the shop notices. I can see the cat’s expression (do cat’s have expressions?) perfectly. And I get up and thank the guy. He asks me if I’m interested in any frames? I laugh, not quite in that ballpark. I tell him that I took a few shots of the cat. And that’s that. Time to try and get that contact lens out.

6-26-01

One of the side effects of preparing for Westport and Soho shows — I’m framing and matting prints that I’ve never seen framed before. Normally I don’t frame something unless its been sold — but now things are framed in hopes of a sale. I had run out of the rectangular window mats, and put ‘Birches’ into a square window to see what it looked like — and was surprised to see that it looked stronger to me. I cut out the right side, and the composition was better. It always amazes me how much you can crop out of a print and still preserve or heighten the feeling.

Still no internet sales after raising the prices. All in all, I think that the internet is a pretty ineffective way of selling fine prints. People make inquiries — ‘oh you don’t have a particular print in the size that I want’ or ‘i love your stuff but don’t want to use my credit card on the web’, etc. etc. but if the price is low enough, orders will start to come in again. whether its worth it to me to sell prints at these prices is another story. i suspect that if i were selling inexpensive posters of my work, i could do better. it costs penny a piece to produce a poster, and they can easily be shipped in tubes. plus, they are in larger sizes than many of the prints, so they can be used more easily to decorate a room. its something that i’ve thought about doing for over a year now — but somehow haven’t gotten around to. it may be because you generally want to print a lot at one time to get the price down — and at those large sizes, i’m not sure where i’d store the stuff. but i imagine that posters would do well and would eliminate the problems of wrapping, matting, and packaging. i need to remind myself to give this a shot after these shows are over.

* * *

Just an interesting technical point (well interesting to me at the moment). Since using the Leica, I’ve found myself shooting quite often with 2 stop neutral density filters. The reason is that I normally shoot 400 film, and in bright daylight with the Leica with a top shutter speed of 1/1000 — I may simply run out of f-stop, or be shooting with too small an aperature. This has worked out very well, and given the fact that with most of my hand-held type photography I like a narrow depth of field. Of course, if I’m using the old hyperfocal trick — I’ll generally remove the filter. The whole process works quite well. In bright sunlight, I’m shooting at around f8/f11 — and in shade, around f4/f5.6. (at 1/500) — and if I want to shoot at f2.8, just kick the thing up to 1/1000. Quite useful. Someday I’d like to rent the Noctilux (f1.0) for a weekend and do some handheld night photography.

6-27-01

I truly wonder whether all this all this matting and framing changes a man? I’m going to think twice before the next time I click that shutter.

Two of the larger pieces of plexiglass arrived with their corners shattered. Quite amazing considering how well they were wrapped — bubble-wrap, miles of packing paper, etc. but the box looked like it had been dropped several feet on its corner. Nothing else was dammaged.

I keep fooling with this inkjet handout I want to bring to Westport — but it looks awful. It started out as sort of an artist’s statement — but I showed it to my sister who really edited it down. Now there’s not much left but a picture, a few words, and how to contact me. It’s the kind of dumb thing that can draw you in and waste a lot of time.

6-29-01

Need to get the grid for displaying/hanging the framed stuff for Westport. That’s pretty much the last piece of the puzzle. Also sent in request to the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit (212-982-6255). That’s Sept 1-3 and Sept 8, 9.

I guess that would be the easiest to do — but yikes — quite a schedule I’m setting for myself… Westport, then Soho and then Washington Square — ?? And there’s the possibility of Barcelona in Oct. Could be grueling. I guess you could easily spend half the year matting and framing and the rest of the time hopping through art festivals etc. Not exactly an easy life. I’ll try hard not to project too far into the future about this stuff.

Light Impressions were quite decent about the broken plexiglass and said they’d re-ship the pieces. As far as what I’m bringing to Westport — I’m erring on the side of bringing stuff that I know to be popular. Not necessarily what I like.

6-30-01

Received an email this morning, which made me think again about the ‘decisive moment’. Just to recap about the ‘decisive moment’ it describes a kind of school or style of photography. Cartier-Bresson was one of its practitioners. The classic example, is the man jumping over a puddle with a railway station in the background. The shot is blurry, and out of focus, and yet sort of funny because it seems obvious (at least the way I remember the picture) that in the next instant the man will land in the puddle. (At least that was always my take on it).

Some of my shots fall into that category — but many of them don’t. For example, during the last few weeks while I’ve been framing and matting, one of my favorite prints seems to be exactly the opposite — ‘Bike’. It is just a ‘Bike’ resting against a railing on a bridge in Central Park on a somewhat overcast day. It was taken on a tripod, with a medium format camera. And it went something like this — I was walking around with the camera attached to the tripod over a bridge in the park. I noticed the bike out of the corner of my eye, and also was struck by the angle of the wood slats in the floor of the bridge. But I walked past both on my way to… and I stopped in my tracks… i was thinking about the attachment I had to bike riding… i was thinking about a hill that i used to speed down on my bike when i was a kid… i was thinking… i had a feeling for this particular setting… had the slats of wood been going in a direction parallel to the bike, perhaps i wouldn’t have turned back to set up the tripod… or if it had been a bright sunny day… but there was a grayness that reminded me of cold Autumn days, and the feel of my hands stuck to the cold handlebars…

So I stopped and turned around. I remember trying to compose so that the lines of the wooden planks form a nice counterpoint to the plane of the bike… and thinking about putting the background just slightly out of focus, and the usual things… but then the sun came out and the look was gone, so i waited for a cloud, and then took the shot when it was overcast again.

Was this a ‘decisive moment’? Not really. The same picture could have been taken five minutes or maybe even an hour later with the same results, at least according to the subject. Can taking a picture of still life, perhaps a few oranges resting on a table under artificial light, have anything to do with a ‘decisive moment’?

I am tempted to say ‘yes’. I am tempted to try and expand the idea of the ‘decisive moment’ to something that happens internally to the photographer. In other words, it might mean the moment when all creative forces come together in a sort of unconscious way to produce a picture with meaning and feeling. But then I’ve gone to far, because it means that all great photography is about the ‘decisive moment’ and the term loses its meaning, or does it?

***

Hope about this? Timing and especially anticipation are important parts of photography, but so is tedium and slow careful, methodical planning. Sometimes there’s a little of both. Sometimes the meter points more to one end or the other of the spectrum. And the ‘decisive moment’ can be a part of even somewhat slow-moving static scenes. Example in my own work is ‘Promenade’ that shot with the view camera looking down between the rows of trees. Forgetting about everything else in the shot that is carefully composed — there are two dots, way off in the distance. I remember watching them walk away and thinking quite clearly to wait (anticipate) that they get to a certain spot in the frame so that the trees would have some scale. Not exactly static. But not a guy trying to jump over a puddle. Jazz or Mozart? The same piano is capable of playing both.

* * *

Here’s the letter that put that last diatribe in my head:

Hello Dave,
It’s been 18 months since I first found your web site and wrote you. You encouraged me to continue contacting you from time to time, and I hope you don’t feel that I’m intruding by doing so.

I note that my initial criticism is prominently displayed in your “letters” section, stating that I thought you had an editing problem, producing mostly “indecisive moments.” At first I was embarrassed that I had written so plainly and so critically, but on reflection it has given me time to recognize how far you have come.

Frankly, your work which had some very good but not overwhelming pieces at that time, has become terrific! Where your best pictures were gleaned from the endeavors of many years, now this year you are making great picture after great picture.

I no longer feel competent to criticize your work. Also, the web site has become one of the most usable and interesting that I visit.

So — my best regards to Dave Cartier-Beckerman.
Bill

* * *

You know, I really don’t take the time to put a lot of the more complimentary emails I get on the site — perhaps it feels like too much tooting my own horn (who elses horn am I going to toot?) But its definitely something I hope to do.

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Dave

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