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: 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)