Wednesday, July 15, 2009

On my mind for a long time is the idea that aggression plays in making pictures.

Teaching a workshop in the center of Kuala Lumpur, I was not five feet away when a commotion started. One of my students was involved with a local who cleverly asked to see his camera. Then he grabbed it & threw it to the ground. He was upset that my friend had taken his picture.

Taking someone’s picture is an aggressive action. Despite all the urban myths about “stealing someone’s soul” or being against their religion, including a person in your photography can be misconstrued as an invasion act.

I was on the telephone with Nevada Wier of Santa Fe, New Mexico, an amazing photographer, who specializes in the Far East. She brought up the fact that she did not appreciate the words “shoot”, “take” & “get” as they applied to photography, that they were too aggressive. I compared my experiences playing football.

Several days before a big game, in practice, I started to assess my injuries: an ankle might hurt & so I could not turn left on it well. As the date neared I would evaluate my opponent. What were his strengths? Could he cover my moves? Was he as fast as me? The day before the game the adrenalin would kick in & the butterflies would occupy my stomach. By the time I hit the field I was so psyched up I was practically frothing at the mouth. The same for when I photographed big events: the Olympics, Democratic National Convention, Mardi Gras, public marketplaces. It is hard to “get” good pictures because of the competition or the environment, if you were not hyper alert & somewhat aggressive. We used to say we had sharpened our elbows.

Nevada said she did not relate to the sports metaphor. Her counter was that she was never aggressive, she was assertive.
I like that.

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Paris Works

Friday, July 3, 2009

I first met Paris when I was in college. Paris was already famous. I hitchhiked around Western Europe one summer. I have returned often.

My C+ high school French stagnated years ago. So I can only “throw the first punch.” Anything said after that forces me to resort to pidgin English. But I keep swinging. Paris works. And gets better each trip.

On a recent visit I realized some of the reasons it makes for good photographs. If you are interested in a great location to practice travel photography, there are more exotic, less overexposed & more interesting, but few better.

Paris is Big

One of the largest cities in the world it can absorb millions of tourists without seeming oppressively crowded. (No one would say that after standing in line to get into the Louvre or Notre Dame.) If you avoid the obvious you can sightsee, dine & shop in places where you will rarely see another tourist. More importantly there is an abundance of interesting destinations that will appeal to the most esoteric tastes. With little or no effort you can have unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Under one of its famous bridges I discovered the pleasures of vin ordinaire while singing songs with students & a couple of soldiers of fortune. There was not a common language between us.

Paris is Myth

Reality or not, Paris has been mythologized down through the ages by so many writers, poets, artists & philosophers that it has become cliché. Whoever was put in charge of its public relations should win an award. It is the number one tourist destination in the world. Everybody wants their photograph taken grinning in front of the Eiffel Tower.

I conjured up a photograph of Notre Dame in my sleep. I formulated the whole composition in my mind’s eye, previsualized where I would place my tripod & what time of day was ideal. I really had no idea if it was possible. But my media-driven, preconceived image convinced me it was. Over two years passed before I fulfilled the dream.

Paris is Romantic

How many movies feature couples taking moonlight, hand-in-hand strolls with the city as background: sculpted parks & gardens, manicured boulevards dripping with history, a legendary Seine river? Robert Doisneau contributed to its sensuality with his iconic photograph of the kiss in front of the Hotel de Ville. Isn’t ambiance a French word?

So much is schmaltz but a lot of romance IS schmaltz: flowers, chocolates, music. I can hear Frank Sinatra singing “I love Paris in the springtime…”

Paris is Art

Besides being picturesque, the town fathers have consistently made art, fashion, architecture & design a priority. For centuries Paris has done it right. Venders sell paintings on the sidewalks & itinerant buskers & musicians beg Euros on the subway. Every lamppost is ornate, alleys are intriguing, even the graffiti has an alien charm. It is a photographer’s paradise. Clichés.

It all makes great photographs. Early in my career a mentor took me to take pictures of the Eiffel Tower. Filled with hubris I told him I was a REAL photographer & I didn’t DO Eiffel Tower. That was for amateurs. For years every stock request I got was for pictures that included the Eiffel Tower. Clichés become clichés because they are often good.

Paris is Familiar

The place is SO yesterday. Much of its charm is its past. If you have never been there you know what it looks like. Our art appreciation classes are full of Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec. We have all grown up with sights & sounds of Edith Piaf & Josephine Baker even if we don’t know it. Travel to Paris fits into the average persons comfort zone. As big as the city is so much is on a human scale. The average citizen still buys food daily from local shops. Dine in any corner café & feel at ease. You still encounter nostalgic gentlemen in tweed jackets wearing berets & cravats accompanying coiffed women with too much makeup (albeit graying).

Paris is Better

Paris is the center of the world. Ask any Parisian, everything French is the best: food, technology, politics, language, love. And that civic pride is what they sell to the world.

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About This Blog

blog (blŏg, bläg) n. 1. short for Weblog 2. online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer 3. diary that is posted on the Internet 4. an experiment to verbalize my observations about the status of photography. It will be eclectic & deal with philosophy & practice of this universal art form. It will strive for periodic commentary about issues many photographers face, like ownership and the economy. It will also talk about pictures and what makes good ones and how to get them. No hardware. No software. No recycled clichés. No whining.