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"???



40 Responses to “fast train”

  • Hi David.

    Sometimes I think that limited time makes for better photos. You’re more concentrated on the job at hand.

    I’m doing a project on the users of some old boatsheds in Wellington (New Zealand) and only had two evenings to get some shots, yet managed to end up with about 4 images I’m really happy with.

    The entire project will encompass our summer period, but hey, it’s a good start!

    As a paradox, on a recent trip to Vanuatu I was there for 17 days and got my best photos on the evening before I left!

    I had spent plenty of time with the people so whether everything working out was a result of that or just serendipity, I don’t know.

    I think that having as long time to produce some work can be a problem as procrastination sets in. Well it does for me anyway!

    I have a three week trip to East Timor coming up in November, it doesn’t seem long to achieve what I want to, but when you get down to it you can complete a lot of work in that time frame!

    So I suppose in the end you do a Nike & “Just Do It”!

  • The more busy I get , the less time I have to dwell,more gets accomplished and the work is better for it.
    So I can literally never stop lest the black dog comes creeping back into the yard.

  • Hey David,

    It really depends on what level of involvement I have with the subject matter, for me… some times the “fast track” is just the way out, some others it’s the best time I have on a project. I guess it’s really intensity more than time that propels me… And I can never tell until I’m in it, so there’s really nothing I can do: just take the plunge and hope for the best!


  • david;

    personally i suffer from a need to prepare and yet there is really not measure of this. your earlier post about ‘how long do you stay’ relates to this same question – it seems that you are asking actually the same question but in different ways i.e. what does it take to do justice to a subject (preparation, time spent etc.)?

    i love the rigor of preparation. what it allows me to do is to develop the personal perspective, the ‘authorship’ as you say, that i would like to have on a subject/story. when i can’t get this i find that my pictures are scattered and rushed and incoherent i.e. they are just pictures, some of them strong, some of them weak, but with little or no flow between them.

    and besides, paying the bills is necessary, but i can’t help but admit that it is a terrible way to pay the bills. you may as well be a bank teller if you know what i mean :)

    good luck on your trips. and perhaps we will have a chance to meet in perpignan.



  • No fast track here, at the moment. I have’nt found a subject to settle on and time is getting scarcer.

    I’ve been there though. Heck of a ride and gave me some of my very best pictures. This may be a symptom of working by day and shooting by holiday. Short intense bursts of photography followed by drought.

    Would this be better taken slower? I’ll let you know if it happens.

  • I drove three hours to photograph a rodeo today and spent most of the drive home pondering my answer…which is not an answer but instead another question…While considering how well I perform under pressure the topic in my mind shifted to “What do I consider an indication of success?” or “What constitutes doing WELL?” I don’t think there is one answer to that question…in other words what might be considered a sucess one day might be considered failure another day. For example…one wonderful shot on a day where that was really hard to achieve could bring great happiness whereas one wonderful shot on a day with fabulous light and amazing stories unfolding could bring disappointment. Curious to hear David…(or blogmates) what is your definition of a successful shoot?

  • When I’m shooting on the streets, I find that if I walk quickly I see more stuff and make better pictures. If I walk slowly as a result of being with someone else, or I’m tired, I don’t really see much at all. It seems my natural pace is quick. I’ve tried to slow down to see more or to take in more of a developing situation but it’s pointless. It seems the faster I’m moving the more I can slow the world down to the point of slow motion sometimes.

    However, if I just stand still and let the world come at me, I can perform quite well and see interesting things.

    While on assignment I think the same holds true. Give me a complex situation with limited time and I usually come up trumps. Whenever I screwed up it was always the simple assignments with lots of available time. That’s no longer the case however. But it took me a while to learn.

    It has also taken me quite some time to learn how to apply myself to long term projects. My year on the PJ Program at ICP helped enormously to break the mold of the hardened hack that I had become.

  • A successful shoot for me is when I satisfy the brief but also make an image, or images that surprise me. Either in a good or a bad way.

    I’ve learned that it is very important not to disregard images or delete too quickly. Much of my best work came as a result of identifying images that were a little ahead of their time. By that I mean, images that were, or became indicative of a new direction or awareness. I’ve made images that I didn’t like but that I knew were potentially important. Sometimes years later I’d make an image that would remind me of something I’d shot years before. When this happens I dig it out and put the shots together to see what’s going on. This is a crucial exercise for me. It’s a constant voyage of self discovery.

  • “There are moments when things go well and one feels overwhelmed. But it’s senseless to speak of optimism or pessimism. The only important thing is to know that if one works well in a potato field, the potato will grow. If one works well among people, they will grow, that’s a reality. The rest is smoke. It’s important to know that words don’t move mountains. Work, exacting work moves mountains.”

    – Danilo Dolci

  • hi david…not sure it’s a good time to ask you the following question, but anyway I will ask and please let me know if it goes too far inside your personal bondaries:

    in various posts in the blog, you indicated that you committed many personal mistakes in your life…could please discuss these mistakes and how they relate or not to photography…did you loose friends on the way because of photography? do you have some regrets re a project you would have liked to have done or done in a certain way? what would you do differently in your life so that you feel more (even more) confortable with your life…?

    enjoy your trip in france…if you have a chance, eat a “eclair au chocolat” for me.


  • hi david…not sure it’s a good time to ask you the following question, but anyway I will ask and please let me know if it goes too far inside your personal bondaries:

    in various posts in the blog, you indicated that you committed many personal mistakes in your life…could please discuss these mistakes and how they relate or not to photography…did you loose friends on the way because of photography? do you have some regrets re a project you would have liked to have done or done in a certain way? what would you do differently in your life so that you feel more (even more) confortable with your life…?

    enjoy your trip in france…if you have a chance, eat a “eclair au chocolat” for me.


  • if you have a chance, eat a “eclair au chocolat” for me.

    For me, ce sera une religieuse au cafe ou bien un mille-feuilles!

    What’s your favorite food, David (and don’t you dare answer all of them!)?

  • hi all
    Lately I have been working around everyone elses schedule. On my objective portraits series, I find the person I want to shoot, tell them about the idea, and then work around there availability. I am an oppertunist.
    I think whats interesting though is within the time that we have for a shoot, the moments that we choose to fire the camera, not the decisive moment, but just our own pulse. With the 4×5, I am using a cable release, so I am really thinking about the moment that I fire the shutter, standing to the side of the camera, with direct eyesight to the subject. Thats really different from looking through the viewfinder and rattling off 5 or 10 shots of something.
    I really like the sort of slow method of the view camera. It forces me to slow down, and really look at what I am shooting. I have to work at the speed that the camera lets me. So I guess what I am trying to say is I really don’t like to rush things. I would just sooner try to have a good plan and work at my own pace.

  • arie….

    i feel extremely comfortable with my life…i cannot imagine what i would have done differently…

    i suppose that probably i have made more or less the same kinds of mistakes most everyone makes…

    you asked specifically about friends…. i do not think i have lost friends because of my work…actually, quite the opposite….

    and while i have made personal life “mistakes”, or more correctly “errors in judgement”, usually having to do with “relationships”, none of it has anything to do with my work….

    more importantly, and honestly, even with some “errors”, i have absolutely zero regrets!!…..and , if i do make an “error in judgement”, i do not dwell on it….i move foreward….try to learn….try mostly not to hurt anyone else…i think positive….whatever i have done “wrong” does not keep me from trying to do “right”….overall i feel fortunate, blessed, lucky…..and i would like to keep it that way….

    cheers, david

  • tom hyde..

    great quote from dolci….i do suppose , however, that “exacting work” can come from many methods…all of us have own way of doing “exacting work”


    when i am working feverishly and in a situation that allows me to be truly “in the zone”, time slows down, almost stops, slow motion, total focus, hardball vision….perhaps many frames, but only one photograph in mind…..tweaking it out… these ecstatic moments i feel as “deliberate” as you working with the large camera, even though perhaps only seconds have passed….


    yes, beware of the black dog….he bites!!!


    favorite food??? hmmmm…would have to be mom’s apple pie…of course…


    successful shoot??? two kinds:

    first, a “job” well done….lots of hard work….client happy…a certain kind of deserved professional satisfaction…and, no small feat…

    second, a personally inspired shoot…more rare….maybe commissioned , maybe not….

    personally, i eliminate in my mind totally the “hard day’s” work as necessarily having any value whatsoever…i throw out a “hard day’s work” all the time….remembering what you “went through” to “get” picture may have nothing to do with how good the picture actually is….

    some pictures which come “easy” may be the best of all….as a matter of fact, they are more likely to be the best….”easy” can mean “natural”….”easy” can mean not overly analyzed or “thought out” to the point of being trite or boring…..

    as i said above, “in the zone” is where you want to be….if it was “hard” to get there, so be it…if it was “easy” to get there, so be it…


    good thinking….whatever works for you is what works….

    best, david

  • David;
    Does some of the work you throw out eventually lead to the fruition of a new idea/type of photo.

    That attempt may have not been as successful as you would like, but there’s a germ of a new idea to work from that may bear fruit later.

  • I must say I do not make photos for your assignment David, no time, no materials, and a lot of work around. But if we talk about fast work I have to say this is main reason why I do photography at all. I need a fast train in may head, and I need hard work. I feel good when I’m tired. And I looking for job like this. I always do more than people pay me for, but I sill not working as often as I should, and this is my purpose now.
    Until now every my assignment was “my game”.
    And good pictures? Good pictures just “happen” from time to time, like good art.


  • Hi David
    You said “deliberate”, and that definately resonates. The placement of the camera. Thinking about that alot.
    I wonder how I would handle a “marde gras”. Like the one you shot in Brazil. I just wonder if I could pull that off? especially with a view camera. I would need time, I would like to dig in deep.
    To blaze into a situation, and rip through it, tearing through film and producing one after another, home run, hitting over 300 consistantly, thats just out of my realm. I have no clue about such things. I am just a farmer.
    At the moment, with my portraits, I like it, I spend time with these people, they come to my studio and we talk. Then they get in the photobooth, I snap away, and we are done. boom.
    Its pretty simple, but its fun and I enjoy the whole experience.
    Anyway, thats just me, like you said,… fly low…

  • hi all;

    Asim, I second that…preparation, preparation, preparation, thinking what the project is teaching me and how to convey it, and then the speed of execution…I often reckon that on the street it is the photograph that takes me; but most often the chain-smoking hanging out on the street waiting for the couple of seconds when it comes together is the absolute dungeons;

    I reckon it is the adrenalin that gets everything going; all decisions at great speed is ’bout ‘photographic survival’; but the long-term project is what still gets me; been working on one for couple of years on and off; guess more off than on, but ‘njoy the time I spend on it every year…but have found over the last 3 odd months shooting for David’s project a nice balance between intensity and reflection…taught me a lot shooting for a couple days, then reviewing, editing and being able to go back after some time away..



  • ross…

    when i say “throw out” i say that in the context of adding to my personal best serious work…that does not mean that the work “thrown out” of this category is not suitable for publication or for my sales archive…

    yes, certainly i try to evolve from work that does not necessarily fit the “personal best” category….sometimes new thoughts come from it , sometimes not….and sometimes, as today on my “fortune magazine” train assignment, i took a photograph which only barely relates to my story i am supposed to be shooting, but fits in with another personal project i am working, the whole story will never be one of my personal essays, but this single may live on…we will see…it seemed good at the time…

    w. robert….

    i have thought a lot about what you are talking about…..i have often wondered if i could do some version of “street photography” with a large format camera…the idea intrigues me…the approach would obviously have to be different, but if you get could “get it”, i think it would be amazing…i did once shoot cowboy pictures with a 6×9 which was a pretty big camera to be doing what i was doing and it worked pretty well…still, having a camera on a tripod does change things…you would have to let the subject “come to you” and fill up the space you had pre-ordained, but i really like the idea of it……


    you made me laugh because i do know exactly what you mean….however, i do not really hang out on street corners much….i tend to get involved….but, i must say in the way that i work, there sure is a lot of time spent not taking pictures at all..i often fantasize working in a studio where i can always always be shooting….

    i cannot wait to see your work…


    oh martin martin, i was so looking forward to seeing your work…i know you have been working…maybe not for my assignment, but why not just submit some single images???

    you are one of my original readers and prolific writers…how can i publish this assignment work without using some of your pictures??? tell me how???

    i cannot and will not force you to do anything…..but i must admit i will be really disapointed if i do not see anything from you….

    think about it again…..please….

    cheers, david


  • David

    I Cannot say my current assignment I will do especially for you, but only for you I will try do it faster! I’m still waiting for a money. I have three self assignment in my mind. Very difficult, because first I’m almost sure I will have not permission for shooting, second I have idea in my mind, shapes, colors but I not sure how I should do it, third is easy, but I need money for it.
    So, if I will have money for materials, and I will “almost satisfied” for my work I will show you my works. Ok?
    Like always I’ll give all my heart in it.
    But I just must wait for money.

    Well, you always have good word for me.


  • david… I hope you are having a good time in france…thanks for your answer to my question above…somewhere you mentionned that you always have a camera with you…i suppose you use it often during the day to train your eyes (as a piano player who practice every day…). I think this is a very important idea for me because the more I can train my eyes to “see”, and the more I use my camera, the more it becomes an “extension to my eyes”…

  • david- i to apply the same methodology to picture taking as u mentioned above. Often times I’m in a place for just a very brief time. For example for this assignment i shot only 72 exposures in two seperate afternoon//evenings in tijuana. As david mentions often times the best pictures come easy or natural which is parallel to effortless. Sometimes i think that when i try to hard the work becomes contrived; or diluted.

    **David please send me the e-mail that you mentioned regarding camera equipment to

  • Arie brought up an interesting allusion, practicing the eye on the camera as a musician would his instrument. I wonder if this is something you do, to keep “muscle tone” on the eye, so to speak. May I guess: I think not.

    or is seeing, for a photographer more about being “taken” by the photograph as you mentionned? Isn’t the exercicing more about keeping alert, receptive to the movements, colors, “stuff” happening around you, in an ocular manner, but also human, empathic, than practicing with the camera?

    certainly, reading about Korea, Hip-hop, you rarely mention the craft, but how you are trying to get inside the culture, by way of human relationships. Then again, A pianist rarely mentions rehearsing or warming up…So, David,if there is any “practicing scales” for you, which are they?

  • As far as working on assignments, yours is the only one Ive had. But whatever I submit, bear in mind that it is only a small part of what I want to do. You know the subject, TKD, but there are things I want to do with it, that like martin, I need permission. I told you a bit about it but only recently has it taken a shape in my head that Id love to pursue. But what I will submit will be from the place we went to. Do I feel scattered? Not really, Im not on a fast track here though:) And since Ive never really had an assignment, I cant say. And we cant really say yours is an assignment in the regilar sense of the word, though for some of us it is a taste. The good thing for me I guess was that I had already been shooting the subject and I knew what I wanted from it. Now I know more but that will involve getting permission to do.

  • I think there is something to what Arie is saying about “training the eye”, though maybe not as specific as what Herve suggests about practicing scales.

    After spending so much time with the camera to the eye, slowly moving it around, looking for that perfect moment or balanced composition, good light, etc…I tend now to “see” these things just driving down the road. I can easily picture that little rectangle frame in my mind’s eye around a distant building or group of people. I’m forever calling out to my wife, “Oh wow, look at that light!”

    However, since I rarely go more than a day or without the camera I can’t easily speak to whether or not I’d lose that “muscle memory” like I do when I leave the guitar sit for too long. (I suspect I would.)

    At any rate, good and interesting thoughts Arie and Herve.

  • couldn’t agree more, Michael, Arie and Herve…I often think each photograph is just practise for the next one and one and one…


  • hello
    On eye training, I find that when I get to the positive image, the thing that i am trying to reach and create the best expresion of, I still find the image to have elements that I had overlooked while taking the shot. This can work for or against the photograph. Its a fantastic experience, when we look at our work, and study it, looking and finding these little mysteries.
    Using a view camera I often have this experience, you cant place the camera to your eye and start shooting, or take a few steps to the side or hop up on a wall, and take multiple shots. If I am out shooting on the street, I have to really look at the shot without a camera and try and figure out what and were I want this shot to express. If it is a strangers portrait, one just has a few moments for this, its a bit hectic.
    I think my point is though, I generally train my eye when I am at home studying my work. Looking for what I believe is the most expressive image. Then taking that out with me the next time.

  • when i took foto courses one of my professors emphasized composition and training the eye through an exercise as follows: Start with a piece of matboard approx. 4×5 then cut out a small square or rectangle. Wherever you go you take this little tool with you and hold it up to your eye. This sounds elementary however sometimes it’s important to go back to the basics.

    the point of the exercise is to think of composition only and i have to say this is effective as it’s all your thinking about.

  • Hi David;
    Thanks for the reply. What i was meaning was more in the vein of experimentation. You experiment with a new view/approach and it didn’t quite work, but there was enough promise to pursue it further. Sorry my description wasn’t as clear as it should have been.

    On the subject of old work though: If your work has changed dramatically through the years, do you post your old work in your website under a “photo archives” heading?

    I originally started out shooting strictly natural history/nature images. My work has evolved and I find that my work is now mostly social documentary with the focus mainly being the sustainability of life (esp in the Pacific Islands).

    The nature archive is still selling but is not my primary work now. Do I include this older work on my new website? The old work is still an important income source but I also don’t want a website that looks muddled and with no focus.

    I’d really appreciate any ideas from anyone at all. Thanks.

  • Hola David,
    I need some advice from you. I’m very excited about working on a book about Puerto Rico, my wife just told me to do it as you did and I’m really looking forward to start and “keep” working because I already have images.

    I know that sometimes you give a workshop on this matter but you told me that you don’t have any on schedule for a while..Do you know about any book on this matter?….I need to learn a lot about a lot of things regarding this…I feel a little bit lost.
    un abrazo
    Carlos Rubin

  • Bob from Scotland had me read this as I was simulataneoulsly reading about the making of Avedon’s IN THE AMERICAN WEST and I kept thinking about what Avedon was saying which is these portraits he did, that critics criticized for being demeaning or whatever, missed the point. It was him in those photos. His despair (anyone that ran into him and he was always running- knows his despair). It is like when people say that my photos on the wall reflect a chauvnist pig and i scream “those r portraits of me”! so training your eye sounds like a good thing but i suspect we do that every minute we have them OPEN. It is the process of being able to translate your SELF into your photos, no matter what subject you take. That is work. It is your self that is on film. because we edit. we choose , we decide that which closest comes to our own fears, and hopes, and our …despair.
    Eric Kroll.

  • well said ERIC KROLL !!

  • well said ERIC KROLL !!

  • well said E Kroll, yes absolutely, at the same time, I suppose Eric kroll knows many people buy his books not really interested in what is him in it. But I think this is a very vast subject, how much people go directly into what the photograph says to them, by-passing photographer’s conscious or unconscious discourse.

    It looks like David is busy and we have co-opted his thread. Unruly class! :-)

  • The book that Eric was reading is
    Avedon At Work In the American West
    By Laura Wilson
    published by Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, 2003
    Thats a great book and I highly recomend it.
    Fyi, Avedon shot for In the American West, over a four year period, 752 people, using 17000 sheets of 8×10 b/w film, selected 123 final shots and the rest was destroyed by artist.
    (film alone by todays prices over $55000)
    I can relate to the idea of our images being representative of self, Its a little untangeble, esp at this time of the afternoon, but I think Eric and Avedon are right on the mark.
    Its pretty deep to consider that who I am is what I express on film. hmm… that really kind of makes a lot of sense. Shit, the more I think about that the more obvious it sounds, starting to wake up a little now.
    Anyway there is a quote in the book that i really want to run with. Avedon is giving an opinoin on the viewing experience of the final 6′ tall museum prints, “its almost as if there was no photographer. I am out of it. I feel the work now belongs to the people themselves. It’s between them and you”.

  • w robert wrote:

    Anyway there is a quote in the book that i really want to run with. Avedon is giving an opinoin on the viewing experience of the final 6′ tall museum prints, “its almost as if there was no photographer. I am out of it. I feel the work now belongs to the people themselves. It’s between them and you”.

    I understand the idea, but I’m sure if I agree with the idea of trying to erase the presence of the photographer–or if that’s even possible. In my opinion, the photographer is ALWAYS present in the photos, always a force and influence. Avendon might like to think that he’s absent, that it’s just the subjects and the audience, but to me that’s a bit of fantasy, since he composed the camera, set up the meeting, interacted with the people photographed, edited the collection, directed how things were printed, etc.

    Anyway, to me, the presence of the photographer and the overall context is really important to keep in mind…

  • that first paragraph is a quote of w robert angell; the html tags didn’t work apparently.

  • Hi Ryan
    I am not saying that to remove the prescence of the photographer is the right thing or not, really the beauty in all this is personal expression. On my current project of portraits I was inspired by B and H Becher’s Architectural Typologies. The idea is to take the fundamental principals of architectural photography and apply them to portraiture. Elevation and perspective.
    If you look at the work of the Bechers, you will see the constants that they follow. This is the contention, by the idea of creating an objective view, they infact were subjective by the nature of choosing to follow a certain formula that they believed to be objective.
    So you could say that all photography is subjective, but if you try to be objective, how would you take a photograph?

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