Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category
We tend to come up with new, slick names for stuff all the time now, given our buzzword laced world. The phrase “Polar Vortex” got a lot of play lately when a chunk of really cold air that should’ve behaved better and hovered nicely over the North Pole pushed south in unruly fashion over Canada and the US. I’ve encountered the polar vortex before on assignment, but wasn’t smart enough to call it by its proper name. I think I just used the term, “f*%#ing cold.”
Last year, when I stood on the railing that supports the aircraft warning lights atop the Burj Khalifa, 2,716 feet over the sidewalk, and I leaned forward slightly, I was cautious, of course. Not that I was going anywhere. I had safety ropes attaching me to the structure. And my cameras were hooked to me, and were quite secure. (Whenever I make a climb over an urban area, I run heavy gauge wire through my camera straps, so the cameras are literally wired to my person.)
What wasn’t connected, or tethered in any way, was my Iphone. I took that slippery son of a bitch in my hands, with great and grave care, looked down, and saw my feet. Made a snap, pushed a few buttons, and it became an Instagram. I had a sense of standing at a window clutching a bird I was about to release into the wild. I flung it outwards and up into the sky, and I knew it would go many places, and I wouldn’t have a shred of say in the matter. Which, for this pic, was okay. (If anyone out there had similar childhood reading habits, you might remember the last page of Sterling North’s Rascal, one of my favorite books as a kid.)
This little picture did in fact cover a lot of ground, and was retweeted, screen grabbed, printed, and chatted up all over the internet. It easily, and quite rapidly, became the most seen picture I have ever shot, and I have shot lots of pictures. And it certainly became an education for me about the life of a digital image, as it’s still being retweeted on a regular basis, even now, almost a year after shooting it.
I have to admit, when it started hitting lots of screens and the retweets piled on and on, I sort of stared at my own computer screen somewhat slack jawed, a look of bovine wonder on my face. ” I mean, at the risk of sounding stupid, or old, or both, I knew the internet was big, and fast and linked, but the speed of dissemination and numbers of eyeballs glancing at my battered shoes was definitely bracing.
Here’s an upside, speaking of my shoes. I’ve been buying the same model Ecco Track II, for at least twenty years, maybe more. A pair of those shoes has been with me to the top of the Empire State Building, up some bridges, onto power line towers, in and out of helicopters, and trod ground in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Siberia, South America, and coast to coast back home. I guess the Ecco folks were pleased to see their shoes atop the tallest man-made structure on earth, but also mildly embarrassed by their disrepair. So, they sent me a new pair. They reached out on Facebook, and next thing you know, I had a new pair of size 11′s. Haven’t used them yet, as there’s still life in my old ones, but it’s nice to have brand new shoes in the wings.
The other cool thing about the marriage of the internet and the camera is that the resultant, instantaneous, widespread migration of your images can make someone like myself, who started looking through a camera way before it was also a phone and a tweet machine and all the rest, appear somewhat with it, even to my kids. The pic, as I mentioned, still gets rerouted and retweeted, though it has all died down to a comparative simmer. But with one recent mention, my daughter picked up on it again, and shouted out the below.
So, that’s kind of cool…..what an amazing world we live in….more tk….
After 35 years of doing this, how do you sort out a portfolio? It’s beyond my ken, really. Especially after having spent most of my time pursuing a generalist bent, to say my work is all over the lot would be kind. A more accurate description might be that my physical files, not to mention the file cabinet of my head, are a bit like a nightmare basement straight out of Hoarders.
The above photo of Olympian Shane Hamman, who is often referred to as the strongest man in America, was a hard won photograph. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been corresponding with a young photog, currently in the military, and about to take steps in civilian life. He’s been writing me articulate letters, filled with questions, trying his best to sort out the ongoing mystery of why we do something we continue to suck at most of the time. Not just do it, but love it. He’s had a couple tours in Iraq, and is currently stationed in Asia. A new life is looming, and he’s trying to make a sensible plan for a future in photography, which of course is a future that will defy logic and any measure of common sense. He’s passionate and talented, and wondering which way to go.
I said I’ve been corresponding. That’s quite generous. I’ve been a lousy letter writer. So many times I’ve wanted to respond, and events, an airplane or just plain sleep overtook me. I finally made a stab at a mildly complete answer to his archive of letters, and below is a piece of it. His persistent, thoughtful questions brought me back to a day when I might have made my first successful picture.
You made the choice to follow a photographic path sometime ago, and have followed that path with zeal and passion. That pursuit is something we share, to be sure. When I “found” photography, it drew me like nothing I had ever experienced. Up to that time, I was completely non-committal in all aspects of my life. Indifferent in school, a so-so athlete, just another beer drinking college kid, out there on Marshall St. Never thought about logging the 10,000 hours with anything and certainly hadn’t encountered one thing at that time that seemed to warrant that kind of effort.
But photography! Now this was something that involved the head, heart and hands in equal measure. This was balance. This needed no explanation or defense. It needed to be done. It required work. It became the focus of my life. And, a bit like a big rock blocking the way of the stream and roiling the waters, it has stayed there, in my consciousness, day and night, mocking me, taunting my relentlessly puny efforts. Day after day, year after year, I have gone after that rock, methodically, but sometimes with a vengeance, using the camera in my hands as one would wield a sledge, hoping to break it to bits, crack it open, find the gleaming secret within and thus finally obtain smooth portage.
You know what? After all my blood, sweat and tears, it still sits there, smiling at me. My encounters with it now are more conversational than rage filled and intense. We’ve come to an understanding, I think. I will pass from this earth and it will still be there, ready to taunt the next young pup with a camera in his hands and some big ideas. But there’s an unspoken agreement between the two of us that there were days I hit it hard enough to break off a couple of decent size pieces. I gave it a decent go, in other words. It’s all we can do.
Part of the pull of course is that photography involves an all out effort. You have to be at the top of the ladder for the best angle, not the middle. You don’t do it from the side of the road. You leave the car behind, climb the guardrail, and go out there to get in the middle of whatever you’re looking at. You walk into the village or the farm or the life of those in question. You get off the interstate, and, as Jay Maisel says, you walk—slowly. It’s a credential to life’s events you put around your neck that gets you past the barriers that hem in and corral the others. In return, it demands that you risk things—life, limb, emotions, embarrassment, failure, sometimes all at once. It seeks only the most ardent, passionate of suitors, and even then this fickle art and craft turns veiled eyes and offers the barest wisps of approval and acceptance, and those, only occasionally.
And I accepted that slim invitation, long ago, sometimes to my regret or comeuppance. I have failed, been broke down and wept for my own ineptitude. I have given up and given in. I have railed against the apparent injustice (to me) of others, be they editors, subjects, readers, friends or family that they seemingly don’t take this as seriously as I do. I have tired of explaining myself. I’m exhausted from imploring for just a bit more of an open door, just a bit more time. I mean, don’t they see? Don’t they know this is important? If you let me just do this, together we then create something that will outlast us, and isn’t that the fucking point?
Strangely enough, lots of folks out there have found my insistence and persistence odd, or even irritating. Put smiley face here.
You asked me once what photo started it all for me. For you it was your Auschwitz photo, the reflection on the floor. You also noted other high moments. The giraffe in Tanzania, and the soldier by the sunlit doorway. Those are all far more eloquent than anything I shot in my early years. My canvas was small as a photo student. Syracuse, NY, not the savannas of Africa. I turned, as a spectator at a football game, and saw an acquaintance about to go full throttle with a yell. I took my Nikkormat, loaded with Tri-x and a 135mm f2.8 lens and put it to my eye, and swung the focus to critical and hit the shutter at the absolute crescendo of whatever verbal abuse he was hurling at the opposition. It was the first time my camera felt like an extension of my hands. My fingers had flown (for once) to the right places, and moved the infernal dials and buttons in exquisite concert. It was one frame. I sat down and stared at the camera. And I don’t remember a single thing about the rest of that day.