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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Photo Blog March June 2001

3-02-01

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.

3-6-01

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

3-22-01

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.

3-24-01

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.

3-27-01

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.

4-12-01

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.

4-14-01

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.

4-22-01

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.

4-26-01

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.

5-5-01

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.

5-12-01

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

5-18-01

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.

Why Photograph the Subway?

Why Photograph the Subway?

Many years ago, returning from a party, I found myself, sitting in an empty subway car. The lights from the stations gleamed on the hard, plastic graffiti-proof bench opposite me. I took a small camera from my pocket and took a black and white picture of this empty grayness, and streaks of light. This sterile stretch of plastic spoke to me. Somewhere, probably in Japan, a place to seat New Yorkers had been poured into a mold. The old seats of my youth, the seats with the quiltwork of tan and yellow plastic were long gone. The new subway seats were for a new age. And they were ugly. The old seats were made when people listened to Frank Sinatra. The new seats were made to resist tagging, and hip-hop. Perhaps the same manufacturer also made delightful prison furniture. I am not a nostalgic person. But I am sensitive to forms and shapes that alienate.

There are no longer seats on the New York subway. There are long slippery planks of plastic with indentations for your behind. A big fellow may take up two indentations. There is no chance to sit facing forward, or sitting backwards. We sit sideways, facing each other. We move through this river of the city, in a dark, gleaming place where things happen for no apparent reason. Like a dream, we hurdle through from one place to another. Stopping in between stations for Kafkaesque reasons that are beyond comprehension. Announcements are made which can not be understood. Trains are taken out of service in what seems like a random way. Unseen conductors threaten to ‘Take this train out of service’ if we don’t behave to their satisfaction. We are no longer called ‘passenger’s’ — we are called ‘customers’ in the politically correct inexactness of the times.

The subway is the place where denizens of the great metropolis are now forced to face each other. The wealthy, and the poor rub more than elbows here. Often the pot in which we are all supposed to be melting cracks and boils over.

Bill Cosby called it right with his routine, “There’s a Nut in Every Car”. I’m always amazed at how much drama happens in these confined, crowded cars. I’ve seen altercations that have resulted in pushing matches. I’ve seen epileptic fits, and harangues that lasted for twenty station stops.

Don’t make eye contact unless you are looking for trouble. Read a paper. Close your eyes and pretend to sleep. Stare at the advertisements. The subway is the place where we are physically closest to our fellow New Yorkers, and at the same time alienated by our urban wariness.

I believe that phobia and fear of the subway, is as great as fear of flying. Watch the eyes of passengers when a humid, congested car is stopped between stations, and the lights go out. No announcement. No room to move. No idea of why the train has stopped. All ears listening for that first sound of air brakes being released which is a sign that the train is going to move again.

It’s 8am on the number six train. That empty plank of plastic is filled to capacity with New Yorkers on their way to work. I stand in the corner of the car with a camera hanging around my neck, hoping to capture some telling moment in this menage. How many years have I been riding this train to work? Five? Seven? Have I ever really been able to capture the feeling? I look like a tourist. Who else but a tourist would have a camera hanging around his neck? But still, I can feel suspicion. Who is this guy? Is he really a tourist. He has his finger on the shutter. I pull out a small subway map and look at it as if I’m lost. Maybe I am lost. Okay. He really must be a tourist. And in fact, I am a kind of tourist. I just happen to be taking the same tour every day at the same time with the same selection of riders.

A young women sitting near me takes out her compact and powder. This is one of the moments that I hope for. Preparing the face to meet the faces — while this mass of hurtling plastic and steel jostles us towards a common destination. I know that the train is shaking too much for me to take a picture while its moving. Hopefully, she will still be doing her face by the time we get to the next stop. I also need to time the click of the shutter with the sound of the conductor telling us where we are. My thumb makes its way to the shutter release. I rethink exactly what I’m going to do. The train is going to stop. Just as the doors are opening, the conductor is going to say something. I’m directly beneath the tinny speaker, so it should be okay. The camera that I’m using will autofocus on the closest thing in the frame. As the train pulls into the station, she puts her compact away and darts off. Well, another shot missed. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have more luck. But what’s this? A woman holding a roll of toilet paper gets on. Weird. She sits down across from me. She has a brilliant smile, and is wearing a very white blouse. I don’t think the toilet paper is going to show up well against that blouse… and so it goes.

By the end of my trip, the train has emptied out. There are those gleaming stretches of molded plastic. There are the graffiti-proof windows, which have been cut and scratched by taggers. It’s time for me to get off and continue on to my real job. No one pays money to be reminded of what is usually the most unpleasant part of their day. And I don’t blame them. Not one bit. When I come home from work, I want to look at pictures of the ocean. Instead of the streak of a halogen light on a gray plastic foam injected plank, I want the gleam of a dying sunset rippled on the expanse of water which promises a lovely journey to exotic climes. Still, I know that I’ll have my camera around my neck the next day, hoping to catch something of this daily journey.

Photographic Techniques

In any kind of street photography, there is a decision that you must make up front — Do you care if people know you are photographing them, or are you going to be surreptitious? I’ve seen street photographers who work with flash attachments. Who walk right up to someone and take their picture with the flash firing off. In my view, this action often changes the expression of the person being photographed, and even if it doesn’t, it is too intrusive. On the other side of the spectrum, there are photographers who work as spies. They have the camera hidden somewhere, and photograph in complete secrecy. I believe that Walker Evans did some of his subway work this way.

The technique that I’m most comfortable with is somewhere in between. Generally, the camera is hanging from my neck. My right hand rests on the shutter, my thumb on the shutter is partially obscured by the wide strap of my camera bag, ready to shoot from about chest high if necessary. Since the camera is also out in the open, I can also raise it to my eye and shoot. Most people have asked me I’ve ever had any trouble shooting on the subway. The answer is ‘no’. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I think that being careful helps.

Lighting inside a subway car generally requires you to shoot at about f2.8, somewhere between 1/15 and 1/30 of a second with ASA 400 film. Since there is a lot of movement, and since you are in close quarters, you usually want to use a fairly wide angle lens, such as a 21mm or a 28mm. The wider the lens, the easier it it to get a crisp, non-blurred image. This is simply based on the reciprocal rule of shooting with a shutter speed that is roughly equal to or greater than the length of your lens.

In other words, if you are shooting with a 50mm lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/50 or a second. If you are shooting with a 21mm lens, and there is no mirror shake to worry about, you can easily get by with 1/15 of a second, or less. This is one of the reasons that shooting with medium format is so difficult. The normal lens is longer, and most wide angle lenses only open to f4. Even so, I have gotten some good results with a Rolliflex placed on my lap.

Another consideration with an autofocus camera like the Contax G2, (which is what I’ve been using for the past few years), is the movement of the lens when it is being focused. A shorter lens will focus quicker and be less noticeable than a longer lens.

Where you position yourself in the car is critical.. Sitting down on the #6 train is generally the worst thing you can do. If you sit, you’re stuck. Unless the person on the opposite you is your intended subject, you may be trapped in a useless position for the whole trip. Expect people to get on and stand between you and the person opposite you which further minimizes your chance of getting something interesting.

The best position, if you can get it, is standing up against the doors, opposite of the doors that open. This gives you the greatest chance of finding something worth shooting. It is very easy to photograph people as they are getting on, at that exact instant that the doors are opening. The noise of the doors opening covers the sound of the shutter being tripped, and people just getting on have not yet noticed you, giving you the element of surprise.

Pray for a noisy car, with lots of brakes squeaking, and an overzealous, talkative conductor with a speaker that’s turned up too high. Obviously, you are looking for all the help you can get in covering up the noise of the shutter.

Don’t get onto a train, with your camera in your bag, and then decide to take it out and shoot. This will draw too much attention. Know ahead of time, that you might be shooting, and walk on with the camera already around your neck. This gives passengers time to get used to the idea. After a few minutes, they will generally ignore you. If you really want to achieve invisibility, carry a tourists map with you in your other hand and glance at it continuously as if you are lost. This will ensure that nobody will pay you the slightest attention. I’ve found this to be a good technique for shooting on the street as well.

As far as focusing goes, there are two basic methods:
1) Assuming that you are using an autofocus camera, and that you are going to be in one position, preset the camera to the correct distance, and leave it there. For example, suppose that you are standing opposite the doors that open, and using the G2. Your camera should be parallel to the door, and you press the shutter halfway and look at the reading on the top of the camera. Then with your thumb, on the back of the camera, switch it to manual mode, and set it to the correct distance. Now, you are ready to shoot in that direction. If you’ve been traveling the trains a lot, you may already know that this distance is 3.5 meters, and have the camera preset to this distance. What’s nice about the G2, is that you can easily set it back to Single Mode Focus, with the thumb on the back of the camera in case there is something else you want to shoot.

2) Simply keep the camera in Single Focus Mode. Let it determine the correct focus, each time you press the shutter.

With a 21mm lens, even wide open at F2.8, focus is generally not going to be the problem. The main problem is movement, either of the person, or the car. The subway creates a lot of vibration. Most of the time you are going to want to shoot when the car has stopped. The problem there is that you’ve just lost your cover, the noise of the train itself. The best thing you can hope for is a noisy announcement, or another train going by as the doors are opened.

Oh yes. Sometimes, something happens, which everyone recognizes as unusual and worthy of photographing. Usually this is a lighthearted moment of some kind. In this case, you can simply raise the camera to your eye, and photograph, but these instances are rare.

The Konica Hexar (especially the early model with silent mode) is one of the best cameras to use. It is small. Looks like a tourist point and shoot, and is absolutely quiet. The only problem is that it doesn’t have interchangeable lenses.

The Leica is also quiet. Has interchangeable lenses. But it is noticeable when you advance to the next frame.

The Contax G2 is probably the best, but is noisier than the Leica and the Hexar.

Conclusion

All of this being said, luck plays a big part. I have had days on end when nothing happens worth shooting. And other days where several things happen on the same subway ride. Sometimes, although you are nervous, or hesitant about shooting, you must simply pluck up your courage and shoot anyway.

Photoblog Early Days Jan 2001

01-13-2001

Yesterday was one of those days in the darkroom where everything went right. Did ‘Equitable and Flat Iron’ which I hadn’t printed in a few years — and found a way to keep the detail in the Flat Iron while still contrasting the Equitable in the storm nicely.

Also did smaller prints of ‘Subway, Overview’ and ‘Two Men on Subway’ and was pleased with both of them.

In the middle of my printing session, my sister called and dragged me out to see ’13 Days’. We both were pretty much bored, and left in the middle. I really need to remember not to see any movie that has Kevin Costner in it. I could remember being a little kid during the Cuban missle crisis and it was a lot more dramatic than anything in this movie. The guy who played Jack Kennedy had no charisma. He seemed to be subsurviant to Kevin Costner’s character. Possibly this was because Costner was Executive Producer.

For some reason, I’ve also dropped badly in my AltaVista rating. I used to be on the second page, now I’m like on the fourth page if you search for ‘Black and White Photography’. The search engines continue to be inscrutible.

01-14-2001

Put up something new today — a collection of prints without matting. I find that between the matting and the additional costs for packing and shipping — that its much cheaper to just sell the prints unmounted. I guess Scenic Sampler is not the most original name, but it was all I could come up with. I’m not sure whether it will be worth the time or not, who knows…

Also added ‘Turnstyle #1’, and ‘Midnight, Grand Central Station’ to the site.

01-19-2001

Added that little dialogue ‘Prints and the Photographer’ which I thought gave a feeling of what the process of going from negative to final framed print feels like. This morning I removed the scenic sample pack… did not get any bites although from my point of view it was practically like giving the stuff away… i’m thinking of actually putting something together that i could give away for free… One thing that was cool, was that for the phrase ‘Black And White Photography’ I went up to position #1 on AltaVista. I have no explanation for it. Ten days ago I wasn’t even showing up in AltaVista. The search engines are like the new Gods. They giveth, and they taketh away.

01-27-01

After four years, I’ve bought a new computer. Two days of agony getting it setup, but I think its okay now.

01-28-00

Make that three days of agony. Couldn’t get FTP to work for last day and a half. But its working now. I’m always amazed at how much time is consumed by the computer, the thing that supposedly increases our productivity.

1-31-01

The search for carton continues…

The search for carton, in just the right size for shipping my 16 x 20’s and 20 x 24’s continues. Nobody seems to make carton boxes at that size with a depth of only a few inches. I’ve seen large non-bendable mailers, but not in those sizes. So when people order prints, I end up taking a smaller box, and using it flat. This works fine as far as protecting the print, but I end up having to do a pretty heavy taping job on two sides of the carton. It takes me too much time. And it doesn’t look professional. There are some boxes with a depth of five inches, but then I’m stuck putting in a lot of filler and/or bubble wrap. I’ve been making inquires to carton makers, but so far no luck. Lately, I’ve been thinking more about cardboard then photography. I admit, its a nice diversion, but I’m getting tired of it. Who would have thunk it.

I also have to say, regarding the stuff I shot in Arizona a few months ago, I’ve only gotten one or two prints out of that trip that I like. Which is amazing, since I finally thought I had gotten the hang of shooting Sedona. Apparantly, not.

The other day, completely bored, I put a glass plate over the flatbed to protect it, and began doing arrangements of coins, and then pieces of pasta (Rigatoni). Then I put the results into Photoshop and made them into line drawings. Looked like something you see in a microscope.

Photoblog Nov – Dec 2000

11-10-00

This has been a wild week with a lot of ups and downs. I was in Sedona Arizona for a week. I did quite a bit of shooting, but Sedona was not what it once was. When I was there two years ago with the view camera, it had still had a certain isolated, western feel. Now it was filled with tourists. I couldn’t find a parking spot. Traffic was bad. Malls were shooting up everywhere. I was lucky with the weather — there were some pretty dramatic storms while I was there.

This time I returned with the 35mm G2. I was still shooting carefully on a tripod, using a spot meter etc. I think that I did better this time around, but we’ll see. I kept having to remind myself — these rocks, mountains may be red, but remember, this is black and white film. In other words, unlike shooting in New York, I needed to try and visualize what the results were going to be.

At one point, before going out to Arizona, I was actually thinking of relocating there. After all, I’m selling through the internet. I could be located anywhere. Why not spend a year in the Southwest where its cheaper to live? Where I’m surrounded by all that beauty?

I was there for about three days when I couldn’t wait to get back to my little studio in New York. When I arrived back at my apartment, there was actually a crack addict lighting up in the lobby. He turned to me and said, “To be or not to be, that is some question.” I was home.

I had been selling the inkjet prints, which really had great quality, but I started having problems with the printer. The arhival ink was clogging the inkjet pores. I went back to the old stand by of printing on RC paper. A bunch of orders came in and I was very busy printing for a few days. Sales finally seem to be picking up. Maybe its the holiday season. But often its from someone who has seen a print in someone’s house. I’m beginning to feel more encouraged that given another year or so, I can make a go of this from New York.

Today I’ll get back thirty rolls of film and contact sheets. Can’t wait to get back into darkroom and begin printing again.And oh yeah, my SSL (Secure Socket Layer) went down the other day, so even if someone wants to buy on the web, they currently can’t. Ugh. I’m on the phone with the hosting company to fix this.

11-11-00

Pretty bad sore throat today, but managed to do some printing — Promenade, Night Chess, and Midnight Storm on the Pearl RC Paper — this time using the 8 x 10 paper, which seems to be a bit more sensitive than the 5 x 7 multigrade. Also got back about 10 rolls from Sedona, and 20 rolls of my usual street stuff. The Sedona stuff was much, much better than when I was there two years ago. I proofed Pond 1 and Pond 2 with the inkjet printer, and posted them on the site.

It’s 4pm and I’m washing the prints now, and getting ready to take a nap. Thank God for the Kinks — the compilation CD kept me going. If I had a personal favorite it would be, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”. Sort of an anthem for the individual, or the misfit.

11-14-00
I continue to get emails from students who want to or have written about me. In the beginning it was flattering, but its starting to get time consuming. Especially since I think that the study of photography is mostly a waste of time. Sort of like studying how to drive. It’s good to know the basics, but you can learn most of what you need by hit and miss. Maybe that’s my anti-school bias speaking up. I really don’t understand why you can’t learn English literature by reading lots and lots of books.

For the most part, the teacher is there to tell you what to read, and when it should be read, and to test that you’ve read it. This is not true for all teachers, but mostly true. And black and white photography is even simpler. Figure out the f-stop/shutter speed combination for sunny and for shady, and get going. I think that Walker Evans gave this kind of advise to a friend before they were going out shooting. Another problem (what else do I put in a diary but problems?) is — is it feasible to sell the RC Prints at $18? Obviously not really. The mat itself costs about $4.00 and the postage for a single print is about $3.50. I’ve got to print the thing, go to the post office, pack it etc. etc. I probably make a few bucks on each print — but on the other hand, I keep telling myself that each print is a sort of walking advertisement, and that as more people see them, the word will spread. Well, if the word does spread, I’ll have to raise the price, that’s for sure, or I’ll be working for 3.50/hour.

11-16-00
Printing ‘Promenade’ all day today in the large size… it was a painful printing process. I lost my good notes from the last printing, and had to go through it all again. I had a good artist proof (thank God) to compare against. But just had a lot of trouble with it this time… I really don’t know why. Dodging, burning, and nothing was looking right. Eventually I just left it and went downstairs and got some lunch. When I came back, what was sitting in the tray looked very good. Go figure. Then I did a few small prints of ‘Promenade’ on graded paper — something I hadn’t done before. Later on, I decided to use the hypo-clearing agent in the bathroom (no ventilation) and had a bad choking fit. Won’t do that again.

Anyway, it took me all day to print five large ‘Promenades’ and a few smaller ones.

I’ve got a bunch of new stuff from Arizona that I wanted to at least take a stab at, but was too tired.

What a weird day. I kept dropping the tongs in the developer. At one point, after I had the easel all lined up, I leaned against it as I was putting in the paper and it moved. Hopefully, tomorrow will be easier.

11-20-00

Yesterday I removed the ability to order custom screensavers. That was a complete failure. In six months, I think I received about two custom screensaver orders. The only regret there was that it took me a lot of time to program that part of the system… but its obvious that what is selling now are the inexpensive prints — which I have to say, I’m pleased with. I wish the lines at the post office were shorter.

I keep doing some digital proofs of the Arizona stuff, and I can’t wait to get to print some of those shots. After many years of trying to get expressive nature shots — I think I’ve found my way. And the secret to that was to shoot in 35mm, with the same camera that I’ve been using in the city. Apparantly, I’m simply feel more free to experiment and take chances in 35mm. I am very excited with some work I did at the Sunset Crater lava fields. When I was there two + years ago with the view camera, I came back with junk. Or at least I wasn’t happy with the results. When I returned again this year, I had the failures from the last trip in my mind, and was determined to do better. And I think I did.

12-09-00

Yesterday, showed prints at the Ad agency where I work… they have a crafts fair each year. I think there were more vendors than customers, but did o.k. Sold: Night Chess (2x), Promenade, Trees Silhouette, Mouthwash (first person that ever bought that), Two Women, and a bunch of others that I forgot to write down.

The day before, I had a lot of my stuff in my office and also sold about six prints.

It is a lot easier to sell in person than over the web. The web is really a souless place. You don’t know the person who’s buying and they don’t know you.

Interesting conversation with one woman who had seen my stuff a few years ago, who said.2how great it was that I was actually doing what I wanted creatively. I quiped back, “Yeah, after 30 years.” And she said, “Some people never do it at all.”

Point taken. But I have been wondering why it took me so long to ‘find myself’ — after all, I’ve been searching for a creative path since I was fifteen. Music, photography, screenplay writing, lighting director… who knows? So many twists and turns — I had sold screenplays, but the one that was almost made was cancelled when the lead actor died. What if he had lived? Do all paths lead to the same place? What if instead of going to college and studying Philosphy, I had studied photography? All I know is that for me, at that time, the idea of studying photography did not even occur to me… Whatever.

12-22-00

Orders for the smaller prints have been coming in, maybe one or two a day. They say be careful what you wish for, you may get it. And every once in a while a $40 print. To be honest, its hardly worth the effort as far as the smaller prints go. I think, for one thing, I’ve got too large an inventory, although there are still plenty of images I could put on the site. Oh, well. Lately I’m complaining too much about this stuff. I think that its just that you never know when an order will come in, or a streak of orders. Unlike doing an art show, where you prepare stock and sell and that’s the end of it. I’m still generally able to get the order out within a few days, but it’ll be tougher if there are ever a lot of orders. I remember, ten months ago when my first order came in, how excited I was. And that feeling of excitement lasted. But now its a lot of drudgery, and I have to psyche myself up to do a printing session.

12-25-00

My sister found a print that I did when I was about 15 — of two people sitting in the subway. Apparantly, the obsession goes back a long way. The print itself, although it is over 30 years old, looks as if it were printed yesterday. I guess, that even then, some simple fixer did the trick.

12-30-00

Big snow storm in New York today. I plan to go out an doing a little shooting. Snow is one of those things that gets me out of the house. Everyone complains about it — the t.v. is filled with reporters saying stay indoors. Don’t go out unless you have to, etc. etc. But its one of the most beautiful things in New York.

Photoblog Three Months 2000

7-29-2000

The last month and a half disappeared in a blur. I fell into the digital print world. I had been talking about the inkjet stuff with a friend of mine for the last few months, but when I saw with my own two eyes what was possible, at least in color, I thought it was worth investigating. Luminos had just come out with monochrome inks for the Epson 1160, so I figured for a few hundred bucks I would take the plunge. The printer was about $400. I already had a fairly okay negative scanner which I had used to put the images on the site. My initial thought was to try and make some small postcards, perhaps a brochure. And I have to admit, that the initial results were so amazing, that I got hooked.

Began experimenting with various inkjet papers, and within a day or two I had several very good prints.

I had been very sceptical about all this. Last year I went to the Javits center photography exhibit and saw some black and white digital stuff, but didn’t think that it could compare with chemical printing. Now all of a sudden, with the right inks and the right scanner and printer, it was here. What a relief not to have to work in the dark in this small studio apartment. No more fixer fumes. No more setup and cleanup. All the headaches of chemical printing gone. At least in the smaller sizes.

I showed a bunch of my work to friends, and to production people where I work part-time, and the reactions were the same as mine. This stuff had a lot of potential. I created a bunch of postcards and gave them out to people wherever I went. Gave some to my father to give out to his friends. And simply carried a bunch of them around with me so that I could show samples of my work around.

Then of course I had to change the site so that I could offer these digital prints, which I just finished the other day. And while all this was going on, I was still shooting, working part-time, and selling chemical prints. I thought myself very successful, being able to keep track of all this, until my sister tried to call me the other day and got no answer. Turns out I had forgotten to pay the phone bill. And then a guy came by and slipped a notice under my door about the rent being late. Seems I had forgotten to pay the rent. Well, okay. Maybe I did let a few minor things slip by…. And oh yeah, I was going to plan a vacation. Guess that slipped by also.

7-31-00

Have slowly been removing things from the site that weren’t getting any hits. The latest thing to go was hi-res images. I went through a lot of trouble to upload larger images, but checking the logs showed that they were getting about 20 hits or so per week. Not worth the trouble. I guess that I’ll keep audience favorites around a little longer, but I think the novelty has worn off, and very few people take the trouble to actually vote. What has gotten a lot of hits are the small articles about the Contax G2, and shooting on the subway. Maybe I’ll figure out something else to write about that might be of general interest.

9 – 7 – 00

i think i got kind of burnt out from the whole push to be a success at photography and i’m going through a slow down period. (although i’m still shooting when i get a chance). i’m about to read a book called, ‘Blood Meridian’ by Cormac McCarthy, which I saw a big fat guy talking about on t.v. The big fat guy was from the Bronx, and had apparantly done nothing but read as many books as he could for the last 70 years. He had taught literature etc. at Yale for many years and was talking about how wonderful reading was. But he seemed quite mad to me, and fairly unhappy.

Nevertheless, he said he had been teaching this novel in his classes for several years, and was convinced that it was one of the few ‘works of genius’ around today. its supposed to be very gory though.

traffic to the daveBeckerman.com site continues to increase. but i’m coming to the realization that people are using it more like a museum than a store. i think that i will do better if i put my images on tee-shirts and sell them. in other words, you can view the images on the web and enjoy them, and get a lot of feeling from them. why do you need to buy them and go through the trouble of having them framed and put in the house. but shoes, or tee-shirts, or hats, or jewelry are another story. you don’t get the functionality until you order it. which takes me back again to the postcard, and greeting card thing. because here is a physical thing that you need to get, in order to make use of it and get the full benefit.

i’m now at a point where i’m getting about 15,000 page views per week. that’s a lot of pictures served up. and registrations are now up to about 15 per day. quite a bit compared to when i first started out. but so far, offering more affordable inkjet prints has not boosted sales one bit. in fact, sales have dropped off when i started offering them. so, the good news is, more people are browsing the site, and viewing more pictures; the bad news is that sales are really minimal. still, as i said to a friend the other day — its very gratifying to simply have people stop by and browse. and if that’s all its going to be, well so be it.

i really wonder how the larger sites like Corbis and art.com are doing. they have obviously put millions into selling art on the web.

on the good side, several stock companies have seen my work and invited me to submit images to them. so maybe that will help. we’ll see. i can tell you that something like that where the agency takes care of the sale and the legalities would definitely be easier than trying to sell directly to the public.

10-08-2000

for the last few months, i’ve been wondering where to take my next vacation. i decided on returning to Sedona,AZ. i had been there two years ago with the view camera, and came back with a few decent pictures (Birches, Prairie) but considering that I was there for two weeks, and shot about 100 plates, i wasn’t very successful. so, this time i’ll go back sans view camera, with my G2 and see how i do. i was thinking about this when i realized that it would be nice to have a slightly larger camera bag. camera bags for me are like shoes for Emelda Marcos. i can’t have too many camera bags. the house is filling with them. nonetheless, compared to the price of camera equipment, this is a relatively inexpensive flaw.

so, i went to my favorite camera store in New York. i had my G2 and a couple of lenses with me, in my smaller bag, and looked carefully at a few bags. i found one that was on display, cabled to the shelf, and then i had my bright idea. lets take the equipment out of my bag, and put it into the new bag to see how it all fits. i put my G2, in the bag, and then put the 21mm in a pocket of the bag, and two other lenses into the body of the bag…. not bad. i liked the bag. i took my lenses back and put them into my own bag, and went to the counter and order the new bag, bought it and went home.

that was Friday at 1pm. when i got home, i looked at my new bag and decided to transfer my lenses and camera to the new bag and see how it all fit. hmmm. something was missing. where was my 21mm? arghhhh!!! it struck me like a thunderbolt, i had left it in the pocket of the display bag in store. damn. that was the most expensive lens i had ($1300). there was a $1300 lens sitting in the bag in the store. anyone could just pick it up, throw it in their pocket, and walk out. and…

this was friday, and the start of a Jewish holiday. the store was going to be closed until Monday at 9am.

i spent the next two days trying not think of my poor $1300 lens. i asked advise. some people told me to call the store and leave a message. others said, do nothing.

i thought that if i left a message, the sweeper might pick it up, and that would be the end of it.

Photo store opened up at 9am on Monday. I was there, sitting outside the store on a bench, at about 8 am. For about 58 minutes, I held an internal dialogue that went something like this:

– You’ve got your health. This lens is a material thing. Its meaningless.

– Yeah, but it cost $1300. That’s about the most expensive lens I’ve got.

– Well, this is a test. What if its not there? What’s the use of worrying. Nothing much you can do. And if it is there, well, all this worrying was for naught.

– Gee, what time is it anyway? I look at watch. Five minutes has passed.

– Think of something else. Think of how amazing it is that you’ve even owned a lens like that… no, something else.

It goes on like this for 59 minutes, until I have convinced myself that whatever happens, its all for the best.

And then I see the man coming to open the door to let me in. Man, he’s taking a long time. And all my rationalizations, all my meditations, zoom out through my ears, and my brain can only think of one thing:

— ‘Please be there. Please be there. Oh please…’ I walk through the store, passed the ‘greeter’, eyes waiting to see the bag. I know the bag will be there because its just for display, and is strapped to the counter with a wire.

Yep, there it is. And there’s the pocket that I think I left the lens. And open the cover to peek inside the pocket… There is the little lens, peeking out at me, as if to say, — ‘You see, I was here all the time. Nothing to worry about after all, was there” And I pick it up, and place it in my own photo bag. No one notices anything. Do they have surveillance cameras in a place like this? Probably, but not until a few people are in the store. So, I make my way out of the store, and that’s that.

Photoblog June 2000

6-2-2000

Not much new. Although I’m getting about 5 new registrations per day, nobody seems willing to buy a screensaver, which I thought at least a couple of people would like. C’est la vie. Either I don’t know how to sell them, or the price is too high, or its a long way from liking something to plunking down a few bucks over the internet.

Well, for now, I’m not going to worry about it. The big push to finish the site, although its really never totally over, is over for now and I’ve been starting to shoot and print again.

I also have some vacation time coming up, and have been torn between going back to Nova Scotia (I hitch hiked through there in my youth) — and someplace like Florence or Venice Italy (never been to Italy), or Ireland. Or… their are many places that I want to visit, but time is limited, and I will be traveling alone, and I’m not sure that I want to go to Nova Scotia (I’ve been thinking of Cabot Drive on Cape Bretton) — alone. Just seems too isolated, even for me. And I guess it also feels like trying to recapture something of my youth, which is silly since I didn’t much enjoy it when I was a youth.

I can tell you one thing — I have a pretty good idea of what people like and dislike as far as the pictures on the site go. I’ve always divided them into pretty stuff, and non-pretty. And it ain’t hard to tell them apart. The Benches, The Central Park shots, the prints where there is a sense of tonal richness, and classic composition, and safe subject matter — in short, what might be called decorative in nature, are by far the most popular. Then there are prints that seem to bridge that line a bit, and might not be obviously beautiful, such as Night Chess or FDR Tunnel, which are also popular. Girl with Ball, has a pleasant feeling.

These are not necessarily the hardest shots to get, but they are technically proficient, and generally with medium or large format equipment.

And you know what? I’m the same way. When I look around my own apartment, I’m not looking to be reminded of the grimmer side of life. I too want to find something soothing to adorn the walls. Why would I want to look at a picture of a subway car? No matter how well its been done. I see that every day. I want something that will transport me.

And deep down, this schism, is present in my shooting, and in my choice of where to take a vacation.

Nova Scotia represents the search for this far-away beauty. But quite honestly, every time that I go out into the wilds to hunt this beauty, I return with less than I hoped for. Hunting for this type of beauty is a full-time job that I’m not really trained for. I’m trained to hunt out the beauty in the urban world. Or if not the beauty, at least the interesting. So I’m leaning towards Florence and/or Venice.

* * *

6-10-00

I was looking at the Voyager tour (www.voyager.com) site with the idea of doing something I’ve never done before, actually taking a photographic tour. Two tours that caught my interest — one is of ‘Old Ireland’ the other is of Tuscany.

But I’m somewhat hesitant. Why? I have a bad feeling about tours in general. I have in the back of my head a book by Mark Twain about a bunch of rich American’s going through Europe. (An Innocent Abroad??) was that the name of it. And also, I looked at the photographs of the guide, which are wonderful, but not at all in the style that I shoot. Beautiful view camera work, inside abbeys, and countryside etc. But I really find very little in terms of what is called ‘street photography’.

And ‘street photography’ cannot really be done as part of a tour. Sort of like an army parading through town looking for ‘the moment’. And it ain’t cheap. All of my traveling has been done on a shoestring. And the way things are going at the old ad agency — I don’t know if I will have a job by the time the tour comes around.

I sold a few more prints last weekend to a friend of my sisters. Yesterday did a bunch of printing. I am beginning to find a bunch of prints that don’t really need much dodging and burning, and are easy to print. Went back to do the Mouthwash print, which I hadn’t done in about five years, and it printed nicely at about 5 x 8″. Also did the ‘Two Women on Bus” and “Paris Wedding”. Five of each. Very pleased with the outcome. Oh yes, and ‘Kiss Through Bars’.

Anyway, sales through the web site remain non-existent. But I continue to receive e-mail from people saying how much they are moved by some of the images. So I can only conclude that the prices are too high for the people who are visiting the site, and there is a hesitancy about purchasing prints on-line (which I can understand). On the other hand, even the sales that I made last weekend, are partially due to having the website, in the sense that I was able to get an idea of what the friend was interested in, and arrive with a portfolio of prints catered to her.

Perhaps the idea is to have some prints which are not limited edtion, and not matted etc. sort of a sample pack of small prints that are easily produced. The print quality would be the same as for the limited edition prints, but the costs of producing them would be less. Posters are another idea that’s I’ve been looking into, since they could be produced for very little. But there is a fairly high up-front cost, in the sense that you really want to do a thousand at a time. And you don’t know if they will sell at all. Hmmm, but offering a few sample packs could be done easily enough, and if there is any demand for it…. well, they would only be prints that are easy for me to print….

Well, I will say that I didn’t expect to be filling up these daybooks with marketing crap, but that seems to be where I’m at these days. Apologies to those looking for some insight into what or how I’m shooting these days.

One ongoing conflict that I have is the struggle between film formats. View camera work for me is all but dead. I don’t think I’m ever going to go out to Central Park with the view camera and stand in the snow/rain to take the shot of Promenade again. Although I also get the urge to shoot with the Mamiya 6, I know that I will never get a shot like, ‘Kiss Through the Bars’ or ‘Mouthwash’ with that camera. The struggle is between shooting styles. ‘Benches’ (shot with a medium format camera) is a beautiful print — but ‘Kiss Through Bars’ is a more meaningful to me.

Why? It’s because there is something in my nature that looks for surprises. Something that enjoys that moment of discovery. And for me that cannot happen with the tripod and the larger formats. The carefully planned shot bores me because you know what to expect. If you use the Zone system, and pre-visualize, you are basically using all of your energy to predict and control the outcome. And when it works, you say — ‘ah, I got it’. I got what I was seeing in my mind’s eye. Sort of like the way one decides to live one’s life. First I’ll go to college. Then I’ll get a job doing so and so. In a few years I will be doing this. Etc. etc. Whereas anything that has ever been good in my life has been unplanned.

Woody Allen says in ‘Night and Fog’ — ‘If I have a chance to think about it, I’m afraid. But I can be brave if I have no time to think’. This is a paraphrase. But I have the same feeling. It’s by not anticipating, that I can be brave. It’s by not anticipating, that I can capture the un-expected. In short, this is the opposite by what is taught by the Zone system, and the way of the larger format camera.

Tomorrow is the Puerto Rican day parade, which is one of my favorite things to shoot. For a while I was thinking of taking the Mamiya 6 — but now I’ve convinced myself to go back to the smaller format.

* * *

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.