Candid Conversations: Karen Commings

Karen Commings

Karen Commings
Street Photographer
Harrisburg, PA

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My first career was in the theater, and in the theater we had a saying: “There are only 20 people who work in this business and by the time you’re done you’ll have met them all.” I’m starting to believe it’s the same in the world of photography. It’s all about connections, and once connected, well, you’re pretty much in for life. When I put out the call in search of a photographer who did something other than landscapes, and was preferably female, my people did not disappoint!

I am now happily connected to Karen Commings. (Who, as it turns out, is nearly a neighbor!). Karen is a 69-year-old retired librarian, who has had many vocations. She has been a columnist for Cat Fancy Magazine, wrote seven cat books, one dog book and is also a short story writer. Now she can add street photographer to the list. Karen is intriguing to me for a few reasons. For one thing, this is an avocation that she found later in life. (I love late bloomers!) And she is a street photographer. An activity I love to look at from afar but don’t partake in because it scares me to no end. (People . . . scary.)

 It fascinates me why individuals pick up photography either as a hobby or as a profession.  My personal observation is that if it is not a profession from the start people pick it up later in life. They dabble through their early years, possibly through their middle years, but all of a sudden it becomes an obsession in the post -50 years. Some of it may have to do with having the available time or money, but I think there is something else to it. I’m not sure what, but I’m determined to find out. (Maybe I’ll make it a new series. Photographers who are late bloomers!)

In the meantime I’ll keep working on the unresolved question that plagues me. Why do we do this thing called photography?

Eat It [Photo Credit: Karen Commings]

The Conversation

What is your first memory of photography?
I had a Brownie box camera. When I was in 7th grade I took photos through a microscope for the science fair. My Dad built me a stand so I could put the camera on it and practice how long I had to keep the shutter open for various things. It wasn’t a very powerful microscope. I would take photos of things around the house like fabrics and thread. Just stuff. It was really fun.

Photography is a means of communication. What do you feel you are trying to communicate and to whom?
I have to separate out the street photography from the other types of photography. The street photography I do fairly consistently. I periodically take trips to New York because it’s easier in New York than it is here. I try to make it about telling a story. It’s not enough for me to just take a picture of someone crossing the street or using their cell phone or other common activity.   There has to be a narrative or emotion associated with it. I ask the viewer to try and figure out what is happening or ask the questions in their own mind.

I like photographing architecture. I have a whole series of photographs of industrial sites.  Many of my photos I convert to black and white because I think there is more of an emotional impact. With color you are looking at the color and thinking “oh,  gee, that’s a pretty picture.” Black and white images seem to force people to look at something else. You look at the patterns; the shapes, the lines, or the creases in someone’s face. It seems to elicit more of an emotional response.

What is your process? When you take a photo, do you think, “This is going to be black and white?” And / or in your post processing, what are you looking at to determine this warrants black and white process as opposed to color? When you are talking about eliciting an emotional response what is going on in your mind when you are making these processing decisions?
When I go out to do street photography, this is going to sound really weird, I am not thinking about processing. I am not thinking about photography. I’m really not thinking about shutter speed or aperture. I set those things  beforehand based on light conditions and I go out with a clear mind so I can respond to what is happening. If you are thinking about all of those things, the different decisions you have to make about taking a picture, you miss the moments. Those moments occur in a nanosecond. You have to be able to predict that something is going to happen even a few seconds before it does. If you wait for it to happen, the moment will be over by the time you get the camera to your eye.

I just see street photography in terms of black and white generally. I do have some color work, but the color work I do is more on the order of Sally Davies. She does slice of life street photography.  It’s a block on the street or a storefront on the street and people walking by. Nothing particular is happening, just life. In a fluid sense it’s simply the street and what’s going on, but it’s not the kind of story telling or emotionally impactful photo that I like to take. So I tend to leave those in color. She works in color too and, like I said, it’s slice of life.

With my black and white street photography I feel there has to be a narrative. I could probably describe it more when looking at certain images.

Three Faces of Steve [Photo Credit: Karen Commings]

How did the street photography come about?
I belong to a camera club and one of the things our president does is schedule field trips to view other photographers’ work. I was on several field trips where I saw street photography and the one in Washington DC was a turning point.

It was in 2014 that I saw the Garry Winogrand exhibit and I had made up my mind before we went on the field trip that I was going to do some street photography. I spent about 4 hours in the afternoon at the mall shooting. It just grew from there. It wasn’t really a conscious attempt to become a street photographer, it just piqued my interest and then one thing led to another. In September of that year, I attended a 3-day street photography workshop in New York conducted by the In-Public Group. That was really helpful.

Lost Souls [Photo Credit: Karen Commings]

Why photography as a medium?
I haven’t stopped writing. And I was painting for about seven years as well.  It’s been all of these different outlets. When you are writing or painting you are sitting in your studio or your room or office by yourself. You aren’t having people over while you are writing your novel.

Doing things with the camera club has been so great! I get out. I’m not cooped up in my office all day. I’m out with other photographers and we have a blast. It’s social as well as artistic. In fact yesterday three of us went to an antique mall to photograph and then had lunch. It’s fun. There is nothing deep or heavy about it. It’s just fun.

Is there any one subject that you shoot that gets you into the zone more than others?
Street photography is pretty much it.  For other types it’s more of a conscious effort. Like my series of Industrial sites.  I have to stay alert when I’m doing that. I try to do it on Sundays when the places are closed. I don’t know how well I would be received photographing these places. Several of them are featured as a Merit Portfolio in the current issue (#116) of Black & White magazine. That was a special award for me. These things offer me some credibility when sales may be lacking.

I have to say that street photography is about it. If I were a landscape photographer I might feel that way being out in the field, but I don’t do landscape photography and I don’t enjoy studio photography that much either.

I like observing people. I feel I can do it by staying inconspicuous and without immersing myself in what’s happening.

He's An Asshole [Photo Credit: Karen Commings]

I generally don’t like to ask technical questions but I think for this it’s important. How do you prepare yourself and your camera before you get out to the street?
I shoot manually with one exception.  I use auto focus because the camera can focus faster than I can. I generally set my ISO when I go out. I want an ISO where it’s not overly grainy but will give me the fastest shutter speed.  I may change the aperture periodically depending on where I am and how much background I want in the photograph.

In New York when you walk block-to-block it can be in complete shade or complete sun. With the camera I am using now, a Fuji  X100S, all of the dials are on the outside with numbers on them. I don’t have to look at a screen to see what the shutter speed is changing to. Same with the aperture.  As I’m walking I’ll change those settings as I’m moving. If I have doubts I’ll just point the camera somewhere, take a picture, and then check to see if it’s right.

Are you self-taught as far as composition? Is it something you studied or does it come naturally?
Partly natural. I have a degree in Art History. I’ve studied it. I tend to look for balance. And I think I’ve always done that.

When I see street photography that is really compelling and tells a story it can often times be compositionally “incorrect” or technically poor quality. My question to you is, why is okay for a street photographer to have these things that are not perfect but it’s not okay for the landscape photographer to have things that are a little off?
It is okay for the landscape photographer. Fine Art Photography, or Art Photography, as opposed to photojournalism really tells what the photographer is seeing. It’s not to tell you what the landscape looked like or what the street looked like. It’s how the photographer views it. So if the photographer wants to skew a landscape or have things out of focus, well, go for it. I’ve seen landscapes that aren’t perfect. I think you’re right, though, that there is more of a tendency with landscape photography to show what’s there, but I’ve seen landscapes that are blurred to a point where they become an abstract. John Barclay related a story during the camera club workshop about Ansel Adams getting hate mail from someone who visited the national parks and was disappointed that they didn’t look like his photographs.

No Takers [Photo Credit: Karen Commings]

When you are out there, are you thinking about these perfection things? Are you thinking through all of those compositional things?
No. You should be experienced enough to understand composition, but you can also break the rules of composition. Maybe you want the background in focus or maybe you don’t. If I go out and shoot a parade and someone is coming down the street on the float. I may or may not want the people on the other side of the street to be in focus. When I am doing street photography I am not always conscious of these things. 

There is a photograph I took in New York on Halloween. What attracted me about this gentleman was his funny hat. Behind him were these two posters looking at me. I didn’t realize it until I got home and  uploaded  the photo. It must have registered in some way because I included them in the composition. I arranged the image so it included all three faces, but I was surprised to see them when I uploaded the photo. I think it happens a lot. I’m not thinking about camera settings and composition. A lot of it is gut instinct.

Blow [Photo Credit: Karen Commings]

How do you prepare mentally or emotionally?
That’s an interesting question. Because I have had at least one trip to New York where I was going with high expectations and it was a total bomb.  I got no photos that I really liked. So the next time I decided I was going to go and have a good time I’m not going to expect anything. Whatever comes along comes along and that’s fine. I’ll just deal with that.  And it was so much better. I ended up crisscrossing Manhattan for four and a half hours. I got some interesting shots. So it’s just better for me not to have expectations and to just go with the moment.

Do you ever ask people permission to take their photos? Do you run into people who are aggressive with you? What is that experience like?
If people are in a public place there is no expectation of privacy in this country. I’ve only once had someone be aggressive about it. I photographed a guy on the NY streets selling clothes to a woman from a suitcase, probably hot merchandise. They both started yelling at me so I just continued walking. I knew he wouldn’t follow me because he would have probably had his stuff stolen. I have had people who have been surprised, and I usually start a conversation with them. Most people are flattered. I do have some photos where people are actually giving me the evil eye. There are times when I ask and if I photograph kids I usually will ask the parents.

There was one image I happened to look at this morning. There was a Culture Fest here in Harrisburg. There was a woman walking around with a dog on her shoulder. I asked her if she minded getting her photo taken. People with dogs seem to love having their photo taken. She said it was fine so I took a couple and then she finally turned away from me and the dog’s tongue came out and I took the shot in profile.  And that was the best one I got. When she wasn’t aware.

There have been times when someone says no and I will respect that. Typically I try to be inconspicuous. The times that I’m taking “street portraits” I will ask them first. But if there is an event unfolding I just try and get the shot.

Untitled#1 [Photo Credit: Karen Commings]

Did that come easy for you? To approach strangers and ask them?
It comes easy. Sometimes I’m a little uncomfortable depending on what the event is. I’ve chosen to not photograph certain things, such as homeless people and just walk away.  Sometimes you take someone’s picture and it startles them, so I will usually say something. Compliment them. “Oh, I love your hair,” or “I love your outfit.” And then, a lot of times, they will pose for me.

Most people are nice about it. And in New York, especially, everybody has cameras and everybody is getting photographed all the time. I’m probably in some photographs somewhere too!

How do you keep it fresh?
In this area, where I live, my friends and I typically go to First Friday celebrations. And we often go to Lancaster. Sometimes we go down there and there’s nothing. And then there are other times we find a lot of things to photograph. And sometimes it just has to do with your own mood.  How well you are seeing. You can’t always control that so you just have to keep going.

I’m not one to stop. I hardly got out to photograph this winter because it was so cold. But I feel like if I don’t get out and shoot I’m losing my touch. That’s actually what gets stale. I have to keep going. And I’m a person who just doesn’t give up easily. So I can make trips to a half a dozen places and if it doesn’t work out I go to a half dozen more. It’s just what I do.

What do you do on those days where you do go out and just don’t have it?
I usually go out with other people unless I’m specifically doing street photography. That I like to do by myself. But when I do go out with people, we will go out and split up and meet in an hour or so. If nothing is happening you shoot what you can and then maybe something comes out of that. Because sometimes it does. When you’re feeling your worst and you get a shot that you really like it will change things.

I don’t know that I have ever gone out and said, “Ugh. There’s nothing,” and then come home empty handed. You have to find something. You have to keep your eyes open. You can’t wait for something to present itself. Look in the corners. Look at the textures.  Photograph something. Take away something. It’s digital. It’s not costing you anything.

This comes out of a “Photo a Day” project I did for a year. I had heard John Barclay speak at one of our camera club workshops. He was so inspiring. The next day I was out at a pet sitting client’s house and happened to have the camera in the car. It was spring and her magnolia tree was in bloom. I took a photo of the magnolias. It’s common. Everybody photographs them. It’s like “so what?” It was just so pretty! And I thought, “I’m going to do this every day.” And during that year I took more than 20,000 photos. Every day I either went somewhere or if the weather was too awful I did something in the house. A lot of those days were really uninspired. A lot of those photographs were really bad, but it was the best learning experience I ever had. I learned so much during that year.

Nighthawkers [Photo Credit: Karen Commings]

So, what did you learn?
Well, do you want a list? [Hell, ya!] You learn how to shoot. You learn about exposure. You learn about depth of field. You learn how your camera works. You learn about lighting. You learn about all of the things a photographer puts together to take a picture. And the more you practice it the better you become. And I just learned that practice is what it takes. But I think the most important thing I learned was how to see, how to look at something and see a photograph in it, not of it but in it.

What do you find is your biggest challenge as a photographer?
Keeping up with the software. Oh my god! I post-process in Lightroom and am comfortable with that, but don’t use Photoshop. I have Elements but some of that escapes me. Specifically layers. Which is not something I do with street photography. I think that’s why I haven’t really pursued it. Because the photographs I take are not ones you would use some of those advanced techniques for.  The software and the technology is my biggest challenge.

Do you sell your work?
Yes. I try. While I was out in Death Valley earlier this year, my street photography was on exhibit at the Harrisburg Art Association. People don’t typically buy Street Photography. It’s usually what you put in a book. I do have work in a gallery in Harrisburg and I’ve had work in other galleries in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Every Memorial Day weekend there is an arts fest in Harrisburg and our camera club has a booth so we can sell our work there.

What do you find is the biggest challenge facing professional photographers today?
I don’t know that I can speak to professional photographers. There are a lot of people taking  a lot of photos. It seems like the market is saturated. Everybody with a cell phone can take photos and some of them can be very good. I think the challenge is that there is not as big of a market for the amount of photography that is out there so finding a market niche is what’s challenging if you want to sell your work.

Also, I looked into doing books and what it takes. When I was writing, I was writing non-fiction books, you would get an advance and people wanted to publish them. But it seems like it’s difficult to get a publisher to do a photography book.

Untitled#2 [Photo Credit: Karen Commings]

Who inspires you? Who or what is your muse?
There are particular street photographers I like. If we go back to this photo-a-day project that I started, it was John Barclay’s presentation to our camera club workshop that inspired me to start that.  And he’s a landscape photographer. But he wasn’t pedaling landscape photography. It was about being creative and following your passion.

Chuck Kimmerle has been my favorite landscape photographer. In fact, the year I was doing the photo-a-day project I saw an article in one of the photography magazines specializing in black and white photography and he was featured. That’s where I first came into contact with his landscape photography. I loved the minimal works.

As far as street photographers I guess one of my biggest favorites is Joseph Koudelka. He emigrated from the Czech Republic and I got his book Exiles. The first thing that popped into my head was that all of the photos that need to be taken have been taken. You can just stop now. It’s dark and grainy work, but impactful emotionally.

Vivian Maier. I love her work. Also, Alex Webb who actually does a fair amount of color. Robert Frank’s The Americans. Boy there are so many – Trent Parke who does wonderful things with light and shadow. I read Erik Kim. He posts a lot of things on his blog like 10 things that “so and so” taught me about photography. He deals with different photographers and they are always interesting. I think it’s important as a photographer to become familiar with the history of photography and those whose work lives on.

One For the Money [Photo Credit: Karen Commings]

I want to go back to your statement “Everything that needs to be taken has already been taken.” How do you get over that hurdle and tell yourself, “No. I have things to say and my things to say are also important.” How do you jump that hurdle to go out and continue?
I’m not sure I have a good answer for that. You just go out and do. I don’t quit. That’s all I can say. Okay, I’m impressed with those photos and I’m awestruck, but I have a voice too and I’m going to keep going and see where it goes. And I think that’s part of it. Just not knowing where it goes. I don’t know what the end result is. I don’t know what the end goal is. There seems to be none. It’s the journey that makes it interesting.

Have you surprised yourself?
Yeah. One of the fellows that came to see my exhibit at the Art Association said, “You really crop in unusual ways. It’s not the typical way to crop but it really works.” I started going through my photos and it’s not the typical way to crop, but, yes, it does work. Sometimes a viewer can offer insights that you miss about your own work.

I hadn’t realized that there was a continuum of that. I try to crop in camera. I’m not opposed to cutting off the top of people’s heads to get the focus and to get the viewer to see what I want them to see. It was surprising to hear someone notice that and then see it in so many photos in the exhibit because I hadn’t noticed it as a characteristic of my work.  Others have commented on the layers in each photograph (not layers as in Photoshop, but visual layers). It’s a result of me wanting the photo to tell a story. The presence of background or foreground activity separate from the main subject is what gives the photo a narrative. It’s nice when people see that.

Laughter Is The Best Medicine [Photo Credit: Karen Commings]

If you could give the young you some advice what would it be?
It would be the kind of advice that John Barclay gave everybody in his keynote. Don’t stop believing in yourself. Follow your passion. Keep doing what you love to do in spite of what everyone tells you not to. I was constantly told when I was a kid, “Oh, artists are a dime a dozen you want to go into business.” I heard that over and over and over again from my father so that’s what I did. I regret that.

The Questionnaire

10. Color or Black and White? – Black and White
9. Film or Digital? – Digital
8. Traditional Darkroom or Digital Darkroom? – Digital
7. Objects or People? – People
6. Urban Jungle or Pretty Landscapes? – Urban Jungle
5. Weddings or Root Canal? – Root Canal (colonoscopy, speaking in public…)
4. Kitted out with Heavy Long Lens or Holga? – Neither (fixed lens Fuji x100 s 23 mm lens)
3. Commercial or Fine Art? – Fine art
2. Tell me about the one that got away.  – There have been lots. One occurred in Philly. I had parked myself at a street corner to photograph and was looking around. While I was gawking, a group of 8 or 10 young women walked across the street all wearing the same white sunglasses. It was really funny but I couldn’t get myself in position in front of them fast enough to take the shot. I kicked myself for the rest of the day. I can still see them crossing the street even without a photo to remind me.
1. Tell me about the one you are still chasing. – Well, one of the things is a project involving amusement parks, but I don’t want to go into any more detail than that. [Editors note: We’ll be waiting!]

The Parting Shot

If you only go out once a month or do photographs only when you are in a certain place, like traveling or something, you don’t grow as a photographer. You might get some good shots, but to grow you have to practice your art.

The Party's Over [Photo Credit: Karen Commings]

Candid Conversations: Nancy LeVine

Nancy LeVine

Nancy LeVine

Nancy LeVine
Professional Photographer
Seattle, WA

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Senior Dogs Across America (Available at Amazon)
 

When I started doing interviews with Photographers I wasn’t exactly sure what I was after, but it only took a few to understand that what I wanted to get out of these conversations is not the “how” but the “why.” I am not interested in how these photographers achieve their success on a technical level. I don’t care about “what’s in their bag.” What I want to find out is the “why” of it all. What is it about taking a picture? And what is the difference in the “why” of me going out and shooting some landscapes as opposed to my friend “Jane” who loves to take photos of herself and post them on Facebook. They are all images, but they clearly have different meanings and, to some degree, different values. (I promise this is not a jab at “Jane.”) 

I have had many conversations, but I think this latest one has me turning a corner. I still don’t have the answers, but for some reason I feel I am closer. To say I am very excited about this interview is an understatement! This conversation was also a little personal for me. For those that know me, you know about our dear departed Winnie. Our dog of 15 ½ years, that was our faithful companion, and is now gone. Through her golden years I began to really appreciate Senior dogs and what they mean to us. Nancy LeVine is known for her work shooting Senior Dogs. Being able to talk to her about that project was worth every moment. (I'm excited to say that her latest book has just been released by Schiffer Publishing!)

When I called her, thinking our conversation would mostly revolve around her photographs of dogs, I was surprised at the depth of her work. (I shouldn’t have been, as I knew Nancy when she was an adviser on my Thesis Project at the Photographic Center Northwest a few years back.) Nancy has an amazing background and body of work. And what is most compelling is that she exudes a confidence I rarely see in women. She is not arrogant by any stretch of the imagination, but she knows who she is and what she brings to the table as a professional photographer.  What I wouldn’t give to have some of that. 

Red 12 years oldNew Haven, Connecticut [Photo Credit: Nancy LeVine]

The Conversation

What is your first memory of photography?
I had a camera in my hand from a very early age. My dad was a serious hobbyist so I grew up with cameras and photography.  He gave me my first camera when I was about 5 or 6 years old. 

Did you study photography in school?
My major was Film Studies and Photography. But I decided that I was better suited for photography because in film, back then, there was a hierarchy of so many people that it seemed difficult to navigate. With photography you are just yourself. That was a comfortable place for me. 

Photography is a means of communication. What do you feel you are trying to communicate and to whom?
There is a term I have used and it’s “Recognition of the Other.” Whatever you are photographing, whether it be another person or a dog or a tree or a still life of a building, the people who are brilliant about it have a deep resonance with whatever it is they are photographing. They are not just seeing their subject in that two-dimensional sense. They are seeing it, feeling it, and they are imbuing it. It’s hard to put a finger on it in language, but something happens and it’s trans-formative. What I want to do is to find the voice of whatever it is I am photographing so it feels palpable and not just a thing that you are looking at on a piece of paper.

How did that translate to your Fashion Photography?
When I was doing catalogs, they were catalogs where you make lovely pretty pictures and make sure the clothes look good. When I was doing editorial work in Paris, I shot it almost journalistically. I would look at the clothes and get the right face, the right location, and make it seem almost real or documentary-like so there was some authenticity there. Yes, I was creating, but it felt real. It didn’t feel like, “Oh, she’s wearing a pretty dress and she’s standing on the corner and she’s looking ‘whatever’.” It was more like there’s that woman on the corner and I just happened to capture her. Everything I have done has been done in the same way. I shoot dogs in the same way I shot fashion. It’s just the way I see.

And what was the catalyst that brought you into the Fashion Industry?
Something just clicked after I got out of college. My mother had a strong fashion influence in my life. She had a store in St. Thomas. I grew up in the Virgin Islands. She always had great taste and an excitement about fashion that she shared with her kids. My dad had the photography thing. I guess I made the decision one day that this is what I could be doing. I moved to New York City, went out on my own and did it.

You did Fashion for 18 years. Did you ever experience burn out?
There was never burnout in the fun and the interest of doing it. The burnout occurred when the times started to change. There was a time when I worked in New York that it felt like a small village. I could see everybody and everybody would meet you. Not only would they meet you, but they would say, “Oh, you should go and see so and so!” And you would pick up the phone and call that person and they would actually answer the phone and you would go see them. There was all of this networking that was possible to do.

As the years went on there were a lot of consolidations and changes in the industry, and there was not as much accessibility as there had been in the early part of my career. The work itself I love. I have not burnt out at all as a photographer, but the marketing components to it have become increasingly difficult. I love the people and the face-to-face contact. That was a large part of it when I was starting out.  And sadly it’s such a small part of what we do today.

L'Officiel de la Couture fashion [Photo Credit: Nancy LeVine]

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing professional photographers today?
There are not a lot of small jobs out there for people to get started with because potential clients with their own camera do it themselves. it's just good enough and they don’t really care for it to be better than that. They will spend multitudes of money to create a good website and typically not spend very much on the content.

But that’s not really my issue. I have always worked and I think that the hindrance for me simply is that I have a profoundly difficult time getting in to see people and to have people answer their phone. To even have a conversation. The advantages in the past were that it was perfectly okay for someone to say to me on the phone, “Oh, I can’t see you now. Call me in a couple of weeks.” The advantage to this, was by the time I did see them we had already built a small relationship formed through the phone calls and when I showed up it became even that much richer.

And now you can’t really get anyone on the phone. And then with email, it’s just hit or miss and it’s so impersonal. There is just no vibrancy in marketing for me. I really cherished and loved meeting everyone and enjoyed that part as much as I loved the photography part. It was social. It was very social. And with the system we are in now I can’t get that.

I really believe people hire you not just because you’re good (and of course you have to be good) but secondarily, as important, they have to like you. They have to want to spend time with you. I have found that to get face to face time with anyone, you have to pay money to do photo reviews. And that’s a whole other story altogether and that’s very pricey for people who are getting started.

At this point, Nancy turned the tables on me and asked me what I thought. I told her what other people were saying in interviews and also that in my industry clients no longer do their own video and photo shoots but turn to stock photography. It was a conversation with many twists and turns and we certainly did not solve the challenges in the world of the photographic professional, but this is my takeaway.  Because of social media and the world wide web, access to photography is, well, world wide. We no longer have to contend with the local competition but competition that seems like it comes from a bottomless well. And that competition includes professional and non professional as well as the good, the bad, and the ugly. We are inundated with it all and have no easy way to filter out the bad, and the ugly to get immediate access to the great. It’s a tough nut to crack.

When you are out on assignment what do you do if you get stuck?
It doesn’t happen. (much laughter from me.) It just doesn’t happen. I always get it. (that heavy sigh was from me) I make it look very easy because I have a lot of experience. I can walk in just about anywhere, no matter what the light looks like (of course it helps to be digital) and I can figure things out and make it happen.

Not everything is called out to be brilliant. Some things call out to be descriptive or whatever they may be. There is always going to be a good photograph from the situation.

Compositional form comes naturally to me. The best training in the world is being a fashion photographer. You’ve got casting, lighting, location, weather issues, and expectations of how much you have to get done in a day; there are so many pressures. So many things you need to learn about that go into a photograph. If you can do fashion you can probably do most anything, in my opinion. It taught me so much that I am able to walk into an examination room in a hospital and figure it all out.  I see the people and know how to extrude all of the business from the situation. I learned how to do all of that from fashion. And back then with film there was very little latitude and you had to get your exposures just right. You had to do everything just right. And you could never screw up because the expenses of models, makeup and hair, location vans, and catering was so high that you could not NOT bring it back. And you had to do it all the time.

L'Officiel de la Couture fashion [Photo Credit: Nancy LeVine]

What do you do to prepare?
I just show up. (God love her!) I have my cameras, my back up equipment. I learned this in my fashion days. You make sure you have double of everything you need and you make sure everything is working.  God forbid you have a technical glitch.

You have to imagine that I have over 30 years of experience. That’s what I am bringing to the table. I’m walking in and using everything that I have learned. Classically trained and tons of experience. I can walk in and most people might not see anything because sometimes it doesn’t seem that there is much. But when you are really well trained you can see deeper. You start observing certain things like how people are interacting and you just wait for those moments to arise because they always do. Then you simply try to create good compositional form that works with busy situations and backgrounds. Or you bring someone into a situation where there is better lighting. If you can, but sometimes you can’t and you just do it. I hate to say it, but this is where experience comes into play.  Digital allows for so much more latitude.

 You have a broad range of work from Fashion to Senior Dogs (my favorite). Can you talk a bit about your project “Art: The Moving Thread”? 
I picked the first person on the Thread, a nationally recognized woman in the arts. She would then recommend me to the next nationally recognized woman in the arts whom they have worked with and who was a friend or cohort or someone they really admired. That would then lead to the next person and the next and so on. I would get this virtual salon with all of these women. There are 18 to 20 women on each Thread. And it was amazing to meet all of these artists and learn about the extraordinary work they were doing.

In all of your work is there any particular subject or thing that you do that really gets you in the zone? 
First and foremost I think if what is in front of your eye is compelling to you then that moves you into the zone immediately. But sometimes it requires work. Sometimes you don’t see it right away. You just keep trying things and you do what I call “coverage.” So, for example, I photographed this woman in New York City in the freezing cold. We were up on a roof and there was snow coming down. We were trying different things with this material that she works with and it’s sort of okay but it felt a little forced.  After some time trying new things all of a sudden something happened and we got it. Being in the zone has a magical quality to it. I just think if you are in front of something that moves you in some way then it’s a lot easier to find it.  I think getting into the zone is making a deep connection to your subject, whatever it may be, you just feel it and it’s so exciting to get that photograph.

Do your subjects ever get exacerbated while you are trying different things?
No. It’s always collaborative. It’s amazing the enthusiasm. Especially with all of these amazing artists that I photograph.  New Yorker's mostly. Not only were they available and cooperative, but they were willing to do what we needed to do to get a great photograph. It was astonishing. I was surprised at how effortless it was to work with everybody. They were really invested. I was impressed.

Most of the dog work I have done recently are seniors and they aren’t super active so it’s easier to document them when they aren’t frisky puppies. Sometimes you see a situation where the dog wants to walk all over the place and you have to follow the dog. You just have to let the dog go into a flow and see what happens.

Champ 9 years oldButte County, South Dakota [Photo Credit: Nancy LeVine]

So, let’s talk about the dogs. Again, this is after my own heart. How did you get started with your project, Senior Dogs Across America?
That came about through my own dogs. Watching how my own dogs were growing older. It was so poignant and interesting how they lived each day, unlike us thinking about the past and the future and what it all means to age, they are just plodding through each day. It was sort stunning to see.

I helped my dog, Babe, years before who was a paraplegic and used a K9 cart. And it was one of the most purely extraordinary periods of my life that was completely about love. It was so special.

At some point I decided that I had not visited America since I had been a teenager and I had an inkling to see our country. And I thought, well, this is the time to do it. I’ll shoot Senior Dogs Across America. I’ll get to see the country, I’ll get to meet the people, and I’ll get to do something interesting. I embarked on the project based on that.

What are the logistics of doing something like that?
I produced it ahead of time based on the region of the country. I would plan to go out for about a week at a time. I would contact veterinarian offices, different people in the dog world, a friend of a friend that knows someone who lives in this town and they would know someone who was there. It was very word of mouth. People networking within the dog world. That’s how it spread and then I met people in rescues and sanctuaries. It was a real range of people that introduced me to extraordinary dogs.

There were definitely some moments that I didn’t expect. Like a time I was flying to New York. I don’t know how long it took me to look up, but I was sitting in the bulkhead seat and I look across the aisle and there was a dog. The most beautiful Whippet.  It was some type of service dog and I asked, “How old is this dog?” And it was ten or eleven.  Here I was able to photograph “Senior Dogs Across America” on an airplane!”

Riley 10 years old  Somewhere over New Jersey [Photo Credit: Nancy LeVine]

What inspires you? Who or what is your muse?
Over the years I have had a couple of muses. One by the name of Lisa. She was a model I worked with a lot when I did editorial work. She could be really transformative depending on what she was wearing.

And then LuLu was my muse for my first book, ‘A Dog’s Book of Truths’. In my mind, she was the Meryl Streep of the dog world. She could imbue every location with a different mood. And that’s where the recognition comes in. Some people would just see a dog and I would see something else.

As a teacher what do you say to your students who want to become professional photographers?
I don’t really teach business. What I do when I teach is to try and help people find their own visual voice. And have them be able to articulate it more and explore it more and become who they want to become as photographers. That’s what I do.

Gussy Sue 15 years old Laurel, Montana [Photo Credit: Nancy LeVine]

And how do you go about that?
It’s a lot of conversation and looking at their work and talking about why they did what they did. I call all of their photographs sketches so I ask them why they sketched this and why they sketched that. And why this works and why this doesn’t. What did they really want to say.

I like to do a lot of one on ones with students. The class I’m teaching now I get a chance to do that. “Storytelling with Photographs.” We meet as a group for the first and last class and then each student gets two classes with me one on one for an hour. Each person is on a different journey.  

I think photography can attract very impatient people because it feels like it should be so easy because all you do is click a button and the camera does all the work for you. You have to remind students that people in the arts are putting in their 10,000 hours. Look at a dancer! How many years has a dancer been dancing? Everything takes a huge amount of effort and focus. At the end of the day, photography is no different to be really masterful at it. Some people forget that. Unlike a paintbrush or a violin, you can pick it [the camera] up and start using it. But to be a professional you need technical knowledge. You have to know what an F-stop is. You have to know what a shutter speed does. You have to know these things.

If you could give people starting out advice, what would it be?
A complex question because it is all so different today. Back when I started, I could walk into anyone’s fashion show and sit next to the stage and take pictures. The access was phenomenal. Now it’s all changed. But back then there were fewer stumbling blocks. There were challenges and I had to be very tenacious. Actually, somebody I met at Gray Advertising said that. “You are very talented, but the people who are going to make it are the tenacious people.” And I’m naturally very tenacious. I got braver about contacting people and meeting people for appointments. The more you do something the more comfortable you get. I was very shy and that part of me had to grow up when I had to market myself.

There is nothing like a personal relationship built over time with a client. If you are really good at what you do and you have a great relationship with your client, then you have a great time doing the work. 

Rosie 13 years old, Princess 14 years oldHileal, Florida [Photo Credit: Nancy LeVine]

When I look at your website and at your body of work it seems rather diversified. Did this happen by chance or was your career carefully crafted that way?
There are a few questions that you have posed that are related to planning. [Note: I make a living as a project manager]  I was doing fashion and I was ready to explore other subjects and that’s when I started doing the dog work. Sometimes I would bring that work in when I was showing my fashion portfolio and people loved looking at the dogs. That was something they don’t usually get a chance to see. And then over time I decided I would see if I could develop this body of work into a book. You have to be a self-starter. You have to feel that you care enough about something that you can push it through.

Maybe not so much push it through but allow it to form and allow it to become something that it needs to be and then be patient when you are looking for publishers. Nothing happens overnight and it shouldn’t. It’s okay that it doesn’t. Because when you are with it longer you can make more photographs and you can deepen your feelings about it. Lots of things can occur so you don’t want to rush anything.

Whatever you have a visceral response to, pay attention.  And spend the time.

The Questionnaire

10. Color or Black and White? – Black & White
9. Film or Digital? – Both are great
8. Traditional Darkroom or Digital Darkroom?
– Digital
7. Objects or People?
– People
6. Urban Jungle or Pretty Landscapes? – Urban Jungle

5. Weddings or Root Canal? – Weddings
4. Kitted out with Heavy Long Lens or Point & Shoot? – Point and Shoot

3. Assignment or Fine Art? – Both
2. Tell me about the one that got away. – I can’t really think of any.

1. Tell me about the one you are still chasing. – I want to photograph people who have lived awhile. I’m interested in middle aged and older people. That inspires me. How they do it, how they live, how they create.
The motivation beyond the photograph is being able to meet people who have lived very interesting lives. That’s the pearl for me.

The Parting Shot

A lot of it is just being present. I think that’s the best part of photography. It’s observational, it’s emotional, but you are completely present to it.

 

Bottom to top - Phyllis 12 years old, Englebert 9 years old, Loretta 12 years old, Eeyore 14 years old; Behind - Enoch 5 years oldDenver, Colorado [Photo Credit: Nancy LeVine]

Candid Conversations: Felice Willat

Felice Willat

Felice Willat
Fine Artist
California

Connections: 

Website
Facebook
Instagram
Gallery Los Olivos
Topanga Canyon Gallery

 

The world of photography, and photographers, is connected. Go out on a single photo tour and your connections grow two fold. Not only is it a well-connected community it’s a supportive and nurturing community, too. That is why it didn’t surprise me that after my interview with Dan Sniffin, Felice reached out to Dan to give him kudos on the interview and point out to Dan that she believed he wasn’t giving himself enough credit when he said he felt it was arrogant to call himself an Artist. 

Dan feels strongly that the only person who could call him an artist is someone looking at his work and believing it to be art. Felice, however, feels quite differently. She doesn’t consider herself a photographer first. She considers herself an artist first. (Which I believe is interesting since, if I remember my photo history correctly, when photography first came on the scene fine artists, most specifically painters, poo poo’d the medium as an art form.)

In my opinion, and I believe it’s a point of view that Felice shares, artists are people who break barriers and molds, turning things upside down, while seeking other vantage points and other points of view. Some photographers are more like technicians and see themselves as such: trying to find the perfect and classic point of view; and, making sure their images are technically perfect. 

Toward the end of my conversation with Felice we approached the topic again. Is a photographer an artist or a technician? When do they become an artist? It is a fascinating and philosophical topic and one that I hope to continue to explore with Felice and other photographers. 

I first met Felice (pronounced FEL-EEE-CHAY) on a photo tour when we shared the back seat of a car while driving around looking for some interesting colors in the desert. Felice has one of those wonderful rags to riches stories. Even she claims her life is a bit of a Cinderella story. Born in Brooklyn, but raised in Hollywood, Felice married not one, but two high school sweethearts (not at the same time). It was during her second marriage that she and her entrepreneur husband started a little company called “Day Runner.” (Anyone in corporate America during the 90’s will recognize that little business. Especially those of us who live our lives by the calendar). 

Due in great part to the success of the business, Felice was able to travel. This is where her photographic journey began. I am very much drawn to her story and her success as a photographer because I, too, am a late bloomer and am so very curious how others manage a leap like this mid-stream. For Felice, I can say with great assuredness, it has been done successfully and with great abandon. 

Rocks, Pines, Cloud (Photo Credit: Felice Willat)

The Conversation

What is your first memory of photography? 
A brownie camera and those little shiny white paper prints that had a deckled edge. They were black and white and very faded looking. Honestly it didn’t mean much to me at the time. Photography didn’t mean much to me until I had a camera in my hand. It’s like someone put a paintbrush or pencil in my hand – suddenly, it became a part of me.

When was the first time you had a camera in your hand?
Well the clear memory of it was when I was well into my forties and in India.  I had a point and shoot camera with me and in India – an assault to your senses - you really can’t take a bad picture. When I returned from India with some wonderful photos I hung them on the wall in my office at Day Runner.  One of our product designers said, “You have an eye!” Intrigued, I found a local coach and we worked together for about ten to fifteen years. When the photo world turned digital, I found a digital coach and I have been with him ever since. I never “formally studied” photography.  (Editor note: I think having coaches could be considered formal study.) 

When you were working with the first coach did you ever work in a dark room?
No. I never did that. I started with slide film and had everything done in labs. 

Photography is a means of communication. What is it you are trying to communicate and to whom? 
I almost feel like a voyeur. I’m trying to capture something so fleeting that if you don’t capture that very moment it’s going to be gone. It’s stopping action – stopping time itself and being in a place where you can observe that moment. At first I wasn’t really trying to communicate with anyone. I was just trying to look at life behind the scenes.  

After my trip to Burma in December of 2007 I thought, “Maybe I can help these people in Burma.”  I was very affected by the Burmese experience.  I decided to self-publish a book of my photographs and thoughts of the country, and from there I began to take it on as a serious project.   If I were to have an exhibit and sell books and prints, I would give the proceeds back to the people. 

Did anything change for them because of your work? 
I did donate all proceeds of print and book sales to more than one orphanage. I was able to see the changes that came forth through the donations through follow-up emails from my in-country photo coach and his private organization.   I was happy about my endeavor.  As it turned out I was satisfying a part of me that needed to be expressed.  

Molokai Maidens (Photo Credit: Felice Willat)

Have you seen that your photography affects change in other people?
That’s an interesting question.  I was able to donate some of the Burma photos to a refugee center in the US so they could portray some of the scenes. My photographs were made into posters for the walls of the center. Not that many people were going into Burma and shooting at that time (so the images would be a bit novel).  But my purpose had more to do with an inspirational or emotional connection that people have when they see my work. It wasn’t so much about finding another charitable endeavor as it was discovering a symbiotic relationship with the world through the lens of the camera.  It was more of a personal thing for me. 

Where else have you done similar work? 
I traveled to Morocco and I realized how difficult it was for women to be seen. Not so much to be seen in front of a camera because that is forbidden, but to be seen in general. They were covered up, most of them, and they weren’t comfortable being seen by anybody in their culture. That was pretty startling.

I considered doing some work toward global woman’s causes but soon realized that
I am very a-political.  I prefer to portray the beauty and poetry of a situation rather than the politics.  There are different types of photographers.  Those who really want to make a difference through their work – a journalistic approach, if you will.  I have tremendous respect and admiration for street narrative photography, and I’m clear that my approach is a more aesthetic one.  

My focus is a kind of ethnographic - somewhere in-between a landscape and a people-scape. It’s what I call “LifeScapes.”  I have my first solo show, currently showing, in Santa Barbara and it’s  focused more on how people and place are inseparable.

Cardinals Climbing (Photo Credit: Felice Willat)

The image that I adore is the main photo on your website with the monks crawling on the white wall. Tell me about that.  
It actually has an interesting story.  The image that I originally printed and sold, was shot after the novices got up on the perches and were standing or sitting. I wouldn’t call it a pose, but they were still.  It was a successful picture and it was featured in my book. Years later I looked back at my photos and discovered the one that is posted now. It was a much more dynamic photograph because it showed movement, a moment in-between. I printed it only a year ago and it became my best seller. 

Cardinals  (Photo Credit: Felice Willat)

Another one of my pictures called “Molokai Maidens” shows three young hula dancers who stopped dancing and walked into the shallow water at sundown.  It reminds me of a stage production. It is another image where the people and the environment are equally important. Both of those pictures have sold out. It’s interesting to note that and to feel I  found a special photographic point of view.  

Why photography as a medium?
Probably because I held a camera in my hands before a paintbrush. And before a pen. I love writing but I haven’t developed it. I feel immature with regards to writing, but it feels like the next plateau for me.  To be able to write like I shoot. I have done a good deal of journal writing. In fact I had a journal writing company right after Day Runner. I do enjoy the written word and would like to explore that as I do photography but you know how it is. It’s practice and it’s where you are and what you have and you do the best with what you have and for some reason the camera became a part of me. And it became an easier medium for me than painting or crafting word stories.  

It’s a matter of practice and being able to express what’s inside. My sister has a paralyzing fear of doing that. With me, I feel the fear but I do it anyway. Again, for me and for others, it’s just a matter of practice and engagement with the medium. And I learned photography first. I’m not going to say I’ll never be a painter or a writer.  I would like to be if I live long enough. 

Is there any particular subject that you shoot that gets you in the zone? 
It’s that place where I am discovering people being in their place.  And it’s often where the person or the people are in a contemplative state or at one with their work, craft or other person.

In Vietnam, I came upon a woman who was chanting and reading from her prayer book. She was sitting on the bank of a famous lake, and in the distance, in the fog, was the temple. It was a beautiful shot. And I knew when I shot it that I was in her zone - that moment of stillness where something wonderful was happening. 

Another occasion was when I was in Burma. It was early morning and there was a man filling his Oxen cart with water.  There are two oxen and a very ancient cart. It was on the banks of another beautiful lake with temples in the distance and again fog. The two oxen were kissing each other. Again, it was a moment of stillness and peacefulness. I got to “peek through the keyhole” and catch that fleeting moment. It was the same with “Molokai Maidens.” I felt like “Ooooh! Look at these girls!  They are contemplative and looking at the creatures in the water and don’t know anyone is looking at them.” 

This can happen with a simple landscape too.  One of my most powerful photo journeys was to the Huangshan Mountains during a workshop called Contemplative Landscape Photography with George deWolf and Lydia Goetz.  Many elements make a layered landscape that resembles ancient Chinese scroll paintings.

Hanoi Prayers (Photo Credit: Felice Willat)

When you shot these images, are you on a tripod and standing still? Are you moving around? What’s your activity?
It’s varied. With Climbing Cardinals, and Molokai Maidens, I was not on a tripod. For “The Water Bearer” I was. It just depends. You can’t always be prepared. 

In a recent workshop, a National Geographic photographer said “Sharpness is over rated.” (Editor’s note: The quote seems to be originally attributed to Keith Carter.)  I prefer blurred lines in general. It could be existing fog, mist or intentionally softening the scene for a more dream-like image.

When you are editing your images after a day in the field are you looking at them and assessing the technical aspect of the image or are you saying “I get a feeling from this image?” 
I do try to hone in on the settings for the best image while shooting, but I’m far from the technicians around me! I pay most attention to the composition. The framing is exquisitely important to me. If I don’t get the foot I’m not going to print that photo. I am very cautious when I am in a wonderful environment. 

I sometimes wait and wait in a “photo trap” where you have your background and middle ground and you are waiting for someone to step into the foreground. I have done that but I’m not the kind of photographer who will wait three days for a shot. Or even three hours. But I will wait twenty minutes. I realize I am not a National Geographic shooter but I can capture some nice pictures every once in a while.  

What do you do to prepare yourself when you go out for a day or for one of your own projects? 
I keep it simple. One camera and 2-3 lenses.  One or two cards and an extra battery. To be emotionally or mentally prepared I try to put myself in a place where I will be surprised or where I have never been before so it’s unpredictable.  I need to be surprised so I’ll get that "AaHa" moment that I can extend and later share. 

Water Bearer (Photo Credit: Felice Willat)

How do you keep things fresh? 
I don’t think I have explored one percent of the possibilities of shooting people within their landscapes. I have just started that and I can’t wait to get out and do more of it. I haven’t explored it enough to have it be stale. 

For me, some freshness lies in alternative photo finishing processes. I’ve been studying with Joyce Wilson in Santa Barbara who taught Alternative Photography at Brooks. That’s where I feel challenged and excited about doing something new. 

What have you done in the Alternative Process world that has been exciting?
One of my favorite techniques is inkjet printing over paint and gold leaf.  For instance, you might take a layer of red paint and paint over an art paper and then let that dry and then you put a layer of gold paint over and let that dry and then you put that through the printer and you get something more like a silhouette over this gold with a little red peeking through. This is one of Joyce Wilson’s techniques, which I love. 

U-Bein Bridge Altered (Photo Credit: Felice Willat)

What do you do on those days where you just don’t have it?
That only happens when I am on a photo expedition and we go as a group on a particular shoot and we’ll stop at a location and I just don’t see it.  That happens.  What I do is just stop and say, “Ok. I don’t have to shoot.” Then I’ll walk further away and that’s when I usually see something. It does happen, and if I don’t shoot I’m ok with that.  In fact when I go out to shoot sometimes I won’t shoot at all. Or I’ll shoot one or two shots in an hour. 

I shoot very few images. In fact someone said to me, “You aren’t a digital hoarder are you?” And I said, “No way!” because I edit out immediately - directly from the camera. I won’t even download anything that I don’t think is good. My expectation for myself, since I don’t manipulate much in Photoshop, is if I didn’t capture it right I’m not even going to bother. And now I’m at a point that I can look at a scene and if all of the elements aren’t there I’ll just move on. 

What do you see as your biggest challenge as a photographer?
My biggest challenge is learning some of the Photoshop tools that I didn’t learn from the beginning like layers and masking. I’m usually the only person in a workshop that doesn’t do that. I feel a little bit intimidated but I’ve learned to use some of the post-processing software like Nik’s and Topaz  to get around it. There are alternative techniques that I am interested in that I find challenging. To me it’s what happens after you take the shot. There are a lot of options and that’s what is challenging to me. 

Why don’t you become a professional photographer?
Because I’m an artist. And I only shoot for art gallery presentation of my own work. I don’t shoot on assignment. But if someone asked me to go on assignment to do what I love to do of course I would do it.  But I wouldn’t want to take on a project like a wedding that I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing 

Who inspires you? Who or what is your muse?
One person I can mention is Jack Spencer. [Editor’s note: Check out his website. Wow!]  He is a photographer but he has ways of working with his photographs so the end product is magical. Again, for me, it’s being able to see what the possibility is for the end product and know how to shoot for it and then know how to produce it. I’m more of an artist than I am a photographer.  I’m not focused on the technology or even the best camera. I am more focused on the image and to try and figure out how to make it more magical or more compelling. 

If you could give the young you some advice what would it be?
I would say shoot when you feel that spark inside. Don’t expect the camera to make the pictures. A lot of people say, “What camera did you use?” or “Wow, how many pictures did you take?” as if the camera was going to do the work. You have to take the picture in your mind’s eye. You have to feel, “Oh, look at that!” and then you have a story to tell about the image you made.  

The Questionnaire

10. Color or Black and White?  Color
9. Film or Digital?  Digital
8. Traditional Darkroom or Digital Darkroom?  Digital Darkroom
7. Objects or People?  People
6. Urban Jungle or Pretty Landscapes?  Pretty Landscapes
5. Weddings or Root Canal?  Weddings
4. Kitted out with Heavy Long Lens or Point & shoot / Holga?  Point and shoot
3. Commercial or Fine Art?  Fine Art
2. Tell me about the one that got away The ones that I see when I am in a bus or with a car-full of people. All of the ones that were out the window of a bus or car. 
1. Tell me about the one you are still chasing. The next winning photo. I have two that I consider have taken me to the next level and I’m chasing the 3rd.  I won’t know until I’m in that moment. The magic moment when you don’t know what’s important the subject or the background. 

The Parting Shot

"All you can do is to be successful in the moment. That is where I enjoy myself the most. And when I have a camera in my hand I lose track of time and that’s really where I feel the most engaged with life."

Golden Weir (Photo Credit: Felice Willat)


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Candid Conversations: Saed Hindash

Saed Hindash

Saed Hindash
Photojournalist
New Jersey

Connections:

Instagram
Tumblr
NJ.com/Blog
Twitter

After my interview with Chuck Kimmerle, he suggested I reach out to Saed Hindash as someone to interview for my series. When I looked at Saed’s website I saw that he was raised in Seattle (I lived there for 12 years), he loves coffee (Hello! Seattle!), and now he lives in Central New Jersey (Holy Cow! We’re practically neighbors!).  How could I NOT call him? 

He is also a photojournalist, which I think is one of the coolest jobs in the world.

When Saed was sixteen, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. (How does that happen?!) The advisor for his high school newspaper needed someone to take a photo for a story— and since Saed was one of the advanced students in Photography 101, he was the one picked for the assignment. 

After seeing his picture and his by-line in print, that was it. He spent the time necessary to research the right classes to take and the right schools to attend. His future as a photojournalist was sealed.

Saed has come a long way since he received his AA degree at Everett Community College. He went on to complete his Bachelor of Arts at Evergreen State College, and then worked his way up at newspapers in both Pittsburgh and Cincinatti. Today, he continues to hone his craft in New Jersey.  

Journalism, as I know it anyway, is going through a dramatic change. Until recently, Saed was a photojournalist with The Star Ledger, New Jersey’s largest-circulating newspaper. He now works for a company called NJ Advance Media—an interesting and innovative move, since NJ Advance Media now supplies content for The Star Ledger in Newark, as well as other leading New Jersey news outlets.

Throughout our conversation, we couldn’t help but discuss the current state of the newspaper business, and the state of news and media in general—as well as the impact it’s all had on photographers and journalism, as a whole. It’s a long and complex conversation that deserves a better forum than this post can provide. But as the infamous fortune cookie says, “May you live in interesting times.”

New York Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner (11) is tagged out by Boston Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli (12) in the 17th inning as he tries to beat it back to first base at Yankee Stadium. Bronx, NY  4/11/15 (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash)

The Conversation

What is your first memory of photography?
I was probably six or seven, and I took a picture of my father. It was in New Mexico where we originally lived. I remember picking up a camera and making a picture of him at some sort of monument or something like that.  

I have vague memories of using a Polaroid camera. But the stronger memory was picking up a camera my freshman year of high school to take pictures. 

Photography is a means of communication. What do you feel you are trying
to communicate, and to whom? 

As a photojournalist, I try to tell a story. I try to make pictures that explain, that tell what is happening—whether it’s good or bad. Of course, if I can make people change because I have made a picture that really caused them to think twice about something—or even just “WOW” them—then I feel like I am succeeding. There are also a lot of ethics that come with photojournalism. You have to be truthful. You can’t be deceptive. 

Charlie Lee, of Newark, tries to water her grass, and ends up watering Kasheem Heath, 9, a neighbor, on a hot day in Newark. (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash)

On your website you have an image of dead cows strewn about a highway. What are the ethics involved in something like that? How do you choose what to shoot when it’s possibly a graphic or disturbing scene? 
First and foremost, you want to try and make pictures that tell what is happening. Each situation is different. 

For any type of spot news, you want to shoot it as quickly as possible—before you make any eye contact or establish any communication with the police. Before you know it, they are going to say, “You can’t be here. You need to step away.” If that happens too soon, you don’t get anything.  And that’s where you have failed at trying to document that tragedy, or whatever is happening. 

With the cows, that was on the turnpike in Pennsylvania. The road was shut down, but I knew from the police scanner what was happening. I went ahead and climbed a fence and walked onto the turnpike. I had to see the scene. I had to take pictures. Again, you shoot everything possible—even if it’s gruesome; because you can decide later what you are willing to show. 

You shouldn’t edit as you shoot. No matter how horrific it is. And when you do sit down and edit, that is where the sensitivity comes in.  That’s when you tell the story without over-stepping your bounds. 

The newspapers have rules for what they will show and what they won’t show. Sometimes they push the envelope, depending on the situation. Decisions are not made just by me; they are made by editors, as well. Multiple hands are involved in those decisions. 

Dead Cows on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Cranberry PA (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash)

Is there any one subject that you shoot that gets you into the zone more than others?
When I was doing photo illustrations, I found myself getting really involved—so much so that I lost track of time. They are very difficult to set up. I would tend to lose track of time because I was so focused. Unfortunately, I have not done them in a long time because the newspaper has shied away from those types of images. 

I also love shooting hockey. It’s my favorite sport to shoot. It’s not that I get into a zone, but there is a lot of anticipation about what is about to happen. I sit down in front of the glass and poke my lens through, and I start to take pictures as the game is unfolding. It tends to happen a bit when I am engrossed in the game. But with everything else, I have to be very aware of what is going on, so I tend not to get consumed with the situation.

Photo Illustration for an Inside Jersey Magazine story about two-faced corrupt politicians. (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash / Andre Malock)

How do you prepare yourself for an assignment? 
I will often get an assignment before I go to bed, so I know what I am going to be doing the next day.  I start to plot out what I might encounter and what I might shoot.  But then, things happen—like a robbery, a fire, or maybe a standoff. Then all of a sudden, I am thrown for a loop. Now, I have to go cover this when I’ve already had my mind set on that. And that can sometimes be hard. 

When I get that call that says this event is unfolding, the adrenaline kicks in. I try to get to these scenes as quickly as possible. I don’t do anything crazy, where I’m breaking any laws or going to get myself killed—but my goal is to try to get there as fast as possible. Because the sooner I get there, the better pictures I’ll make. 

Every situation is different. There is no rule of thumb. Because sometimes you go in planning to do X, Y, and Z but A, B, C happens instead. You get there and you can’t get anywhere near the scene because they have closed the road off. 

One of the biggest things about being a photojournalist is that we are somewhat like first responders. We arrive, not as quickly as the police and fire, but sometimes you do! Sometimes you arrive on the scene fairly quickly, and now you are there dealing with the situation as they are dealing with it. 

Firefighters with the Slackwood Volunteer Fire Co. in Lawrence Township, work quickly to put out a fire which fully engulfed a pickup truck in the parking lot of Quaker Bridge Mall. Lawrence Township, NJ  6/12/15  (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash)

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you have to make a choice if you are a “human being” or a “photographer” first? 
I have never encountered it. But from a personal perspective—if I were in a position where I am the first one there, I would definitely do my best to help. 

There was once a car accident that happened on the New Jersey Turnpike. I don’t remember the year. It just happened seconds before I was driving by. There was still dust in the air, and a car was on its side, and there was a guy in the middle of the road. I saw a car pull over and stop, and I pulled over further up and grabbed my gear. 

The guy who stopped was kneeling down and assisting this guy in the middle of the road. When I approached, the first thing I said was, “everything ok?” And he said, “Yes. I just called the cops.” And within a few minutes, the cops showed up, and I stood back and let them do their thing. That’s when I started taking pictures. 

Again, if I were in that type of position I would stop to help first. Then, as the first responders arrived, I would step back and document their work. 

A neighbor takes a peek at a Nissan Pathfinder which crashed and landed in the house belonging to Gloria Sinclair, 74, Friday night December 8, 2011, near the intersection of West Market Street and Wickliffe Street in Newark. No one was injured. (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash)

As a photojournalist, do you have to get permission from anyone to take his or her picture? 
No. As long as they are on a public street and in public view, they are fair game to be photographed—no matter what the situation is. There are a lot of things that go around about privacy and whatnot, and the general rule of thumb is as long as the subject is in a public area and can be seen publicly, it’s fair game. 

How do you keep it fresh? 
If you are doing the same thing every day, it can get a bit tedious. But that doesn’t happen often. 

I spent a year with eight- to ten-year-old competition cheerleaders for a project. I went to their practices and I traveled to their competitions. I became sort of like a fly on the wall after a while. In order to keep it fresh and interesting, I forced myself to use different equipment—and that would inspire me. Since it was a long-term project, I could play. 

That’s where it opens up a flood of opportunity, because it’s not going to make or break the assignment. You might come up with a great picture, or they all might be flops. But from that standpoint, I find equipment helps jazz me up because this is going to be fun and I’m going to try this. And I don’t know what I’m going to get. I don’t know if it’s going to work, but it’s going to be exciting. That tends to keep me motivated. 

Tatiana Sykowski, top left, does her tumbling pass as the Twinkles compete in the Cheer for Charity at the Chase Center on The River Front in Wilmington, Delaware February 18, 2012. (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash)

So you have long-term assignments, short-term assignments, and on the spot work—it’s all over the board.
That’s the thing. It’s about what’s going to happen that day. Again, you have stories that you want to profile—whether it’s an event like professional baseball or football, or whatever. You know that’s going to happen, so you go and cover it. 

But it’s all of those unexpected things that happen that throw a wrench into your day—whether it’s a hostage-taking, a standoff, or an explosion.  You don’t know when they are going to happen. You have to be ready. 

Everywhere I go I have my equipment in my car. My equipment is loaded and ready to go at any given moment. I am not one of those people that carry a camera on me one hundred percent of the time. I like some downtime. But during my workweek, even when I’m not working, my gear is loaded up and ready to go. 

Seton Hall Pirates center Eugene Teague, left, and Seton Hall Pirates forward Brandon Mobley, right, battle Long Island Blackbirds forward E.J. Reed (33) for a rebound on Dec. 5, 2013, at the Prudential Center. Seton Hall defeated LIU, 92-81. (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash)

Do you do any photography for fun? 
I don’t have as much time as I used to. I used to do Polaroid transfers with help from Chuck Kimmerle. 

Chuck was my first boss in Pittsburgh. During that time, he got me into experimenting and trying new things. He helped me along. I don’t get to do Polaroid transfers much anymore because they no longer make the film. I have about eight boxes frozen in my freezer as back up. I’ll take some out every once in awhile and play a little. 

In recent years, I have been getting into doing black and white landscapes—also inspired by Chuck. After fifteen years of not seeing each other, Chuck and I recently spent twenty-four hours doing hard-core black and white landscape photography in Yellowstone. I got a taste of working with him, which is something I have always enjoyed and appreciated. Those are my areas of playing. I don’t do it as much as I would like to. 

Polaroid Transfer portrait of New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez. (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash)

Yellowstone National Park (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash)

What do you do on those days where you just don’t have it? Especially on a paid assignment?
I have my fair share of days that I just didn’t shoot well. It’s not that I didn’t see it. For example, when shooting sports, it is all about anticipation and reaction. Maybe I was a bit off my reaction time. I didn’t anticipate something happening, so I didn’t get the exact moment. That’s going to happen. We’re human. We’re going to miss things. And I’ll have another shot at it the next game. 

And then for a spot news event, you are at the mercy of your access. The more access you have, the better the pictures—whether it’s a fire, an accident, or a shooting. Whatever spot news is developing in front of you; if you have access, you’re golden. And it’s going to be like a shooting gallery. No matter where you shoot from, you are going to make phenomenal pictures.  If you have no access, it’s not that you weren’t being a good photographer that day. You just couldn’t get in. 

Some people are really good at sweet-talking cops. I’ll be honest. I’m not. I will ask and pressure a bit, but I’m not the one that will fight them verbally. 

There are guys that will either break laws or really have charisma, and are able to sweet-talk cops to gain a closer vantage point.  I haven’t been so lucky. And I think it comes down to personality, and that’s just not me. I don’t think it has anything to do with being a good photographer. It’s just being that individual. Sure, that person probably capitalized on it and made good pictures. It just depends. 

You are seeing it now more than ever in the digital age, where people have camera phones. The average Joe on the street is driving, and the scene happens right in front of them. Like the police brutality issues happening. Things are being documented, not by photographers, but by the public. It’s about being an eyewitness. If you had a professional photographer being the eyewitness, the pictures would be much better.  So the thing is—it’s all about being in the right place at the right time, and being ready to document. 

What do you find is your biggest challenge as a photographer? 
It’s hard as a newspaper photographer because you have to be good at everything. You have photographers who are really good at portraiture and weddings and this and that. But as a newspaper photographer, you have to spread yourself thin and be proficient at everything. 

You are thrown into a different situation every day, and you have to be able to make the best of that situation. Every day you are challenged to make a great picture that tells the story of that assignment. The challenge is making a great picture that I feel proud of.  

There are times when I get extremely nervous, even though I have been doing this for so long. I want to be able to be the best. That’s the hardest part. Making the best picture that day.  But that’s all I can worry about is that day. 

New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony had his son Kiyan with him court side trying to watch the final minutes of the 2015 Jordan Brand All-American Boys National Game at the Barclays Center. Brooklyn, NY  4/17/15 (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash)

New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Kyle Reynish (18) leaps into the air to make a save against Chelsea during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena. Red Bulls defeated Chelsea 4-2.  Harrison, NJ  7/22/15 (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash)

What do you find is the biggest challenge facing professional photographers today? 
That’s a sensitive subject. I think it’s being respected—more so than ever, with the advancement of technologies. I think as photographers, we have lost respect. The quality of photography is being pushed aside. If you recall, the Chicago Sun Times released their photo staff. Then, they gave their reporters iPhones for smaller assignments, and hired freelance photographers for their larger assignments. It just shows you right there how much they value their photography. 

Before, your picture would run big in the paper, and so you needed to have the quality of the image and the impact of the image. Now, everything is about the size of a 4x6 picture online. You can take a crappy picture and the quality won’t be much of an issue. That is what is being accepted. 

I think the single-handed issue that professional photographers face across the board— whether it’s photojournalists or wedding photographers or portrait photographers—is the lack of respect that we are getting across the industry. Everyone can take a picture now. We, as trained photographers, are being pushed aside because “we don’t need them anymore.” And the respect is being thrown away. 

New Jersey Devils' Martin Brodeur makes an amazing diving save with only 12 seconds left in the game under pressure from Mike Comrie and Jeff Tambellini of the New York Islanders. Devils won 2-1. (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash)

Who inspires you? Who or what is your muse? 
I’m not glued to looking at other people’s work. The reason why is I am my own photographer. I am who I am.  And I don’t want to shoot like other people. I can respect other people’s work, but I don’t see anyone that single-handedly inspires me. 

I would point out a few people that I respect highly because they saw something in me they felt was important. 

My professor in college, John Lindstrom. He was a former newspaper photographer who became a teacher and taught photojournalism. I had a lot of respect for him because he drove me and instilled a lot of the ethical values that I still have. 

Another person is Chuck Kimmerle and his landscape work. I’ve always told him that he is the modern day Ansel Adams. That, alone, is inspirational. He was my first editor and my first boss. I respect his work and his drive. He once asked me, “Do you really want to go to a big city newspaper, as opposed to staying in a small town?” And I said, “Yeah. I want to be able to shoot sports and be able to travel and do this and that…” And he said, “Then go for what you want.” I have a lot of respect for that. So those types of people inspire me because their philosophy keeps ringing in my head. 

There is also Bruce Bennet. He’s the Director of Photography, Hockey Imagery at Getty Images, and photographs one hundred percent of the hockey for Getty. He is very inspiring. He’s been shooting hockey for decades and inspires me to want to be the best I can be. He has a lot of vision and talent that I still can’t seem to grasp. 
 

Yellowstone National Park (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash)

If you could give the young you some advice what would it be? 
I don’t think you can publish it. [laughter] “Run! Go the other way!” [more laughter] 

It’s very sad. The industry has changed so much. And it’s for the worse, in my opinion. We are in a place of reinventing ourselves, and unfortunately a lot of the practices follow the Buzzfeed approach to journalism—with all the sensationalism and the quirkiness. I don’t like that. I’m old school. 

My advice is: be willing to experiment and use everything possible. Our phones. Our GoPros. Our video cameras. Our still cameras. Experiment. The more we experiment, the more we get comfortable and accustomed to the equipment. It opens up a huge avenue for how we can document. 

I shoot hockey, and I do remote cameras when I shoot. I put them in the rafters in arenas, where they hang down over the ice to get a different vantage point. I put cameras behind goals. I put cameras in quirky little places just to get a different vantage point that the public doesn’t get to see. That drives me. I always try to challenge myself to try something different. And I think the more we limit ourselves, and the more we don’t push ourselves, is the biggest challenge we face. 

This has been stuck in my head for a while. “The more we think we know about/The greater the unknown.” I’m never overly confident that I know everything, because there is so much out there and I have no clue. So, again, what advice? I think it’s about experimentation and taking chances.

Buffalo Sabres right wing Chris Stewart (80) lands a punch to the head of New Jersey Devils defenseman Mark Fraser taking off his helmet during their fight in the first period at the Prudential Center.  Newark, NJ.  1/6/15 (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash)

The Questionnaire

10. Color or Black and White? Color
9. Film or Digital? Digital
8. Traditional Darkroom or Digital Darkroom? Digital darkroom
7. Objects or People? People
6. Urban Jungle or Pretty Landscapes? – Pretty landscapes
5. Weddings or Root Canal? – Weddings
4. Kitted out with Heavy Long Lens or Point and Shoot? Bag of arsenal
3. Commercial or Fine Art? – Fine art
2. Tell me about the one that got away. – Happens every day. 
1. Tell me about the one you are still chasing. –  I haven’t seen it yet. 

The Parting Shot

“It’s not just about the single image anymore. It’s not about that decisive moment. It’s about multiple moments that tell a story.”

New York Islanders center Mikhail Grabovski (84) eyes the puck as it flies around the boards against the New Jersey Devils during the first period at the Prudential Center.  Newark, NJ.  1/9/15 (Photo Credit: Saed Hindash)

Candid Conversations: Dan Sniffin

 

Dan Sniffin
Photo Hobbyist / Teacher
Fresno, California

Connections:

Website
Facebook

They, whoever “they” are, say, “still waters run deep.” While I was talking with Dan Sniffin for this post there has never been a saying more true to a man than that. Dan is that guy who stands back and observes the comings and goings. Always with a sly smile and a glint in his eye as if he holds THE secret. I experienced this first hand standing on a sand dune in Death Valley when I heard this little whisper, “Jo. Jo! Over here.” And there was Dan tilting his head in the opposite direction of the rest of the group to share a little gem he had discovered. 

And then there is his comic side. While the tour group is on a roll, tossing zinger after zinger, Dan quietly waits for that right moment when the room is quiet for one second. He has waited what seems a lifetime for this one. He lobs it over and lands a perfect ten each and every time. It’s timing that would make Jack Benny applaud.

Dan and I have much in common. (I’m still working on the amazing photographer part . . . and the comic timing … thing). When it comes to photography he is not a gear-head, chooses to be behind the camera and not in front of the camera, and in most aspects of life is a true introvert. He prefers conversations that are one on one or at a round table rather than speaking to a group of people. Case in point. In 1995, at his wife’s urging, he entered images into a contest with National Geographic Traveler Magazine. Of the 23,500 images submitted worldwide one of Dan’s submissions won a top 5-merit award. (Let me repeat: 23,500 images submitted!) As it turns out 2 of the four images he submitted ended up in the 1997 calendar. (Bravo!!!) The photos were taken in County Kerry, Ireland. The town was so grateful for the publicity that the Killarney Urban District Council invited him to a reception. When asked to say a few words the only words that came out were to his wife, “Honey, why don’t you say a few words.” And his wife took it from there. (I think it’s safe to say that Dan also married well.)

When I asked Dan to talk to me I knew him as a generous teacher, a guy with a quick wit, and a wonderful photographer. I never expected to hear of the jam packed journey that he has been on for the past 73 years. From dog trainer, to saxophonist, clarinet player by the skin of his teeth (you’ll have to ask him), salesman, and finally an amazing photographer, mentor, and wonderful man. Sadly there is no room in this blog to fully recognize the highlights of the roads less traveled by most of us, but I urge you to visit his website to see where he has been and what he has done. You will not be disappointed.

Black Valley Ruin (Photo Credit: Dan Sniffin)

The Conversation

What is your first memory of photography? 
I’m 73, and I remember when my parents, like all the others from the WWII generation, had one of these old time cube-shaped box cameras – the ones that looked like it had a coke bottle lens. I remember that it had a shutter release button that took a picture either way you pushed it.  So if you pulled the shutter release button up it would take a picture. If you pushed it back down it would take another one. So there were a lot of double exposures created as a result. And then there were my mothers’ family photo albums. She was always taking pictures of the kids. A high percentage of these photos were black and white. Color was something people didn’t have the money to do. 

Was there any catalyst that started you on your way?
The catalyst was looking at the pictures.  When I figured out what the camera did and I saw the pictures in the album I think that piqued my curiosity. In high school I trained dogs for others. I was going to be a professional dog handler at one time. The owner of Henley’s Photo Shop in Bakersfield happened to be one of the biggest German Shepherd breeders in the state. Because I had a relationship with him he offered me a job. During that time I learned the basics of photography. There were so many experienced people there. I got a really good education. 

Ice Beach (Photo Credit: Dan Sniffin)

Photography is a means of communication. What do you feel you are trying
to communicate and to whom? 

I would go back to one of my mother’s quotes, “Throughout my lifetime I have prayed for peace in the world. One day I became aware that I have no control over world peace. But I can bring peace into me, and in turn a little more peace will be given to the world.” This applies to my visual communication, because I see photography as a means to present the positive aspects of life and the extraordinary beauty that nature lends us. So in my mind too much negative imagery is produced and sometimes, many times, for shock effect or “for art’s sake.” Personally I see enough of that on a daily basis and it doesn’t interest me what-so-ever. Art or not. 

Is it beauty in everything or just natural settings?
I don’t know. Maybe it was my parents taking me to Yosemite when I was a young boy that influenced me. I have a black and white photo that was taken of my older brother and I standing in a meadow in Yosemite. I remember camping. It was just fascinating to hear the sounds and the smells of nature.  That is probably why I love nature so much. I spend so much time indoors with my business that I use photography as a respite from the business world and stresses of life. 

Dogwoods (Photo Credit: Dan Sniffin)

Why photography as a medium?
There aren’t many creative endeavors that can rival photography.  There is music, and dance, and throwing clay and all sorts of things, but I don’t think there are many things that compete with photography. My degree is in the creative arts.  My degree in music is in the performing arts.  I directed and sang in barbershop quartets for 12 years. And I used to judge competitions and I directed two barbershop choruses. But it’s not so much a creative thing as it is a part of something else. As a singer, you are depending on others. Photography you can do solo and learn at your own pace. 


Is there any one subject that you shoot that gets you into the zone more than others? 
I’m glad you asked! My love is abstracts. Mostly nature abstracts. A reflection in the water, ice abstracts – those kinds of things.  They really speak to me.  I’m not sure why, but I do know that if I am taking a picture of a reflection or an ice abstract, that image can never be duplicated. Water moves; ice melts.  And from that perspective, just knowing that I have created a one of a kind piece invigorates me. I can say that I have something here that no one else has. Even I am unable to recreate it. 

Fall Reflection (Photo Credit: Dan Sniffin)

How did you come upon abstracts?
In my early membership in PSA (Photographic Society of America) I found that rules had to be followed to be successful in salon judging. Rules like, “You can’t have the hand of man in it if you are shooting a nature subject. You can’t have a fence post or a garbage can or some kind of telephone pole in the picture because it wouldn’t be natural.” There are not many places you can go that there aren’t some evidence of the “hand of man.”  So I kept using telephoto lenses trying to isolate the subject to get rid of the things that judges didn’t want in the picture. Remember, these were the film days!  As a result my pictures became closer and closer and the field of view became narrower and narrower. When I saw subjects up close my vision changed dramatically. Visually speaking it made my heart race. So the process started with rules and ended up a revelation. 

How did you know it was a good photo if it didn’t follow the rules you were meant to follow?
I took a lot of different pictures of the same subject and I would compare them, knowing that there may be one that worked better than others. I learned to have a feel for what looked right for me – not what is right for everyone else. Interestingly, many of my most successful images were ones taken before I knew there were rules. So it was my own intuition of balance and rhythm that helped me. 

Tree in Morning Mist  (Photo Credit: Dan Sniffin)

Tree in Morning Mist (Photo Credit: Dan Sniffin)

How do you prepare yourself for an assignment? 
I don’t like assignments. I got a “C” in photography in Junior College.  My interest was in nature. But a typical assignment would go like this: “Ok, class, I want you to go out and take 36 exposures of fire hydrants.”  I just hated it.  I prefer not to give myself assignments. Instead, I shoot what pleases me. I don’t shoot people, weddings, still life, fashion, or sports. I follow what I love.

How do you keep it fresh? 
By not being a professional photographer! [Laughter] I’m not a professional photographer. I am an advanced amateur hobbyist. If I were a professional photographer it would become a job, which is precisely why I prefer not doing photography for a living. I’m very serious about my craft, but I want to keep my hobby in perspective. 

Palouse Hills (Photo Credit: Dan Sniffin)

What do you do when you just don’t have it as a photographer?
I put my camera down and relax. What’s the hurry? I also reduce my expectations and let the images come to me rather than forcing them. My tour partner, John Barclay, calls unrealistic expectations “FUDs.” You get fears, uncertainties, and doubts much like writers’ block is for a writer. When you push too hard the creativity disappears. In order to overcome that I just say, “What’s the hurry?” That has helped me consistently produce better images than at any time in the past.  Last year on two of our tours I said to John, “If I look like I’m not interested or not taking pictures don’t worry about me, I just want to relax and let the pictures come to me.” I came back with my best two shoots ever. 

And then there are times I don’t have it. I don’t have to get an “A” every time I go out. If I did, it wouldn’t be a challenge, would it?

Dune Abstract (Photo Credit: Dan Sniffin)

What about teaching?
In a teaching situation I do more observing and I try to find subjects that might help others. Not that it’s great, but a subject that may have potential.  Typically what I will do is look through their viewfinder and see what they are seeing, then ask them to take that picture, because I want them to compare it with another one. They may love the picture they took when they get home, or they may love something else. They need to take the picture they see, and then compare them. “How do you feel about the tree limb that’s sticking into the frame from the upper left?  Does your eye get stuck there?” And I go through a series of questions with them so they can get the idea that they need to move their eye visually through the frame. Sometimes they don’t see it, so I offer them another choice and let them decide by having both pictures to see what works best for them, and that way they can learn from it. 

What do you find is your biggest challenge as a photographer? 
Finding the time to do photography in between the complexities of life.  

What do you find is the biggest challenge facing professional photographers today?
I couldn’t say, because I don’t consider myself a professional photographer. That’s the honest answer.  I don’t think like a professional photographer in that I don’t feel I have to have a web presence.  I don’t have to have a marketing plan.  I don’t have to be sure I get the “Likes” on my Facebook page. I don’t think that way.  There is a lot of competition out there, and the competition is really intense at the higher level. There are hundreds of photographers who do phenomenal  work.  I’m just trying to sit up tall and take nourishment.  

Moeraki Boulder (Photo Credit: Dan Sniffin)

Who inspires you? Who or what is your muse? 
I think that I am inspired by many professional photographers and some talented advanced amateurs. If I were to give credit to one person it would be Freeman Patterson. He’s lives in New Brunswick, and has received the Order of Canada.  He’s authored little flip books called, Photography for the Joy of It and Photography and the Art of Seeing.  I consider him an intellectual who is a great communicator about how to see things. He got me away from thinking “Look, there’s a pine tree out there. Oh, that’s pretty. Oh, right next to it is a cabin.” He teaches how to see all things as shapes.  So, a pine tree becomes a triangle.   A house is now a square or a rectangle.   That’s the premise. You look at things as shapes rather than what they are in reality. From that perspective the subject doesn’t matter. He became the catalyst to bring me from the “guidelines/rules” of composition to being able to see, and how to create a pleasing balance within the frame using shapes, line, textures, and color.   He is a true craftsman; and he teaches in such a way that even I can understand, which is giving him a lot of credit.  It was an “Ah Ha” moment for me.  What I have learned from Freeman has changed my old habits and helped me create a more defined personal Vision.  That’s what I learned from him, and that’s what I try to teach when we are on location.
 
I’ve taken about 35 workshops and tours from professional photographers throughout the country. And of course I’ve done my own tours for the past 9 years with my friend, John Barclay. Folks in our photo tours dubbed us, "The BS Brothers!"

My wife is my muse. She sees things that I don’t see. She doesn’t do photography, but she sees things that I don’t. She is someone that really pushes me to see things differently. 

If you could give the young you some advice what would it be? 
Be patient and authentic in your work. To be honest and thoughtful of others. And most of all, follow your own vision. That is so important. Personal vision is the big buzz word now. Of course you’ll find people like Cole Thompson and Chuck Kimmerle, who are masters of our craft.  They have a personal vision that is unique. I don’t think I have found mine.  [Editors note: I completely disagree with this statement. That is all.] I have some good images, and have had some success in doing certain things, but having a vision that people can identify as mine is something I don’t have.

Any parting wisdom to share? 
Photography is a passion that provided me a respite from the business world and the difficulties that life brings. It gives me an opportunity to commune with nature and share ideas with like-minded people. Travel to destinations I had never dreamed of growing up. It’s also furthered my education in the creative arts. 

Illumination - Antelope Canyon (Photo Credit: Dan Sniffin)

The Questionnaire

10. Color or Black and White?  – Color
9. Film or Digital? – Digital
8. Traditional Darkroom or Digital Darkroom? – Digital darkroom
7. Objects or People? – Objects
6. Urban Jungle or Pretty Landscapes? – Pretty Landscapes
5. Weddings or Root Canal? – Root Canal
4. Kitted out with Heavy Long Lens or point or shoot? – Long Lens
3. Commercial or Fine Art? – Neither. [Editor’s note: See “the parting shot.”] 
2. Tell me about the one that got away. – You have to have it before it can get away.
1. Tell me about the one you are still chasing. – My best picture will be my next picture. [Editors note: you may have read this answer on another candid conversation post. Please know that that person, who shall not be named, actually stole this quote from Dan. It was Dans’ quote first. Scouts honor.]

The Parting Shot

"I have sold my work to corporate entities and private collector’s worldwide. I still prefer to call myself a photographer and leave the “A” word out. It is for others to decide if my photography is worthy of being called art. If you have to tell somebody it’s art it probably isn’t."

Alpenglow Reflection and Ice (Photo Credit: Dan Sniffin)


Candid Conversations: John Barclay

John Barclay

John Barclay
Photography Educator
Bucks County, PA

Connections:

Website
Facebook
Blog

 

A few years ago, in an attempt to find my way in the world of photography, I checked out a local photography club. While that was a bust, and not worth the telling, I did learn about this very cool software called Topaz. Fast forward a year or two when work was slow and I had some extra time I signed up for a webinar to learn how to use the software. The instructor of the webinar was none other than John Barclay. I was so taken by the way he taught the webinar I immediately checked out his website, got on his mailing list and liked his Facebook page. On a monthly basis I would look at his list of workshops and tours and wonder if I could ever gather the courage (along with time and money) to participate in one. And then the stars aligned and I was off to PEEC for a week to take photos of leaves. 

This was a life-changing event. I am not sure how or why but during that one week my six years of school all came together. For the very first time I felt that I was taking “real” photographs. I have John to thank for that. He has a way about him. (I think there is a song in that!) It would take far too many blog posts for me to further explain the gift he has given me (and keeps on giving me); I hope that through this conversation it will shed some light on this man who is a great teacher, and one of the most decent human beings I have had the pleasure of knowing. John is someone I am proud to call my mentor. 

His photography was first influenced by his father who was responsible for photographing bombing missions during WWII and the Korean War. (He was actually part of Joseph Heller’s squadron of the famous book Catch 22.) At a very young age, John was intrigued by the medium format negatives he saw laying around the house. Not just the cool subject matter but also the negative itself. And then one lucky day he found a darkroom set up at the local dump and brought it home. His dad built a darkroom around the new found equipment. He loved spending that time in the darkroom honing his photography skills. (And it was a great place to bring the girls!)

As John tells it, the real magic happened after he was married for a few years; his very smart wife, thinking he’d been a bit too grumpy, bought him a camera for Christmas with a note that said “You need to have some balance in your life and I want you to get back to photography.” Like me, he followed up with a workshop at PEEC under the tutelage of HIS mentor the late Nancy Rotenberg. It’s funny how cyclical life can be.

Salt Flats - Death Valley, CA (Photo Credit: John Barclay)

The Conversation

What is your first memory of photography? 
It was my father’s collection of photography from his time in the military and the 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ negatives that I found. I would look at them and think, “What are these? They look backwards. What do you do with them?” And then I learned how you have to develop them and use an enlarger to print them. My first camera was a Kodak instamatic with 126 film.  And those flash cubes! Those were great. The first camera I purchased was a Mamiya C330. A twin lens reflex medium format camera. I saved up and bought it brand spankin’ new when I was 17 years old.  

Photography is a means of communication. What do you feel you are trying to communicate and to whom?
It’s to document and share the creation that exists in front of us. I am just in awe of what is there for us to enjoy and capture with a camera. To me, as a Christian, I see the world in a certain way.  I not only see that it was created for our good but that we are to be good stewards of these gifts. So I MUST photograph to remember and preserve those memories as well as share that beauty and majesty with others. 

As a side note, in the workshop that I co-lead in Hawaii on the Island of Molokai, we have discussions about why we photograph and I blathered on about how I don’t need anybody’s feedback, it’s not important, and I photograph for me because it feeds my soul. One gal had an answer that was really poignant and it caused me to shift my thinking.  She said, “You know, I must share. I have to share. Because I think it’s important to share all of this that I am seeing. Not in a way to get a response from it. Not in a way to get likes from Facebook but just to share the beauty I am blessed to see and be part of."  So that’s where I am too. Not only does it feed my soul but I think it’s important to share what we are being fed and let that feed others too. 

Molokai, Hawaii (Photo Credit: John Barclay)

Why photography as a medium?
This will come from my own fears, uncertainties and doubts. My “FUD.” Because I don’t feel I have another creative capability. I don’t feel I can draw. Never mind paint. And the next closest thing I can do to be artistic would be with a camera.  That’s my creative outlet.  The camera becomes my creative muse. 

You are a musician. How does that creative outlet differ? 
I feel that I am much more creative with a camera.  While I have written some songs, probably a dozen that I would share, that’s a dozen songs in 25 or 30 years versus the opportunity to go make photographs. While they are both creative pursuits the music is not nearly as creative because of how difficult it is to produce yet another song. Music is the thing I go to so that I can calm myself. When I’m having that difficult day the guitar is in my office and I will use that to get re-centered.  So while it is creative, for me it is not nearly as creative as photography. 

Fonthill Castle - Doylestown, PA (Photo Credit: John Barclay)

Is there any one subject that you shoot that gets you into the zone more than others? 
I used to consider myself a landscape photographer. People would ask me what type of photographer I was and I would always say, “a landscape photographer.” Now it’s a very different answer. When people ask me, “What kind of photographer are you, John?” My response is, “I’m a photographer.” Period. 

I would agree that it’s unusual or certainly more difficult to be a photographer of many things, because it is really hard to master just one thing. It’s challenging to be just a landscape photographer. It’s a challenge to become a great wedding photographer. It’s a challenge to become a wonderful portrait photographer. I used to say I would never photograph people and now I absolutely adore the opportunity to be in Cuba and photograph and connect with those people. In that I find great joy. I never thought I would be interested in photographing buildings, inside or outside, but you put me in front of a Gehry building and I just go crazy. It’s a blast. 

You talk about getting in a zone, those types of situations get me giggly-happy as I am prone to say. At the same time put me in New Zealand or Tuscany or the Palouse and these are places I feel so blessed and privileged to go to. And then all of the stars align, if you will, and I am presented with wonderful light, subject matter to photograph, and people to be with, it’s exhilarating, It’s wonderful. So I guess there is no particular subject. I am open to whatever is presented to me, whatever turns my head.  

Pablo, Trinidad Cuba (Photo Credit: John Barclay)

What was the shift where you allowed yourself to explore outside of Landscape photography? 
Easy. It was all of that “FUD” again. Those fears, uncertainties and doubts that I tend to talk about in my lectures all the time. And the reason I talk about them a lot is because it’s my biography. It’s who I am. It was my fear and my inabilities and my doubts about whether I could do anything beyond taking a picture of a tree. So for years I thought “I am a landscape photographer. That is all I can possibly do,” and the self-talk was “I could never be a people photographer. That’s really hard.” 

If you remember in the “Dream – Believe – Create” lecture I talk about going to that Gehry building. It took me four years to build up the courage to go shoot a stinking building because I was so afraid of what to do. The shift was realizing that it’s just photography. It doesn’t matter what kind of photography it is. Be open to whatever is presented to you and just do that. Do whatever feels right. Now I am open to whatever it might be. Flowers, people, travel, or architecture. Whatever turns my head I will do my best to capture in a way that makes sense. 

Experience Music Project -  Seattle, WA (Photo Credit: John Barclay)

How do you keep it fresh? 
That’s a good question. I don’t have a good answer for that off the top of my head. The only thing that comes to mind is to say again that I leave myself open. If I’m simply driving around rather than saying “I am going to do this project about something” I will tend to be more open to whatever turns my head. 

What brought you to the teaching aspect of your work (workshops, webinars and tours) and what is so compelling about it? 
Nancy Rotenberg, back in 2006, called me and said, “I am no longer going to be teaching the Pocono Environmental Education Center workshops. (PEEC) They asked me who we should get for a replacement. I chose you, John.” To which I responded, “Nancy, I’ve never taught anything in my lifetime and I’m not even a good photographer!” and she said. “John, you are a born teacher, you don’t know it yet, and you are a fine photographer.” I said,  “No, I don’t want to do this.” To which she responded, “Well, that’s too bad because I already told them that you would.” [laughter] That’s exactly how it happened. 

I went on my first workshop. I had six people show up and I was scared to death, but quickly realized that Nancy, who was one of the most wonderful human beings I’ve ever met in my life, was absolutely correct. I adore teaching and what I love about teaching is helping others to realize their potential and to understand what it feels like to have those “a-ha moments.” I live for that. 

Belvedere - San Quirico,  Italy (Photo Credit: John Barclay)

It’s such great joy to help encourage and motivate other people to understand that they too have this artistic talent and capability inside them. Even more so with those that think they don’t. Because it’s my belief that everybody does. They just need to be loved and nurtured and encouraged to find it. 

I don’t have any formal training, but I have always wanted to help people. I asked Nancy to give me some pearls of wisdom.  She said, “John, they’re not hiring you to be the best photographer. That’s not even important. What they are paying you for is to be their coach. To encourage them and to love them and to give them a kick in the butt when needed.  You know, give them a gentle kick in the butt, push them in the right direction, and tell them they can. That’s what they are paying for.” She’s right! That’s our job as teachers. 

So whether it be a webinar, a free video on my website, whether it be teaching in the field . . .truly the best part is not the financial part. The best part is to see people continue on to be wonderful photographers filled with the same joy that I receive doing this crazy thing we do, called photography. That’s why I do it.  It feeds my soul to see others find so much joy in their photography!

Owl Creek Pass, Colorado (Photo Credit: John Barclay)

What do you do on those days where you just don’t have it? Either when you are photographing or when you are teaching? 
In the case where I am out photographing and it’s just not working and I’m not feeling it I’ve learned to give myself permission to be okay with that. I give myself permission to just be and not worry about having to create anything in the moment because there is nothing worse than trying to force a photograph to happen. It just won’t work. The biggest gift I have given to myself is the ability to say “It’s just not working today.” At that moment, guess what happens? When I give myself permission and I put the gear away and I just relax and enjoy the moment? Often, about an hour later, I have to grab my camera and make a photograph. So I don’t just frump and grump around and say “gosh I suck. I’m terrible.” That’s self-defeating behavior. Rather, it’s okay. Once I relax and clear my head it will all be good. 

Obviously, when you are in the teaching mode, you don’t have a choice. People are paying you money to bring them to the right place at the right time. So what do I do? As Dan’s [editors note: Dan Sniffin is John’s touring partner.] mother use to say when he was grumbling about, “Well, Dan, you know you bring your good time with ya.” [laughter] So seriously, I get up and there is that one person who is driving me nuts and I think it’s going to be a tough day, I stop and say “Hey John, you bring your good time with ya. Get out and have a good time.” That’s what I do.  Oh and of course if Dan is there, I don’t have a choice, he says, "John, get over it."  

You know I just thought of one other thing that Nancy Rotenberg said to me. “John, recognize that these people are paying a lot of money and giving themselves a present. It’s your job to do the best that you can do to make it the best present they have ever given themselves.”  I’m thinking that these folks have spent an awful lot of money to be here. They could have gone on a Caribbean cruise. They could have done a lot of things but they have chosen to spend their hard earned money to come here. It’s my responsibility to do by best for them.

Mesquite Flat Dune Abstract - Death Valley CA (Photo Credit: John Barclay)

What do you find is your biggest challenge as a photographer? (The taking pictures part… not the making money part.)
It’s always going to come back to the fears, uncertainties and doubts about my capability. It is the common thread and theme in my life. I think it’s the human condition as well. We ALL have fears, uncertainties and doubts. If somebody calls me up and says “Hey, I need you to take pictures of my family for a Christmas card.” Man I am going to freeze. “Oh no! What do I do? How do I handle the situation? Do I use strobes? Do I not use strobes? I don’t know how to use a flash.” The biggest obstacle is always the fear of my inabilities to do a good job with something new that might be thrown my way. 

What do you find is the biggest challenge facing professional photographers today?
One of the obstacles for people teaching workshops is to help people understand that there is no better place to learn than being side by side with others. Online resources are valuable and good to augment learning but nothing replaces that experience of being in the field.  The other thing that is a challenge is that everybody has a camera nowadays and everybody thinks they are a photographer.  And then quickly think they can lead people to do photography. 

The competitive nature of doing photography workshops and tours and such has increased. There are a million people out there doing it now versus when I started doing it seriously back in 2006. A few things have affected that. A digital camera which gives immediate feedback as opposed to film where you have to wait for results. That has had a big influence on how many people can learn photography and how quickly they can learn photography. But at the same time everybody thinks they can be a wedding photographer, or whatever type of photographer, because they now own a camera and can take pictures too.  

Klotz Silk Mill - Lonaconing, MD (Photo Credit: John Barclay)

Who inspires you? Who or what is your muse? 
Nancy Rotenberg was far and away the biggest influence in my photography and unfortunately is no longer with us. She passed of cancer at 63 young years old. She was my mentor. Then there was that first influence, like many who consider themselves a landscape photographer, Ansel Adams. He was that guy we all revered and held in high esteem. He was the one who I was introduced to first and who got me very excited to do black and white photography. My Dad bought me his books as soon as I showed interest.

In todays environment there are two guys that will always come to the forefront of my mind and they are Cole Thompson and Chuck Kimmerle. I adore their work. I think they are modern masters along the same peer level of an Ansel Adams but in our day. I think they have pioneered their art and are thinkers as well. 

There are a couple of other people that I would add to that list. Guy Tal who is a brilliant writer, a deep thinker about photography and is also a great photographer. I can’t leave out David duChemin. He too is a deep thinker, thinking beyond the rules, and getting in touch with the way we are feeling about subject and photographs. And then Sarah Marino. I saw her images one day on the 500px website and was blown away.  Since then, we have become friends.  She is not only a brilliant photographer, she is a great writer.  She too has much to say about photography and I look forward to her inspiring blog posts. Those are some of the people who inspire me. 

If you could give the young you some advice what would it be? 
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t feel the need to be perfect. All of those things get in the way. Be open to whatever it is that moves you and photograph it.  And don’t be critical. I was always so self-critical and having to perfect everything and that all got in the way of just being open to the experience. It’s much easier to photograph now because I don’t worry so much about what other people think. . 

Boxer - Philadelphia, PA (Photo Credit: John Barclay)

The Questionnaire

10. Color or Black and White? – Black and White
9. Film or Digital? – Digital
8. Traditional Darkroom or Digital Darkroom? – Digital Darkroom
7. Objects or People? – Objects 
6. Urban Jungle or Pretty Landscapes? – Pretty Landscapes
5. Weddings or Root Canal? – Root Canal
4. Kitted out with Heavy Long Lens or Point and shoot? – Point and Shoot, well I’d rather be kitted out but I’m too old now and it weighs way too much!
3. Commercial or Fine Art? – Fine Art (whatever that means)
2. Tell me about the one that got away. – My nature is to say there are none that got away because if I didn’t get it that’s okay. I have had situations where I didn’t get the photograph but I sure got an insanely wonderful memory.  None of them got away because I was there and I experienced it. 
1. Tell me about the one you are still chasing. – My best image is my next image. It’s a constant pursuit. There is never an end. That’s part of what I love about photography— the next best image is right around the corner and I don’t know what it’s going to be but I am going to be open, doggone it, and I’m gonna get it. 

The Parting Shot

“Stop worrying about what other people think about your work and go photograph for the joy of it. Stop worrying about getting the accolades of others. Just worry about having fun with your camera.  Creating. That’s what you need to do.”

Glacial Lake - Mount Cook area New Zealand (Photo Credit: John Barclay)

Candid Conversations: Chuck Kimmerle

Chuck Kimmerle

Chuck Kimmerle
Professional Landscape Photographer
Casper, Wyoming

Connections:

Website
Blog
Facebook

This interview thing is very new to me so I expect to miss a few things now and then. I could have kicked myself when I realized I missed asking my next interviewee the most important question: "Why do you work exclusively in Black and White?" Thank goodness for follow-up questions, because his response is key to how he—pardon the pun—rolls:

I have always been more receptive to shapes, forms and textures than to color. I don't know why. I just seem to find more meaning in those attributes. Also, color photography is a more restrictive genre as we are usually bound by the realities of color: blue sky, green grass (unless you live in California), etc. Black and white photography, being inherently abstract (the world is not made of grays) allows much greater latitude to, for lack of a better word, interpret a scene and present a unique image. 

As you can tell from his response, Chuck Kimmerle is not only thoughtful in his approach to photography; he is also cunning in his approach to humor. I knew I liked him for a reason. (It has nothing to do with the fact that we were both born in Minnesota and carry a bit of that certain “Midwest charm” everywhere we go, of course!) 

While his current situation is working as a Black and White landscape photographer in Casper Wyoming, his journey has had a few interesting twists and turns. When he went to college and had to pick a major Chuck decided that a degree in Photographic Engineering Technology was the way to go. (For those of you not “in the know” this is the science of film and the science of paper. Chuck has forgotten more about film and paper emulsion and photo sensitometry and photochemistry than most people will ever learn.) For the most part he was making the practical (chicken) choice in his major so he would have something to fall back on should the photography route not work out. So he picked a career that is now obsolete.  (Good back up, Chuck!)

As it turns out he never needed that back up and as you will see the world of photographic images is much better for it.

Elk Carcass In Fog, Glendo Reservoir, WY (Photo Credit: Chuck Kimmerle)

The Conversation

What is your first memory of photography? 
[Laughter] One of my favorites! When I was about 3 or 4 years old we were at a family picnic and I had my grandmas brownie box camera. The old kind where you look straight down and you see this really distorted picture. And I was told under no circumstances am I to press that button. NO circumstances. So, I went underneath the picnic table and pressed the button. Well, a louder click you have never heard. Because instantly I was snatched up, scolded, and spanked—and that is my very first memory of photography. If you want something a little less juvenile I can provide that. (Editors note: Knowing Chuck it is my feeling that there could not be a more perfect story.) Okay, so that was more of a random memory. But what really got me into photography, for whatever reason, I wanted a camera for high school graduation, and I had my heart set on this god awful little cassette camera. It took tiny little negatives but it was so cool. My dad, thankfully, got me a more sensible camera. After high school I went into the army infantry and was stationed in Germany. I ended up taking a lot of pictures and I guess you could say I caught the bug there. And then I realized I liked the pictures but I wanted more meaning out of them. I wanted them to be different. So I started working on it.

Photography is a means of communication. What do you feel you are trying to communicate and to whom? 
Nothing specifically. When I was in the army and getting pictures of the Alps and pretty German towns all the pictures did was remind me that I visited there. I wanted the pictures to do more than act as a memory aid.  Because of the way I was shooting them I was the only one who gave a crap about them. I wanted to share an experience as opposed to making a postcard. Achieving this goal has been a lifelong process. There was only one real “Ah-ha!” moment in my entire photographic career. When I was working in newspapers I was very much a serious photojournalist. But I kept seeing people doing these abstract pictures that today I take for granted. I would have loved to be able to photograph that way but nothing was really in my mind.  After two years of working in journalism I saw this backlit construction scaffold with stacks of bricks and one person walking back and forth.  And all of a sudden it all clicked. The whole thing about design and abstract. The picture was not about the subject it was about more than that and I think that was the first real fine art photograph that I made.  It sounds so idiotic now because it was so easy, but when you have a certain mindset sometimes it’s really hard to break out. 

Scaffolding, St. Cloud Times (Photo Credit: Chuck Kimmerle)

Is there a relationship between Fine Art and Photojournalism?
That was always the big question in journalism. Are you a journalist first or are you an artist first? And the thing is there is no real right answer because if you only did artistic photos you aren’t really working in journalism. You aren’t informing your audience. Or if you are only doing straight journalism you are going to be boring people to death. So there is a fine line all journalists walk. And they always say in newspapers that photographs are not enhanced embellished or faked in any way. But any time a picture is made you are excluding 90% of what the photographer can see with their own eye. The photographer is focusing in on something and is already interpreting the scene. The fact that a human being is making choices about what to photograph already means that the photo is being manipulated. We are not machines. 

Why photography as a medium? 
With photography one of the things I really respond to is that you have to be there. Painters and sculptures will go out and take a picture and bring it back and paint it or sculpt the subject.  Musicians may get inspired and write down a couple of notes and finish it later. With photography there is no phoning it in. You have to be there. I have to be in front of the tire or in front of the trash or the mountain or whatever I’m photographing. It’s an experience when you are looking at the final image and you know that is what you were seeing in your minds eye when you were visualizing your final product. I’m not saying that I see in black and white or that I can pre-visualize everything, but you know there is a certain connection between the experience and the final product that you don’t get in any other medium. 

Fence Post and Hill During Ground Blizzard, Shirley Basin, WY (Photo Credit: Chuck Kimmerle)

Is there any one subject that you shoot that gets you into the zone more than others?
Not really. I consider myself a reactionary photographer. I don’t really have a set agenda or subject matter. I know some photographers that have a set subject like the Mojave Desert or the Colorado Plateau. I don’t really have that. I can photograph buildings or mountains.  I react to what I see no matter what it is. Although I will say that the rural plains are where I am most at home.  

How do you prepare yourself for an assignment or personal project? 
I don’t really prepare too much. I like the whole experience to be very organic.  So I don’t do a whole lot of planning. I keep my camera gear organized and in the bag. And if I grab the bag and tripod I have everything I need. I will look and do basic research of what the area has to offer. But I limit my google image search. I purposely avoid seeing what other people have done. To me there is a subconscious undo influence that I don’t want to have. The danger of that is I may head out to do an assignment or whatever it is and come back with this horribly cliché picture that I did not realize was cliché. That has happened a few times but at least it was something that I found. And even if it’s been found a thousand times I had that experience of finding it for myself. And that to me is the best part of photography. Especially landscape photography. It’s the art of exploration and discovery. We are like little Lewis & Clarks of cameras.  And that is the best part for me.  To find something out of the blue and in possibly the most innocuous place and to say, “Oh Crap!” Those are the times when you turn the car around so fast that your head spins and you’re so excited you’re fumbling with your gear. That’s what I live for. Those feelings. 

Closed Door, Coal Mountain, WY  (Photo Credit: Chuck Kimmerle)

How do you keep it fresh? 
I think everyone who is serious feels that. It’s a natural part of any real creative process. I think you just keep at it. It’s a frustration everyone has and you just have to get over it and move on. I think the biggest problem for someone who does photography for a long time is actually being derivative of himself. I have a certain style. My pictures are simple and balanced. Things are centered. Sometimes I come back and look at my work and I see where I have forced something into that mold that should not have been and I could have done it better. But subconsciously I must have said that isn’t a “Chuck picture” if you don’t do it that way. I am very conscious of that and I have to make sure that everything I do is for a reason. 

What do you do on those days where you just don’t have it? 
I rarely walk away. One of the important things is to get the first picture done. I do a lot of exploratory work. And if I’m out and I don’t come up with a picture after an hour I will just stop at the first non-boring thing I find and make a photograph to get it out of the way. Prime the pump if you will.  Get that first one done and almost every time I have found the next ones come a lot easier. It’s just a matter of putting yourself in that mode and sometimes you just have to hear the click of the shutter to do that. 

Trees and Tetons, Grand Teton National Park (Photo Credit: Chuck Kimmerle)

What do you find is your biggest challenge as a photographer? (The taking pictures part… not the making money part.)
I think getting out as much as I would like is always a challenge. Everyone has chores. Even Ansell Adams had to do the dishes once or twice. [Laughter] Which is a great thing to think about. Once you realize that it makes things easier. I think it’s easy to make up excuses not to go out. “I have to mow the lawn.” “I’m not feeling up to it." As physically undemanding as photography can be it is exhausting. Even if you are only doing it from a car that amount of creative effort you put in is mentally draining. 

Do you have a set schedule for your shooting?
I don’t go out every day. I don’t really go out every week, but I try. I work local for the most part. I do destinations like everyone else, but most of my work is done in day trips or short overnights. There is a lot of desk-work.  For instance my new website that was just launched took hundreds of hours to produce, because I am not very good at coding. Then there are prints and getting ready for exhibits. The more you photograph the more desk-work there is. So there is no real set schedule. I get up some days and tell my wife I’m just going out with a camera. I am really, really, REALLY lucky to have a wife who is super supportive. As a landscape photographer you have to be gone for so long. If you are a commercial photographer you might be gone for half a day or a few days tops. When you are doing landscape type of work you can be gone for many weeks at a time. 

White Fence, North Dakota (Photo Credit: Chuck Kimmerle)

What do you find is the biggest challenge facing professional photographers today?
Around here it’s getting people to appreciate B&W photography. I get asked all the time, “Do you have this in color?” Photography is not the easiest sell anyway. Sometimes I think if I would just print on velvet I would have an easier time making the sale. Right now people can go out and get decent technical quality pictures with just a cell phone. It’s easy for people to think they are good because they mistake artistic or esthetic depth with a pretty technical photo. What we have had is a dumbing down of photography in general. There is so much inane chaff online. Photography is no longer something people consider special. So I might show someone a picture and hear, “Yeah, I have one just like that.” People will say that and look at my work and think, “Why should I pay for his when I can do exactly the same thing?” [Editors note: I can promise you it is NOT exactly the same thing!] But for people who like doing workshops there are more people than ever who want education, who want to get better, so that’s good for a photographer’s business. 

Who inspires you? Who or what is your muse? 
There is a writer. Robert Adams. He is also an amazing photographer. He has a lot of books, but there are two in particular. One is called Beauty in Photography. And the other one is, Why people Photograph.  I don’t use the term seminal very often when I am speaking about books, but these are seminal. He is an amazing writer and a great photographer. He is pretty much a master. Reading his work inspires me a lot because I feel like he gets me. I read him and I find myself saying “Yes! Exactly!” He’s a former English professor who discovered photography. He’s so eloquent in the way he writes. 

That inspires me a lot, as does Edward Weston. Of all the people out there I get the most inspiration from him. He wasn’t just a photographer.  Photography wasn’t just what he did, it was his life. He was someone who was receptive to photographing anything, from a portrait to a toilet, and he would be perfectly happy. To him it was about  the photograph -- not just about subject. I think the biggest mistake that people make is they put way too much emphasis on what they are photographing, what is in front of the camera, and that isn’t really important at all. What is important is what you make of it. 

Shelter Belt #3, Minnesota (Photo Credit: Chuck Kimmerle)

If you could give the young you some advice what would it be? 
Stop following the typical photographic rules. Young photographers are given the same set of rules. I wish I had broken them more often. More importantly stop worrying about what people think of your work. I would have grown more as a young photographer if I weren’t so dependent on acceptance. I wish I had taken more artistic chances even as a photojournalist. Still staying within the ethics of photojournalism but not be quite so safe. Tough to do when you are working for someone else.  I just wish I had taken a few more chances. 

What question have you always wanted someone to ask you (with an answer that is printable) or do you have any parting thoughts? 
I’m a Sagittarius, I like long walks . . .[Laughter] My biggest piece of advice is to stop worrying about getting acceptance, stop worrying about people liking your work. What happens when you are worried about people liking your work is you wind up going to destinations that have been photographed a lot because you know there is a high probability of coming back with something that is going to make your friends or your photo club go “Ooooooo.” If you stop searching for the “Oooooo” I think you are going to have a better chance of growing. One of the questions I get asked most often is, “How do I take my photography to the next level?” or “How do I find more meaning in my work?” and the only thing I can say is stop worrying about what other people think and what other people are doing and just take pictures that mean something to you. 

Solar System On A Rope, Buxton, ND (Photo Credit: Chuck Kimmerle)

The Questionnaire


10. Color or Black and White?  --- Black and White
9. Film or Digital? --- Digital
8. Traditional Darkroom or Digital Darkroom? --- Digital
7. Objects or People? --- Objects
6. Urban Jungle or Pretty Landscapes? --- Urban Jungle 
5. Weddings or Root Canal? --- Root Canal
4. Kitted out with Heavy Long Lens or Holga? --- Everything on my back like a sherpa
3. Commercial or Fine Art? – Fine Art
2. Tell me about the one that got away.  ----- I was in Yellowstone photographing some wildlife. Pretty scenic and had some wildlife. It was a scene that I had to give a crack at. Some people saw me, stopped their car, and let their kids run out in front of me and scared everything away. The parents were totally clueless.  “This is a park we can do whatever we want”. The best pictures you will ever take are the ones you didn’t get. In your mind they are so much better. 
1. Tell me about the one you are still chasing. ---- I really don’t have one. I don’t have any expectations. 

The Parting Shot: 

"My career has been a slow build and I think that’s the best way to do it.  It’s something you work at and that’s why it’s important that you don’t compare yourself to anyone but your younger self."

Lone Boat, Stehekin, WA (Photo Credit: Chuck Kimmerle)

Candid Conversations: Louise Shoemaker

Louise Shoemaker

Louise Shoemaker

Louise Shoemaker
Retired Schoolteacher/Hobbyist
Portales, New Mexico

Connections:

Website
Facebook
SmugMug

 

Last fall, on a whim, I signed up to do a photography workshop in the Pocono Mountains. It was a five-day workshop focused on fall colors. The workshop, led by the infamous John Barclay, was well attended, mostly by his groupies, who were not afraid to introduce themselves to me as his groupies. (By the end of the workshop, it was very clear to me how and why they have become so, but I’ll save that for another post). Among these women was Louise Shoemaker. While Louise was rather reserved, she laughed at my jokes so I adored her from the start. Then I started to watch her work. There always seemed to be an atmosphere of Zen following her around. She giggled with delight every time we came to a stream or waterfall. Yummy noises escaped from her at every turn. It was like unleashing a child in a bouncy castle. It was important that I try and get some alone time with her to find out what made her tick.

Louise Shoemaker is New Mexico born and bred complete with a grandma who came on the wagon train. It doesn’t get more authentic than that! Her love of photography comes almost directly from her father who had a darkroom in their garage while she was growing up. It wasn’t until she was 13 that her dad and brother let the girl come in and give it a try. The world of images is thankful for that day. 

Louise taught school for over 25 years in a rural New Mexico community. The K-12 school had about 180 students at a time. Although she was the English teacher she also became a yearbook sponsor and part-time photography teacher. Converting a janitor’s closet into a darkroom she was able to share her love of photography and printing with many of her students. Three or four of them went on to become professional photographers.  That is a legacy to be proud of. 

In 2001 Louise retired from teaching. She sadly cleaned out the janitor’s closet, moved all of the equipment into her own garage darkroom equipped with over 150 cameras that she has collected over the years. She now calls herself a hobby photographer refusing to do any type of photography for money. If there is an image that she has that you like, she will gladly send you the file so you, too, can enjoy it. “I don’t want to make it about money. It’s not a business. It’s pure pleasure.” (Wow!)

Swift River, New Hampshire, with the blaze of fall color (Photo Credit: Louise Shoemaker)

The Conversation

What is your first memory of photography?
My dad always had a camera in his hand and we were always on the other end of it.  (In WWII he even met up with an LA Press photographer and the two of them set up a darkroom in the jungle.) And, like all photographers, I remember getting into the darkroom for the first time and seeing that image appear like magic on a blank piece of paper. I printed in a darkroom for 20 years and never stopped hanging over the developing pan.  

Photography is a means of communication. What do you feel you are trying to communicate and to whom?
That’s a hard thing to put into words. Some people are journalistic and have a social agenda. I am more about the connection, peace and mental calm of being in the spotstopping long enough to see and feel that place and then convey that feeling to someone. I do my best work, and I hesitate to call it “work”, when there is calm and connection. The experience of seeing with that different photographer’s eye is like a grace note. If I am not connected, the photos aren't great. I see things differently and I see things better when I walk around the world with a camera in my hand. It’s more of an internal thing for me. 

Light on the land—the Palouse (Photo Credit: Louise Shoemaker)

Why photography as a medium? 
I like making things in a variety of mediums. There is not a craft I don’t want to try. My mother was making something all the timeneedlework, crafting, or cooking. I’m a needle artist: I cross stitch and make Hardanger embroidery.  I have worked with stained glass, have done marquetry, and have built furniture with my father. I like to create things of beauty. While I go through phases with my craft projects—putting them down for a period of time and then picking them up again—photography is the standard that continues through. That has been a constant for 45 years. 

Is there any one subject that you shoot that gets you into the zone more than others?
I grew up in New Mexico, so to see a body of water I would have to drive three hours and then it’s a desert lake without a single tree. When I went to the Smokies I got so excited to see any body of water. People would laugh that I would stop and giggle when I saw a small creek and they would say, “That’s just a bottle of iced tea!”  The water fascinates me because it’s so scarce here. I don’t like to shoot people so much.  I did it in Cuba because it was culturally so interesting, but I’m not a people person. I’ll shoot whatever is there in the natural world. If I am alone, the mere fact of having a camera in my hand will keep me going for hours. If I am with a group I have a hard time getting my head into that creative space. I’ll have to walk away and find the quiet inside and out. 

Photographing is an act of meditation for me. All of the insecurities and other crap leaves my head. It’s just me and the place and my eye connecting and trying to make something that will encapsulate the moment and the feeling. 

Soft sea and sky from the top of a glacier at 11 pm in Iceland on the wildest photographic night of my life! 
(Photo Credit: Louise  Shoemaker)

How do you keep it fresh? 
Part of the process is discovery of different placesgoing and looking with fresh eyes.  It’s exploration of place as much as an exploration of self. I want to be part of a varied world. I have been to Switzerland twenty different times over forty years—the same places time after time—and it’s fresh every time. But I’m not looking for anything in particular. I’m not searching for anything. I am being open to what is there. I go out waiting for something to reach out to me, some detail that draws my eye, a bit of beautiful light, some scene that I can see in a new and different way today, in a way that is totally unique to the moment and can never be reproduced. A friend of mine, Terry Schroeder, with great enthusiasm, proclaims at the beginning of every day's shooting session—“Let's go see what the universe produces!” If you pay attention and look at what's offered to you every time you go out, there will always be moments of grace, abundant gifts of beauty that just appear if you are in the right frame of mind to see and receive. 

It's the mental quiet and LACK of expectation that allows the shy gifts to reach out and attract your attention, and you do the gifts honor by spending time seeing, composing, and recording them well enough to do them justice.

What do you do on those days where you just don’t have it? 
I create a lot of really bad photos. [laughter] That’s what I do on those days. But I just keep on shooting. If I get frustrated enough I’ll put the camera away. But normally I just keep on looking and taking pictures, and if I do, the vision usually clears a bit, the internal noise dies down enough for me to function, and the day turns out OK!

Deep woods—Birch forest in the mountains behind Jasper in the Canadian Rockies (Photo Credit: Louise Shoemaker)

What do you find is your biggest challenge as a photographer? 
My head. My feelings that I got growing up that you’re never quite good enough. My father was always in search of whatever new gadget there was to make his photography perfect, and he was never satisfied. I think that influenced me. I get in my own way and I have to stop being my worst critic. I am trying to make the leap from craftsman to artist. I think I have sometimes gotten close, but it’s a moving target. 

Who inspires you? Who or what is your muse? 
I don’t really know. I love looking at photography. I spend a lot of time looking at what other people make as I try to figure out my own “style.” My constant challenge is finding a way to capture and preserve that moment of grace that is going to be gone soonthat will never be there again.  Certainly, going on tours with John Barclay and Dan Sniffin has been a great influence on me. What keeps me going back, however, are not the technical things I learn, but the fact that they are incredible human beings. They unite the Hand, the Heart, and the Eye in their instruction. They are both superb technicians--and so much more. 

Serendipity—leaves in a New Zealand garden (Photo Credit: Louise Shoemaker)

If you could give the young you some advice what would it be? 
I guess it’s not to spend as much time as I have spent worrying about the gear, but just savor the experience of being with the camera—whatever camera you can afford. I've spent a lot of time worrying about the equipment, but the ultimate struggle is refining the eye. 

Are there any parting words you would like to add? 
I guess to say that the primary objective of doing this thing is for the love of it. I know of people who spend their life trying to make a living at this and then they stop loving it. It becomes mechanical like other jobs can be.  It’s the love that’s important. The other stuff isn’t as much. Let it feed your heart. 

Adam’s Crossing, a rural mountain road near Hogback Mountain, Vermont (Photo Credit: Louise Shoemaker)

The Questionnaire

10. Color or Black and White? Color
9. Film or Digital?  Digital
8. Traditional Darkroom or Digital Darkroom?Digital
7. Objects or People? Objects
6. Urban Jungle or Pretty Landscapes? Pretty Landscape
5. Weddings or Root Canal? Root Canal
4. Kitted out with Heavy Long Lens or Holga? Kitted out (with a Sherpa)
3. Commercial or Fine Art? Fine Art
2. Tell me about the one that got away.  There have been so many.
1. Tell me about the one you are still chasing. The one that makes me feel like I’ve arrived at simplicity. 

The Parting Shot

“It’s more than taking great pictures.  It’s about finding that psychological space that gets you connected to the world."

Looking into the heart of the iceberg, Jokulsarlon Lagoon, Iceland (Photo Credit: Louise Shoemaker)


Candid Conversations: Howard Grill

howard grill.jpg

Howard Grill
Hobby Photographer
Pittsburgh Pennsylvania

Connections: 

Website
Blog
Facebook
Twitter
Google +
 


 

I met Howard Grill a few months ago on a photo tour of Death Valley. A quiet and unassuming guy he blew the roof off the room when he showed off his prints of flowers. Ay caramba, they were stunning. Toward the end of the tour I was in a conversation with Howard about his work and website when he told me the story about shooting the old Carrie Furnace in Pittsburgh and finding a guy who had worked there who agreed to an interview.  I was so excited about the historical aspects of this that I told him about my little website and history blog. He encouraged me to pick it up again. Once I got home and looked at his site and listened to the interview it gave me the boost of energy I needed to pick it up again. So, I would like to give him a shout out for getting me back on track to happy land.

While we may have a little mutual admiration society going on here, we couldn’t be more different. Howard grew up in Newark, New Jersey. Like many, his love of photography came when he was in the darkroom of a family friend and watched that first image come to life. For his 8th grade graduation he insisted on getting a camera and enlarger so he could make the magic on his own. But when the time came, instead of choosing photography as a profession Howard headed to medical school and parked his camera for a long hiatus.

We are very happy, however that Howard finally picked it up again because the world is a much better place for having his vision as part of it. 

Flaming Tulip (Photo Credit Howard Grill)

THE CONVERSATION

What is your first memory of photography?
I don’t really know. I remember reading popular photography. I can’t really remember what it is that grabbed me. It’s funny, as we’re talking about this I remember in medical school there was one week where I said, “maybe I have some time to do some of this after all.” And I remember walking around Boston and taking pictures. There was actually a little darkroom in the dormitory that nobody used because nobody had the time. So I printed a few pictures here and there and within a week I realized why nobody used it because nobody had the time and I didn’t have the time either! 

Photography is a means of communication. What do you feel you are trying to communicate and to whom?  
I don’t think I’m trying to tell something in terms of a particular message. Some people try, for example, to use nature photography for an ecological type message. I’m not really doing that although I do consider myself an environmentalist. But that’s not why I am doing it.  I do it more to convey the feeling of being there. What it was like to be there. What it was like to see the sun rising through the fog. It is more about trying to recreate a feeling than it is a specific message. I guess you could say it’s more of a sentence than it is a paragraph or a chapter.   

Lake Arthur Sunrise (Photo Credit Howard Grill)

Why photography as a medium?
I have no talent for anything else! [Laughter] I can’t play an instrument. I can’t sing. You have to be passionate about something in order to do it well. Even when I was young I would I get into things very deeply. I want to explore it for all its worth and immerse myself into it. When I get out there, shooting is very meditative for me. Once I get involved in a scene I become very oblivious to what is going on around me. 
 
Are there any subjects that you shoot that get you into the zone more than others? 
I think one of the reasons I enjoy nature photography, besides the fact that I enjoy the beauty of nature, is that I like doing things very slow and exacting. So when you are out there you can sit and take your time. You don’t have to worry, for example if you are taking pictures of people, that they are getting fidgety. You don’t have to worry about anybody else. You can just self introspect and be there. The trees don’t care if you take the shot fast. I am able to do things in the way I want to do them.  And I have an attachment to the subjects as well. I don’t like feeling rushed.

Do you think there is an intersection or correlation between your profession and photography?
Yes and no. There is an intersection in that I am an interventional cardiologist, which means that I do heart catheterization and stent placement and those sorts of things. So when we are doing that we are taking angiograms, making movies, moving pictures of the arteries in the heart. There is a certain fascination and beauty to see the heart beating in real time and to see blood flowing down arteries in the human body in real time, but that is not what I am thinking of when I am working. 

Did you ever entertain photography as your profession?
Every day.  (I say every day, but my wife probably says every hour!) Doing the photography I enjoy is frankly very difficult to make a living at it. I can see in the future wanting to go potentially part time at my work to do more things I like to do. The kind of photography I do is pretty amenable to be displayed in health care facilities. The hospital system I work for has bought a lot of my prints for their outpatient facilities and offices because it does have a calming effect. It is the kind of imagery that matches well with those locations. 

Succulent (Photo Credit Howard Grill)

When you are out in the field and having one of “those days” is there anything you do to kick it into gear? 
There are two answers to that. The first is, everybody has those days where you aren’t feeling creative. You aren’t seeing. I don’t view it as a failure. There are times I’ve gone out and haven’t taken any pictures. But it’s still good. Just being out there and looking it’s still good. And I still enjoy it immensely. The second answer is, I asked my teacher Nancy Rotenberg that same question. She agreed that we all have days like that, but told me that the thing is if you just get out of the car and take pictures, just start exercising by taking pictures, you will start to work through that.  And then there are those great days when you just can't stop seeing things.

What do you find is your biggest challenge as a photographer? (The taking pictures part… not the making money part.) 
The toughest part is I tend to be a perfectionist. When I am home and looking at what I have done, a) I tend to be very critical and there is a small percentage that I process; and, b) when I am processing and trying to print I tend to be very exacting.  It takes me a long time. I find it frustrating because there are other images I can be working on. My output isn’t as high as I like it to be.

Who inspires you? Who or what is your muse? 
I do enjoy looking at other peoples’ work. I collect photography books, not the how to books, but monographs, images. One of the people who has affected me, not only in terms of picture taking but who also offers insight in a bigger way in terms of what to do with images, how to put them together, and the idea of how to be innovative about how you get your work out is Brooks Jensen.  [Editor of Lens Work] He really has been exploring not just the artwork but how in this age different ways social media and the Internet can let you expand and find your audience. 

Another person is Nancy Rotenberg who was one of the first people I did workshops with, and I did a lot with her. She certainly influenced my work greatly in the sense that the things she taught were what she called going beyond the handshake. To establish some type of relationship with the subject.  Get beyond the surface and show what is special about it. 

Spring (Photo Credit Howard Grill)

If you could give the young you some advice what would it be? 
I think the 20 year old me did the right thing. Maybe it’s more appropriate to ask what the 20 year old me should advise to me today. 

The Questionnaire

10. Color or Black and White? -  Color
9. Film or Digital? - Digital
8. Traditional Darkroom or Digital Darkroom? - Digital
7. Objects or People? - Objects
6. Urban Jungle or Pretty Landscapes? – Pretty Landscapes
5. Weddings or Root Canal? - Root canal
4. Kitted out with Heavy Long Lens or Holga? -  Kitted out
3. Commercial or Fine Art? - Fine art
2. Tell me about the one that got away. -  Every day riding to work.  
1. Tell me about the one you are still chasing. -  The next one.  

The Parting Shot

“I guess there must be something about freezing that moment in time and holding onto that moment forever. That moment can never be reproduced.”

Sunrise (Photo Credit Howard Grill)

Candid Conversations: Scott Streble

As justjophoto.com V 2.0 started to come together I was doing a lot of thinking about my photography. How far I’d come and from where it started. It brought me back to Green Bay Wisconsin, my Freshman year of high school and a night at Marquette Park where we use to hang out.  

It was like that 70’s show. Well, it was the 70’s, in Wisconsin.  At any rate, one night a class mate, Scott Streble, came by the park with a camera. A 35 mm SLR. It was the coolest thing I ever saw. It made an awesome sound when the shutter opened and closed. I fell in love with photography.

Scott was the yearbook photographer. When Sophomore year came along Scott introduced me to Mr. Walters, the teacher responsible for the yearbook, who actually let me take pictures. I had no idea how to load the film so he would load a roll, I would go out and shoot, bring the camera back, and he would swap in a new roll and send me on my way. That’s how it all began. (Some of my shots actually made it in the yearbook!)

I felt like I really wanted to do a shout out to Scott. I was pretty certain he had no idea the role he played in my journey. Rather than writing a post without his knowledge I thought I would do the right thing and have a conversation with him to see if I could put something together to show off what he’s up to.

My hope is that this is the first in a series of interviews. So here it is: My Candid Conversation with Photographer Scott Streble.

Selfe - Photo Credit Scott Streble

Scott Streble
Freelance Photographer
Minneapolis Minnesota

Connections:

Website

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter


Scott’s first memory of photography was probably going to a portrait studio and getting his portrait taken at a very young age. Probably. He’s not really sure. What he is sure of is that when he was in the 6th grade the Librarian, Michael Barentine, ran a photography program and Scott was asked to work in the darkroom.  The magic of the darkroom got to Scott and he can thank Mr. Barentine for nurturing that connection. 

Justin Timberlake for Target - Photo Credit Scott Streble

His path includes the usual suspects: Scott shot for the High School Yearbook, worked at a local portrait studio, went to RIT for school, and then landed at Image Studios in Appleton, Wisconsin. It was there he assisted on everything. The best training possible in order to sort out all of those things you want to do from those you don’t. 

I learned a lot from Scott during our conversation. He’s a people person, I am not. When you look through his website you can tell that he has an extraordinary gift. There is gentleness in the way he approaches his subjects and makes the image. From rock stars to the homeless. They are all treated the same. I find that to be inspirational. 

Salvation Army - Photo Credit Scott Streble

The Conversation 

Photography is a means of communication. What do you feel you are trying
to communicate and to whom?

I guess it would be a sense of realism. I like the interaction with people just as much as I like the photography.  The photography is a vehicle for me to meet interesting people. There is a reason for me to be there and take their photo. They have probably done something noteworthy.  It’s just fun to be around all of that. When I take someone’s photo I really want the photo taking process to get out of the way and let the person just be themselves and do what they would normally do. 

President Clinton for the Humphrey Institute -  Photo Credit Scott Streble

President Clinton for the Humphrey Institute - Photo Credit Scott Streble

When I look at your images of people you are taking photos of people in difficult situations and your subjects look very much at ease. Do you have methods and ways of making people feel comfortable?

It’s about respect. I want people to realize it’s a collaborative event. They and I are making the picture. It’s not just me. I think I approach everyone with a sense of respect and dignity and people can sense that. Also, at this point in my career, I have confidence in my ability and people are more relaxed when they realize I am going to take a good photo of them. We both want a good photo no matter their situation and I need their help to do that. I make sure it’s about them and not me. 

Catholic Arch Diocese - Photo Credit Scott Streble

Is there any one subject that you shoot that gets you into the zone more than others? 

That happens all the time. Specifically it’s the shoots where I have free rein of doing what I want to do. Making photos that I think look good. Early on in my career I thought I could be all things to all people. But then I realized it was not a good way to conduct myself. I’m guessing at what they want. So I decided that I was going to take the photos that I like and find clients that want the same thing. 

How do you keep it fresh? 

That’s a constant challenge. I’ve done jobs where I have had to shoot over 200 portraits in a day. I do a lot of high production work. Sometimes I’ll make some images just for myself. Things that the client may not use, but it makes it a bit more fun. For example, I was shooting at the Minneapolis Children’s Hospital. I was set up in a room to do some portraits and there were some interesting pipes along the wall so I shot them. Getting a new piece of gear also helps. It helps to be able to try new techniques. 

Smith Foundry, Minneapolis MN - Photo Credit Scott Streble

What do you do on those days where you just don’t have it? Especially on a paid assignment?

There are safe pictures that I know will work that I can always lean back on.  Most importantly I  want the client to feel comfortable and I just start shooting. Eventually something clicks. 

What do you find is the biggest challenge facing professional photographers today?

Getting work! [Cue the laughs] The industry is slowly going to video. There will always be still images, but video is where it’s at. If you look at young kids, my kids are 13 and 14, when they are on Instagram or YouTube it’s all about videos. 

The other big challenge is the ability or the capacity for the public to accept photos that are mediocre or low quality. There has been a dumbing down of what’s acceptable. The professional photographer will be a diminished roll. When you have reporters who are shooting with their iPhones and the public is ok with that, that’s the reality. 

It used to be with film you had to have technical chops. This is when I got into it. I loved the technical aspects of photography. Getting the equipment to do what you wanted it to do and understanding the translation of what you see to what the camera sees and now it’s less of a factor. 

If you could give the young you some advice what would it be? 

If you are going to get into a relationship get into one that totally supports what you are doing. [Cue the laughs] Assist with people whose work you admire. That is the best way to learn. And I probably wish I had learned video along the way too. 

National Diabetes Foundation - Photo Credit Scott Streble

The Rundown

10. Color or Black and White? – Color
9. Film or Digital? - Digital
8. Traditional Darkroom or Digital Darkroom? – Digital Darkroom
7. Objects or People? - People
6. Urban Jungle or Pretty Landscapes? - Urban
5. Weddings or Root Canal? - Weddings
4. Kitted out with Heavy Long Lens or Holga? - Holga
3. Commercial or Fine Art? – Fine Art
2. Tell me about the one that got away. ---- There was the time I was shooting in an ER. A drunk guy with hole in the top of his nose arrived following a car accident.  He was having a hard time breathing. He thought his nose was really congested so he plugged his nose and blew really hard and it sprayed blood everywhere.  Everyone was sprayed with blood. Then the ED doc looked at me and  said “Did you get that? That was your picture.” He was right. And I didn’t. I recoiled in horror like everyone else in the room.  
1. Tell me about the one you are still chasing. ----- You know, I’ve photographed rock stars. You can see on my website that I’ve done a few, but I want to be the backstage documentary guy. 

The Parting Shot 

“I’m never really 100% pleased with any one photo I’ve shot. I always think there was something I should have done differently.”

Wedding Image - Photo Credit Scott Streble