Monthly Archive for August, 2007

fast train

there is no moss growing on this rolling stone…just back to new york yesterday from korea and now off in a few hours for a short assignment for Fortune magazine in london/paris…i just need a few pictures of the high speed TGV train….this is a pretty short "turn around" time for me, but not really so complicated in this case….

sometimes i will take an assignment for "dual purposes"…of course, i always need to pay my bills, but this project gets me to london to meet my girlfriend and then down to perpignan photo fest after the paris shoot to help out with the Magnum gratis portfolio reviews….so, even though this is not going to be an "important essay", it is something that i will put all of my professional skills into for three days… and besides, it sounds like fun…i like trains (even got to drive one as i shot the picture below)….but,  o.winston link would blink if he saw how fast this TGV goes!!

i will return from europe on september 10…..just in time to start connecting with another train…."Digital Railroad"….where all of your pictures you have shot for me here will be waiting at the station…by next week , i will publish all of the specifics for you to upload your essays or your single photographs…i would like to have everything in hand by september 15, but there will be some flexibility….

after this quick euro trip , i will be home for awhile……i will be concentrating on your submitted work and, soon thereafter, on  the work of my students coming for my loft workshop…

i so look forward to seeing what all of you have produced….i might be way overwhelmed with work to view….but, that is just fine…..there is always a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel…..

you have probably already guessed my question…when you are on the "fast track" how is the work you do??  do you do your very best or do you feel "scattered" and not really "on your game"???





i just finished dinner with a bunch of my new friends made in seoul these last three weeks….my photo shoot "fixers", my workshop students, and my readers from this online forum …all came to say goodbye and please come back….i will…somehow i got hooked on a city/country i had little knowledge of before i came for this "youth culture" essay….

when you walk down the street here , rarely does anyone make eye contact…it is just not considered culturally  polite… like most westerners, i tend to be an eye contact person…so at first, being an "invisible man" is disconcerting… but  once you make friends and bond, then eye contact is not only ok, but it becomes very difficult to break the "look"…from men and from women….

i was a little nostalgic this evening walking back to the hotel with my friends who insisted on escorting me back to my room…we exchanged gifts….we reminisced on how much fun we had….i invited everyone to visit me in new york…i promised to come back soon….i meant it….i will try to find more work to do here…..

the two previous posts on "goodbye" and "over?" both just landed squarely on my shoulders tonight…i arrive in new york tomorrow at the same time i leave seoul in the morning…back to the future….as if no time had passed…..but a unique time has just passed… negatives…

i add…i do not subtract….the sum equals a warmth i  will never forget….



sunday morning in my hotel room…..i just had breakfast with alex majoli and we were musing over our work here in seoul…his project was to shoot food…in an alex majoli kind of way of course…he leaves tomorrow, while i still have about three days of shooting….but, am i really already done??  do i have it?? is it "over" ?? mostly when photographers talk, we think we do not really "have it" ..yet…not quite anyway…that was our conversation over sunday morning coffee after saturday night shooting…

i was even thinking this morning that i might change my concept completely…i do have a new way of looking at this whole subject that popped into my head just yesterday….second thoughts…maybe too late, maybe not….but, can i do a completely different thing in three days and "throw out" almost two weeks of work??  i have no fear of doing that…hmmm…i went through all of my work….seems like less than it should be….some ok work,but only a few really nice photographs…after all, this work will be in a fine book with the collected work of 15 other Magnum photographers who have worked here in Korea during this last year…i am feeling the "weight"…

i suspect that all of us suffer with this dilemma one way or another….would more time help??  or, is enough enough??  there is definitely a point when the "law of diminishing returns" sets in….i find that i make interesting things at the very beginning of a project…taking advantage of early passion and the newness of things….and , then again , at the very end….when i realize, as i have realized this morning, that i should have "better"….i do not know what happens in the middle time zone for me….the "ok work" i think…

for me anyway, time is totally relative when shooting on some projects… great day of intensity is way better than a week of "almost" working….all of us need a reasonable amount of time to work…but, i do not have time as an excuse…i should have been able to capture the essence and texture  of "youth culture" in these two weeks….two more weeks would not help…..well, maybe a little, but not much…at least, not in the way that i have been doing it….

and "more time" is rarely an excuse for most photographers even though it is the most popular excuse of all…you always have enough time to do what you "can do"….not having enough time to do what you "can’t do" is a lame excuse for a career not moving forward…and besides, look at paul fusco’s "Funeral Train", three hours of shooting and Chien Chi-Chang’s "The Chain" about an hour and a half of work..both powerful books and exhibitions…

even book projects which take years to complete, are but a series of "short shoots"…..comparing a fast moving newspaper assignment to having weeks for a magazine story is the biggest "complaint mistake" of all…but a common one…that is, until the photographer suddenly has a "long time" to work and then realizes that whoever is paying for the "long time" has expectations requiring some very fast working days that just add up to a "long time" and with very high expectations for each and every day…..

sorry, i just drifted a bit, but it is all a related discussion…the rhetorical question for all of us is this: when do we know we are done with a project?   when is it "over"?   usually , for me, i  just  "know  it"…feel it in my bones….still there are some projects for  me that are never over….how about you?? how do you know???

i actually have more to add to this, but now i must go do some more work!! i will key off of your initial responses……

your assignment

many of you are asking about the "assignment" i gave you about a month ago….i will begin viewing work right around september 15 although  there will be some flexibility here…and i have absolutely no clue about how much work will come in…the final parameters  will be posted here  when i return to new york on september 10 and can get a handle on everything….i.e. how many pictures to submit, sizing, etc etc.

it looks like the private upload site will be through the generous courtesy of Digital Railroad….your final work will be published here, but "here" will be as elegant a separate "chapter/page" as i can get designed between now and the end of september…we still have details to work out…so, please have your mind on your work.. not on when and where to send this have time to do great photographs….i expect this…but, your patience now  is appreciated…this is new territory for me….so, this little post is just so that you know i have not forgotten you!!!

for those of you who are new to this journal and have no idea what i am talking about, please do just a bit of "homework" and go back to my posts:   "collaboration" june 2…."your work" july 12…."timing" july 18….and "psyched" july 24   …

by the way, you might just want to check out the two essays i just posted by two of my Korean student photographers under "students/workshops"…

well, now i have to go do what i am asking you to do….it sure is easier to sit here and write about it, than to actually do it!!! (please see my "comment" under "going to work")..  as i have said many times before, my experience counts for little…unexposed film or empty flash cards are unexposed  film and empty flash cards….so, off i go today in downtown Seoul starting at zero….but the beauty and the energy derived from doing  this  type of work is that, even though i have no idea what will "happen" or what i will "see",  something will manifest itself…won’t it?? 

going to work

i probably am going to have to neglect you for a bit…perhaps not much posting in the next two weeks…yes, i am off to shoot "youth culture" in seoul,  starting today in earnest…i suppose i will be shooting mostly in the afternoons and evenings, because i suspect "youth culture" is not a sunrise shoot…

but, i could be wrong….this is an industrious, hard working, on the case, high tech culture…the Koreans do not mess around…they really do "just do it"…in any case, whether i can post some mornings remains to be seen….if i can, i will…

now another thing to think about….as far as i can see,  the men and women in the  "youth culture" in seoul are all photographers….i mean all….i have never had my own picture taken so much in my life!!!  maybe i should just edit all of the pictures that they are taking all the time!!!  that would indeed be seriously interesting….but,  that leaves me with a question for you…

since everyone world wide seems to be  taking pictures all the time with mini digis and cell phones etc etc…and photo sharing websites are collectively  taking in a million pictures or so per day, where does that leave serious photographers??  do we get "lost" ??  it is raining pictures out there…so how do we stay high and dry??

i have been thinking about all of this for a long time and have my own answer and perspective….but, as usual, you go first…


meeting you

ok, now i need some help from my readers…what do you call it when you drop a shot glass of whisky into a tall glass of beer and "shoot" the whole concoction way way too fast???  i  cannot remember the name, mainly because i just had too many of them….4 to be exact… i think…or 5??  Korean style…they call it a "bomb"….some kind of Korean vodka from a green bottle poured into  a shot glass and then carefully dropped (bombed) into the beer…no spillage earns a round of applause…almost everything earns a round of applause….

now mind you, i rarely drink anymore….my quota was met long ago…i did have a beer or two  at my opening back in  june, but nothing since…i got witnesses…..that is, until tonight…..and tonight it just could not be helped…it was a cultural thing….i did not go  "out" at night with my students all week….i was way way overbooked with 30  students  and i knew knew that on top of jetlag, a night out would be disaster…

but tonight, after the student slide show and critique, came dinner…and dinner turned into a party….and the party started when i was offered one of those "bombs" by the director of the art center where i was teaching……how can you refuse the director of a Korean art center???..i just saw myself "shoot the bomb" and the resulting applause led to …..well, you know…

but, one of  the highlights of the night was meeting you..that is some of you….rafal from Poland….valerie from Cambodia…..fabien from France….gareth from England…and peter from Wales…yup, all people i had never met before who are working in Seoul, who i only know from this blog…people who contacted me here when they knew i was coming …i invited them to the "wrap party" tonight….they all showed up and then and then….

well, you should get a responsible "second opinion"..but seriously, the mix of my amazing Korean students and the international bloggers so described was just so so much  fun..a truly terrific group all around….great discussions, everybody taking pictures of everybody else…questions came …the kind which, i guess, the students were shy to ask in class, just  poured out after a couple of "bombs"…yes yes , i became the "bartender"…

this meeting of heretofore "online friends" is a new phenomenon for me… last four overseas trips, to France, to Spain, to England and now to Korea have involved meeting some of you from right here…folks i would not have met otherwise….so far so good….yes, i have looked at the portfolios of all..some very nice work…..overall a heartwarming experience and unique bonding ….

as time goes on , i do hope i will meet more of you…it will just be fate …..when, and if, that  does happen , please please  do not make me do a "bomb" or similar explosive device….i am now popping two aspirin and heading for  bed….

i think i may take tomorrow off….



it is a sunny day with white puffy clouds….late afternoon light, people are smiling…i am getting pictures…..the neighborhood could be called tough by some, but everything seems to be fine….the  gang from compton in east los angeles wants a group shot….ok, perfect…can do….no problem….suddenly, out from absolutely nowhere, comes a tech 9 assault gun….expressions change a bit…mood changes a bit…eye glued to the viewfinder….afraid to take it away…but, flinching would be worse…take the picture???

as it turns out, no problem, but time to head on out….

if you have not already, please read the "comment" story  by robert under "soul and seoul"….this is a chilling example of what can happen when you are in the wrong place at the wrong time…or perhaps even, when you inadvertently make it the "wrong place"…

i am very often in situations that could "go wrong"….but, here is what i do to put the "odds in my favor"..

first, i do not go alone the first time "in"…i try to go with someone from the neighborhood….

second, i try to stay for a short time, take very few pictures, and bring those pictures back the next day or soon thereafter…

third, i do not try to "buy friends"…this is really dangerous…this sets you up on totally the wrong footing….and can create jealousy with others nearby…buying a beer or two or lunch or bringing back prints or giving them a signed book is the way to go….my "gifts" are personal and not money…

fourth, i try to make friends….eye contact…..demeanor..relaxed..most people are not "evil"…most people will take care of you if they instinctively like you and more importantly if you are showing "respect" that they sincerely "feel"….

the very men i spent so much time with in the south bronx  for my hip hop project, could have at some other time and place been tempted to rob me..they had both done serious jail time for armed robbery and attempted murder….and after all, i had cameras and money…easy, very easy target…..but they knew i trusted them, we became friends,  and i knew they would protect me as much as they possibly could…and they did…we are friends to this day…..

once upon a time, i decided to go into a brazilian favela during the carnival….figured this was safe enough …night crowds hustle and bustle and lively celebration ..suddenly a hard body bump…i was knocked to the side….a knife slashed the neck strap and camera, slick….well worn beat up leica….my favorite …..

one year later, i returned to the same favela to photograph some boxers….i came in daylight…i made friends with the local "top guy"..i brought him prints of his family….he saw me shooting with a leica….he said "do you always use a camera like that?"….i said "yes, i do"….he said "well, we "found" a camera like that last year during carnival"….i said "really…well, i would love to get that camera back"…..three days later, without saying any more, the camera came back to me….with the film still inside!!!   circumstances, always the circumstances..

please please be careful how you move and where you move….take heed to robert’s story….be smart …and be a human being first and a photographer second…



soul and seoul

i should be packed , but i am not packed, and i will not be packed before i "crash" tonight…i have a mid-day flight to korea, so i will get up very early and in one hour do what i have not done in ten hours today….some things never change….and i am guessing no more posting here for about 48 hours….

my project is to photograph the "heart and soul" of youth culture in south korea…a Magnum cultural project that will manifest itself in a book and exhibition for next year…ten or so of us are working on this project with everyone obviously working on different themes for two to three weeks each…

as a matter of fact, i think all of the other photographers are finished already except  alex majoli and me…alex  is doing an essay on food i think…well, the man is totally qualified to work on food….i mean, he is italian!!  and that boy can cook!!

but, am i qualified to work on  korean youth culture??   i have no knowledge….i have no plan…i have no place to go……but, i do  have a very long flight to  give it some thought….and, of course, i do  have some very good contacts… and  in my  previous  very brief visit to korea last year, i  do know how fascinating the youth culture in korea can be,  although i shot very  little last time….so now, there is that haunting  "blank slate" staring me in the face again…i hate it, i love it, i live with it…

very strange that i now owe you my opinion on the "goodbye" story , which i will write from seoul soonest, just as i am ready to move into the beginning of a new essay….hmmmm, who came up with this plan??  well, nobody has ever accused me of being a "planner" !!

do you plan or do you just jump in??  instinct or intellect?? analytical or serendipitous??




william had it right …"parting" really really is "such sweet sorrow"…it just kills me every time to say goodbye to someone i care about…and i probably do that more than i do almost anything else….we all do…i had to do it today..i waved my youngest son and his wife out of sight in the new york heat and traffic….

one of my students, and also now a good friend,  asked me a few days ago about how to "say goodbye" to a person or persons with whom you have established close contact as part of a photographic project….such a good question and one that had never been asked of me before….

in all of my relationships with emerging photographers, my whole "push" is for them to get "close"…get "inside"…make "friends"…become "part of the scene"….develop a sincere "relationship"….only by getting intimate can you make intimate photographs….this is my whole preamble for aspiring photographers…

i have never been asked, and i have never volunteered,  any advice whatsoever on how to get "out"..

how to "end a relationship" that has been built while doing an essay….how to say "goodbye" to the subjects of our work…how to go so so far in,  and then just "disappear"….and i probably do that more than anything else too…over a 30 year period i have said goodbye to a whole bunch of very very nice folks who have let me into their lives…trusted me…believed me….allowed me into situations with a camera and a smile to record things that if i had asked them if i could do it, they would have said "absolutely not"….

and yet, there i was doing it…making "impossible" to take pictures…because the situation had evolved….i became someone special enough to them, that they made me "one" with them and the experience…i get my pictures…..and then …and then…i jump on an airplane and fly fly away….probably never to return….

i would suspect that most of you have questioned this type of "goodbye" at one time or another…you cannot be the kind of person who is sincerely "warm enough" to be accepted by people and then be "cold enough" to just simply "walk away" unmoved and uncaring….

i promise to  give my opinions on the above…..but, you go first…..

how do you say goodbye to people who have opened their lives for  you, even if for only a "short time"  ??  how do you explain to your subjects  that you are here today and gone tomorrow??

my friend asked me a very good question…..i look forward to some very good answers from you….




in a possibly weak and exhausted moment i wrote the "rawhide" piece below this evening
…i am travel weary ….

but a bit  earlier,  i did check the comments under the "beach bum" story,   and i did write something there which i hope you will take the time to read…

i would have posted it as a main story, but did not have it on my mind until i saw the bob black link as part of his comment….i just got on a "roll" and started writing………so, please read the extension to my note for  bob  black…it is a gentle but serious "mandate" for you…..if you so choose , of course!!!