Monthly Archives: March 2006

Jon Anderson Interview, Part III

Wayne: Is there a reason why, when it comes to the relationship between image and text, one should be in a power role over the other? When you say that each should have their own story to tell, I’m assuming that you mean they should go even further in concept than the National Geographic way of handling the two?

Jon Anderson: The unequal relation of text and imagery stems from several causes: a belief that text is by its nature expository while imagery is graphic and rhetorical – the primacy of word over image for explanatory power, due to the belief that words encapsulate ideas while images convey emotion; the fact that publishing concerns, whether they be newspapers, magazines or books, exist primarily as outlets for expository and analytic writing, so the images are an afterthought; and the fact that, historically speaking, Grub Street (that is the Press) was originally a rutted detour off the highway of Literature. Photography on its own ground is usually a matter of art galleries, studios and museums. The written word and the printing press were responsible for spawning the press industry; the image and the silver halide print could never have done so. Reportage exists in a tenuous relation to the art world on the one hand, and the world of the press on the other, so its own nature, since it is both an esthetic object as well as an informational medium, is a bone of contention.

Should that order be inverted? Probably not, though in a way the current rage for multimedia storytelling provides a successful example of a medium that gives primacy to the image over the word. The traditional photo essay, too, lends more weight to the image. But there is almost always some sort of text to mark off the limits of the ideas being presented, to define the context. Photography after all is a powerful kind of lie, a fiction without clear limits, so it can easily mislead people, and because it appears to have a special ontological status – after all the image is considered to be an objective record of what was there – many people ascribe to it an objectivity or truth-value that is questionable at best. Joan Fontcuberta has said, “Every photograph is a fiction shown as if it were true . . . What counts is the control of the photographer to impose an ethical direction to this lie. The good photographer is the one who deceives the truth well.” The photographer has the obligation to control the ethical direction of his work, and textual accompaniment can go a long way toward ensuring that control. Many people believe that imagery is a universal language; I happen to disagree, and I think that it is universal only in its potential for being misunderstood – or for multiple interpretations, shall we say, which after all is part of its power.

When I say that I would like to see a new kind of relationship between text and imagery, I am thrown back on the analogy of music to clarify my point: For one thing, if you read music, you see instantly that any piece is composed of many voices – even if we are not talking about something as complicated as an orchestral piece with many instruments, you still have the melodic line, the bass, the harmonies formed by interlaced notes, and with counterpoint you get the mingling of two or more melodic lines or “voices.” Plus you have the rhythm, which keeps the thing moving forward, and this rhythm can get quite complex, as in the case of syncopation, where normally unstressed weak beats (the upbeat) become stressed, as in salsa. I guess I would like to see a photographic narrative that develops according to its own motival logic, just as a piece of music elaborates a theme; while a textual narrative, which may or may not “explain” what is in the photos, rides alongside or cuts in and out of the visual narrative, and the two together form a kind of syncopated linkage, the emphases shifting back and forth between them.

I have been experimenting with this in a small way: a short essay about popular religion here in Santo Domingo and its relation to slavery. The text has its own poetic integrity: it is not there to explain what the Liboristas are doing in their rituals, or what the bruja has in mind as she prepares her altar, both of which appear in the images. It is concerned to evoke the emotional weight and theological underpinnings of syncretic religion. The images have their own trajectory, moving from death, which is the point at which this world and the next are joined, and then on through various instances of ritual practice that evoke some of the themes of slavery and liberation. But the chain of imagery is not dictated by a logical movement from point A to point B. Finally there are small captions that help to define briefly what the viewer is looking at in the pictures, but without overdefining the moment or providing the usual documentary “facts.” While I may never find a magazine bold enough to publish this story in this form, I certainly can publish the book version in a like manner (to be fair, I did find a magazine willing to take on the project, but they are temporarily suspending operations for lack of funding).

Wayne: How good are most photographers on the writing front? Which photographers in particular do you admire for being strong in both? How can new photographers better use writing to market their work?

Jon: People tend to think of word and image as being almost diametrically opposed; we even have scientists talking about right vs. left brain functions as if you were subject to the exclusive domination of one or the other. I think the relation is much closer. I remember reading that Diane Arbus was heavily influenced in her choice of themes by reading the essays of Joseph Mitchell, and I too oddly enough was led here by the same man: my father loved reading his essays and would pack us kids in the car so that we could visit the same kinds of people that Mitchell wrote about. We would go to the Hudson to meet longshoremen or to Brooklyn to find Mohawks who worked on the bridges. That love of exploration is eventually what compelled me to start taking pictures, though I hardly realized it at the time. In fact I think it is safe to say that both my writing and photographic impulses find their source in this childhood experience.

Many would argue that it is rare to find someone who practices both media well, and that may well be true; but perhaps there are many more photographers out there who, for want of trying, simply havent written anything that might in fact be quite good. It may not be for lack of ability but of motivation. [James] Nachtwey, for example, is a very thoughtful, judicious speaker; were he to take up a pen and write, I bet the results would be well worth reading. But there are plenty of great photographers who can write. I have a list of quotations that I like to keep, and all of the photographers who appear on that list are quite eloquent on the subject of their craft. Of course, Henri Cartier-Bresson was a good writer, and we have his thoughts collected in one volume, so the value of his writing can be passed on to the next generation of photographers. Eugene Richards also writes beautifully, and the text that accompanies his first book, Few Comforts or Surprises, is pure poetry – the title alone is wonderful. Many of the original Magnum shooters were writers as well, and George Rodger, for one, was handy with a pen. Another photographer whose writing I admire is Larry Towell. The Mennonites book is full of eloquent writing, and part of that eloquence stems from his restraint. At one point he describes the homecoming of family members who have been on the road, and he writes,

“We pulled into the barnyard of Henry Dyck, Susanna’s uncle, patriarch of the Redekkop and Wieler families, of the Dyck and Klassen brood. He bit his bottom lip to satisfy his thirst for family blood when he saw us.” [Jon’s italics.]

One single line that beautifully plays on the literal and metaphorical meaning of blood, and we have the entire meaning and feeling of an emotional homecoming summed up. That is good writing, and Towell is adept at it.

From the business end of things you would think that combining the ability to write and to shoot would make you more likely to succeed, and certainly increase your fees. It is no secret that photographers should cultivate writers so as to ride their coattails when they get assignments, and I suspect that writers have an advantage when it comes to pitching stories, since the “word people” are the ones who dictate to a greater extent what runs in the publication. So if you can combine both activities in yourself, you might expect better results hunting down assignments. I have yet to discover whether that is true, because I have not yet seriously tried combining the two. Plus I think that when it comes to reportage it is pretty hard to do so, as there is so much ground to cover. I am generally relieved when I find a good writer willing to work with me and take care of the story writing.

But good writing skills enter into photography in more ways than one: writing captions, writing good story pitches, writing grant applications – these are regular activities that we all engage in, and the better we do them, the better the response will be. Captions are generally pretty boring and often repeat what is plainly seen in the photo, so at the very least a photographer ought to use the caption as a chance to expand on the theme rather than recapitulate what is plainly visible. Story pitches are crucial too: if the pitch is poorly written, the editor is not going to have much confidence in your grasp of the story, even if you don’t actually intend to write the essay. You have to have a clear and terse understanding of the idea if it is to have any chance of surviving the chaos of a newsroom or editorial office. Grants too, which can be a significant means of funding a personal project, depend greatly on the applicant´s ability to write up an imaginative and fluent proposal. The words sometimes count for more than the imagery. That is why, in my article about grant writing, which is available to LS members, I give a bunch of writing tips, because very often that is the last thing the applicant thinks about.

Wayne: What brought you to the Caribbean? Can you tell us more about your current projects there?

Jon: I began travelling here back in the early 90s, but in a sense I have always had some connection to the region, as I grew up in New York and was perfectly familiar with the Puerto Rican diaspora. In my childhood, Motown, Stax and Fania, apart from rock and roll, streamed constantly out of the bodegas and radios out on the street. Puerto Rican independence was a hot issue, and Spanish was heard on many streetcorners. For a while there I believe that Spanish classes were mandatory or at least commonly given in the public schools – I remember that I had lessons for a couple years.

When I was beginning to photograph around New York, I was very much under the spell of Bruce Davidson’s East 100th street, which combined a kind of studio portraiture with reportage in the barrio – it was perfect for the transition I was making from portraiture to street photography. I was living in and around various parts of harlem and of course I was surrounded by Dominicans. I was also working with them in various part-time jobs. So I became pretty intimate with the community and naturally started taking pictures: there were baptisms and weddings and loud parties, as well as the whole drug scene, which up around the 150s and 160s was getting out of control. I once visited a ward in Roosevelt hospital which was filled with young paraplegic men who had been wounded in the drug wars. I used to hang out at a famous little boxing club in that neighborhood, and I got to know all the fighters as well as the people living on the block. I took everybody’s picture, though some of the parents didn’t like it and insisted that I was “five-O” (police). The owners of the boxing club were a father-son team – the father had been a good bantamweight fighter, and the son was a corrections officer at Rikers. They called him Mister Mace, but in fact he was a great guy and was very much concerned to get kids off the streets and give them some training and discipline. Several of his fighters went on to win golden gloves medals.

I knew a few young men at that time who were cut down by gunfire. One of my favorite early photographs depicts a funeral of one such young man from a family I knew fairly well. I had in fact photographed the daughter at her wedding only a short while previous to the murder of this unfortunate guy, who was himself a father. My feeling is that a lot of these guys get into the life not out of desperation but because of temptation: they are bombarded by images of the good life from our consumerist society, they are attracted to the idea of fast money, and there is a certain romance to the gangsta life. This guy certainly had no compelling reasons for selling drugs, he was not indigent, though he wasn’t faced with a lot of options either. Anyway in those days the bullets were flying; people who called me at home, over on Manhattan Avenue, could sometimes hear the sound of gunfire in the background. Once when I was a leaving a bar on Amsterdam near 106th Street, I walked right into the middle of a gangland execution. The local druglord, a guy they called “flaco,” was hanging in front of the bodega that served as his headquarters, when a guy (who happened to be flaco’s lieutenant and was himself the target of a contract) jumped out of a “gitano” (gypsy cab), ran up to him, and shot him several times in the torso. This happened not more than five or six feet in front of me, and wouldn’t you know it, I had no camera! It was pouring down rain, I had gone to the bar to meet some friends, and thinking that a couple rounds later I would be back at home, I neglected to carry a camera. Well, I learned a lesson that night.

As I photographed more and more in the immigrant community, I naturally developed an interest in the culture back home, so I went to the Dominican Republic to start exploring, and I used the elections of 1994 and 1996 as an excuse to get familiar with the place. I instantly fell in love with the country – it was one of those backwater, somewhat chaotic places that I love to get lost in, and it had the added virtue of being absent from everyone’s radar, so I was free to photograph without competition. Photographers always go to Haiti and Cuba, the former for its legendary chaos and the latter for its equally legendary political status. But in Santo Domingo I found similar cultural, social and political themes that had yet been undocumented, so I was in heaven. The political history here, for example, is every bit as interesting as the other two countries, and the cultural practices are too: we have vodú and other types of syncretic religion, a traditional agrarian culture, and the same problems that all developing nations share in this era of globalization. Of course, the fact that the media wasn’t interested much in the country meant that I had a harder time trying to publish material, and I have to struggle still, though people at least recognize the name of the country nowadays.

Eventually, though it took some time to realize what I was really doing down here, I figured out the themes that were to dominate me. I think that while one often picks a theme outright – say, famine in the Horn of Africa – and then works to line up an assignment, prepare the ground, take a few weeks or more to document the situation, and so on, there are times when one works without any clear theme or direction, and the photos eventually shape themselves into a narrative without too much deliberate or conscious molding by the photographer. This is what I like best about photography: the vaguer the outlines, the more I can drift in the sheer tide of imagery without fussing about arriving at some predetermined point, the more I can give myself over to the act of taking pictures and discover those outstanding moments that deserve to be memorialized. I came down here with the loose idea of continuing the themes that governed my work among the immigrants, mainly their search for the Good Life, but that soon developed into a much bigger project. First of all, I realized that to adequately describe this world, I had to come to terms with sugar production, which is what basically created the Caribbean. That of course led to my present photojournalistic work with the cane cutters and the gross abuse of their human rights. In addition to photographing the situation, I am involved in a variety of efforts aimed at ameliorating their lives, their working conditions, and their political rights. (The Open Society has been a solid supporter of this work and has introduced me to a whole new way of getting the imagery out there.) This theme in itself is so large that it took on a life of its own. It turned out that my documentary work here was so ambitious in scope that it was in fact better managed as three distinct projects which, when viewed in relation to one another, could best be seen as a portrait of a developing nation. This meant, of course, that I was dealing with themes of post-colonialism, development, globalization, and the threat posed by these to the nation’s traditional way of life.

In essence I was photographing not just current social problems, but a disappearing culture. So I decided to borrow Edmundo Desnoes’s famous title, Memories of Underdevelopment, for my own, because I felt that it captured the basic idea quite well – the fact that I am dealing with things that will soon become mere memories, and the fact that underdevelopment, though generally used as a synonym for poverty and backwardness, is actually full of beauty and truth and that the cultural practices that come out of this context are not in any way inferior to life as it is lived in developed nations. This umbrella idea is then divided into three separate narratives, a trilogy of sorts: Caña Brava deals with the sugar plantations; El Camino de los Negros deals with popular religion and its roots in slavery; and The Good Life deals with the transition from agrarian to urban society and the mass movement of people from their rural homes to urban slums in search of a better life, which unfortunately continues to elude them. This last theme is of course the subject of other photographers’ work – Salgado’s Migrations dealt with this theme, and Jonas Bendikson of Magnum is currently involved in a project documenting life in third world slums globally. But the advantage of my approach, it seems to me, is that it focuses on one specific movement in one particular place, and as such the overall trajectory is more easily seen and documented. I really think that what is happening here on my small island is very emblematic, it provides a microcosm of what is going on across the globe, and I also feel this theme is one of the most important of our times. Globalization has placed the conflict between the haves and have-nots squarely on the front stage, and the problems of the latter directly and sometimes very quickly affect the lives of the former.

Currently I am involved in producing a multimedia version of the cane story, and I am preparing to travel to the bateys so I can gather some oral histories and also record some of the ambient sound – the rustling of the wind through the cane, the cutting of the cane, and so on. These elements will be mixed with some indigenous music, which we call Gagá and which is performed on handmade instruments and found objects to produce a very percussive and raucous carnival music. This new rage for multimedia storytelling is turning us all into soundmen, and frankly I don’t feel too comfortable with that, but I am excited by the opportunity to explore a new way of assembling a narrative. So far the slideshows seem just that, a slideshow with a musical background. I would like to see more film technique employed in the formation of the slideshow – not just the typical Ken Burns-style panning in, out, and around the image (which, by the way, is still a bit clumsy in digital form; the reason that his documentaries look so good is that he painstakingly filmed the stills). I would like to see jump cutting, montage, cutaway or insert shots, and greater synchronization of the sound and the image – the use of sound can be exploited in all kinds of ways: for example, the rhythm of machetes can blend with the percussive instrumentation of Gagá music. I don’t want to violate the integrity of the still image, otherwise I would just shoot video, but I would like to see how far we can go in combining elements or techniques from both media and still retain the power of the still image to fix itself in the mind of the viewer.

This multimedia version will be distributed in a variety of ways, perhaps through one of the websites that specialize in this now, but also by directly approaching a host of institutions in order to motivate certain groups of people who might not otherwise learn about the issues via traditional media outlets. For example, I want to distribute it to educational institutions and libraries, so that young people can learn about what goes on in their own country and how to change it – after all, you want to foment change, targeting students is the way to do it, and this is one of the things that the Open Society’s Documentary Distribution grant has taught me. I am also planning to target law and medical schools, the former to attract human rights activists and the latter to attract volunteers for the clinics down here. As photojournalists we tend to think mainly in terms of publication in a paper or magazine, but why leave it at that? In addition to the usual media, we can also disseminate our work through the web or by entirely rethinking the whole means of exhibition both in terms of strategy and venue, and by targeting specific institutions. Each outlet can be exploited in new ways: an exhibition need not be a high society event or something limited to the art crowd. One winner of the Distribution Grant [Eric Gottesman] is apparently rigging up a mobile exhibit that will travel to various regions in Ethiopia and be presented at village meetings. My own exhibition has already gone through two separate stages and is now being prepared for a third in conjunction with the work of another photographer. And we have plans for a fourth incarnation. Each of the winners of this OSI grant created unusual ways of getting the message across, and I have come to conclude that undertaking exhibitions in this manner can be quite an effective means of disseminating one’s ideas broadly and consequentially. Plus, let me add that there is nothing quite like seeing these images up on a wall; for one thing the viewer reacts in an entirely different manner from that which ensues from the viewing of an image in a magazine. Their attention is more fixed, and the presentation goes a long way toward impressing people with the gravity of the message.


Nana Chen Interview, Part I

Nana Chen is a Taipei-based photographer / writer. She has been the travel editor of and an editor at ACNielsen – Taiwan. Born in Taipei, she grew up in the Philippines, Chile, Argentina and the United States. Her photography and paintings have been exhibited in New York, Taipei and Montreal. She is currently shooting for a book on Chinese food culture.

Wayne: You were born in Taiwan, but your family moved around a lot when you were growing up. How does this figure into your urge to express yourself through writing and visual arts? In what ways does it affect how you see things? Can you remember one event from your childhood that speaks to why you moved towards creative _expression?

Nana: Moving as much as I did was devastating. I left Taiwan when I was six. From then on, there were very few constants in my life. As children we had no TV for many years and we rarely saw our parents. Having so much time to ourselves, it was natural to be creative. I rebelled against school, so that gave me even more time to get bored. As a result, I started knitting when I was seven, cooking at eight, gave my brother a horrendous afro perm at eleven, got my first camera from a garage sale at thirteen—just some of the things I remember doing.

On weekends, I’d take pictures of my cousins and my brother while they posed in fashion disasters that I created each week. That was so exciting for me. The same year I started taking pictures, some girls at school were exchanging notebooks they’d decorate the covers of, so I decorated one and suddenly became very popular. But when many girls in school asked to “exchange” notebooks with me. The “exchange” really meant my handing over the notebook and that’d be the end of it.

Luckily, one girl as unpopular as I was, continued to write, filling up several notebooks with me that year. We corresponded until our late 20s and I also started keeping a journal. So, the notebook, or writing, came to be the one constant friend in my life that I could call upon whenever I liked or wherever I moved. There was no need to be scared of being judged, of not fitting in, saying what’s right, having the right accent or looks. I could sit in a crowd of strangers, look down at my notebook and write just how uncomfortable I felt. I suppose writing was a sane and acceptable way to talk to myself. I wrote until my fingers became disfigured. With visual arts, I felt even freer since English is my third language and has the tendency to make me feel quite like a foreigner at times. However, none of these creative outbursts were taken very seriously since the main focus was the violin—“my pain in the neck”—for thirteen years, giving me chronic heartburn for fourteen.

I don’t know how to pinpoint what I see or do as an effect of my growth or experience. I get stuck on this question every time. I know that I am different from a lot of people around me. This depresses and paralyses me at times when I think about it too much. I don’t know if I perceive something a certain way because of my background. It’s tempting to say that when people don’t understand me it’s got to be because of my background, but that’s probably not the case.

Wayne: Despite all the moving your family did, you were drawn back to Taiwan. Why? How did you come back to settle there? How do you see the country differently than those who grew up there? Which subjects in Taiwan seem to speak to you most?

Nana: I returned to Taiwan in 1992. My parents had gone bankrupt and Taipei was where they had family. For me, the choices were quite clear: I could either stay in Atlanta working as a waitress and freelance violinist putting myself through school or dare myself to move to a place I had very little memory of. I knew that it’d be easier with my parents near so we booked three tickets. I hated Taiwan the moment I breathed the air. It was heavy, damp, and smelt strange. Taipei was so noisy, so grey and people didn’t smile and always bumped into me. I felt like a mute as well because I could only speak English and basic Taiwanese.

After six months of watching the BBC and writing in my notebooks, I got out and started taking Chinese classes. I realized just how very sheltered and unexposed to cultures I had become living in Atlanta for nine years. How completely narrow my views were. Travelling to very poor countries has also helped me appreciate what I’ve got. Slowly, and I mean very slowly, I’ve grown to shrug off the old lady who spits next to me and see how much things have improved in Taipei. It is amazing how perceptions can change when one is doing exactly what they want with their life. When there is focus, the very same things that used to drive me crazy become quite trivial.

Maybe I differ from those who grew up here in that I still don’t see Taiwan as my home. I know that if things don’t work out, I’ve got the US passport to settle elsewhere. A lot of my friends do not have the option and I see their struggle. And perhaps in seeing their struggle I’ve joined them subconsciously in trying to make things work here. I have packed and unpacked too many times to say where I will go next or if I will stay for good.

When I pick up my camera, I tend to focus on subjects related to people and food. I’m currently shooting for a book project on Chinese food culture; it’s bringing me closer to the street vendors or restauranteurs whom I’ve built a relationship with over the years. It will also take me to Hong Kong to shoot the markets and other food scenes. I’m quite looking forward to that. Only thing about shooting food is: it’s torture to know that with every shot I take, the food cools down a degree more.

Interview with Photographer Jon Anderson, Part II

Wayne: How did you go from self -projects like your street shooting and portraiture to shooting for publications? Can you talk about how you ended up at Black Star?

Jon: For a couple years after I left school, I worked part-time at the International Center of Photography so I could pick up some training in lab technique – I was a lab assistant and later a teacher’s assistant, and at the time I seriously considered working as a printer. I didn’t want to enroll in ICP’s full time course, though, because I had had enough of school, and just wanted to pick up some information. This was all at the original site over on Fifth and 94th – a wonderful place too. A bit chaotic, which I like, and there were plenty of interesting people passing through. I worked a host of odd jobs to survive – proofreading, paralegal work, editing, tutoring, barwork, whatever came to hand. Later on I interned at Black Star, and in those days, when Howard Chapnick was still alive and in charge, the library was a thriving place and there were several interns, all of whom were hoping to work as full time pros. Black Star still cultivated such people, and there was always the chance that you might eventually start working under contract.

I shot whatever I could whenever I could. I started shooting a lot of slide, because that was the reigning medium then, and even though I have never felt particularly adept at color, I learned all the tricks of lighting and exposure in order to get some decent rich color. I was eventually offered a job as a “researcher” — someone who fielded requests from various publishing concerns and researched the library to assemble a package of suitable images. I told them no, I was going to shoot for them instead and I didn’t have time to be working in the library; this response was greeted with laughter but some appreciation too. Then they offered me the same position, but on a part-time basis and with considerable freedom to come and go, so long as I fulfilled my duties. This arrangement allowed me to go out and shoot whenever there was need. I shot everywhere: house on fire, I was there; water main burst, I was there; demo against police brutality, I was there; Chinese New Year, I was there (so long as they still had fireworks). In addition to the spot news, I was also working on stories: children with AIDS, life in the “projects,” Dominican immigrants, and so on. Eventually I amassed enough material to present to the editor, and I was given a contract.

The library was a marvelous mess and comprised a complete photographic history of the 20th century. First of all there were all kinds of well known contemporary photographers in its vaults: the Turnley twins, Chris Morris, Anthony Suau, Malcolm Linton, Joseph Rodriguez and others. Behind them there were many greats from the 60s and 70s, including Flip Schulke and Charles Moore (of Civil Rights Era fame), Robert Ellison (Vietnam), and many others whose names no longer ring any bells but were formidable shooters – John Launois in particular stands out in my memory. Then of course, all the major events of the 20th century were covered there by many photographers whose names are no longer remembered or were never known – the rise of the Nazis, for example, is found there in great detail. And there was one drawer in particular that I never tired of looking through: this drawer was consecrated to the work of Eugene Smith. Imagine what it was like to hold an 11×14 print of his famous Pietá image from Minimata, or the wake from his Spanish Village essay?!

Black Star, suffice it to say, was an inspiring place, and I felt I had found a home. Howard retired and passed away shortly after I arrived there, but prior to that he was kind enough to offer some advice and encouragement. I set to work, but despite my efforts I never had much of a career there, and in fact I was never at home. There were many reasons for this: the business was entering into a period of change; Black Star was redefining itself; the sort of work that I really wanted to do was no longer supported by the magazines, which had switched to lifestyle reporting as early as the eighties; and I was as yet an ill-defined commodity. To give Black Star credit, my editor tried her best to develop me, but I was not cut out to be an agency photographer in the Turnley mold. I started working as an assistant to one of the commercial photographers there, and this turned out to be a perfect opportunity to learn and to earn. Plus in my spare time – and there was enough of it given the fact that I only had to work a few days a week to cover my expenses – I could devote my energies to working on my own projects. This seemed an ideal arrangement, and I exploited the opportunity. Commercial work had its pleasures too: every day was different, every task posed some new challenge. I met a lot of interesting people, and learned new things all the time. The guy I worked with had an admirable talent for making dramatic pictures out of thoroughly unpromising surroundings. He was one of the best I have ever known, not only for his talent and his work ethic, but also for his humane treatment of me, the underling. Not too many people pass this ultimate test.

With the money I was earning I was also able to pay for trips abroad, so I visited India and Brazil and other places, always bringing back some photo essays to be sold or syndicated. Syndication was a trap, though. A lot of effort went into syndication, but unless your material was of the moment, related to some important news event, there was no point in distributing the kind of thing I was doing in the hopes that some stock sales might be realized, and of course the percentages were not worth the effort either. But I kept working on my essays because really that was what I was in it for, and there was nothing else for me to do. Plus, I consider that all of this was a kind of apprenticeship, so while it didn’t compensate me financially, it did so pedagogically. Eventually I found other means of supporting my work, but while it lasted this initial arrangement gave me time to mature and practice. I have known photographers who came on like a ball of fire, and seemed to be working at the height of their powers from the very start, but I was slow to develop, and it took me a long time to find my themes and my vision.

Wayne: You take a lot of time and effort to educate aspiring and emerging photographers in venues like Lightstalkers. From what kind of hard knocks would you most want to spare them? What are the biggest kinds of business mistakes that such aspiring photographers make?

Jon: Well, I don’t know if I do in fact spend a lot time teaching others, but I have been rather vocal on Lightstalkers. That is partly a result of the fact that I have been doing more writing at home lately, and I have a lot of energy that needs channeling so the excess goes into posting on LS! But my years as a teacher certainly have formed a pedagogical attitude in me when it comes to passing on traditions and helping others out. Lightstalkers is unique in that it embodies a spirit of cooperation and mutual aid that is rather rare – the nature of our business is such that it tends to pit us one against the other, or isolate us, because after all you pretty much work alone. But LS mitigates against that and provides a community in which we can all share, and the overall tone of the site is remarkably supportive and generous.

I don’t know if I would want to spare anyone the hard knocks that are bound to be their lot in this business. It is probably best to get knocked around a bit, toughen up, and learn firsthand what you can expect from this life. Those lessons never leave you. Plus, after documenting poverty for something like twelve years, I have come to believe that adversity, within limits, is more likely to produce something of lasting value. It is when we are frustrated in our attempts to perform according to our dreams that we are forced back on ourselves, forced to regroup, and figure out a different approach. This is what happened to Miles Davis. When he discovered he couldn’t play like his idol, Dizzy Gillespie, he was forced to capitalize on his personal limitations as a player and come up with a different style of playing. That is when he became Miles.

When you are a young photographer, unless you have a head for business you are bound to make all kinds of mistakes, particularly as a freelancer without anyone to watch over you. Many young photographers are too anxious to get into print and will undersell themselves to do so or sign over their rights. These are particularly bad practices because we all suffer as a result. And this is true in the commercial realm as in the editorial: I know of one case recently brought to my attention in which a major national retail chain was offering an outrageously disadvantageous set of terms in their contract, but they figured they could get away with it since they were targeting younger photographers. Contracts all around have gotten a lot tougher, and many young people are willing to sign them simply to get their first break. I think that patience can be a photographer’s greatest friend, not only on the shooting but also the business end of things: there is such a thing as pushing too fast to get published, with the results coming short of more considered mature work. It seems that some new photographers don’t take time, either, to research the field more carefully, know their clients, know the agencies and their different procedures, or know much about the places where they go to shoot. I have had several people come down to my island to shoot a variety of things, usually cane, and some of them know nothing about sugar production or the people who slave on the plantations. They get the dates mixed up, arrive when no cane is being cut, or go to the wrong places and think they are in the middle of a real batey. You don’t have to become an expert, but it helps to know the ground you will be working. Antonin Kratochvil, through his example, taught me the virtues of careful preparation. I believe he talks about this too in Ken Light’s book. Photography is a bit paradoxical: the shutter opens and shuts on an image in a split second, but the patience required to find that image, or wait for it to come along, is geological in pace, or seems so by comparison. I would say too that it takes an investment of around ten years before a photographer can really start to bloom.

Wayne: What misconceptions do newcomers have about the business, craft and art of photography?

I have no idea really, since I come from a different generation and have no clue as to the formative ideas that act upon their consciousness today. However, one thing I have noticed among a smaller group of photographers – the photojournalists – is a naïve desire to get right into the bang-bang, to become a War Photographer, and while I have no interest in dissuading anyone from taking that step, since after all one can only know if one is suited to it by leaping, and we absolutely need people out there witnessing these events, I am a bit puzzled by the singlemindedness of the newbies. I was recently travelling with a journalist who was connected with the original Bang Bang club in South Africa and we were discussing the effects of armed conflict on photographers in general. I think what the younger people don’t see is the psychic and emotional damage that is done to some of these shooters, though one can read about it in books like Don McCullin’s autobiography, [Greg] Marinovich’s The Bang Bang Club, or [Anthony] Loyd’s My War Gone By, I Miss It So. Some shooters come out of these experiences and are incapable of sustained emotional relationships with people, they have serial marriages, they effectively abandon their children. Some appear to be partially shell shocked, and others are just withdrawn. Some of them remind me of junkies, they crave that adrenalin and when it is not there, they are somehow absent. This is not to impugn their principles or motives for doing this work; it is just a recognition of the complexity of their situation and some of the costs involved. It is natural for the younger crowd to think only about the excitement and the romance of the myth; but I hope that they come to realize that photojournalism comprises many themes, many possibilities, even though the media outlets for it may seem somewhat narrow in scope.

It strikes me that photojournalists appear to divide loosely into two camps: those that follow war and those that document poverty. There are some who do both, but if you think about it, Nachtwey, for example, mostly covers armed conflict, though of course he covered the famine in Baidoa – but again that was within the perspective of armed conflict. Salgado, on the other hand, doesn’t cover war, he covers poverty. I am certainly of the latter camp. Now war is perceived to be the sexier of the two, so I guess more young photographers are drawn to it, but I think poverty is every bit its equal in terms of injustice and moral disgrace and thematic power. Undeniably, though, the experience of shooting in either of those contexts is very very different. I cannot speak for the war shooters, but for myself, being among poor people so often, seeing what a lack of education or proper sustenance does to people, seeing the criminal injustice of it all, the hopelessness – watching people starve to death in front of you, or a child beaten or abandoned, well there is a certain psychic toll there too, and you need to be pretty balanced in order to sustain it. However, as Salgado has pointed out, life among poor people has its rewards too: while material wealth is lacking, there is often great spiritual wealth, and when you work among these people you are often anointed with that blessing and return to your life the better for it. That may seem unfair, but I cannot help it, it remains true. Working among poor people has made my life, if not my wallet, richer.

Wayne: In what ways are writing and literature important to you in your work?

Jon: I suppose most people starting out probably think solely in visual terms and derive their inspiration from the photographers they admire. However, I feel that part of what makes a great photographer is the ideas he or she brings to us, and good photographic ideas are not necessarily to be found solely in visual sources, and certainly shouldn’t be restricted to the media (bear in mind, throughout all of this, I am mainly thinking of photographers who cover news events or do reportage). Outside influences are important. If we derive our ideas for stories solely from what we find in the media I think we run the danger of limiting ourselves to the clichéd narratives favored by the press – you know the sort of thing, like underprivileged or handicapped person overcomes obstacles and succeeds. This Oprah Winfrey genre is very popular and shows up in many forms. Various versions of this theme regularly win awards, but I would be hard pressed to remember any that successfully translated into a book of lasting value.

It is worth noting that many universally admired photographers are people who benefitted from a liberal education and do a lot of reading; their ideas derive from a broad knowledge of art, literature and history. Let me give you an example of a book that I feel is an extraordinary narrative, one that transcends the genre of war reportage – Philip Jones GriffithsVietnam Inc. This book is not just an indictment of what we used to call the military-industrial complex; it is a consummate overview of the whole industry of war. The conception is brilliant, and part of that brilliance lies in the editing, in what he chooses to show us: the photograph of the jet pilot standing outside his shiny clean machine in itself is a simple enough image, but in the context of the narrative it takes on a profound weight and irony. The book, in its scope, in its attempt to come to grips with the larger meaning of war in modern times, is equal in power and originality to [Francisco] Goya’s The Disasters of War. I cannot comment on the inspiration behind Vietnam Inc. and I know nothing about Jones Griffiths’ background, but the ideas embodied in the book are definitely not derived from the media for which he worked. They come from a much more profound source. Undoubtedly someone working in Iraq now will eventually produce a work of this ilk, and thereby give us something more than the usual blow by blow, bombing after bombing, perspective. I think that with the glut of violent imagery that surrounds us, one almost has to adopt a more comprehensive approach if one expects to break through the lethargy of the public. But in order to do so, they just as undoubtedly will have to work outside the context of the media.

Speaking for myself, the literature I have read is a constant source of ideas, and as I said earlier, much of what I am working on is directly related to the themes I found in the works I was studying. But there is more to it than that. Modernity was born with the Enlightenment (some would argue for an earlier date, the 17th century), and, apart from any specific ideas that might be found in any particular work, one of the fundamental tenets of post-Enlightenment thinking is the role that narrative plays in shaping society, in shaping our lives – a process that, as Althusser famously observed, is largely unconscious. The stories we tell each other, the fables we grow up with, define our moral universe and thus, for those of us who do reportage, it is of the utmost importance to provide our readers with adequate narratives, to push the envelope a bit and to find new ways of structuring our stories. An excellent example of this is Eugene Richards’s Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue: not only does he provide different stories from different areas; not only does he edit the sequence of images in highly interesting ways; but he also manages to provide multiple perspectives, a bit like a modernist novel with different competing narrators – there are two running narratives weaving in and out of the photos, one from “The People” and one from “The Photographer” as well as the afterword written by a medical expert, who provides a third perspective. Myself, I am more and more interested in combinations of image and text that break the usual pattern whereby the text explains the photos, or the photos illustrate the text; instead, I prefer something more like counterpoint, each narrative form with its own integrity, its own trajectory – they play off each other, but each has its own story to tell.

Interview with Photographer Jon Anderson, Part I

Jon Anderson is a photographer / writer who divides his time between St. Domingo and New York. Members of the photojournalism forum Lightstalkers know him as someone who generously devotes a lot of time and effort to answering the questions of aspiring photographers. Jon studied literature and history at Columbia University, before leaving to become a photojournalist, eventually to be represented by the photo agency Black Star.

Jon is working on a “documentary trilogy tentatively entitled Memories of Underdevelopment, which looks at traditional Caribbean culture and the transition from agrarianism to urban consumer capitalism.” He is also writing a travel narrative called “Letters from the New World.”

Wayne: Can you talk about why you decided to study literature in school instead of photography? Where did photography rank among your interests at the time? And how did you make the transition from literature to photography?

Jon: I came to photography by chance, which is appropriate, I suppose, since the form of photography that I practice depends largely on the hazards of life.

Were it left up to my teachers at the time, I might never have pursued photography, since I was judged to be deficient in the skills that are required of a visual artist. I have always been drawn to literature, it comes easily to me, and I was an English major in college. But I took several courses in Art History as well as a drawing course, and while I came to understand the vocabulary of a painting or a sketch, I never mastered its expression. I remember once when the class was drawing from a nude model, and the teacher passed from one student to the next, diligently commenting on the progress of each. When it came to my turn, he silently passed me by. He never offered me a comment during the whole term!

After travelling around Europe for a while I conceived the idea of continuing my literary studies there, obtained a master’s degree, and then returned to the States and studied at Columbia University. In the middle of teaching and writing my dissertation, on the Victorian social novel and the effect of urbanism and new scientific theories, I was diverted from a career as a professor when I happened to step inside a bookstore in Austin, Texas, where I had gone to give a lecture on urban history. I picked up a book of portraits by Mapplethorpe and was impressed by the luminous quality of these images (I later learned the trick behind this kind of lighting, which is used a lot in fashion photography, but at the time I had no idea what could produce such a look). Many of my friends had already graduated and were beginning their careers as junior professors in various colleges around the country, and I determined to capture their likenesses on film. I had played with cameras, of course, since I was a kid, but I never worked at it; in fact, my brother was the one who created a photo lab in the bathroom. I shot a Brownie, but lackadaisically. This time however the hooks were in me.

I had a friend show me how to develop film and make prints, and once I saw that image reveal itself in the developing tray, I was enthralled. I don’t think that young photographers today can understand the magic of that moment, the alchemy of photography, since the instantaneity and lilliputian immateriality of the digital image that is betrayed in the chimping is just so lacking in revelatory power. In the lab, I am a conjurer; at my desk, in front of a computer, I am nothing more than a technician.

I returned home, set up a studio of sorts in my small apartment, with nice wraparound light bounced back into my huge north-facing window from the whitewashed wall across alley. I photographed everyone and anyone who would visit me. I also did still lifes (a couple of which I still have because they are kind of surreal), nudes, and some landscapes. Mostly I shot medium format. But I hadn’t found the source of my compulsion; I was simply following in the usual wake of all black and white photographers before me, perfecting my control of the negative, experimenting with different films and chemicals. I gobbled imagery: Strand, Sander, Evans, Model, Arbus, Karsh, Penn, and a host of others whose work was centered on portraiture. But then I made a discovery about myself and a different sort of photography.

I started looking at the work of people like Garry Winogrand, which I didn’t quite “get,” but I knew that I had finally found something that welded all my interests into one consummate activity or practice: street photography. At the same time, I was wandering around the streets of New York, in between long bouts of writing or teaching, and following the homeless people around, observing them. I slowly began to snap pics of them, but tentatively, shyly. I had no idea about how to engage them yet. I began to figure out, however, that what interested me was the way that people lived rather than esoteric formal composition under controlled studio conditions, so I started exploring the city’s subcultures: the shanty towns, the ghettoes, and the prostitutes down in the Meat Market. It so happens that I was walking around down there one day, after having paged through Danny Lyon’s photographs of disappearing New York, and I decided to capture this remarkable neighborhood full of decaying meat, blood, cobblestone streets and hollow loft buildings. At one point, a prostitute accosted me and asked if I wanted to take her pic – for a price. But on closer examination, I realized that in fact she was a he. Naturally, I was curious, and I started walking around there more often in the hopes that these people would accept my presence and eventually allow me to photograph them. After some jockeying back and forth, I was finally surrounded by them all one day and they asked me to snap a pic of one of their friends who was flying high on crack. Diane, with her pants down past her knees, was stumbling up and down the sidewalk, next to various painted signs advertising meat, and I just couldn’t resist. At the time I was shooting with a Fuji 6×9, which yields a nice big neg, and after quietly pressing the shutter button, I had one of my first real pictures. After that I became the “official” photographer of the House of La Too Much – some of these characters, and they were indeed characters, had appeared the famous film Paris Burning, about the whole drag queen scene. I was fascinated by them, and began hanging out with them at all hours. It was a pretty dicey neighborhood in those days, scary at night – Stella Macartney and the beautiful people were not to settle there for another eight years at least. I never got many very “close” images, but I did get some excellent portraits, and I began to feel my way, gropingly, toward the path I was later to follow.

The other story I pursued around this time concerned the shantytown that used to exist under the FDR in between the Bridges, right across from the New York Post building. These people also fascinated me, not only because of their extreme poverty but also because of their rebelliousness, their refusal to assimilate to mainstream culture, and their self-deprecating humor – one of the guys I came to know, named Mark, had a realty sign, “For Sale,” hung outside his shanty. Many of these guys were in fact quite smart. There was one guy that everyone in the community called “Mad Mac” – because he was paranoid and schizophrenic (or perhaps just bipolar). He had this fantasy that women and the FBI were in league to get him. I spent some time with him and took a good photograph of him in his shanty, with his reflection in the mirror, and a temporary girlfriend sitting outside the doorway. He appears quite isolated and tortured. Yet the shack was a marvel of engineering: it had a postal box, a fence and porch, and a periscope for spying on people outside. Plus he had axles built into the bottom frame, so he could attach wheels and cart the house away. A photographer who teaches at Cooper Union, Margaret Morton, has some pictures of his shack, but she never published any pix of the man, so far as I know. One day he asked me if I were from the FBI, and I knew that our relationship had come to an end.

The shantytown series was my first real inkling that I might in fact have a future in photography and that my strengths lay in getting close to people and rendering their lives in a visual narrative. The narrative aspect was very important. My entire training in literature had produced a very strong sense of narrative structure and its significance in our lives, and what I had learned duriing all those years reading 19th century realist novels was easily transferred into my new activity. In fact, though my path appeared to be a completely fortuitous meandering journey up till then, it turned out, on hindsight, to be quite purposeful and in a sense, destined. While I seemed to be drifting, there was a definite pattern to it all.

I left school behind – just upped and left. My friends were nonplussed. They kept asking me what I was going to do, whether I had an “eye” (though by then they were all asking for portraits), and urged me to finish my schooling. I realized that I had been in school for a very long period of my life, and that I had learned just about all it had to teach me – which was a considerable amount. Some photographers seem to be happy with a bit of vocational training before assuming their career – but many of the photographers that I admire – Salgado, Towell, Nachtwey and others – all have training in the liberal arts or in some other discipline which in turn seems to have nurtured their photography, giving them ideas and broadening their imaginations. Technique is one thing, but ideas come from a broad knowledge of culture. Anyway, I discovered that everything I was studying in school – urbanism, poverty, marginal subcultures, social conflict (all of which form the main themes of Balzac, Dickens, Zola) – was there right in front of me, and instead of spending my life writing books about other peoples’ achievements, I wanted to produce books that people would read. Poverty and social conflict, outside of war, became my main themes, but I always kept an eye on the larger theme of culture, of how people lived. Ultimately, that is what interests me most, and the camera I carry is like a passport into other people’s worlds. I discovered at some point that my eye was connected to my heart: as Don McCullin has said, “photography is not seeing, it is feeling.” But I also discovered eventually, after all my efforts to learn technique, to perfect my shooting and printing, to learn about color in addition to black and white – that the best means of developing your visual sense, your formal _expression, is to make mistakes. By breaking the rules I came to understand what a bit of Tri-X and a portable camera were capable of creating, and I came to favor an eclectic approach, one that varied with the prevailing circumstances.

It may be that photography, or rather Street Photography – a genre that depends on the accidental significance of chance events – taught me to give up rationalizing so much, give up control over the object world, and instead learn to swim with the currents, take what comes, rely on intuition and feeling. The experience of shooting for me is very zen-like: you peer through that little viewfinder, you find a connection to the scene before you, and you become that scene, you merge with it somehow. It is a very visceral and engaged experience; anyone who has shot archery and read Herrigel’s book will know just what I am talking about. But the key for me was that it was a very different experience from the excessive rationality and verbal discourse I practiced at school. I transferred a lot of the ideas I was working with into my new activities, but I treated them in a new medium and a very different M.O. Course, it is not fair to leave it there: my verbal skills have been a tremendous help to me, allowing me to write essays that accompany my photographs, and also to write grant applications, which, if they are successful, help me to work on the stories I really care about.

Spring into Digital Photography (Interview)

Rip Noël & Joe Jaynes. [Photo courtesy of Abacus Arts.]

Joseph Jaynes and Rip Noel are partners in Abacus Arts, Inc., a boutique web development and hosting firm that also offers high-end digital media production. The two have collaborated on a book called Spring into Digital Photography, where Jaynes “mostly did the writing” and Noel “mostly did the shooting.” I interviewed the authors about their thoughts on the digitalization of photography and the skills that aspiring photographers need to acquire.

Wayne: You seem to be broad ranging in your book: from principles about composition, lighting and colors to thoughts about printing and image manipulation. Additionally, the way you organize it seems to encourage readers to use and keep it like a reference. What concept for the book did you have when you were writing it? What need in the photography book space were you trying to fill? Can you talk about how you two came to partner on it?

Joe: Our book is part of the “Spring Into” series from Addison-Wesley, and as such follows the design guidelines and editorial goals of the series. Topics are presented in short, easy-to-follow segments (or “chunks” that reduce the issues to their core components and get you working immediately.

Our target audience is broad: from novice photographers who need to begin with photography fundamentals (Section 1), to more experienced photographers who may have been shooting film for quite a while and are making the transition to digital. The chunking approach makes it easy to consume topics you need, and skip those you don’t.

Most other books on digital photography miss the “big picture”: namely, that getting the results you want is more about process than it is about gear (whether hardware or software). That’s why we cover how to shoot well first; how to manage digital color; how to optimize for screen viewing and for print (which are entirely different beasts); and how to manage your digital workflow. It’s not about what camera you use, or what version of Photoshop you have; it’s about using your tools wisely from capture to optimization to display to archiving in ways that yield great results.

Wayne: In what ways has the move to digitalization renewed interest in photography and image capture? How has digitalization improved the photography of the average consumer? How has it made it worse?

Joe: Digital photography offers at least three compelling advances over film that has re-energized public interest in photography. First, it provides immediate feedback on your shots, so you know instantly whether or not you “got the shot” that you intended. Second, it dramatically reduces the cost of consumables during shooting: it costs no more to shoot ten shots than it does to shoot one as long as there’s free space on your memory card. This encourages creativity and experimentation. Third, digital photography puts amazing creative power within everyone’s reach during post-production. The “digital darkroom” is open to anyone with a computer rather than being limited to those who could afford the time and expense to operate their own wet-chemistry darkrooms.

The downside is that some photographers may feel they spend more time at the computer than behind the camera. We think the tradeoff is more than worth it for the results that you can achieve, but not everyone agrees.

Wayne: With sections like “Artistry Requires Mastery” and “Visual Pushups,” you seem to encourage practice in the pursuit of perfection. Some photographers like to teach their students to shoot “loose,” meaning intuitively. When is it helpful to think more intuitively versus making your practice more structured? How should new photographers push themselves out of their comfort zones in order to acquire new skills?

Rip: You must be able to shoot instinctively, without having to think in detail about what you’re doing, if you ever hope to produce art. Otherwise, the mechanics of the process get in the way of creativity. So the purpose of practice and doing pushups is to develop sufficient skill with your tools that you can then use them without thinking about using them. That’s the only way you’ll ever be free enough to “shoot loose.”

In addition, practicing when there’s no pressure to produce something significant helps you develop an instinct for knowing when you’ve “got the shot” and when you need to keep shooting. That only comes with experience, and it’s much easier on the nerves to gain that experience when there’s no client, deadline, or budget to worry about.

Wayne: Can you talk about how you use photography to complement your ability to market your writing? How possible is it for someone to be good at both writing and photography, and what kind of “growth plan” would you recommend for a writer/photographer? Anyone you admire who you think is great at both?

Joe: Our book and our business flow from a collaboration of complementary skills: by and large, I write and Rip shoots. In my experience, individuals who excel both verbally and visually are very rare. We both benefit from bouncing ideas about writing and images back and forth, and the end product is stronger as a result. If you can find a collaborator who complements your skill set, then that’s the ideal arrangement.

If you write and shoot alone, then I recommend finding a great editor as the next best thing to having a co-author. A second pair of eyes always makes things better. And expect to re-write and re-shoot to refine your work. You never get it right the first time. Ever. The old adage about writing is true: “If I’d had more time, I would have made it shorter.”

Wayne: If you could have added more to your chapter “Expanding Your Vision,” what other principles would you have added? Are there certain photographers you admire whose collections you think would be useful in educating the eyes of new photographers?

Rip: Familiarize yourself with the work of giants like Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Edward Weston, Irving Penn, etc. Find photographers whose work you love, and look long and hard at their images. If you can find a way to work with them, take advantage of it. Photography is an art, and art is best learned by apprenticing for masters. Look for visual mentors whose vision resonates with your own – not to copy them, but to see how they see. Stay in tune with current trends by subscribing to publications like American Photographer and Photo District News (PDN).

Wayne: I enjoyed reading your equipment (camera, printer, lighting equipment and computer) recommendations, especially how you and Rip made recommendations for different “growth paths.” Why did you suggest the Nikon Coolpix 5700 as a camera for the serious amateur? The Nikon D100 for the professional?

Joe: The gear-bag appendix gives readers a look at what we owned when we wrote and shot the book. I don’t “recommend” the Coolpix 5700, it’s just the camera that I own, and Nikon has stopped selling it now. Rip has since upgraded to a D2X since we wrote the book. But the general principals about what equipment to invest in remain constant.

Serious amateurs should look for a camera that captures RAW files, not just JPEGs, since JPEG compression results in loss of image data, regardless of how “fine” a quality you select. They should seek a camera that offers substantial optical (not digital) zoom if they don’t have the option of changing lenses. They should seek a camera with writes to memory cards quickly and has a big buffer so they don’t miss shots while the camera is saving images. They should look for a camera that has a hot-shoe for supplemental flash, to avoid the problems and creative limitations that most on-camera flash units create.

Anyone who is serious about getting great results also needs to invest in color management: first, a calibrator for your monitor, then ICC profiles for your printer and your camera. You can’t trust your eyes until you get all the devices in your workflow calibrated and profiled.

Lastly, you need to own, and more importantly, to USE, asset management tools. It’s just too easy to become overwhelmed with data if you don’t deal seriously with asset management from the get-go.

Old Prints

On Saturday, E and I were walking by The Old Print Shop. We entered and happened to catch the last day of a show of the shop’s photography collection, which includes prints of Berenice Abbott and Margaret Bourke-White. I was struck by a print of Minor White called Feet, Don Normark, particularly how White uses the silver-white of a large seashell to pull the viewer’s eye towards the bottom left corner.

We also saw the Leica Gallery, which was exhibiting prints from The New York Times collection. Quite a few well-known prints, but made virtually anonymous since quite a number were without the photographers’ names (the indignity). These are also the same prints that you can see in many of the city’s ordinary frame stores, since the Times makes the prints available for general sale. I was disappointed at the poor quality of the prints of one of the paper’s contemporary photographers. I have seen the digital files on the photographer’s web site, which are spectacular. Whoever printed them for the Leica gallery was very cavalier. One print in particular was nearly pixelated, seemingly made from a digital file size that was much too small for the ultimate print size that was chosen, and the colors were dull compared to the web versions I have seen.

Publishing in Taiwan

Taiwan Journal looks at the publishing market in Taiwan.

Photographer Gordon Parks Remembered

Photo District News remembers photographer and “renaissance man” (poet and screenwriter) Gordon Parks.

“I picked up a camera because it was my choice of weapons against what I hated most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty,” Parks said in a 2000 video with PDN (viewable here). “I could have just as easily picked up a knife or a gun, like many of my childhood friends did… but I chose not to go that way. I felt that I could somehow subdue these evils by doing something beautiful that people recognize me by, and thus make a whole different life for myself, which has proved to be so.”

See also PDN’s Legends Online: Gordon Parks. And Washington Post tribute.

Times Square with Slow Shutter

The Look Manhole New York Taxi

Went by Times Square during the late afternoon, because I have a photo shoot there tomorrow and wanted to feel the vibe, so to speak. Not sure why, but I got into a slow shutter speed mood. Maybe since whenever you’re in Times Square, you’re struck by the rapid movement of people, the blur?

Proulx, Unbroken

E. Annie Proulx, the author of the short story that became the film Brokeback Mountain, is an idol of mine, because she characterizes the toughness that a freelancer has to have in order to be successful. Freelancing takes a thick skin. Rejection is the rule, not the exception, so her perseverance is humbling to me.

In 1975, with few teaching jobs available, she abandoned work on her Ph.D. and began a perilous career in freelance journalism. […] Supporting herself and her sons on her meager income as a journalist, Proulx began to write stories for fun, creating one or two a year. Most of these early stories were written for a men’s magazine about hunting and fishing, where her first editor told her that she had to publish under a masculine name, “something like Joe or Zack, retrievers’ names,” she complained. They compromised on using her initials, E. A. Proulx, the E standing for her first name, Edna.