Photo for BurnDiary by Diana Markosian, 2013 EPF Winner
burn is an online feature for emerging photographers worldwide. burn is curated by magnum photographer david alan harvey.
Photo for BurnDiary by Diana Markosian, 2013 EPF Winner
A Conversation With Constantine Manos
David Alan Harvey: So tell me how photography became a passion for you. At what age, and how did lightning strike you?
Constantine Manos: I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, where I joined the school camera club at the age of thirteen. Photography became an instant passion for me, with an emphasis on the darkroom. I had a great teacher, who was a strict disciplinarian who taught me the fine art of how to develop film and make good prints. I fell in love with the darkroom, and this imparted a good sense of craftsmanship to all of my photography.
DAH: Do you make your own prints now?
CM: Yes, I make my own prints now. I worked in the darkroom most of my life and for the last four or five years I have been making what I consider to be beautiful digital prints, perhaps equivalent to darkroom prints – especially in black and white. Yes, I love making prints.
DAH: A lot of people get interested in photography at an early age, but what happened to make you think you could turn this into a profession, into a business, into a craft where you could earn a living? What made that happen?
CM: Well, almost immediately I realized I wanted to make a career out of it, and by the time I was fifteen I was doing picture stories that were being published in the Sunday magazine of the local newspaper, which was the largest newspaper in the state. At the age of seventeen I discovered Henri Cartier-Bresson in a magazine article, and I found my mentor and the kind of pictures I wanted to take. I found out what camera he used, what film he used. I bought them and went to a little Island off the coast of South Carolina, and I made my first serious set of pictures – of which I am still proud. That was it. Cartier-Bresson was my long distance mentor for years. As soon as I got together a box of prints from the Island project I got on a Greyhound bus, went to New York, went to Magnum Photos and showed my pictures to whomever I met. I received a friendly but noncommittal reception. Cornell Capa was there, he looked at my pictures and said “lets go have a drink”. We went to a bar (I had never been to a bar in my life) and he sat me on the stool and said “what will you have”? I said “I’ll have whatever you have” and he said “Scotch”. I’ve been a Scotch drinker ever since.
DAH: Well what was the island you photographed?
CM: It’s called Daufuskie Island; it was a little island that was inhabited by descendants of plantation slaves. It was very isolated. They were beautiful people, but that island is now a resort with golf courses and expensive houses. All of the original aspects of the island are gone, but I still have the pictures, and the negatives I processed are still beautiful after sixty years.
DAH: Yeah, that’s right. I forgot it was Daufuskie. I was on Daufuskie about twenty years ago and it was still pretty much like you photographed it. I photographed a one-room school house and that sort of thing, but yeah, I have heard that it is all resort now, so I can’t quite bear to go back there.
CM: And you know where the name comes from? All the little islands along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia are called keys, and Daufuskie was the first key in this string. In the Gullah dialect of the locals it was “Dau-fus-kie, the first key, and that is where the name comes from.
DAH: Well that is great. I think I used to know that fact, but thank you for the reminder. Now, you are a well known and very popular workshop teacher. At what point did mentoring other photographers become important to you and why did you do it?
CM: Well I have been doing workshops for about 30 years now and I did them because I reached a point where I felt I had things to say about photography in general, especially about the Magnum style, the Magnum spirit of photography in particular. In the process of teaching I learned a lot about my own photography because I had to articulate ideas that were useful for going out into the real world and approaching subjects very closely and being able to make pictures that went beyond just what things looked like, but were something special and perhaps unique.
DAH: Well the real world has changed obviously, as the real world does over time. Today, a young photographer has to look at the process of making it into the business much differently than when you or I did. Do you think what you have to say is still relevant to a young photographer today?
CM: I think what I have to say and what a lot of older photographers have to say is still relevant, especially the Magnum photographers who have embraced the Magnum spirit and the Magnum approach. I think it will be forever valid because the world is only changing superficially. We still have people, human beings, and it is really about the human condition which is the main subject of Magnum photographers. You can go back to the beginning and look at the work of Cartier-Bresson, who was a young poet, who began doing photojournalism, mostly at the urging of Robert Capa – a brave hardcore photo-journalist. George Rodger was the intrepid traveler going to exotic places like Africa, and David Seymour was kind of a mix of them all. Between these early founders you have in a way the beginning of the Magnum approach to photography – which is still very valid and will go on forever, as long as there is a world. The Magnum archive is not the biggest in the world, but I feel it is most interesting and creative.
DAH: You can never take away from that basic story telling and humanistic vision of the world and the way that the Magnum photographers do it. Certainly not the only way, but it does seem the way that has stood the test of time.
CM: When a young photographer asks me, “how do I get an assignment?” I reply that before you even seek assignment you have to produce a body of work that shows how you view the world and what you can do with your camera. In other words you have to have something very unique, a vision, a proof that you are capable of putting your own personal stamp on your pictures and can show us things we have never seen before and will never see again. I think every successful photograph is a surprise, often defined by a special moment. Think about the poet who writes poems for their own sake and then seeks a publisher. Photography has become so simple, particularly since the arrival of the digital camera. I often start my workshops by saying any fool can take a picture, why don’t you try playing the violin? It is still very difficult, even though much easier technically with digital cameras. Everyone is taking pictures. Everyone is out there with a cell phone or whatever. When we were coming up, you had to at least know how to use a hand held exposure meter, set the f/stop, set the shutter speeds, focus… you had to have some skill and sense of craft, and then in high school there was usually one guy who had the professional camera and everyone else was just taking pictures with box cameras and a roll of film. Today there is a glut and because of the glut there is in a way a lowering of standards because so many people consider themselves photographers who have never gone through the ordeal of learning the craft, but have just picked up a camera and started pushing the button. We are swamped in a sea of banality, even coming from some people who are professionals and make their living from photography
DAH: I think that is right. I look at it as a combination of a plus and a minus. In other words it is a plus that everybody is picking up the language of photography, that’s fantastic, but I think the reason workshops are so popular these days is because at some point people realize “well wait one minute, I can kind of speak the language, but I can’t really speak the language”, and so they start looking for the history of photography, they start looking at more sophisticated ways of doing it. So it is kind of a plus and a minus. I think it is probably more plus in the long run though.
CM: Yes, it is more plus.
DAH: Yeah, everybody is a photographer, and like we were talking about in the workshop in Texas, English is a language that everybody speaks but only a few people speak it really really well and I think that is maybe a good parallel. So that is a good segue into what we are doing now with Magnum in Provincetown. Can you explain that one a little bit? I think you have created a potential experience for people to pick up on some of the things you have just talked about. Can you explain the workshops in Provincetown and what it has to offer?
CM: Well, Magnum Days is going to be a photographic gathering in the small town of Provincetown, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. It is going to run from September 15th through the 21st. Bruno Barbey, Larry Towell, Olivia Arthur, and yea you will be doing workshops. Provincetown is a very artistic town, with sixty art galleries. Artists and art are revered here. Magnum is partnering with the Fine Arts Work Center, a wonderful institution which is supplying us with ten studios and twenty student apartments which we will be using for this workshop. Provincetown is a wonderful place to take pictures. You can walk right out of the Arts Center onto the main street which is always bustling with all kinds of people. It is a seaside town so there is the whole nautical thing, and then there are the beaches, but mainly there is a lot of humanity here and great opportunities for photography. So it offers a great locale for our kind of photography if you are out there looking for a wonderful poetic moment of something happening between people, among people, in an interesting environment. I make my students all work with a wide-angle lens so that they have to get close and fill the frame and have a lot of information in the picture, and I try to teach them how to do that physically with their body, how to go out, find a picture, think about it and think about exactly what they want from this situation and go for it, and be able to get close without ever being seen.
DAH: Well nobody articulates better than you that process, and describing the elements of a picture. I kind of feel like taking one of your workshops myself, but because I have taught with you a couple of times I have caught some of your critique and you are amazing at being able to describe the process of seeing.
CM: It will be five days of workshops. Bruno Barbey, Larry Towell, Olivia Arthur, Eli Reed, and yea you…and me!!, will be doing workshops. Every night there will be a slideshow by one of the workshop instructors in the evening, and then on the weekend (Saturday and Sunday) we will have a gala for visiting photographers, Bruce Davidson, Steve McCurry, Susan Meiselas and Peter Van Agtmael who is one of our fine younger members. They and the workshop instructors will be doing portfolio reviews for all who wish to partake of them, not only the registered workshop students. There will be an interesting symposium called “The State of Photography Today?” because we all know photography is going through a revolution right now. In the middle of all of this there is the Magnum tradition, which has gone on for almost 70 years. There will be continuous loop projections in one of the large studios titled The Magnum Legacy, a history in pictures of iconic images from each of the photographers from the beginning to today. There will also be a projection titled Magnum Film Clips showing clips of movies made by Magnum photographers.
DAH: Well we have a continuum. I think if we have gone on for 70 years through good times or bad times there has got to be something to it.
CM: That is right, absolutely. And so we are always looking for young photographers who believe in this Magnum tradition and would like to be a part of it. It doesn’t mean we are all taking pictures like Cartier-Bresson. We have some remarkable young people who are doing ground breaking work, like Jacob Aue Sobol…a young photographer who is doing very interesting black and white work which is totally new and fresh, but is still about people and the human condition.
DAH: Well, you can use HCB as an influence but it wouldn’t do any good just to copy. You are influenced by somebody and then you do your own thing.
CM: You are influenced by a lot of photographers! You are a combination of everything you have seen and liked and thought about and you should hopefully become a unique photographer, a unique individual. The greatest compliment a photographer can have is for people to recognize their style without knowing who took the picture, and it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of thinking and a lot of focusing to accomplish this.
DAH: Well, thank you. That is great.
CM: Thank you, David.
Constantine Manos was born in South Carolina of Greek immigrant parents. He attended the University of South Carolina, where he received a B. A. in English Literature. He is a member of Magnum Photos.
Manos’ photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Bibliotheque National, Paris; George Eastman House in Rochester; the Museum of Fine Ars, Houston; and the Benaki Museum, Athens.
Manos is the author of five books: Portrait of A Symphony, A Greek Portfolio, Bostonians, American Color, and American Color 2. In 2003 he was awarded the Leica Medal of Excellence. Manos’ work may be seen at magnumphotos.com.
Photo ©Michael Loyd Young
Ahhh, after a whirlwind spring and early summer, I am finally at home for a bit. Summertime is exactly that, and for sure we all need a break at times. In this summertime spirit, we are going to extend the deadline for the Emerging Photographer Fund grant of $10,000 to September 02, 2014. Our original deadline for the EPF/Magnum Foundation Grant was July 31, 2014.
The Inge Morath Truck Project
“Photography is a strange phenomenon. In spite of the use of that technical instrument, the camera, no two photographers, even if they were at the same place at the same time, come back with the same pictures. The personal vision is usually there from the beginning; result of a special chemistry of background and feelings, traditions and their rejection, of sensibility and voyeurism. You trust your eye and you cannot help but bare your soul. One’s vision finds of necessity the form suitable to express it.”
–Inge Morath, Life as a Photographer, 1999
By Jennifer Gandin Le
Where we are born leaves an indelible mark on our bodies. The space where we first take air into our lungs is where language meets our ears, light meets our eyes, and the sensation of skin begins. No matter what follows, the place stays with us.
For pioneering Magnum photojournalist Inge Morath (1923-2002), born in Graz, Austria, the place that captured her imagination and vision was the Danube region in Eastern Europe. For nearly forty years (1958-1995), she made trips along the full length of the river, from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, and photographed the people and landscape along the river through generations of social and political change. She made her first trip along the Danube in 1958, traveling to Germany, Yugoslavia, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. Politics made Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Soviet Union inaccessible to her until the 1990s, after the fall of the Iron Curtain. In 1995, she exhibited her “Donau” project and published a book, but she continued to return to the region; the last trip she took before she died was to the land of her birth.
This July, Inge Morath’s photos of her beloved Danube region will return home.
Nine photographers — all of whom have received the Inge Morath Award, an annual prize given by Magnum Photos members to a woman photographer under 30 — will convert an 18-wheeler into a mobile gallery of her work and drive it along the Danube River, exhibiting the work in the very communities that Morath photographed.
Along the way, the women will create new work, collaborate with local female photographers in the region, and amplify the voices of existing local artists by inviting selected photographers to travel with them. “While we’re trained to be perceptive and pick up things with culture and people and photograph critically, essentially, we’re just visitors,” says Claire Martin of the project’s express mission to “support the under-represented female voice in documentary photography.” “We want people with the real voice of the region to participate in the project.”
“When I started here twelve years ago, the attention was on Inge and her history,” says John P. Jacob, director of the Inge Morath Foundation. “About halfway in, we changed the tone of the website to focus on her legacy. We asked, what can we do for those who feel her influence? It has been incredibly rewarding for us to see this project flow from that change in perspective.”
Danube Revisited’s numbers are impressive: nine photographers, three of their children, one documentary filmmaker, 24 cities and villages, 10 countries, 1,777 miles of river, and all in 35 days — especially when you consider that Morath completed her version of this journey across nearly 40 years.
“I’ve tried to put together group projects with friends before, but it’s never worked,” says Kathryn Cook, who won the Award in 2008. “This is different. There’s a lot of glue between those who have received the award.” Lurdes R. Basolí, 2010 winner, agrees. “I wouldn’t be doing this project without what we have in common — sharing this grant.” Despite the administrative challenges of organizing this project across four countries and over two years, Basolí’s faith in the project never flagged. “We built this ourselves. It was never an option to give up — we all had such deep commitment.”
A unique collaboration in a field known for its solitary work, these nine photographers will spend five weeks sharing ideas, informing each others’ work, pressing each other to grow and evolve, and supporting each other along the way.
“I’ve done collaborative projects like this with my students before, and it’s always been exciting to shoot similar situations, then look at our images together afterwards and see how our eyes are different. I’m excited to do this with these great photographers,” says Emily Schiffer, 2009 award winner. Schiffer and Cook will be traveling with their children, which was another important priority for the organizers. Their Kickstarter page drives the point home: “We are all between the ages of 31 and 41 and would love to prove that there doesn’t have to be an age or a period when women can’t create or take part in an adventure.”
Despite being the namesake for a high-profile award for female photographers, Morath herself was dismissive of the gender issue, emphasizing her photography as the important discussion. However, she and her Magnum colleague Eve Arnold were also proud of their prominence as women photographers, especially in a time when there were obvious gaps in the diversity of not only Magnum, but also the entire industry.
Claire Martin says, “We’re trying to correct the balance from the historical white male bias in documentary photography, and trying to bring it back a bit. Inge was a pioneer that way, and that’s why we’re so inspired by her. She was one of the first to put a woman’s print on work and have it publicly validated and recognized.”
Most of the award winners knew little about Morath when they applied. But through the last two years of planning Danube Revisited, Morath’s legacy has come alive for them in a new way. “As you talk with everyone who knew her, you realize that they created the award out of deep respect and love for her,” says Martin. “In creating this project, she’s become really influential to me. I think of her being the one of the first women, breaking the barriers of entrenched gender roles at the time. How challenging that must have been. How ballsy she must have been to be so defiant, such a powerhouse.”
Jessica Dimmock wonders about Morath’s own perception of her trajectory in the field. “Did she think her career would change things for women, or did she feel isolated by being a solo woman in a field driven by men? Based on the changes she was seeing in her lifetime, did she think the nine of us could exist? Would she have an idea that this many women would be drawn to this craft?”
Jennifer Gandin Le is a writer and photographer based in Austin, TX. When she’s not telling stories with words or images, she’s saving lives through her company Emotion Technology, which works with social web companies to prevent suicide and promote mental health online. When she was just 24, director Francis Ford Coppola commissioned her film adaptation of the best-selling novel The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank. Her non-fiction writing has been published in Wired Magazine, Time Out New York, BUST Magazine, and The Village Voice. Her short film, Small Changes, won the Grand Jury Prize in the 2009 Intelligent Use of Water film competition, and was screened at The Getty Center in Los Angeles. Gandin Le graduated with honors from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
The Inge Morath Award was established by the members of Magnum Photos in tribute to their colleague, who was associated with Magnum for more than fifty years. The annual Inge Morath Award is given to a woman photographer under thirty years of age, to assist in the completion of a long term documentary project. The winner and finalists are selected by the photographer members of Magnum Photos and a representative of the Morath Foundation at the Magnum annual meeting. The photographers participating in Danube Revisited are nine of the past Inge Morath Award winners, who have benefited and grown as a result of the award, and wish to honor the legacy of Inge Morath by retracing her Danube journey. Each photographer brings to the project both a unique personal vision and a common appreciation for the challenges facing women photographers today.
WE ARE: Olivia Arthur, Emily Schiffer, Claire Martin, Lurdes Basoli, Kathryn Cook, Mimi Chakarova, Jessica Dimmock, Claudia Guadarrama, and Ami Vitale.
Born in Paris in 1928 to Russian parents, Erwitt spent his childhood in Milan, then emigrated to the US, via France, with his family in 1939. As a teenager living in Hollywood, he developed an interest in photography and worked in a commercial darkroom before experimenting with photography at Los Angeles City College. In 1948 he moved to New York and exchanged janitorial work for film classes at the New School for Social Research.Erwitt traveled in France and Italy in 1949 with his trusty Rolleiflex camera. In 1951 he was drafted for military service and undertook various photographic duties while serving in a unit of the Army Signal Corps in Germany and France.While in New York, Erwitt met Edward Steichen, Robert Capa and Roy Stryker, the former head of the Farm Security Administration. Stryker initially hired Erwitt to work for the Standard Oil Company, where he was building up a photographic library for the company, and subsequently commissioned him to undertake a project documenting the city of Pittsburgh.In 1953 Erwitt joined Magnum Photos and worked as a freelance photographer for Collier’s, Look, Life, Holiday and other luminaries in that golden period for illustrated magazines. To this day he is for hire and continues to work for a variety of journalistic and commercial outfits.
In the late 1960s Erwitt served as Magnum’s president for three years. He then turned to film: in the 1970s he produced several noted documentaries and in the 1980s eighteen comedy films for Home Box Office. Erwitt became known for benevolent irony, and for a humanistic sensibility traditional to the spirit of Magnum.
It has been a long time since I have written here. I have been shooting and teaching and teaching and shooting like crazy. Oaxaca, Rio, and now Dubai. Like a madman. Yet all of it my passion , all of it fun, and all of it just what I DO. Yet of course I just run out of time. Can’t do it all. Want to. Just can’t.
The above picture from Dubai is my most recent, shot a few days ago just before I left Dubai. Not a likely place for me to shoot, or so I thought before I went there last year. Something bit. I came back again. There was a fascination for me in a new age city where the people of the land went from the poorest on the planet to the richest. Overnight. Allah Akbar. Hence the title of my upcoming magazine : Up from the Sands.
Those of you who know me know that I love books the most as the ultimate resting place for fine work. Books are where I want my work to be. Books are my nourishment from colleagues, those I admire, my students, and those who are unknown to me., I simply love fine work regardless of source. Sure I want you to be interested in BurnBooks. You have acquired all that we have offered so far. Thank you. Yet for sure I will promote any day the fine work of great publishers like Steidl , Aperture, Phaidon, Trolley, Taschen, etc etc. and anyone else who makes a great book.
I am a Magnum photographer and I will promote Magnum anytime. My company. I will also interview for Burn fine photographers from VII and from Noor and from any other agency where I see fine fork. Why would I promo the competition?
I will tell you why. There just are not that many good ones out there. I will assemble any time all the great producers of any kind. We need each other. To keep the level high. Buy a Taschen book today, buy a Phaidon book tomorrow and get a BurnBook while you are at it. Competing? Sure. Only keeps the level high.
I will be introducing in a couple of weeks Michael Loyd Young’s new book: Beer, Bait & Ammo. Our latest BurnBooks offering. A work of art, a work from the heart. Mike flipped his life around. A former student, Mike turned his camera on his own world, something I implore all of my students to do.
We will be announcing soonest our upcoming lineup of books , and zines. Some mine. Mostly others.
It was Kelly Lynn James who has always been fully credited by me for the name BURN. Thanks Kelly.
So as we did for the title Burn , I am throwing this one out there for you to help choose (no money in this for you)
I wrote above that the title for my upcoming zine on Dubai was gonna be Up from the Sands. Yet I have also thought simply: Sand …what you think?
(a) Up From the Sands
(c) your best title…
Learn how Egyptian photographer Laura El-Tantawy covers conflict.
Check this out. No way you won’t get something out of this short preview of a longer conversation with Susan Welchman, a Photo Editor at NatGeo. This is a one time chat like I never had before with a colleague with whom I have collaborated on at least 10 major essays at NatGeoMagazine.
Patricia sings as her husband Ed plays in a nightly ritual in their home in Detroit. Photo by David Alan Harvey
Conversation with Patrica Lay-Dorsey
Author of Falling Into Place: Self Portraits
Detroit-based artist Patricia Lay-Dorsey was diagnosed with chronic progressive Multiple Sclerosis in 1988. Twenty years later she turned her camera on herself and began taking self-portraits with the intention of showing from the inside the day-to-day life of a person with a disability.
The photographs chronicle the struggles and achievements of the artist as she learns to accept the limitations of her body and celebrate her abilities rather than her disability. Taken together, the images build a compelling narrative about the artist’s daily life over five years that is inspiring, deeply moving and offers a fascinating insider perspective. The story highlights Lay-Dorsey’s energetic lifestyle, and unconventionally for a woman of her age, a love of Detroit electronic dance music which led its aficionados to bestow on her the nickname ‘Grandma Techno’.
Published by Ffotogallery in Cardiff, Wales and designed by award-winning book designer Victoria Forrest, the hardback book includes 50 colour images, an artist statement and biography, and texts by David Alan Harvey, Magnum photographer and Burn Magazine Editor, and David Drake, Director of Ffotogallery.
David Alan Harvey: Patricia, I think you are the first Burn commenter who has actually done a book on their own. Is that right as far as you know? Who else has done one?
Patricia Lay-Dorsey was born in 1942 in Washington, DC. She received her MSW from Smith College School for Social Work in 1966 and ten years later studied fine arts at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. Patricia and Ed Dorsey have lived in the Detroit area since they married in 1966.
Patricia’s book of self-portraits, Falling Into Place, was published in November 2013 by Ffotogallery in Cardiff, Wales. It is available at the ICP bookstore in NYC and on Amazon globally. This award-winning project has had solo exhibits at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA and Fovea Exhibitions in Beacon, NY. It has been featured in Newsweek Japan and New Mobility Magazine, and online on Burn Magazine, the NY Times Lens blog, The Daily Mail (London), ABC News, CBS News and Slate Magazine’s Behold blog. Patricia is currently giving slide presentations and facilitating discussions about disability & creativity in universities, disability organizations, corporations and community groups.
BIOHILIA, a newly born NGO based in Argentina, is currently developing a set of programs with different Communities throughout the Country. The photographs featured in this essay are part of a developing work in progress that will keep growing through the next four months.
In particular, BIOPHILIA is supporting a diversified set of projects in the heart of the Quebrada de Humahuaca, Province of Jujuy, fostering the culture and economy of the Quechua people inhabiting the Andean Atiplano. BIOPHILIA is implementing a number of projects with a selection of local farmers that contribute in the development of a sustainable, local economy, taking into account the cultural and territorial values and reflecting such richness into their products. Traditional culture and rural economy are at the core of BIOPHILIA’s initiatives; in particular with the Samilantes Communities of Chalala and Huichaira, as well as with the vibrant and colorful community of Tilcara that shines through the Diablos, during the traditional Carnival.
With the same philosophy and criteria, BIOPHILIA is developing a sustainable program with the Guarani Community of Jasy Pora, in the Province of Misiones, up in the North East region bordering with Brazil. The main goal is to develop a flow of responsible Eco-Tourism, which is currently the main possible source of income for the Guarani people inhabiting this portion of the region.
Through BIOPHILIA Experience we will shape a comprehensive map of rural farmers, eco-projects and innovative initiatives that are contributing to foster a sustainable model of development, involving local communities and ethnic groups, reflecting the cultural values within each territory. BURN is BIOPHILIA’s main media partner. Starting from now, we will develop a variety of original formats and contents, and we will soon feature a dedicated BURN-Biophilia page. The journey began in Iguazù, on the border with Brazil, developing through the North Western region and then through a long trip descending the legendary Ruta 40. The itinerary stretches from the Argentinian Amazon to the surreal Andean Altiplano, all the way to the Austral South, in the heart of Patagonia.
Marco Vernaschi was born in Italy, 1973. He lives in Buenos Aires since 2005. Through 2006 and 2008 he worked in Bolivia, following the early stages of President Evo Morales’ new policy on coca crops and the fratricidal war among miners in Bolivia’s Altiplano. In 2005 he covered “The Bitter Taste of Salt” on the daily struggle of the Quechua salt-miners living in the northwestern salt flats of Argentina. In 2009 Marco began working with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, documenting the major illegal activities behind narco-terrorism. In the Project West Africa’s New Achilles’ Heel, Marco focused on cocaine trafficking, in Guinea Bissau, documenting how criminal networks led by Hezbollah and Al Qaeda control drug trafficking in Africa, giving insight on the aftermath of this phenomenon at a social and political level. Again for the Pulitzer Center, in 2009, Marco started an international campaign on maternal mortality, with the project Dying for Life, focusing on the dire situation of maternal health in the Sub-Saharan African region. In 2010 Marco worked at his third project with the Pulitzer Center documenting child sacrifice and organ trafficking in Uganda. His last work, Placebo, was exhibited in 2011 at the 54th Venice Biennale at the Italian Pavilion, in St. Petersburg at the Karl Bulla Historical Photography Foundation and at Rome’s MACRO-Testaccio, among other exhibitions.
Marco’s personal work has published in several major fine art magazines, including EYEMAZING, La Lettre de la Photographie, DIENACTH, GUP, etc. His documentary work has been featured worldwide by STERN, TIME Magazine, National Geographic, GEO, Newsweek, The New York Times and Sunday Times Magazine, among others. He has receives several award including World Press Photo 2010 (1st Prize – GN Stories), PGB Photo Award 2010 (Best Picture of the Year – Picture Story of the Year – 1st Prize), finalist on ASME Award 2011, Lens Culture International Exposure Award 2009 (1st Prize), nominee at ICP Infinity Award in Photojournalism 2010, SONY PHOTO AWARD 2010 ( finalist on Current Issue), finalist ODP Award for Human Values 2009 (Finalist)
BIOPHILIA is a newly born NGO, of which Marco Vernaschi is President and founder. The organization’s mid-term goal for 2014-15 is to work closely with a number of selected communities, local producers and farmers through Argentina, on a series of synergetic and diversified projects that will allow such communities to develop a solid, local economy. The model they have in mind, takes into account the cultural values of each region and ethnicity, the unique features of each territory and of course the demand in terms of global markets, which is important to make the project successful.
I have very little time to write. I am shooting. In the mode. In the zone. After all of the day to day things we must do constantly just to “maintain”, it is those moments when we can actually feel and shoot and live and breathe the work that are the most rewarding. I am on it now in Rio. Again.
I cannot remember ever coming back to the same “well” twice. Yet Rio has me again. For a totally different essay than (based on a true story). Not only a switch to black & white, but a whole different storyline….In the back of my mind , I am wondering if Rio is all of it, or only part of it. This I do not know yet. Beach Games has been on my mind for about a year. The double meaning will hopefully be obvious in the final result. Right now I am simply sketching and playing and absorbing “the games”….Doing little layouts and sequences in my mind, yet not quite ready to “go to the wall”with prints for another few weeks….And of course I could drop the whole idea entirely. I often drop projects where I have spent lots of time. I have no fear of rejecting weeks and weeks of work if I see it is not happening in the way I may have imagined.
I tell those I mentor and I tell myself, be ready to throw it all away at any time. Start over. I throw most of my work away. I only finish some thing , not everything. Never marry an idea until that point when you just know it is what you wanted to say.
Rio will be behind me in a few days. Ahhhh , the weather will be hard to leave! Freezing New York is out there ahead of me. Then off to Dubai to finished or not finish the essay I stared there last year at this time and was cut short because of the passing of my mother. The Burn team of Diego Orlando and Kaya Berne will be joining me in Dubai for a workshop associated with GPP and then I will shoot again for a couple of weeks and see IF Dubai becomes a tabloid/zine as is my intention for Beach Games.
Ok, that’s it. I must roll now into the one thing I know how to do. I must forget all else, and concentrate. A zen sort of concentration that is pure pleasure and somehow “work”at the same time.
THE place to be, whenever you can get there, and any way you can get there.
Daughters of the King, the Book
In my photographs, I have sought to avoid the common stereotypes frequently attributed to Orthodox Jews. I have attempted to show aspects of these women, their most spiritual ones, those that transcend their religion and its strict rules governing the sanctity of their bodies. I chose to delve into a deeper dimension of my subjects’ holiness–one of femininity accompanying every gesture, every moment of their daily lives as religious women. In my images, head coverings, long-sleeved dresses, modest skirts, and shoes ceased to be barriers to unwanted eyes, but instead became vessels, unveiling a deep, emotional access in the search for meaning as a woman.
“Daughters of the King” reveals the subtlest gestures of feminine beauty within moments of the daily lives of these women: The preparation for a wedding ceremony, the moment a mother and a daughter light candles before the beginning of Shabbat, or choosing a dress to wear for a particular occasion and combing their hair for an evening outing.
“Daughters of the King” began four years ago in New York in the streets of Crown Heights, the Lubavitch Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn, continued within the Breslov and Dati Lumi communities in Israel and the Sephardic Jews of Paris the next year and carried onward to Morocco and Tunisia within the old Jewish community of Casablanca and the folkloristic community of religious women in Djerba.
“I do not choose the women I photograph. They choose me. These women have not only ‘lent me their stories,’ they have also opened my heart to my own spirituality, revealing to me what it means to be a true Bat Melech beyond the limits of religion.”
Daughters of The King will be showing in Rome at ETG until January 15, 2014
DAUGHTERS OF THE KING by Federica Valabrega - published by BurnBooks on November, 2013 in an edition of 1000 copies – dimension: 300mm x 200mm (12 ” x 8 “), 88 pages plus 24 pages booklet with texts in english and italian – - $ 40.00 – € 35,00 (excl. shipping)
Author: Federica Valabrega
Publisher: BurnBooks, 2013
Image Color Correction: Paolo Lecca
Book Design: Valeria Semenzato
Production manager: Diego Orlando for BurnBooks
Printing and Binding: Grafiche Antiga, Italy
DAUGHTERS OF THE KING can now be ordered here
Conversation with JR
David Alan Harvey: The reason I am interested in you is because you’re a pop star, yet you do good things for people. You have brought art to the streets for everyone to see. You use your photographs to cover up the roofs of substandard housing in Nairobi. Your pictures keep the rain out. You use your art for social causes. We share an enthusiasm for supporting other artists.
So anybody in the arts, whether they are a painter, sculpture, filmmaker, etc., those people have always interested me since I was a kid. And I am always especially interested in, ”when did the light come on?”.
Now I sort of know when the light came on for you. There were the riots in Paris, and I was in Arles when you pasted there in 2007. I didn’t know you at that time, and I guess not so many people did.
Since then you have obviously taken off, but when did the spark go off? Obviously you were spraying, you were a graffiti artist.
JR: Yeah, I was pasting even before the riots. I guess the moment when it became clear to myself and to the people that I wanted to be an artist was at the riots because everyone discovered my work through the media. So I did the cover of the New York Times in 2005, but there was not even my name, they didn’t even know who I was. So I am on the cover, walking in front of my pasting, but the caption was something like “a passerby walking in this really tense neighborhood in Paris”. They didn’t know who was doing that. So what happened after the riots is that during the riots all the media emailed me and said ‘look, no journalist can get in. We saw that you have your work in there, can you take photos for us?’ That was the first time that I actually got a job offer as a photographer, but at that moment I decided I would not accept it because I wanted to choose the subject of my photos.
DAH: You wanted to be completely pure with it.
JR: Exactly. That is what put me into the portrait scene.
DAH: Okay well let me back up even further than that. I know you want to be anonymous so you don’t have to be specific, but there must have been an age when you were a little kid, six years old, seven years old, ten years old, that you realized you needed to project your feelings somehow and it goes to graffiti art. What happened? When did the light go off?
JR: I mean I started graffiti really early, maybe twelve or thirteen, but I definitely had no idea that there was a job for being an artist. I really had no clue.
DAH: It was just something you had to do?
JR: Some of the kids were doing it in the neighborhood and it’s so great to have your name up there and then it became a challenge like who’s going to get up there and who’s going to get that one, and who’s going to have more balls. There was nothing like ‘Oh, look how beautiful these are or look at how they change people’…nothing like that. So, it is later on when I got evicted from my school in the suburbs that I had to go live with some cousins in Paris that I met some writers that were in a totally different game. They said ‘your letters are bullshit, we do letters like this’. It is like if you come from the countryside and you think you had it all right and then you get in the city and you meet the real dudes and you start right from the bottom, and those guys actually do crazy letters, and one of the crew I was affiliated with was a really legit one and the leader lived in my suburb, so that’s why they accepted me in Paris. But my writing was terrible.
DAH: Ah, so how old were you when you went to Paris?
JR: I was seventeen.
DAH: Oh so that is a tough time.
JR: Yeah, and so basically, the moment I was in Paris I realized that there was a whole game for it. There were guys who were really good at it, and that is when I was like, oh I am meeting the best dudes, but I am not that great at it, so why don’t I document those guys.
DAH: So you started by just taking pictures of the guys who were rioting?
JR: Yeah. And then printing the photos and re-pasting them in the street. But really small. Really tiny.
DAH: Was it after the pasting in Arles?
JR: No that was 2001. I pasted my first poster when I was seventeen.
DAH: Really? Because you are thirty now right?
JR: Yeah, I’m thirty now. So I started thirteen years ago basically. Now I am working on a secret project that no one knows about.
DAH: I guess we had better keep your “secret project” a secret (laughing)…Save it for the next interview!!
Well let me ask you this…when did you suddenly go from underground, in trouble, getting arrested, obviously the government’s against you, you’re a bad boy, now you’re obviously a good boy and I want to ask you about that too. Is that a problem being a good boy?
You’re a famous pop artist now, is that a contradiction to the original JR?
JR: No, what I love about it is that I can be a good boy in New York and sometimes a good boy in France, but then when I did that I was arrested for that.
DAH: But you are a “good boy” in France now aren’t you?
JR: Yeah but we never got into a position to do that. I tried, even with my name to get the authorization to paste in the building; they wouldn’t give it to me. And so the funny thing is that, even when I was in China, I can have an exhibition in a museum and at the same time have problems with the outside, because for some people this is art and for other’s it’s silly crime, so we are talking about simple posters being a piece of art in a place and….
DAH: And a crime in another place?
JR: Yeah. Most of the places I go I start from scratch again. If I was only in New York, or only in France, I would have that feeling that everything seems easier, but because all those places I travel to, I start back from scratch, from people who don’t know my work or from police, who think: I don’t care who you are.
DAH: What about in Kibera or Cuba?
JR: Kibera we had no authorization. Cuba we had to do it through the Art Biennale but we had to finance everything, the best thing is Berlin for example. You know, I just did a project there and for most of it we actually didn’t get authorization. So we rented a huge crane and we just parked it wherever we wanted to. We know how to pretend we are legit, so if police came and looked at us, we looked really professional.
DAH: Listen, you are out there with the social media, you’re out there, you’re a celebrity, you’re a pop artist in a way, but you still keep the little extra part of original JR in there too. Is this correct?
JR: I have that thing where I am always in the grey zone, basically. That’s where I feel the most comfortable. In a place where you don’t know if it’s legal or illegal. Even Times Square that looks like the most legal thing ever, we didn’t have a paper from the city. They couldn’t give us official authorization saying that they agreed on that since there were insurance problems if people fell, etc. No one would take that responsibility. So basically Times Square Arts said you can go ahead but that everything was on our head because no one in the city would give us a paper covering your ass for what we were going to do.
DAH: I am used to photographers doing big things, but you’re out there on some other planet. I don’t see how you do all that stuff one after another. You take on Times Square and I think “Okay, that’s enough for two years of work and that’s that”. But then the next thing I know you’re in Berlin. How are you doing all that stuff? You have a team obviously…
JR: Well my favorite part is to be out pasting with my team, so we always travel altogether.
DAH: But how do you do all that stuff? You must have a military precision operation thing here. You’re a super organized guy.
JR: It’s a little of both. For example, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I sleep well.
DAH: Yeah, I was going to ask you if you ever sleep.
JR: Yes, I need to sleep for hours.
DAH: Do you have a personal life?
JR: I have one, it’s just that I travel a lot. The way I keep a close circle that is trained is that I have the same team that I’ve had for years. Those are the same guys that I did a project with 10 years ago in the suburbs. They are the same guys that I work with. We don’t need to call each other every day. They know which truck we need to rent when I get in a place. I never feel like I am arriving with new people…I am always with my team. We are like a family.
DAH: That I understand. I have some small version of that, but yours is on a huge level. Do you have an advance team who is going and lining all this stuff up?
JR: Sometimes they go to places and check it out before me, but I need to go and validate the walls.
DAH: Are you going yourself and making the deals with the official people or biz people, or is there somebody else?
JR: No, there are some people who do that here in New York, other guys in Berlin, other guys when it’s in France. And also, when I did the project in Rio, I worked with some people from Providencia. Now when I came back to Providencia I knew people there and we all stay very close. So depending on the city, I don’t need to send guys since I already have somebody there that knows how I work. And of course all the volunteers sometimes come and help, which is great. I have some guys who construct stuff and those guys don’t joke. You tell them I want a truck with that thing and that thing and he never calls you back and when you come it’s ready. They are the kind of guys that just make shit happen. There is a lot of this in the team where everybody takes these things personally and it becomes their part. And so we work a lot like that very closely. It’s like if I put a frame, and inside that frame everyone does their part. We have pasting guys who are willing to take risks, and have other who say “call me when you have an exhibition or legal war”, and other guys who I worked with in the suburbs have been in jail so they take the risks, to do their thing knowing that if they get arrested, it is everyone on their own basically because we have no paper, nothing.
DAH: Now I would imagine that you would get financing from various city’s or from various patrons of things.
JR: No, Times Square I financed myself. Paris, same thing.
DAH: You can do that just with your….
JR: The sales of the artwork.
DAH: Really? You do all that with that?
JR: I don’t have time to write forms or grants and no one on the team knows how to do it. Who would maybe be good at it? We don’t know. Most of the stuff we do is on the grey zone.
DAH: How do you get those big prints made in Nairobi?
JR: For example all the vinyl prints on the roof, we actually printed in Nairobi.
DAH: You printed it IN Nairobi?
JR: Yeah, because that is the cheapest way to work. That’s where they do all the banners for West Africa advertising and stuff like that. And now we covered another 4,000 square meters on top of what we did before and we just did it with help of the community. That’s like what you saw in Brazil, just continuity. So every year we come back and cover more.
DAH: And you just pick your social projects…I mean everything you do has some social relevance to it. I mean it may be in protest to something, something that you care about.
JR: The thing is, I am sure most of the people think I have legal authorization from the state when I actually have nothing. It’s like working in the favela. Providencia is the only favela where you cannot do any art projects, especially at the time when I went. There are no NGOs here are no contacts in there. When I went in there, there was just no way I could do it. I just met one woman, and that woman presented me to Mauricio, he was the key to everything. He was the guy who basically explained to every person (because I didn’t speak Portuguese) why I came and what the project was, because those people could do it. They were so good at it, so why wouldn’t it just be their project?
DAH: So then you go out and get your team together and you bring it back?
JR: Yes, exactly.
DAH: Well you are an artist with a sense of social responsibility. You said art was a great place for you to discuss all these social issues in kind of a free form. But you are doing more than a lot of journalistic photographers are doing. You don’t consider yourself that kind of photographer. You are an artist, but still, the issues are exactly the same.
JR: Now, I only understood that this year actually since I started using Instagram, I didn’t have social media a year and a half ago. I realized that if I put up a single photo people would think that was cool, but if I put up a whole story then suddenly people are touched and want to respond to that.
DAH: This is something you are just now realizing?
JR: Yeah, I didn’t understand the power of that before.
DAH: You’ve turned down the job as a journalist twice?
JR: Yeah, but I am not trying to do journalism.
DAH: I know you’re not, but you are making social change, which is what a lot of journalists are trying to do. I mean a lot of documentary photographers. Including me…I go to Kibera and I see the conditions there, and I’m thinking ‘Ok, I will take pictures here and hopefully if I publish it in magazines through Magnum I will effect some social change. Actually you in fact are going in as an artist and putting covers over the roofs so they don’t leak anymore. So that is a real social change, a real powerful and direct effect. So this is something you are realizing more and more. Is this something you are thinking about more and more?
JR: I am thinking about that fact that from the beginning. I realized when I go into this neighborhood and I have no contact there, I realized quickly that I wanted to have a real interaction with the people and as I was always into pasting, I knew I would implicate them, need their help but the thing is, how can that make sense for them? And they are the ones that will decide if it makes sense.
DAH: When you are in Kibera, they are the ones deciding?
JR: Exactly, and Liberia was the same thing. In Liberia there were just two of us and just guys with machetes around asking what the fuck are you guys doing here. You explain to them you want to paste a photo of a woman, and they don’t get it, but they are so curious because you don’t come from an NGO. So they are like ok what do you want to do? And I say we want to paste and they say okay you pay me and you can paste. I say no, I’m not going to rent a space from you. It’s not advertising. I say look, I’m not going to paste it if you tell me not to paste it, but if you tell me to paste it and you don’t like it and you want to scratch it in front of me, that is fine with me. So they ask why then do you even want to do it? I say I do it because it’s art. Basically the guys are so curious they say go ahead and do it, we don’t care. So they look and then when you try to do it, and remember that broken bridge, it was so hard because the bridge was broken, that they help you ended up having child soldiers helping to paste a woman that they may have raped during the conflict. But this would only happen to through that whole thing of you as an artist and trying to come into someplace and trying something with no insurance that you can actually do it. So when I travel, there is always a risk that I am going to be stopped before I even start, and that is the risk that most other people who travel don’t want to have. They don’t want to go there for nothing. All of those places that I went to, I had always in mind that there was a great percentage of chance that it wasn’t going to happen. Even in the favela, because I don’t have a paper.
DAH: Yeah, well you are in another world when you are in Kibera or in the favela. Okay, one last question because I know you have to go, your long term goal… you are going at such an incredible pace, you are 30 years old and you have already established a good solid 10 years of credibility already as an artist, so describe yourself right now.
I mean I’ve seen different descriptions that you’ve given, but right this minute, right now, how do you see yourself in the future? Street artist? Photographer? Same thing or more?
JR: I don’t think I’m a street artist anymore or photographer. I think I use those tools everyday. I love the artist title because you can do anything. I don’t have a direct goal or direct mission, except that if I fail tomorrow I want to fail inside my field. I don’t want to sell out basically. So I put those codes in since the beginning and I always did every one of my projects inside those codes that I fixed to myself, and I just wish that in the future, if I stop or if I fail that will be the best thing for me to have stayed true.
DAH: That’s a great message for emerging photographers. That’s the best thing. If you screw up, at least you did it.
JR: And as an artist you have the same rules to actually enter into rich homes in Copacabana and into the slums in Kibera. You have them so to do the same thing with your life. This building I live in I don’t pay rent, and it is beautiful, but if tomorrow I am back into a really small apartment, basically, I wouldn’t see that as failure. As you go and live to the complete extreme, you’d better be ready for it. So, of course I love my NYC studio, but if tomorrow I don’t have it anymore, I know that’s not failure. I don’t care, as long as I can express myself. When I was doing it 10 years ago, I didn’t feel that it was failure to just work in my little room and print my little photos. So I’m fine to go back to that, it wouldn’t be a failure.
DAH: I always felt the same way. Ready to go back to the street anytime. Anything but sell out.
JR: Exactly. It’s like people are so afraid to lose things, and so by being afraid to lose everything, they will do whatever. For example they will print the same thing over and over because it sells. I don’t care. Inside Out was the example. Two years ago I decided to give my techniques away. This is how you print and this is how you glue it. I am going to print for you and I am even going to pay for you if you want…all these people were like ‘wait, but if you give your techniques away, what’s left? Keep your copyrights’. I said ‘no I am going to give everything away I don’t care’. This has helped me more than has taken me down. Of course I have spent a lot of money in it, but I love the interaction. I meet so many people. I wouldn’t change that for anything. So, I think that all this is just a step that I am taking in the blind, and then I just react to it. And that is my way of working everyday. I am not planning stuff three years ahead. I know what I am going to do just this year, and after that I don’t know.
DAH: Inspiration for all. Thanks for your time JR. Great stuff….
Photograph of JR in his studio in New York by David Alan Harvey.
For those of you who will be in New York this coming Friday September 27th, I will be moderating a panel discussion along with BurnBooks editor Diego Orlando. on book publishing at the Photoville exhibition space in Dumbo. Photoville is an exhibition space right on the East River. I made this photo above while perusing the exhibitions of a wide variety of photographers set up in metal ship containers. A unique location and alternative way of looking at pictures to be sure.
Panelists set for the 45 minute presentation will include Chris Boot, CEO of Aperture; Chris Capozziello, self publishing photographer (featured on Burn with his essay The Distance Between Us); Olga Yatskevich founder of 10×10 Photobooks; and Nina Pollari, publishing projects specialist Kickstarter.
The open air freestyle nature of Photoville I think puts everyone in a relaxed informal atmosphere, and really takes advantage of the New York waterfront in a unique way.
Please come and hang. We look forward to meeting you.
Conversation with David Hobby
David Alan Harvey: You are a force in the social media/blog world. You have hit it very big with Strobist. We both started out as newspaper photographers.
David Hobby: I didn’t know that about you. Where did you start out?
DAH: I worked with Rich Clarkson at the Topeka Capital-Journal right out of grad school. I was a U of Missouri photojournalism student.
DH: But you weren’t at A newspaper, you were kind of at THE prototypical photography newspaper.
DAH: Well, it was at the time, yes it was. That would be the only reason to go to Topeka, Kansas ha ha. I liked Topeka. First job out of school, a good job. That was the last time I was rich!!
DH: So it was Rich Clarkson and Jim Richardson? Wasn’t he there?
DAH: Jim Richardson was there, Chris Johns was there, Brian Lanker was there.
DH: Wow, a medium-sized paper with that staff?
DAH: Oh yeah, Clarkson built a real place “to be” for young photogs…Rich is my single best mentor for what followed in life.
DH: Now was there like a dud there too?
DAH: Not really. It was an elite little crew. All of us eager. Ready to of course get out of Topeka and head for Life or NatGeo. None of us figured Topeka was good for more than a couple of years. Clarkson knew that, and he wanted new blood every couple of years anyway.
DAH: I mean, the New York Times you didn’t have any control, or the Chicago Tribune…The big papers we knew were not really the place to be. I mean at the medium sized papers you did your own thing. Came up with ideas. Did the layout. Learned the whole process. Went deep into stories.
DH: I had that same experience. One year at the Patuxent Newspaper group (near Baltimore) I did a hundred and four cover stories. And a cover story was a stretch-tab, full-page cover and a minimum of four pages inside with no ads. I mean, your worry was that you’d come back with four pages worth of good stuff and they gave you eight pages.
DAH: Well that’s right, and at Topeka we were doing in-depth stories. I mean we were doing with the newspaper (and you were too) what Life magazine had done prior. There was no more Life magazine, but the newspapers became a great outlet.
DH: We were a magazine disguised as a newspaper. I loved that.
DAH: That’s right. And you had to produce on demand. You had to go out and make a picture today. Right now. You could talk about it all you want, but you had to come back with a picture. Now how do you think that translated into what you are doing now? Was there any part of the newspaper world that transferred into your blog?
DH: So many parts of what we were doing then transferred …and I’m talking about twenty or twenty five years ago…that was my peak experience in newspapers.
We were a newspaper unlike any other newspaper in the country. Sort of like the Galapagos Islands. We had evolved completely with our own ecosystem, and the best example I can give is that we had editorial and then design and production.
So, editorial were the word people, and designer/production were what made the paper look good and everything. Photography was under design and production, meaning we never answered to a word person. We talked to them as peers. I think every single newspaper should be set up that way, because you never had, “Oh well, that’s nice but do you have a horizontal for this space and actually we changed the story to be about this…” and that kind of stuff. We bumped heads as equals, and because of that the newspaper was a much better product.
We had our editorial meetings for every paper and every news cycle, which for us was weekly. And we had a section of fourteen papers, but that was just one of many little things that just by chance evolved differently. Well, not by chance, because the people who did the newspaper were willing to listen to the director of photography just as much as they would listen to the word editor of the paper.
DAH: Well, and that’s what we had with Rich. Do you know him?
DH: I’ve never meet him.
DH: I would bet he was a formidable person to be sitting across from.
DAH: Rich Clarkson was a tough guy to deal with. I am sure he says the same about me! But we had a similar situation. What I am trying to figure out is how you went from newspaper photographer, basically to Strobist, which led to all kinds of other things, which you’re involved in, including social media and blogs and everything else. What day did the light go off in your head that you were going to take lighting, which is a mystery to everybody, and take that out there, and turn that into an incredible business. When did the light go off? No pun intended.
DH: So that actually goes back to the early days at Patuxent still, because one of the other things we evolved differently was the idea that there was really no ceiling on what you could do. You know, at the bigger newspapers you’re actually part of a machine and we don’t want you to put too much time or resources into this; we just need to get this page out and this section out. Patuxent would actually give us the time to do things in ways that we hadn’t tried before, and more and more of that started including bringing lights to basketball games for instance. This was in 1990 or 1991.
DAH: You’re a super sports enthusiast?
DH: Well yeah, we each had to be jacks of all trades because it was a group of seven photographers and they shot for fourteen weekly papers. Some of those weekly papers were two hundred and fifty pages long stretched out, so we were busting.
DAH: Well I heard you say something the other night that I would like for you to say again somehow. And that was how lucky you felt to be a photographer.
DH: I don’t see it is a job so as much as a religion. And you don’t know that until maybe you leave newspapers and you realize how much of a religion that process was. But, I still have that dream like I am on an assignment, this is, you know, six years later, and I can’t get the camera out of the trunk fast enough. My hands just aren’t working and I realize that I am right back in newspaper photography. I said “we” about the Baltimore Sun for four or five years after I left.
DAH: But you felt lucky you were just being paid to go to the football games and such.
DH: Oh yeah. Eighteen years old, shooting high school football on Friday and college football on Saturday, and pro football on Sunday? I mean, how much would I have paid to do that? It’s not that you’re getting paid, but fast forward to 2005, 2006 at the Baltimore Sun, I was kind of getting comfortable in the position and it’s a completely different experience than working for what I think of as a tight-knit small paper.
I asked my DOP—Dudley Brooks, who was fairly fresh off of being a staff shooter at the Washington Post, so he is definitely like one of the guys director of photography—if he would mind if I would start blogging about how I lit some of my assignments and he thought that was cool. So he gave me verbal permission to do that, and I just started leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for guys that were twenty years behind me. I had no idea in the world that the amateurs would find it. I thought I was writing for maybe a thousand people tops. You know, late photojournalism students, early photojournalism career types.
DAH: Were you self-taught with lighting?
DH: I don’t think anybody is self-taught really. You hang out at the light table and ask, “How did you do that?” At the Orlando Sentinel, where I was interning in 1988, there was a guy named Tom Burton who was actually kind of into this stuff. When we would come back from a cool assignment, he would have us put a picture in a notebook on one side of a double-truck and on the other side of the double-truck you would write down how it was lit. That actually worked well for a while. Then somebody would take a picture of a dead frog on the road and on the other side it would have a diagram pointing, like, “dead frog on road” and then there was another diagram pointing “sun at ninety-three and a half degrees from you know, whatever.” So nobody wants to admit that they are really studying or learning from other people at these papers, but you’re doing it full-time.
DAH: Sure. And that’s what you do now. I was always kind of an available light guy and you’re Mr. Light and you have managed to turn that into an incredible business. What made that happen? Was lighting required at the paper or you just picked it up and it was just a natural thing for you?
DH: I have this theory about adding light or shooting available light. My theory is that for instance, you see somebody who says “I’m just an available light photographer… I’m a purist.” Well nobody is really a purist. Heisler said that you’re a purist if you’re fifty thousand feet up in the air with a Leica, a fifty mil and tri-x, shooting straight down so they don’t know you’re there.
But, for those of us who do things the way we do, you hear a photographer say “I’m a strictly available light photographer, I’m a purist…” I hear, “I’m scared shitless of using light so I’m going to do this instead.” Well, for me it was kind of the other way around. I’ve always been a weaker photographer when it came to just having patience and waiting, and that interpersonal and that social stuff, so for me lighting was a way to start to create interesting pictures in a way that I could do it. So my weaknesses were almost certainly your strengths.
DAH: Yeah, and well nothing changes a picture as much as lighting. I use lights. Clarkson made me use lights. So so glad he made me!!!
DH: That’s true.
DAH: And you can be in a terrible situation and make it interesting with lights, which you prove all the time.
DH: Right, or I could wait and just be a better photojournalist, but I have the time nor the ability to do that.
DAH: That’s right, if you’re bringing your own lights you can turn anything into an interesting picture situation.
DH: Short answer is I am running around my back hand, and my back hand is a weakness in the more classic photojournalism skills.
DAH: Strobist started in what year?
DH: I started writing it in March of 2006. I wrote most of Lighting 101 with the flu, which explains a lot of the grammar and such that you see. I was on a lot of the good drugs at the time. And literally, I was writing about five or six articles a day. As soon as I started writing that module I knew pretty much everything I wanted to say. It’s like I was writing to myself as a twenty year old. That was exactly the compass point. Sort of like, man, if I could go back and grab you now and show you this, you would have a completely different career.
So I wrote maybe thirty articles over the course of March. I took the first article and backdated it to February and then waited until April to launch, so when I first started telling people about it I would at least have what looked like three months of archives. I figured looked a little better than just this asshole who put twenty articles down in a month and said “Hey, take a look at this.” So that was it. It was on.
DAH: Were you always a businessperson? I mean you’re a natural entrepreneur. You’ve got amazing positive energy. I watched you meet people. You’re enthusiastic with every person you meet. That’s obviously in your genes, but I mean energy and positivity I think are your hallmarks. Plus you know how to do something that people want to learn how to do and you’ve monetized it. That’s pretty damn good.
DH: So, I think people see the world differently. We see different systems. For example, I’ve watched you, and you really see the way that people interact with each other and the way people interact with their environment and you see that in a compositionally profound way. I suspect that you actually see those pictures in your head before they are happening and you’re just kind of waiting for them to happen.
I see ecosystems and connections, and not necessarily just with photography, but with just about anything. So for me, I can see thing A and thing B and then thing C off in the distance and my brain just starts to say “wait a minute, if this and this and this happen…” And I start to visualize the D, the E, the F and the G that don’t exist yet, and I’m looking to find those things and put them together. I compose ecosystems sort of the way that you compose dynamic moment pictures.
DAH: And you’re able to diagram them and put them down on a piece of paper and explain them to other people.
DH: Yeah, I can’t not see that. And I literally do physically write down diagrams. I am big on multiple positive feedback loops, whether it is money or whether it is creating something that does something really cool for the community, or the combination of those things. It might not be a paying job for me, but I know that this will create the energy that will make something else happen and a better paying job will come than I would have gotten if I just didn’t do anything and waited for a job that might have been to shoot Bobby’s Bar Mitzvah or something.
I’m not interested in just sitting around and waiting for whatever job may come in. I think in the same way that you don’t just sit around aimlessly and wait for something to happen. You see things converging and then you try to get to be in a position where you can take advantage of all those things while they converge. That is exactly what I am doing but more from an ecosystem kind of way.
DAH: So yeah, the elements are all there and you just put it together.
DH: It’s the same skill.
DAH: You compose the ecosystem and make it digestible for people.
DH: So, I’m composing ecosystems in the way dynamic photographers compose pictures. I’ve never had that analogy before in my head, but I think that’s exactly it.
DAH: I think that’s it, too. It’s amazing. I always knew that lighting was a struggle for most photographers, and now even more than ever, but I never thought of lighting as a base for another whole thing, and you saw that.
DH: Well no, I didn’t see it as a base for any kind of a business. When I started Strobist it was purely altruistic, just get all this stuff out, and I’m going to help people the same way that guys helped me when I was a young photographer. Guys like John Ashley in particular, at the first paper I worked at. And all of that co-photographic help that happened at Patuxent and then later at the Baltimore Sun.
I think the secret was I didn’t start it trying to be a business. I started it with a really true compass point and that made it grow so ridiculously quickly because of the combination of the compass point and the need that was out there. And then once it grew into what would be bigger than any photo magazine in the world if it were a print magazine… and it has no major expenses associated with it really, because it is all built on Google. You’d be pretty much an idiot not to make that into a business.
DAH: And you did that and now you have another business that tells other people how to do your business. So you created a business out of this need, seeing these different ecosystems, and now you’ve turned that even into another business, right?
DH: Well, I’ve taught a blogging and social media class for three years here at Gulf Photo Plus. I don’t think of that as being a business, I really only came over to teach lighting for Mohamed Somji, and he’s like “well what else are you interested in doing?” I thought that there was a need for people, especially for photographers in a time of digital. You know you can be that one-person vertical, you can have the whole shooting and curation and publication kind of thing. So as photographers we can kind of own the entire operation if you think about it that way. So the operation should be able to actually produce income for you and allow you to be sustainable.
So I’ve done a blogging and social media class. Then last year I did a digital business models class, which for me was an eye opener because I hadn’t really sat down and articulated the way that I think about things. I started drawing these flow charts and they would literally be as tight as I could make them, but the sheet of paper would be 11×14 and Im writing all these tiny letters and pointing arrows to these boxes and such. That was an eye opener for me. It kind of articulated the way that I think about it going forward
DAH: It seemed to me that you could hire yourself out, and you probably do, as a consultant to other people wanting social media to create their business. I was noticing half of your class yesterday and that’s the picture I got.
DH: Well, it’s funny. I’ve always considered myself a photographer, and I think that teaching lighting is sort of one derivative up from that. What I started to realize when Strobist was expanding was the same forces that were killing us as photographers, that everybody had a camera and everybody would be happy to take pictures to be published. That was putting real pressure on long-time people who had been doing this for a living.. Then taking a step back (which we call a derivative in math) and that is its own audience and its own market.
So, I saw that and developed that with Strobist. But with the digital business models, I think I am still trying to keep that as pure as possible. Because if you start doing that for money there gets to be a suspicion that there is an ulterior motive, like you just want to consult to make $20,000 this week. So, everything that I had done up to this point, in terms of taking ideas that will marry two different things going on and marry them in a way that is really synergistic and accretive, has been just to do it because its the right thing to do.
My reward is seeing it happen, and creating a relationship between two different parties, or a three-way, very strong relationship. I’ve been thrilled with how receptive the guys at Fuji have been to a couple of ideas I had that I know no other camera manufacturer would consider. And these guys at Fuji just stop and listen to you and they think, “wow, that could really work.” I mean, they are a company of 400 people. On the other hand, if you’re Nikon, you can’t turn the battleship.
DAH: How big is your company?
DH: My company, counting me? One.
DAH: You’re a team of one?
DH: Yeah, I am. Meetings are always really easy. We have consensus on everything. When stupid stuff happens you know exactly who to blame. You know, I’m both the pointy-haired manager and Dilbert.
DAH: That’s amazing. Well, you obviously have got many skills.
DH: You’ve got to learn them if you don’t have them. If you’re chief cook and bottle washer you’ve got to learn to wash bottles and cook and everything.
DAH: Did you ever look at having two or three people help you with this stuff? Or you just don’t need it?
DH: Yeah, my wife looks at that a lot, I think.
DAH: Well so your wife is on your team?
DH: Well, we are a team but she’s not really involved in Strobist or anything like that.
DAH: What about on the business side?
DH: No, and she’s actually offered. She would be way more organized, because my weaknesses are organizational weaknesses. Like my desk is super messy, etc.
DAH: Yeah, well you are obviously highly organized in…
DAH: Yeah, I am like that too. My office is a total mess, but I can actually go from point A to point B.
DH: Exactly. And I think if you are internally, like mentally, organized, it allows you to be physically just a total wreck and total mess. Google Calendar saved my life actually. I couldn’t go without Google Calendar.
DAH: No, in that way we are very similar. Obviously I get from point A to point B, but the people around me are saying “well how could you possibly do that because your office is such a mess”…”how do you find anything in here?”.
DH: I think once every six months or so, my wife invites a bunch of people over to the house sufficient that I feel pressured into cleaning the entire office. And I think she does that by design, which I appreciate. But, I feel that my business could be significantly bigger, but rather than do that I consistently make decisions not to make it bigger, not to have to hire a person to do that. I try to maintain an equilibrium between being happy as a photographer, having a successful business and maintaining enough of my life to have been a good dad and husband.
DAH: How many children?
DH: I’ve got a boy of twelve and a girl who is 15, and my goal is to not miss soccer games.
DAH: Do you make the soccer games? When I look at you online you seem to be everywhere all the time. How do you do that? You appear to be all over the place.
DH: I really try to maintain through the Saturdays in May and November and such when the soccer seasons are really in full force. Good luck getting me to go someplace. In fact, literally right now, my daughter is performing in a high school play for the first time (a musical). And that just killed me because the Gulf Photo Plus dates were set far enough in advance, and that was a variable that popped up, so it was tough. A lot of Skyping back and forth and making sure when the DVD comes out we get to watch it together first.
DAH: Well you are a fascinating guy. You’re certainly a teacher for me. I never did any lighting classes until I met you in Mexico and I thought “well I could try that”, and the first time I did it I filled up a room of about 100 people in New York, but I don’t know how to teach it the way you teach it.
DH: That’s funny, I was looking at some of your pictures and they were either in Mexico or Brazil and you were doing something that I don’t think I’ve seen anybody else do in a neat way. Like some of the Cuba stuff, you’re always walking down the road with an M6 and a Vivitar 2500, just to kind of kiss things. And that was cool, and I get that, but the thing that I saw which I thought was really smart was you had a speed light on automatic mode… like old school automatic. Not TTL. And you had a camera that was pretty far away from it, kind of working at a 90 degree angle. And you had an assistant who was smart enough to have that light where people could see.
DAH: Well I lit the whole hip hop story.
DH: Yeah, thats exactly what it was. Well the beauty was that the light stand was intelligent, and he or she is walking around in a way where the flash could see everything you need to see—it’s lighting from a 90-degree angle.
DAH: Yeah, she learned how I thought and moved. Every once in a while I would give her a look… you know, get a little bit over here… and she would figure out where to be.
DH: And the beauty is that you’re building an ambient exposure that is probably a stop underexposed and you’ve got the flash going off with a flash exposure at about a stop underexposed, and they are married together to make this motion and cross light, and you can see every face you want to see in the frame. At first I thought, “well that’s brilliant, he doesn’t have a wireless TTL, he doesn’t have this off camera cord, he’s not using high technology.” And if your flash is coming out a little hot you just close down your aperture a little bit and that fixes it… you open up your shutter speed and you’re back in business.
DAH: That’s right. Well, the thing is, while I was in high school I worked in a portrait studio so I learned basic lighting, and when the studio would close down at the end of the day I said “hey, can I play in here”… so I learned basic lighting really early on. It made me a better available light photographer. I think by learning what you know how to do with lighting… if you decide to go available light, you will know how to work available light a lot better.
DH: I think painters see light better than photographers do because they have to invent it whole cloth. I mean, you look at Edward Hopper, and see that that guy could light. Edward Hopper was Gregory Crewdson before Gregory Crewdson was Gregory Crewdson.
DAH: That’s right, Gregory Crewdson is totally derivative of Hopper. Exactly. He says so.
DH: And God bless him for working on the scale of a Hollywood budget, but Hopper could do that with a paint brush and his brain. And then to replicate that you have to have a hundred thousand dollar budget for a picture, which to me is fantastic.
DAH: That’s exactly right. Well listen, we both have to get moving here, but much appreciated. You are a fascinating guy, and again your energy is absolutely infectious. That’s your greatest asset besides being able to put all these ecosystems together.
Conversation with Joe McNally
David Alan Harvey: You and I met because we were in an educational environment, and here we are twenty-five years later in Dubai for a workshop, and still in an educational environment and yet earning our living as photographers. Gulf Photo Plus has brought us together again.
Well Joe, I know some things about you. I know you are great at lighting. I know you like to stand up on top of tall buildings!!I know you are a great guy.
But I want to ask you a couple of questions that I don’t know. I don’t know exactly how you got started in photography or exactly where you got started in photography.
Joe McNally: It was accidental, as these things happen. I knew I wanted to be a journalist and so when I was in school I was literally forced to take a photography class in addition to my writing classes. I borrowed my dad’s old range finder camera. It was called a Beauty Light 3 and I did a couple of classes, and it worked for me.
DAH: In conjunction with your writing? Was it going to be supplemental to your writing?
JMcN: At that point I really decided I wanted to be a photographer, which as you know, back in the day, photographers weren’t really allowed to write anything for anybody (newspapers and what not) generally speaking. So, I stayed in school and I did a master’s in photojournalism.
DAH: Where was that?
JMcN: At Syracuse University. And then I came straight to New York City and my first very grand job in journalism was being a copy boy at the New York Daily News in 1976.
DAH: Oh, that would be an education!
JMcN: I ran Breslin’s copy when he was writing letters to the “Son of Sam”. You know, Pete Hamill was writing at the time.
DAH: Oh really? The classic.
JMcN: I used to take the one star, which came around about seven or eight o’clock at night. Tomorrow’s newspaper..tonight.. and I would go to the third floor press room. I would take fifty papers, put them on my shoulder…
I would not go back to the newsroom…I would continue down the stairs and go across to Louis East and then I would just start putting the papers out on the bar because all the editors were in Louie’s and they had phones, so they would phone in their corrections for the two star from the bar.
DAH: That was back when journalism was journalism.
JMcN: Yeah, it was pretty gritty back then.
DAH: Well okay, did you work for a newspaper? Did you shoot pictures for a newspaper after that?
JMcN: Well, I got fired by the Daily News three years in. I was a studio apprentice. I had made it to being what they called a “boy” in the studio. I was running Versamats and processing film for the photographers, captioning, etc. And I learned a lot about the business.
There was a great New York press photographer name Danny Farrell who took me under his wing. He said “Kid, you have any eye…I don’t think you’re going to make it here, but let me show you a few things”. Danny is a great man. He is 82 now…I just did his portrait.
You know, the Daily News kicked me out the door and I ended up stringing for the AP, UPI and the New York Times. That became kind of a full time gig for about two years.
DAH: How old are you are that point?
JMcN: Lets see, that would be late ’70s, so I am kind of in my late twenties at that point. I was born in ’52. And then, all of a sudden, I got this offer of the strangest job you can imagine. I became a staff photographer at ABC television in New York.
JMcN: And that was what introduced me to the world of color and light, because I had been a straight up black and white street shooter prior to that, and my boss at ABC looked at me and said:”We shoot Kodachrome. And we light a lot of stuff”. I was thinking at the time ‘I don’t even know how to plug in a set of lights!’. So thankfully, it was a job that routinely expected failure, and I routinely delivered.
As a still photographer for a television network you’re always the caboose of the operation, the last consideration…they are always doing TV first and foremost and you have to try to squeeze your way in to a set, like a television-movie set or maybe on a news set, shooting the anchors. Or shooting Monday night football. And the interesting part about the job, the things that kind of made me think about technique and be a little bit faster on my feet than I had been before is that I had to shoot everything in color and black & white.
DAH: You had to do both. Now these pictures are going as publicity pictures?
JMcN: Publicity pictures, releases to magazines, covers of television magazines, you name it. On the average week I would shoot sports…I would go down to Washington and shoot Frank Reynolds at the Washington Bureau, and then I would come back up and shoot Susan Lucci on “All My Children”. So it was fast paced, and it really got my feet under me in terms of color.
DAH: So you had two cameras… a black & white and a color camera.
DAH: Sounds like my worst nightmare.
JMcN: Yeah, sometimes I would have four cameras at a political convention…I did the Reagan campaign, I did the political conventions and such because they would send me out. I would have four cameras and sometimes I would be juggling three ISO’s or what we used to call ASA.
DAH: So when I see you working now and I was listening to you yesterday talking to your students, and I see you working with your assistants…I mean you’ve got a lot of stuff on your mind. But I guess obviously you are used to it. You grew up multitasking.
JMcN: Yeah, kind of. For whatever strange reason I always allude to the fact that I got raised Irish-Catholic, and editors found out about that and so they knew I was intensely conversant about the whole idea of suffering. Being raised the way I was…if a day passes without some largely undeserved measure of suffering, it’s not a day worth living.
DAH: No good deed goes unpunished.
JMcN: Exactly. And then, if you know how to use lights even a little bit, editors sometimes will zero in on you and say “Okay, that guy is lights”. So, I ended up doing a lot of big production work for whatever weird reason. I did these big gigs for Life …They threw something at me once, a hundred and forty seven jazz musicians all at once. Largest group of jazz musicians ever assembled. It was a riff on Art Kane’s photo, “A Great Day in Harlem”.
DAH: Yeah, I remember that.
JMcN: And my boss at Life was a big jazz fan. And so he engineered this massively expensive thing where all these jazz guys came in to New York to recreate that photograph. We even found the kid who was sitting on the stoop in the original Kane photo, and was probably ten or eleven years old at that time. We found him as an adult and had him into the picture as well.
And one of the great honors of my career during that assignment was that they brought in G0rdon Parks to shoot the original scene on the street, and I got to assist Gordon.
DAH: Wow! Were you with Gordon up at Eddie Adams when he was there?
DAH: Yeah, because we were all with Gordon there at one point because he came up there for two or three years at one point.
JMcN: Well, that was the great thing about the early days of Eddie’s, because Carl Mydans would come up and Eisie was there. Eisie would go the podium and lecture, remembering f/stops of pictures he had shot about forty or fifty years ago. The guy was just extraordinary. And that I think is why we still remain educators, because we grew up being mentored.
DAH: We grew up being mentored and then I think we started also teaching at the same time we were being mentored. I mean, both things were happening simultaneously I think.
Okay, it would be great to talk about the good ole days. They weren’t all that great, there were some negative things about the good ole days, but we both picked up the sense of an extended family that we have with each other. It’s amazing. I am seeing Heisler and you and Burnett here for example. And plus meeting a lot of new people, but neither one of us seems to be the type to dwell on the good-ole-days. I mean we are in the new days, and you’ve got young photographers, and people who want to move forward in the business, and here you are as the mentor. How do you account for that? What is that? What is that about for you, personally?
JMcN: For me it is a way to give back, to kind of return that educational base that I sprang from. That is certainly it. It is also part of the mix as a photographer. I always tell photographers now, if they ask, you have to have a lot of lines on the water if you’re going to survive. You shoot for sure, but we also teach, we lecture, publish books, do a blog, the whole social media thing…you have to be as broad based as you possibly can.
For example, I’ve got a couple of young assistants in my studio, and I say look, you’re future is very vibrant…a lot of people are saying doomsday stuff right now, but I think the future is vibrant, it’s just going to be very different from mine. Talk about multitasking! They have to be good on the web, they are going to have to know video, audio, all that stuff. They’ll have to be kind of their own multifaceted entertainment-information package. They are going to have to bring lots of skills to the party. We learned how to do one thing well, and that was how to tell a good story with a camera in our hands.
DAH: Right. Yeah, I never worried too much about the technology changes because I could see always that technological change took people out of every business. Look at radio. Television came along and a whole bunch of radio people just immediately died. And then others, like Jack Benny segued right into it. I never worried about it because I figured there was always some new way to tell the story.
JMcN: Exactly. Heisler was here and Greg being as smart as he is said something to me a couple years ago. He very wisely said:”Joe, this was going to happen whether we liked it or not. This whole digital revolution. So either adapt with it and change with it, or we sit at home and get angry”.
DAH: Well that’s right, and besides that you can still shoot film if you want to for yourself and the stories that you want to tell and the ways that you are going to work are the same. And, you’ve been benefited with a lot of things by the digital ages as well. I mean you’re not running Polaroids just now when you’re taking my picture. I mean those good-ole-days weren’t that great.
JMcN: No, there was a lot of hard work! And auto focus came in at about the right time for me and my eyes, you know. Things change and you have to change with it. I look now at the digital technology and the way its expanded and what you can do imaginatively, and I embrace it. I think it’s a beautiful thing.
DAH: Well, everybody is into still photography right now. Everybody is a photographer. It’s a common language, which means you’ve got a lot of people to mentor. You’ve got to be a huge influence. You’ve got an entire audience for your blog, there is a whole Joe McNally fan base out there and picking up all the time because people are really, really interested, and I think lighting is the big mystery.
They can take pictures with their iPhone, they can take pictures with whatever camera right out of the box, but the one thing they can’t do is light stuff. Tell me a little bit about how you look at lighting in the first place.
JMcN: Well, one of the first things I say if I am teaching is you’ve got to think about light as language. Right from the ancient descriptions photography…photo-graphos — the original Greek term — to write with light. Some people are a little surprised by this.
I say “Look, light has every quality you associate with the written word or the verbal expression of speech. It can be angry, it can be soft, it can be harsh, slanting. I mean all those things…it has emotion and quality and character. And you have to look for it”.
One of the things about if you work technically with light, for instance if you experiment with flash, one thing that also develops at the same time is your overall awareness of light in general. Just your sense of light keeps going forward. So the more you experiment, the better you are going to get, and the better you’re going to get with you means your confidence level raises. And if you are more confident you can approach your subject and your subject matter more confidently.
DAH: It’s not just technical because you are telling a story ultimately. You are saying something about somebody by the way that you light them.
JMcN: Exactly. I always say that when you’re lighting something, what you are doing is you are giving your viewer — who you are never going to meet, that person is looking at the Geographic or some web image a million miles away, and is never going to meet you — so you’re speaking directly do that person.
You are giving them a psychological roadmap to your photograph in the way you use light. You’re saying this is important, this is not so much…this is just context, look here, don’t look there. You are not there with your picture. The picture, all on its own, has to speak to them.
DAH: Great. Now that we’ve had this conversation I need to figure out how I am going to light you. I think I am going to use available light.
Well, I think people don’t think about me so much in terms of light, but I always appreciate it because when I was in high school I worked at a studio, so I learned basic studio lighting, and then of course with the studio closed down for the day, I’d make friends with these guys and say “Hey, can I play with the lights after work?”.
JMcN: But your stuff has such a beautiful quality of light. You have feet in all these worlds, you really do.
DAH: Well, I think it is because I learned at an early age at least how to use lights, and I think that helps me with available light because I do look at it the same way you look at light, I just tend to do it with a smaller kit. I am the emergency medical team, you’ve got the whole crew, you’ve got the hospital.
I am the EMS truck out there trying to save a life on the highway. You know, patch it together. You know, put a band aid over the flash, shoot through a beer bottle, do all these things. But it’s still the same thing.
JMcN: Sure. Jimmy Colton, who used to be at Newsweek, which always had a smaller budget than Time but would compete with Time intensively, he would always say that Time was a hospital and Newsweek was a MASH unit.
DAH: I hadn’t heard that, but that’s an exact analogy.
So, I am looking at your assistants who seem to be about thirty years old, and you’ve got one who is moving into your first assistant position, and Drew is moving out on his own…so what do you tell Drew? And what do you tell the readers of Burn Magazine? What is the main thing they need to be thinking about? I know they’ve got to multitask. You have mentioned that already. What is the main thing they need to have going in their head?
JMcN: I think as they take a step into this market place, if you want to call it that, I tell Drew just concentrate on that which he loves, and work will eventually grow to you.
First of all, make it accessible. Too many young photographers think they have to go to Afghanistan to make their mark. I don’t think you have to do that. I think the best pictures live right around you, and are things you grew up with, and are things that you love. And for instance, Drew grew up with rock & roll, and he was a drummer in a band. They actually toured and what not, so he grew up in the world of music and he is absolutely passionate about that. So I said go for it! Do it. No matter the people who tell you, you can’t make a living being a rock & roll photographer…I think you can, because he is already working it in a way that is unique to him, and he is making strides, he is getting success.
The main thing to remember as a young photographer out there is that there is always naysayers, and there is a lot of them out there now, but when you and I broke in there were naysayers as well.
DAH: There have always been naysayers!
JMcN: There are always folks saying, “This ain’t what it used to be!”
DAH: With every move I ever made in my life, even my closest friends would say, “Harvey you’ve really fucked it up this time”. And then, a few months later they would say, “Harvey you’re the luckiest son of a bitch. How do you luck out like that?”. You know, they flip on it. And that is the same thing I tell photographers too. Do what you love, and then let it happen. Somehow it will happen. Listen mostly to yourself. Even (maybe especially) your closest friends do not really want you to change.
JMcN: It will. And you’ll have to do stuff along the way. To me there is always food for the table and food for the soul. And sometimes, some jobs you’re going to have to do are food for the table.
DAH: Just do it.
JMcN: You’ve got to do it, swallow hard, go make yourself some money, keep yourself alive, so then you can feed your soul. It’s not all like roses out there, that’s for sure, it’s like a patchwork quilt, but you can make it.
DAH: Yeah, well you have and thanks for this conversation. It has been great to see you again.