LIFE is strange, right? And wonderful. It is, “Life Its Own Self,” as Dan Jenkins once famously wrote. I shot my first job for the venerable picture magazine that was once everybody’s TV in 1984. Became a staff photographer in 1994. Last one in a series of 90 staffers. Now, 26 years after my first frame, I just finished another project that, I’m proud to say, goes to print sporting that famous red and white logo.
Never written a guide before. Yikes. Lots of stuff to think about. There’s tons of info in it gained from 30 years out there with a camera in my hand. I’d sit down to write, and have this mental image of my brain as a dump truck, complete with backup warning, starting to pour stuff into my computer. Having done that of course, it would need to be shaped and formed, and I would somehow have to take my photo lingo shorthand and turn it into English. The book starts with the moment you open the box you just got, the one with the digital camera inside, and goes from those super basics right through lenses, light, color, composition to photo terms and concepts, and shooting strategies that make pictures better. Along the way, I drop in little blog like essays that relate field strategies and expertise in a fairly amusing and irreverent (hey, it’s me) way. The result is a guide that covers the basics, with anecdotes about how those basics save your butt when confronted with a photo situation that is decidedly not so basic.
Started on LIFE’s path years ago via being assigned by John Loengard, perhaps the most visually intelligent editor I have ever worked for.
A legendary shooter in his own right, he went from location work to the editor’s desk with impact and influence. (Not all shooters can do this. Many have tried, only to find they should have stayed on the street, and continued to do that which they were good at–shoot pictures.)
Not so John. He’s equally formidable with a camera, or a loupe. In his role as picture editor, to say he was provocative is to understate the case. He got you wired up for the assignment, made you nervous (at least he did me), and dropped incongruent and startling picture notions into your noodle. In short, he got you to think.
Thoughtful pictures are his forte. His book, Pictures Under Discussion, is a must for anyone who might want to do this seriously.
There are gifts that accrue from hanging in there and doing this nutty thing for as long as I have. One truly astonishing one–John wrote the forward for this book. His writing, just as intelligent as his photography, becomes a link between the historic LIFE of film times, and nowadays, with pictures as ones and zeroes. I followed suit in my writing. The book is all about digital shooting. But there are some film pictures in it. Why? Because none of the underpinnings of shooting good pictures have really changed. It remains, then and now, a situational, improvisational, nail biting, uncertain thing to do. It is first and foremost an art and craft powered by your head and your heart, and your sense of the world. The machine in your hands is immaterial. But–this powerful new digital machine can be mysterious and needs explaining. Hence the book.
I can say it has been a truly wonderful LIFE. I was a bit of a fireman for the magazine. Ever the generalist, I got sent to cover all manner of things. In Russia, I bounced around, weightless, in pseudo-space.
Spent time with Leonard Bernstein as he composed.
Went to Rwanda after the genocide.
Took the clothes off the Olympic team in ’96.
Did a portrait of Kim, “the napalm girl,” and saw how someone’s entire life can spin on the snap of a shutter.
And, in a decidedly dad moment, put my kid on the cover. (Hey, I saved the mag some dough. No model fee. How’s that for a nice, juicy rationalization?)
In short, had the privilege of seeing and recording lots of different bits and pieces of life as people live it. Learned a lot of lessons. Tried to hold up, as best I could, the tradition of vibrant storytelling that was the indelible imprint of the magazine. In this book, I talk a lot about the how to. That’s a given. “How does this thing work?” is explained and re-explained. I also offer up notions about the “why for?” the “what if,” and the “you might just want to.”
In short, I talk about being a shooter. How you do it, and why you do it.
Many of the LIFE photogs were heroes and mentors to me. I was offered a small space in the book for a dedication. See below.
This book is dedicated to those who went before. To what they saw, and how
they saw it. And to the fact that, sometimes at great peril, in impossible
conditions, with all odds against them, they shot it well and beautifully,
and shared it with us. Their work is the stuff of all our memories.