Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Favorite Photograph.....Jimmy Paulette Taboo! In the bathroom

Always loved the relaxed feeling and honesty of this image. It was a partial inspiration for my bargirl series of 2003. The direct look, the use of flash with color film and eye contact had a influence on my work.

Nan Goldin's intimate connection with the people she photographed was also an important lesson. If you really want to understand who you are photographing you need to become at least in a small way a part of your subjects lives. You have to see the world through their eyes to make photographs that convey their hearts.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Actor Brock Peters Quote

"In art there is compassion, in compassion there is humanity, with humanity there is generosity and love"

Photograph Definition

A Photograph = A single decisive moment in time captured for posterity with a camera.

Darkroom Time

Did 4 hours of darkroom work yesterday and another 4 today. I need to set up a routine like Brett Weston did. Everyday he would get up very early (3 am or so) and do 4 or 5 hours of darkroom work followed by a day of making photographs. Only through such dedication and hard work can any volume of quality work be produced, starting and stopping all the time leads to half assed results. Time to get more consistent in my working methods.

Am trying to get 10 or small prints ready for my December photo club meeting, will miss the following 5 meetings so nows my chance to get some feedback on the Sex Worker images.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Recommended Book....Ansel Adams 400 Photographs

Got a nice book tonight at Costco, Ansel Adams 400 Photographs ($28.49). The book has many photographs from Adams that I have never seen before and has good quality reproductions. The work is divided into 5 decades the 20s,30s,40s,50s, and 60s. The highlight for me was seeing some of his portraiture (check out page 337), I wish Ansel had spent more time photographing people.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Good Meeting

Had a good photo club meeting last night saw some wonderful work especially from JG and the new members of the group. I was quite surprised how good the new member work was, the best I have seen so far. The graphic simplicity of some of the b/w photographs was especially outstanding. I think that's one of the keys to good photography, keeping things simple and to the point so that anyone can relate to it, maybe that is the abstract nature of good art that Paul Strand was referring to in the earlier quote. Abstract = simple/universal in structure and to the point? Direct,confrontational and emotional? How to reach through and stir the emotions of the brain?

Eugene Smith also talked about having a SHADE to his images, and that he would feel a certain way about his subject and then photograph accordingly....Angry for Minamata...and Cold for his Pittsburgh series for example. This is very important you must have a emotional connection with your subject to put your shade into the images, Smith said he needed several weeks to find the right shade for his photo essay on Dr Albert Schweitzer.

Monday, November 19, 2007

W. Eugene Smith Quote

"I believe in human emotions very much. I believe if you stir human emotions, much can come out of it. I don't believe you stand a chance of changing many of the important wrongs in this world unless you reach through the emotions that stir the brain"

16x20 = small paper

Did my first 16x20 prints from the 8x10 neg Sex Worker Series and damn if 16x20 looks to small! I can only go up one more size to 20x24 paper, I have a feeling after awhile that will seem to small also!! Wish they made larger size Fiber papers! No wonder Richard Avedon went super large with his "In the American West" photographs, with these large sharp negs you can keep enlarging and enlarging and still get amazing detail plus tonality.

A Favorite Photograph.....Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath

As powerful a depiction of love as any photograph ever made. This speaks to me on so many different levels it is difficult to put into words, photography cannot get much better. Smith's work in general and specifically this photograph have had a resounding influence on why I love photography and will continue to make photographs the rest of my life.

Some history on this very famous photograph.

W. Eugene Smith and his wife Aileen Smith lived in Minamata from 1971 to 1973, with the specific aim of bringing Minamata disease to public attention. During those three years Smith took thousands of photographs, leading to the production of numerous magazine articles, exhibitions and a book. Smith realised that a single, striking photograph was required to become a symbol of Minamata disease. In Smith's own words, "It grew and grew in my mind that to me the symbol of Minamata was, finally, a picture of this woman [the mother], and the child, Tomoko. One day I simply said […] let us try to make that symbolic picture".[1]

Tomoko's parents allowed Smith to photograph their daughter's body, in the hope that it might draw attention to the plight of similar families in Minamata and other pollution victims all over the world. Ryoko Uemura was keen for the photograph to portray her daughter in a sympathetic manner and actively collaborated with Smith to stage the perfect shot. Jim Hughes, (a biographer) said of Smith, "Although he wanted a photograph that would clearly show Tomoko's deformed body, Gene told me it was Ryoko Uemura, the mother, who suggested the bathing chamber".[2] The photograph was finally taken on a chilly afternoon in December 1971, with Ryoko, Tomoko, Smith and his wife Aileen all cramped into the small bathing room.

Tomoko Uemura died in 1977 at the age of 21.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Razzle 900

Well am going to get a new camera!! It will probably be the Razzle 900, a hand converted Polaroid 1960s camera which will allow me to shoot rangefinder hand held images onto 4x5. With this new camera I should be able to travel about and do my best Weegee impersonation.

For the longest time I have wanted to do spontaneous portraiture with large format and flash and this will allow me to do that!!!! There is a long waiting list for this camera but hopefully within a year I will be posting some of the images.

Brassai Quotes

"I have always maintained formal perfection: the structure or composition of a photograph is just as important as the subject. This is not an aesthetic demand, as one may assume, but a practical one. Only images powerfully grasped-streamlined-have the capacity to penetrate the memory, to remain there and to become, in a word, unforgettable. It is the sole criterion for a photograph."

"The range of vision of the great photographers is extremely narrow. They must confine themselves to their own peculiar obsessions and types of images which can express character and feelings: Westons's sand dunes of New Mexico; Ansel Adam's is vast cosmic landscapes; Arbus's is monsters; Atget's the streets of Paris."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Da 23

Da was such a sweet woman. I photographed her 4 or 5 times in 2003, she worked in a short time bar. A customer would meet her on the ground floor pay the mamason (bar) a barfine of 200 or 300 baht then take her upstairs to the rooms for sex after which he would pay her an additioanl 500 baht or so.

She was such a innocent and kind woman even after working the bars for many years, she used to laugh or cry quickly, she had a good heart and would give you some food to eat or just sit and talk with you.

When I went back in 2007 to see if I could meet and photograph her again, she was gone and no one at her bar remembered her. I hope you have a good life now Da, you deserve it.

A favorite photograph......Vietcong execution

Eddie Addams image of a Vietcong guerilla being executed on the streets of Saigon had a extremely strong impact on my desire to make photographs. For the first time in my life I felt that documentary/journalistic photographs could cause change within our society. This photograph helped the anti war movement and helped stopped the Vietnam War saving thousands possibly hundreds of thousands of lives in the process. This photograph demonstrated the power of photography.

Mr. Adams passed away a while back here is a little history of him and his famous pulitzer prize winning photograph.

Eddie Adams, photo-journalist dies aged 71
Dai Hunter, Sep 22, 2004; 06:03 a.m.

Eddie Adams covered 13 wars from Vietnam to the Gulf. He earned 500 awards for his work including the Robert Capa Award and three George Polk Memorial Awards. Yet Adams took no joy in the one Pulitzer Prize winning photo that over-shadowed his entire career.

Shot on Feb 1, 1968, two days into the Tet offensive, Adams captured on film national police chief General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Vietcong prisoner in the streets of Saigon. The iconic image earned Adams the Pulitzer and earned Loan the enduring hatred of both the Vietnamese and the Americans.

Eddie Adams, b1933 d2004 RIP

Note: Main photo here is credited AP

Making Larger Prints....Fun Stuff!

Recently started to make some large prints from my 8x10 Sex Worker Series negs, boy is it lots of fun playing with these large papers and making detailed photographs. The sharpness and subtlety of the 16x20 fiber prints is very beautiful. I have to work on getting just the right photographic paper to get the feel I want in the images, right now am leaning towards a Bergger warm tone paper (I think they are still making it!). My next step is to move up to 20x24 fiber paper, I have done some RC 20x24s but RC paper does not have the depth and beauty of a fiber paper.

I enjoy working with the same materials and restrictions of all the photographers I admire from the past, somehow it just seems more pure. I hope that b/w papers, films and chemistry will be around for the rest of my lifetime, I do not want to go digital!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Colored mats what the heck is that?

What's the deal with colored mats? I see all the colors of the rainbow in my camera club and yet if you go to the galleries and museums they universally have white or slightly off white mats.

I think many times the color matt creates a distraction and the photographer uses it if the work is not good enough to be shown on a simple white matt (or off white mat) and so they try to dress it up and camouflage it in the color!

If the work is good then all you need is a white matt to isolate it on the wall, you should not need the color mat gimmick. Follow the lead of the worlds top museums/gallerys and use white (offwhite)mats only!

A Good Judge

What makes a good judge? A person who has strong opinions and is not afraid to say what he/she feels. A judge that is afraid to say what they feel is pretty much useless, if they are worried that they will hurt peoples feelings they are of no use to anyone. A judge needs to spit out the good and the bad and the reasons why without holding back.

I think people who give their work up for judging need to be a little thick skinned. They need to understand that they can learn as much from negative comments as they can from positive ones and to take everything with a grain of salt. The negative comments or the positive comments are after all merely an opinion. Opinions can be right or wrong.

Sex Worker Series = Pain and Suffering but a Happy Ending

The Sex Worker Series was by far the hardest photography project I have undertaken from a physically demanding standpoint. By the time I got all my gear packed I had 3 overweight check in bags of 70 pounds a piece as well as 2 overweight carry on bags of close to 30 pounds each. I had to transport all this equipment from Edmonton Canada to Thailand in hopefully one piece! It was an exhausting adventure.

Dealing with airport security coming and going was also very difficult, especially trying to explain to the screeners what 8x10 sheet film was, at times I felt like I was speaking a different language based on the blank looks I got. The worst of the bunch were in Vancouver, the screeners in South Korea and in Thailand were quite good but dealing with the people in Vancouver was a nightmare.

When I got to Thailand I had to find a apartment that was of a reasonable size (to set everything up) and also one that had a reliable power source (so my 4800 watt Speedotron flash would not blow circuits), another key was it had to be close to where I could find my subjects so that traveling time would be less.

When I had everything set up I was free to start making photographs. I had a short timeline of about 4 weeks to make the pictures in, this meant I had to find people that would be strong photographic subjects (hold a wall as Richard Avedon said), ask them to pose for me and then set up appointments for the shoots(appointments that were not always kept)and shoot all my film in 4 weeks,a tiring task. I ended up doing 19-8x10 photographs per session and 8-5x7s. By the end of the 4 week period I had photographed about 26 people onto over 600 sheets of 8x10 film and 250 sheets of 5x7.

All the effort was worth it in the end because I was quite happy with the results.The next goal is to finish processing the work and get a show. A show is important not because I am seeking any kind of personal success garbage but because it is important to tell the story of the people I photographed, they are what matters and I owe them. They trusted me to tell their stories and I owe them the right to be remembered, it is my responsibility to them.


Exploitation = Utilization of another person or group for selfish purposes.

Bargirl Series

The Bargirl Series was shot over a 1 year period in 2003. For the first time I shot the photographs in color which I feel added a more realistic look to the images. B/W photographs while strong visually have a tendency to separate the viewer from the reality of the subject, where as if the photograph is shot in color there is less visual distance between the subject and the viewer.

I was faced with a bit of dilemma with the Bargirl Series, should I include nudity or not? I did not want to exploit the people who I was trying to document and help. Nudity offered to different possibilities on the negative side was the chance of exploitation on the positive side was the fact that nudity was honest to who they were. If your working as a Bargirl being naked is part of the job description, your body is how and why you are used by your client. My goal became to show the person in a honest light, to sometimes show some nudity but to try to do it in a straight forward and true to the subject way. To show it in a way that was honest to the lives of the subject, to not show the nudity in an exploitive way but in a realistic way. It was a fine line, a movement of a leg or a change in expression can change the entire feel/meaning of a photograph. I struggled with getting the balance right through out that year and also later when choosing which photographs to print. I have about 30% of the film from this series to develop and still struggle in dealing with finding the photographs that are true and honest to the Bargirls life.

Phnom Penh Baby

This photograph was made in 1999 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I had traveled from my hotel to a slum area populated by the poor people of the city. There was a busy dirt road with big trucks going back and forth at fast speeds, motorbikes also zipped along sometimes loaded with chickens or pigs. Alongside all of this action was a shanty style hut with 5 adults and 5 or 6 children running about. I saw the old lady (grandmom?) holding the baby and motioned with sign language to a man who was near by(father?)asking if it was ok to take photographs, he nodded and I made the picture shown. When I look at the picture now I wonder what kind of life that baby will have, as I write this the baby is probably about 8 years old, what will its future be?

Art Speak

I get so tired of that gobligooke art speak stuff you see in Artist Statements. A visual artist should let his work speak for itself and not try to aggrandise it with flowery verbiage.

Paul Strand says it better than I ever could.

"I find in most cases that what the artist says about what he is going to do, or what he has done, is an inadequate and not very meaningful statement. The thing is the work itself, and in a sense the artist should not be asked for the philosophy of life upon which he bases his work. The work is the basis. The work is the thing itself."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Long and Sau

Looking back at the two photographs of Long and Sau brought back a flood of memories. I have met perhaps hundreds of ladies working the bars as these two did and there are a common thread through most of their lives. They most often come from a poor rural family and have little education, they often financially support family members and children and they become more and more jaded as time passes. Many times a girl working the bar will start out with a kind heart and trusting nature but through the years she will come to distrust most men and often become addicted to various drugs (nicotine, alcohol and the harder stuff).

Sau and Long fit into these categories, both worked the same short time bar and both had the same tired worn out look to them. Night after night of drinking and selling their bodies had destroyed an innocence they once held. They were both polite to me and kind people but their was also a tired worn down nature to them. Long especially just seemed to not really care to much about anything anymore.

Real Landscape Photography

With the dawn of the digital age well upon us I thought I would share some thoughts regarding what I consider real landscape photography. I have often admired the majesty of the Ansel Adams photograph “Clearing Winter Storm”. This image to me is what landscape photography is all about, a majestic real life image caught in one exposure. Adams captured the moment in a decisive moment, to me that is the definition of a photograph, a single moment in time captured for posterity.

I look now at many digitally created images I see online or in my camera club and feel that thou the work is beautiful it is also a cheat. These photographs which are represented as a single moment in time are actually a collage of several exposures (moments)that creates the illusion of a decisive moment. A CAI (computer altered image) in my opinion is a cheat, and not a photograph but something else, they are works of Art but to call them photographs is a mistake, maybe they should be called collagagraphs.

Adams manipulated his work as well, he made the color real world b/w, he used filters and adjusted exposure and development (zone system) to change the tonal values. His work thou seems more honest in that he went back several times to get the photograph
“Clearing Winter Storm”, if you look at his book "Ansel Adams at 100" you can see how hard he worked to get the image, he repeatedly traveled back to the same place over the years and reshot the scene, until that one magical time where everything came together. He captured a real time event in a real single decisive moment, he did not need the cheat of photoshop to create this wonderful photograph. Adams had the discipline to go back over and over again, he worked and worked at it until he got it right.

I hope I can learn from his example. I need to follow in his footsteps and keep working until my images say what I want them to say. No Adobe cheats allowed, the photographs should be a single moment in time, if the image is not a success you should not fix your mistake in photoshop, you should work harder like Adams did to get the image the first time.

Good Art

"All good art is abstract in its structure"
Paul Strand

I have been thinking about this quote in connection with my all time favorite Strand image, "Blind". How is the photograph "Blind" abstract in structure? Does it represent all people who suffer? Is that what great portraiture does? represent a feeling an emotion that is unversal to all of us. I have a friend RP who thinks of portraits as simply representing single people that are only of interest to immediate family members, that can't be right. Is not all great portraiture a window into mankind? Does not a photograph of a dying child have a connection to all children? Maybe that is what Strand meant, in an abstract way good art crosses barriers and reflects a whole aspect of some feeling/understanding not just what is literally depicted in the artwork. Good art needs to be abstract to have cross cultural, cross human appeal. This reminds me of something Charlie Chaplin once said. His movies had world wide appeal because there was no language in them, they visually told a story that could be understood by all the worlds peoples. Maybe that is what good art is, it is abstract in the sense that everyone can understand it, that it can reach people on a emotional/personal level no matter who or where they are.


Talent=a special natural ability or aptitude

Been reading a book called " Dialogue with Photography" tonight. The book got me thinking about talent and what that means. I often hear people talking about talent in photography or other areas like it is some sort magic elixir that creates your work for you. "Boy your so talented look at the work you do!" I think that talent is actually a small part of most success in photography, in other art forms or life pursuits in general. Most people who are successful at what they do are extremely hard working, they work there butts off until they have success. They do not give up at the first,second or third failures they keep the old nose to the grindstone and keep plugging away through the good and the bad times, they never give up (never surrender!). People that are successful rarely take the easy way out.

I often hear amongst my photography friends about how they did something a certain way because it was easier or they did not do something because it was too much work! If you truly love what your doing how can it be to much work? If it is easier does that make it better? Why not suffer a bit for your photographs?I think that being successful at something like photography requires 10% talent and 90% hard work. You have to keep pressing on, keep challenging yourself, you have to make sacrifices emotionally, financially and personally. If you take the easy (lazy) way out the work will suffer accordingly.

Definition of Successful photography = creating lasting work that says something important, hopefully in a new way.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Nit Portrait Thoughts

I made a b/w photograph back in 2003 of an older Sex Worker in Bangkok named Nit. I have been thinking about that image a lot lately. I think in the future I would like to continue to work in this way. The photograph was made with a twin reflex Mamiya camera which allowed me to move close in and still be able to focus with an 80mm lens. My thoughts keep coming back to this image, I should continue down this road, not sure if I will do it in b/w or color. The closeness of the face seems to add an intimacy that is not as pronounced in the portraits shot from a greater distance. I will do some more experimentation with this set up. I recently purchased a new flash bracket, this bracket allows me to place the flash directly over top the viewing/focusing lens.

Wasting Time

How do I find the time to do my work? It seems like all my time is being used in non photographic ways. Brett Weston had a daily routine that allowed him to create a major body of work. I feel that many times I am pissing away my time and not using it in the best way possible. I have to find ways to cut out the unimportant things and instead use my time making photographs and printing. Time is something I cannot take for granted, everyone has a finite amount of time in this world. To create a lasting body of work I need to use that time more efficiently.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sex Worker Series

I have been thinking alot about my latest project shot between April and June of 2007. The project was a series of portraits of Sex Workers from Thailand, the images were made with a large format 8x10 camera. All the photographs were shot on white backgrounds in a studio setting(actually an apartment I rented to place my flash equipment in).

Been thinking alot about the people I met while shooting these photographs. I can remember their faces and voices, they sort of haunt me now it is like everytime I make a print from my negs a get a flash back moment to my time with them. I often think about their lives and wonder what has happened to them since I left.

I took photos of Sex Workers in 1999 and 2003 as well and now many of those people are gone, many have died, most have left the scene some to happy lives no doubt but many to lives that none of us would envy. I think back to the faces from this last project and wonder what has happened to these people since we parted.