Archive for October, 2009
Classic Jay: “Carry a camera. It’s tough to take pictures without one.”
He ain’t talking about an Iphone either. Jay is one of the few shooters who walks it and talks it. He has his camera with him. All the time.
A frame on the screen during today’s critique. Jay turns…..”I am not amused.”
What am I getting here? A great message, apropos of the pic above. “Leave the city of your comfort and visit the wilderness of your intuition.” And, presumably, survive out there. My out there, you might imagine, is kinda, you know, out there.
Duane Michaels lectured yesterday. Funny, brilliant man. “Find your bliss,” was the message. Walter Iooss is here today, who I described in Moment It Clicks as the coolest guy on the planet with a camera. Forget about all those guys with helmets and pads. Hope he shows supermodels:-)
So I’ve got some stuff teed up on Aperture, and Jay walks by. There’s a series of frames I shot from the same vantage point visible. He looks. “Way to go, McNally. Great variation. We’re your fucking feet nailed to the floor?”
No. Maybe just my brain. Had a tough day yesterday. Photographers. Sometimes, we are just so grandly, naively stupid. We hit the streets, our freshly scrubbed faces brimming with the enthusiasm and certainty that our next great frame is just around the corner, basking in newly minted sunlight. Given our general level of brio, it is sometimes confounding and disappointing to realize that not everyone in the world has signed on to this particular march of the pixels with equal vigor, or even reluctant compliance. That a lot of folks, for instance, in NY’s Chinatown, don’t give a rat’s ass you are trying to make art out of the dead fish they are busy making a living selling. There is nothing quite as shrill at 7am as the irate voice of a 75 year old female fishmonger telling you (presumably) to get our of her damn way and that she is convinced you are a mangy, homeless son of a dog and back in the ancestral village of her youth, she would find an entirely different, more practical use for you.
Shooting on the street. It’s sometimes like telling a joke that no one gets. Awkward, in a word. Why isn’t anyone laughing? Con Ed workers dress in orange safety jackets and blue helmets that look great in early light just for photographic purposes, don’t they? So why did they eye me suspiciously and send over the supervisor to question me?
Sigh. The brisk pace of our discovery process becomes a trudge, and the brioche french toast in that hip eatery on the corner of Prince and Lafayette is sounding mighty good. Shelter from the storm. Coffee.
But then you step back out into sunlight, and the camera comes up to your eye automatically. Like breathing, it is something you must do.
I’m traveling real light, for me. One body, 4 lenses, card wallet, reader, computer, Motrin. Jay eyeballs my medium Moose bag yesterday, looks at me with a question in his eyes. “What’s all this shit, McNally?”
One camera, one lens, no flash…..
Had a lively conversation with this gentleman, who said all the pictures made him feel like a movie star. That’s the Big Apple for ya, everybody’s a star out there on the street.
Had lotsa bad frames and misfires.
Classic Jay: “Photographically, failure is a form of progress.”
He can’t believe the addiction to computers. He told us to go out and shoot. Don’t go near the computers, just pick up a camera and go shoot. He told us he had wired the machines so they would give us an electric shock if we touched them. No PhotoShop….no tweaking, no cropping.
Tweaking in the computer? For instance, the infrared colors of the trees?
Classic Jay: “I’d rather wait for fall.”
Headed home yesterday. No break in the action, though. Today I am in the city and I start Jay Maisel’s workshop at the bank. Had to cancel a couple times, and it took a year and a half to send in checks in increments, but I am finally here. Jay’s reaction to all my shilly shallying? “I knew you were gonna be a pain in the ass, McNally.”
We could all use a dose of such direct honesty when it comes to our pictures, trust me. The congenial, supportive, “Awesome frame, dude” that gets tossed around the internet is all well and good, but there are times when our pictures just suck, and we have to hear that, too. There are days when, to borrow my buddy Moose Peterson’s phrase, I can’t find a pixel with a shovel. I hope I don’t have one of those this week, but it’s highly likely.
Classic Jay critique…..”See, I don’t think you gave a shit about this picture when you shot it cause you’re not making me give a shit about it now.”
Jay’s pure New York, and has incredible visual intelligence to boot. That’s a tough combo to weather. Maybe that’s why you get a “I Survived the Jay Maisel Workshop” t-shirt at the end of it. (I spent a week in New York and all I got was this lousy t-shirt?)
That, and hopefully a few good frames. Good, bad or indifferent, I will blog everyday next week, and post results of my shooting. Readers/editors/art directors (even Ranger 9) are invited to comment as you see fit.
Classic Jay….to someone who was obviously velcroed to their tripod, and shot an extraordinarily large number of uninteresting photos from the exact same spot. “Move your ass.” Presumably the camera moves with it.
I broke into the business in the city, shooting newspaper and wire service work. But then, seduced by color and the realization I would have never made for much of a newspaper shooter, I migrated to magazines. So shooting consistently on the streets is something I have not done in a long while, and I am looking forward to once again pounding the pavement, camera in hand.
Classic Jay at a Rich Clarkson workshop in Wyoming….A participant’s photo of a bedraggled elk with fur so splotchy it looked like a walking piece of carpet from a Motel 6 is on the screen and the faculty member next to him utters an unfortunately audible “Awwwww.” Jay looks over and says, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
It’ll be an interesting week. Jay has already looked at me with a wicked gleam in his eye and said, “I’m putting you out of your comfort zone, McNally.” Broad smile. “No lights.”
Now for the Second Part of New York, New York…
I’m teaching a Nat Geo Expeditions workshop in NY the week Oct. 26th. From what they tell me down at the shop, there are still spots available.
We did have a blast last time. Toodled all over NY, cameras in hand, shooting people, skylines, bridges, you name it. It runs really smoothly, mostly cause I stay out of that aspect of things.
The organization is taken care of by the incomparable New Yorker, Liza Politi, who just may have originated the phrase, “Let’s do it my way, shall we?” Roughly translated, “Politi” means, “she who kills silently with a knife.” It’s handy to have someone with her grit and skills leading us through the mean streets of NY. Last time she was handing out subway tokens, giving a brief lecture on the historical significance of the neighborhood we were about to photograph, and single handedly subduing all three members of a Chinese street gang who got too close for comfort and were eyeballing a couple of our participants from the Midwest like they were overlarge dumplings already on toothpicks and coated with a zesty sauce. It gets interesting down on Canal St., sometimes.
We go uptown, downtown, round the town. A week of camera basics, hand holding, exposure, lighting, seeing, showing. Emphasis on the seeing. And there’s a lot to see in New York.
Was in Vegas last week for PhotoShop World, and gave a quickie 40 minute demo for my buds at Bogen. Used the new Quadra, a 400 watt second little big man of a flash unit. Lotta fun. Just grabbed folks off the floor and made a few pix.
Lastolite makes this thing called a background hi-liter, which is basically an empty mattress pad you can stuff lights into. It gives you this incredible, lock solid, done deal white background. Uh, Joe, this photo is shot on black. Yep, turned around and used the wall of light it creates as a main. Gorgeous light for Rae, a terrific young shooter who is hopefully bound for FIT in NY this fall.
Then there was Rodney. He was in the crowd, mildly bemused by events, so I made him the event. Terrific face for a photo. He had a wonderful sense of merriment to his eyes, and at the same time could look like a professor I just turned my term paper in late to. This is shot with the Deep Octa, which, allows the light to marinate really nicely before screaming outta the box
And then of course, there was V.
V is the spark plug, the security detail and a one man tidal wave of enthusiasm who comes and puts his massive arms around PhotoShop World twice a year. I asked him to pose for me, and he was great. As I described him to the class, he’s like a block of granite with feet.
And then there’s Kathy Siler…….
I’m in so much trouble. At the closing ceremonies I announced a “Draft Kathy Siler” movement to get her in front of a camera. So why am I compounding my difficulties by mentioning this in my blog? I’m in enough hot water as it is. Could it be, that as photographers it is part of our mission to be a pain in the ass:-)?
Lessee….a colleague showed work at PSW he specifically described as all shot “without flash or reflectors.” The holy water of available light! No evil photons generated by the machines! He used the phrase, “God is my gaffer.” Okay! Who’s your grip? There’s a whole blog’s worth of material in that phrase, just not gonna go there right now.
Speaking of available light, had my midterm review on my current National Geographic story the other day. Virtually every frame was shot with available light. (I can walk! I can walk! Thank God almighty, I can walk!) Biggest compliment the editors can offer a shooter is to expand the page count of the story, and that’s what happened. Now I just gotta figure out how to shoot the next half of the darn thing.
Headed from PSW to PRW, the Paso Robles Workshops, run by my friend with the hair with a mind of its’ own, Syl Arena. Given the dense, rich, textured, complex and multi-layered cultural experience of Vegas, when I hit Paso I decided to stay shallow and photograph Robert for a class demo with a 50mm lens at f1.4. Been experimenting a lot lately with limited depth of field portraiture. Good look at the camera for Robert here. Shot with Ezybox Hot Shoe softbox on a Sylinator paint pole rig for up front, and then just a hard, warm gelled light in the background off the tin siding.
Speaking of turns of phrases, Del, one of my participants here at the Paso workshop had trouble with a scarf someone was wearing in a photo. He said during crit it was “surprisingly luminous.” Love it. I’ve run into stuff like that too, over time. We had a good laugh, and during the deal I uttered a couple of colorful metaphors, which just bubble outta me occasionally, a bit like farting in a pool. The class, thankfully, endorses such frivolity. Frank, a Continental pilot who shoots real well, and, I’m sure, is no stranger to the use of pungent commentary, commented that my language was “surprisingly luminous.”
Buddy of mine who is a terrific shooter and is currently assisting in NY just moved on from his regular gig and is now awash in the turbulent freelance seas of the Big Apple. He had just got to the point where the job was owning his life, and he wrote to me describing that and letting me know he’s out there ready for work. Describing how a job often goes, I wrote back….
“Ahh, yes, grasshopper….a job is just a job, until it becomes it becomes like one of those things in the Alien movie that springs from a pod, smothers your face, deposits an embryo in your guts that gestates with incredible rapidity and chews through all your inside wiring, leaving you bloody, dead, mouth agape at the utter unfairness and speed with which your life force was sucked out of you. With your vision flickering like an old TV, your last image is that of the predator you incubated lurching down the block, looking for it’s next meal. Welcome to the workplace!”
I thought that was helpful, no? More tk….