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How does one become a better photographer? To find the answer I decided to ask industry veteran Gerald Ratto. For over half a century Gerald has used film photography to capture the world. Gerald is a former student of Ansel Adams, Minor White, Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston; the list of industry legends he has worked with is extensive. His work has been displayed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and his client list includes some of the largest architectural firms in the world.
Gerald has worked with film since he was 12 and began photographing with a 15-cent box camera. Many of his most celebrated images (See his Children of the Fillmore and Vintage Collections) were shot traditionally. I began by inquiring about what differences exists between photographing with film and digital.
“Photography is really about seeing. We are in an age where people confuse photography with image capturing. When you hold up your phone or high megapixel camera are you really being a photographer? I don’t know. That depends on how intentional you are in the process. It’s easy to capture a huge amount of space today and then use Photoshop to retroactively tell a story, but something is lost in that process. You can make adjustments in Photoshop but you lose some of the expression because you didn’t really consider the content and the story that is being told.”
Is there any correlation between the physical developing process and the creation of an authentic photograph?
“Developing isn’t really a huge part of the process because of previsualization; seeing the story in your mind before you capture it with a camera. If you are doing it right you already know what the story is once you capture it. Then, it’s about going through a process to bring it from a small format to something people can see and display. Each camera is really the same. Each is simply a different instrument. If your process is the same then you can use different instruments to more accurately tell the story.”
Herein I realized the error of my initial question. The question is really not of whether we gain or lose something using film or digital methods, the question is how we remain intentional in an age where technology removes our limits. What are we doing as photographers to keep our content intentional and relevant?
I ask what advice Gerald can provide for how to stay relevant as a photographer.
“Photography is like discovery; every time you look in the viewfinder you’re closing in on an image that is part of something bigger—a little vignette of the greater world. You don’t want to go into any project with preconceived notions of what you are going to capture because by doing that you impose yourself upon the subject. Authenticity is the key to staying relevant. Allow the subject to tell the story and use your mastery of the instrument to capture it.”
Gerald’s work over the last 50 years showcases many different thematic elements; a testament to the depth of his abilities as photographer. I encourage you to take a look at Gerald’s portfolios and pay special attention to his mastery of light. From architecture models to portraiture, Gerald’s work showcases the breadth of his abilities as a photographer. As we finish up I ask Gerald what his favorite photo is. He smiles and replies, “The one I’m taking tomorrow.”
Gerald Ratto and his wife Marla manage a studio and reside in San Francisco, CA. You can view more of his work on his liveBooks site; www.geraldrattophotography.com.
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As sponsors of the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop for the third year, liveBooks recently got an update about the lineup of instructors for this year’s workshop happening from June 20-26 in Istanbul, Turkey.
We have to admit, it’s an impressive list: Maggie Steber, Ron Haviv, Andrea Bruce, Stephanie Sinclair, Ami Vitale, Guy Calaf, Kate Brooks, Tyler Hicks, Kael Alford, Adriana Zehbruaskas, Jared Moossy, David Guttendfelder, Rena Effendi, Anastasia Taylor-Lind, Jon Vidar, David Bathgate, Tewfic el Sawy, Henrik Kastenskov/Bombay Flying Club.
You can read all about the Foundry Workshop in our interview with founder Eric Beecroft from last year’s edition in India (year one was in Mexico). The workshop began in 2008 as a more affordable workshop option that international and emerging photographers could afford.
With such a prestigious list of instructors this year, we thought it would be good to hear from a few of them about the Foundry experience and their advice for workshops in general.
Miki Johnson: What is your favorite thing about being involved in the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop? Do you have a favorite moment from past years?
Ron Haviv: Watching the growth of the students in such a short period of time. The realization from many that this is a great way to spend your life. Seeing that moment on students’ faces is inspirational to me.
Ami Vitale: The collaboration and working with fine photographers and fun people. It’s always a great experience and I’m always inspired by my students and colleagues. Last time I left feeling full of inspiration and ideas. Watching students grow in the short span of the workshop is incredible.
Tewic el Sawy: My favorite take-home sentiment from participating in the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop is the mutual camaraderie and unfettered sharing of knowledge, information, and support between instructors and students/attendees. As for my favorite moment: during the final screening of the students work at the Manali workshop, learning that Dhiraj Singh (one of my class attendees) had deservedly won the top photography spot/prize of the workshop.
MJ: What is the most important things for students to realize when they participate in a workshop, to help them get the most out of the experience?
Ron: To open their minds to the knowledge that all the photographers, both students and teachers alike, are sharing with them.
Ami: To have fun and not to be too hard on themselves. I think some people come into this and put so much pressure on themselves to succeed. This should be an environment of exploration and learning — and making mistakes is part of the learning process.
Tewic: The most important lessons that students will learn is to leave their ego at home, to help each other, to collaborate, and to be optimistic. Speaking for my class, they will realize that the more they know of multimedia, the more they’ll progress in their careers.
MJ: Was there a class or instructor that helped you become the photographer that you are now? How did they do that?
Ami: Rich Beckman. I’m back in grad school with him again! He’s always been ahead of the curve when it comes to finding new paths for storytelling. I’m studying Multimedia and Film with him now.
Tewic: I took a class in Havana with Magnum photographer Costa Manos and he told me that my photographs were “too simple.” He was right, and I’ve been trying to complicate them ever since.
Miki Johnson: So tell me about the American Photo magazine American Masters issue and how you found out about it.
Robert Glenn Ketchum: I didn’t know anything about it. Russell Hart, one of the editors at American Photo, has previously written about several of my projects and has convinced the other editors that I was worth a page or so every once in a while.
But American Photo has, without being mean to them, pretty much concentrated three-quarters of the magazine on individuals who are primarily fashion and people shooters. And the Masters Series had reflected that. There’s only been four others nominated to the series in 20-years of the magazine being published: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and Annie Leibovitz — all people and personality photographers. So it’s exciting to be in such a distinguished group of imagemakers, and even moreso to be included as someone who’s focused on the environment and made photos of the landscape more in the style of Adams or Porter.
Russell called me up, offered the possibility of the feature, and asked for a personal timeline of my projects, books, etc. The task was informative and breathtaking because I’d never put together such a thing for myself. It helped me see how lucky I’ve been to have been involved with so many projects that had positive effects. The conclusion of the timeline provided some serious reflection on that moment back in the ’60s in a Redwood forest on the California coast when I decided to make pictures of the landscape — then to flash all the way forward through those projects to where we are now. Wow! That’s the manifestation of dreaming your own existence, the proof it works.
MJ: Looking back at all of those results, are there any insights that jump out about how you achieved them?
RGK: One we’ve talked about previously, and I think the most significant one, was that I took this traditionally popular item, the coffee table book, and turned it into an advocacy tool. And not just by writing a more didactic text and adding difficult pictures, which I did. Also by learning how to publish it cost effectively and get it out there and use it in the media. If I’d have walked away from any of those publications after they were published, they wouldn’t have done anything. But because I embraced the whole cycle of the performance, it made them more useful.
It also created a system. So with each project the system got more refined and increasingly effective. And certainly now that’s where we are with the Bristol Bay campaign. We have powerful books, and we already have had one relative legislative success. And we’re pushing on.
Now with an acknowledgment like this for me from this magazine, it makes me an even more undeniable force, doesn’t it? You know, if Barbara Boxer already was impressed and invited me into her office before, how about now? It’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. I would be foolish not to leverage this attention to create advocacy on behalf of the environment.
At the opening of the American Photo article Masters Series, Russell writes, “Robert Ketchum may be one of the least known photographers in America, but he may also be one of the most influential.” I’ve done a lot of this stuff under the radar and I’ve done it on my reputation among a small network of people. Perhaps now my reputation has a bigger window.
MJ: Tell me a little about your background as an artist and your decision to approach photography from a more activist position.
RGK: When I came into photography, I had come out of a really prep high school and into UCLA, where I was required to take art classes. At first I thought I was threatened because “art” was something I had not done much of previously. Then I became very interested in the history of art, and I got involved in the design program. The design program led me to photography.
The teachers at UCLA at that time were spectacular, at the leading edge of the ’60s avant guarde movement in photography on the West Coast. That scene had it’s own unique kind of cult and cache. It was grounded in an eclectic base that included Paul Outerbridge, William Mortenson, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and the F64 school, and all this other stuff going on which my UCLA teachers, Edmund Teske, Robert Heinecken and Robert Fichter fed upon.
I entered UCLA in 1966, and it was an exciting time to be making art. I got the opportunity to pay some of my bills by shooting rock ‘n’ roll bands, so that’s what I was doing. In college I also encountered the writings of Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson and the campus organizers of the Sierra Club.
On the way back from the Monterey Pop Festival, some friends and I stopped at a canyon in Big Sur called Limekiln Creek to camp. I got up in the next morning and after a solitary walk next to a stream in the quiet of the morning forest, I had one of those epiphanal moments. I heard the words of Aldo Leopold, suggesting that we had a moral obligation to protect our environment because it was the thing that keeps us alive. And Rachel Carson, who said, all the bad things we put out into our environment will eventually come back to us as poisons, and I thought, WOW, if I could make pictures serve those ideas, that would be a really great thing.
I didn’t jump into being an environmental photographer overnight; it took another 15 years of evolution and thought. But that was the moment when I started working towards it. And not just to make picture books, but make advocate tools. I still view photography as this fantastically adaptable medium, and even more so now that digital is upon us. Once photographic imagery is transcribed into digital information, you can print in concrete, you can embed in glass, you can print on fabric, you can weave it into looms. This is territory no one has explored much before.
If you look back at UCLA in the ’60s, it was going on then — and then postmodernism came in. And postmodernism took charge, in terms of molding the cultural mindset and conscripting the idea behind all grant giving and all exhibition coordinating. After the arrival of postmodernism, only a few of us would even touch nature and certainly not as a source of beauty.
If you look at postmodernism’s stars such as Jeff Koons, one of the most significant of the early postmodernists, his work is sculptures of Michael Jackson and pop icons, or huge sculptures of his wife and him making love to each other. Postmodernism reflected by Annie Leibowitz is about the cult of personality and in Cindy Sherman who assumes hundreds of witty guises throughout her work — it is basically all about ME. Postmodernism for me is about the cult of ME and US. And yeah, it can be very fun, and cerebral, but more importantly, it has pretty much controlled what the American public has seen in the gallery and art museums for the last 35 years.
After UCLA I got my masters from Cal Arts, which was one of the birthing places of postmodernism, so I totally get it. I don’t mean to put it down. It’s a perfectly viable language within the arts. But for me it was sterile because it was just a language within the arts.
I saw a new world coming at us with a changing environment and the promise of new media connectedness and what it meant to print and publish and do all this other stuff. And I saw the rise of the environmental movement in the early ’70s and how photography could serve it. It just seemed to me that my response as an artist should embrace serving these bigger issues in my life, and that the language and the conversation of this world was much bigger than that of the more rarefied art world.
I remember having this talk with myself, saying if you do this, the art world may ignore you. But if you succeed in the environmental community and you can actually save these lands you’re trying to save, would you trade that for all the fame? And the answer to that was, yes I would. Just make me an effective photographer that can drive real social issues and I will accept whatever it is I get out of that. And I went ahead and I did that work. And I never allowed the indifference from the postmodernist community to disrupt my own working tenor.
At the same time, I never stopped practicing photography in a more experimental way. So I have pieces that are now starting to be shown at Basel, Miami, that are 72 inches tall by 14 feet wide. They’re still based in nature, but they’re highly manipulated. I have also been doing textiles in China, hand-embroidered screens and standing screens and wall hangings based on my landscape photographs. I’ve been doing those for 30 years, and they are finally starting to get exhibition attention.
These may not be how the postmodernist world perceives important art as being made, yet if I were to look back over the last 40 years and say, what was really important? Was it that Jeff Koons did these amazing sculptures of himself having sex? Or was it putting a million acres of old-growth forest into protective status in the Tongass, or adding 60,000 acres of land to Saguaro National Monument resulting in it getting upgraded to a national park, or keeping Mitsubishi out of one of the only Gray whale birthing lagoons in the world at St. Ignacio, Baja? Do I feel that one of those two directions was more important, to me ultimately, and it should be to the public as well? Yeah, I do.
And there’s other amazing work being done by my brothers at the International League of Conservation Photographers, too. Guys like Frans Lanting, who has been knighted by his country for his conservation work, and Jim Balog, who was nominated for a McArthur genius grant this year. I think the work we’re doing (iLCP and others) is going to be held in higher regard in retrospect than it is right now. That’s why I say, I’m very flattered just to be included with these four “master” photographers who so clearly represent a different point of view than mine. Beyond that, just to have American Photo acknowledge me as a photographer and an artist of some repute may give me more traction in academic circles that haven’t seem to notice what I have been doing or hold it with much regard.
You know to me, in some ways post modernism was a dumbing down. It accepted an artists political point of view as long as it was cleverly hidden in intellectual reference, but seemed uncomfortable with putting the message undeniably in people’s faces where it might actually do some good. Exhibits that didactic might anger patrons and cost institutions contributions. Post modernism certainly gave us some outrageous shows and ones that stirred controversy but did they really do anything in the public arena besides create a fashionable buzz?
Photography is SO powerful, why not use it to its fullest power and exploit all of the ways it allows us to express ourselves. Look at Eugene Smith’s book about his wife’s cancer. Or pretty much any photographs Sebastião Salgado takes of people who are misplaced or victimized. I have never wanted to give money to beggars on the street because I’m never sure that it isn’t just for booze. But when I see Salgado’s pictures of world crisis circumstances, I have a whole new take on poverty and would like to see money given there. It’s an amazing power that his best photographs have.
In a way, therein lies the difference between the work I do and the postmodernist movement. The comparison here is the difference between Annie Liebovitz’s work and Salgado’s. They’re both taking pictures of people, but they have VERY different ideas about how those pictures will get used and what it is hoped those pictures will inspire.
That’s what I did. I had a different idea about what was important to my life, how my art might serve those issues, and how to use the work through the emerging mediums to expand the exposure of the ideas to evermore people. Postmodernism didn’t serve me in getting that done and has chosen to dismiss my efforts as journalistic, and not art. I supposed the textiles and the new digital prints are viewed as aberrations of old age.
We all do what we think we have to do.
As often happens, the top news this week in photography is also the top news in the world. On Tuesday a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, centralized in the capital of Port-au-Prince. We’ve been impressed by the response from photographers — not necessarily rushing to the scene to make photos (although you can see some great examples of that at the New York Times and The Big Picture), but making donations and encouraging others to. LiveBooks client Nick Zantop alerted us to his comprehensive list of legitimate charities helping with relief as well as a Facebook group providing up-to-the-minute information. We also saw that William Greiner is auctioning off a print with proceeds going to the Red Cross, Clark Patrick started a Cause on Facebook to support Doctors Without Borders, and Brian Smith blogged about five simple ways to support the victims.
The Wall Street Journal released a ranking of 200 jobs last week based on several criteria. The fact that photojournalist ranked near the bottom at #189 not surprisingly caused a stir in the blogosphere. Fred Ritchin at After Photography and Mike Johnston at The Online Photographer both took to task the criteria by which the ranking was made. What do you think? Is being a photojournalist worse than being an emergency medical technician or a nuclear plant decontamination technician?
Magnum photographer Dennis Stock, best known for his iconic images of James Dean, died on Monday. There is a lovely remembrance of him on the Lens blog as well as great multimedia autobiography at Magnum.
To finish up with some good news, Jörg Colberg (Conscientious) and Hester Keijser (Mrs. Deane) launched The Independent Photo Book last week, a blog where photographers can send their independently produced and sold books and zines, along with information on how to purchase them, creating a simple online clearinghouse. We posted about this in our ongoing discussion on the Future of Photobooks when it launched — 39 items have already gone up since then.
Irving Penn, one of the masters of photography, died Wednesday, October 7, 2009, at the age of 92 at his home in Manhattan. Penn leaves behind him a wealth of iconic imagery, from portraits of cultural leaders to obsessively exact still lifes. Photography Now has a great selection of Penn’s work online and the Getty Center in Los Angeles is showing Penn’s exhibition “Small Trades” now until January 10, 2010.
Scientists Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith, inventors of CCD (charge-coupled device), will be sharing this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics with Charles K. Kao, the “Father of Fiber Optics.” Although the duo had moved onto other research projects, their discovery made digital imaging possible, from point-and-shoots to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Both Outside and Esquire launched a moving magazine cover this month, with the full videos available on their websites. Alexx Henry, the photographer behind the new Outside cover, made a name for himself doing a “Living Movie Poster” for the movie Mrs. Washington. It’s the second time Greg Williams has shot a moving cover for Esquire, after the first one featuring Transformer star Megan Fox.
Fashion label Ralph Lauren landed in hot water this week with a “poor imaging and retouching” job on one of their advertising images. After Boing Boing brought attention to a photograph of already thin Filippa Hamilton photoshopped to unltra skinny, Ralph Lauren’s legal department sent the blog a take down notice. Bad move. Now The Drudge Report, The Huffington Post, Yahoo!, Jezebel and ABC News have jumped on it. PDN has the details.
“Part of the project I’m working on here in New Guinea is documenting endangered languages and helping them revitalize that. So we bring them computers, we bring them video cameras, still cameras, audio recording systems. And we empower people, where invited, to do their own revitalization, to bring back their language, to maintain their language, and to maintain and revitalize their culture.
It doesn’t mean because a new technology comes along that it necessarily has to replace the old technology, the ancient technology, the ancient rituals.”
Last month we wrote about the Living American Masters Photography Project (LAMPP), which strives to document the photographers shaping our world — preserving their own stories, not just those told by their photos. Under the LAMPP umbrella, founder Paul Waldman has made portraits of many living (and now past) masters, including Gordon Parks, Sally Mann, and Mary Ellen Mark. When we talked to Paul before, he was looking for a home for the extensive LAMPP content. We’re happy to announce he’s found one, at least online, with a new website.
On top of the collection of portraits created for the project, Paul and other interviewers have recorded lengthy conversations with many photographers, which LAMPP is sharing snippets of each month on RESOLVE. Our last post included Marty Lederhandler telling his infamous “Pigeon Story” about trying to get unexercised carrier pigeons to take his images of WWII’s D-Day back to the AP. (It’s quite funny and definitely worth the listen if you missed it last time.)
Ron Haviv – Outsmarting Arkan
This month we have a story from Ron Haviv about an encounter with the Serbian paramilitary leader Arkan (at right) while he was covering the Bosnian War during the 1990s. With a little smoke and mirrors, Ron saved his revealing images from confiscation and helped share the horrors of ethnic cleansing he saw with the world. Much of the work is collected in his book, Blood and Honey.
From Paul: I met Ron Haviv back in March of 2005. Both of us were keynote speakers at the NPPA’s Northern Short Course. I’d sat in on Ron’s presentation and my good friend David Handschuh introduced us early on. Ron’s work had interested me for some time. Interviewing him for LAMPP would be a rare opportunity to speak candidly with a conflict photographer whose work had a direct impact on national politics, including outing a known Baltic warlord named Arkan. We recorded this segment in my hotel room at the conference.
When I met Ron again at Photo Plus Expo East; we were each being photographed for Tim Mantoani’s Polaroid Project. I took that opportunity to do portraits of both Ron and Lauren Greenfield. Unfortunately, I was unable to sit and speak with Lauren, an opportunity I’d hoped for for quite some time.
Click here to see the New York Times multimedia piece, “The Fallen.”
One of the great things about working as a radio documentary/features producer at the BBC Radio is that I was never expected to treat the audience like idiots. Instead, we were encouraged to have a journalistic vision for each program and to see that vision through.
Another thing we were never expected to do was slap music gratuitously over everything. In fact you knew that there were nine million listeners who were ready, willing, and able to rip you to shreds if you bludgeoned the art of radio with such an approach — which is just a long way of saying, “Why on earth are so many multimedia journalists and audio slideshow producers slapping music over everything?” Generally it shows a lack of confidence, either in the production process or the material. Either that or they don’t think the audience can handle something that is stripped down and real.
When we admire great web design we say its “clean.” Here’s my plea: Keep multimedia clean when you have powerful audio, powerful images, and you want your audience to do some thinking. Just like this awesome New York Times-produced piece built on Paul Fusco‘s legendary photos taken from the funeral train carrying the Robert F. Kennedy from New York to Washington.
Miki Johnson: How long were you a staff photographer and where? Did you think when you started that you’d be a staffer for life?
David Leeson: My career in newspapers began on Nov 20, 1977 at the Abilene Reporter-News in Abilene, TX. When the newspaper hired me, I was 19, a full-time college student working a part-time job sweeping floors at a local jewelry store.
I had no portfolio or degree and was unfamiliar with the term “photojournalist.” I was an avid amateur photographer, however, and built my own darkroom in my parents’ home when I was 17. The newspaper photo staff knew me as someone who would occasionally show up with a contact sheet of images from an event. I was never discouraged that they didn’t use my photos — I was happy just to be shooting.
I fell in love with photojournalism when I realized the power a camera could possess in the hands of a compassionate photographer. My life became consumed with perfecting my skills, including my heart, mind, and soul, for the purpose of affecting my community with images that would hopefully make a difference.
That essentially describes my 30 years in news photography. The last few years were dedicated to helping my profession navigate difficult changes, a new era fraught with demands for rich online content, declining readership, shrinking resources, and more work. I didn’t enjoy the work but believed it was important to give back as much as possible to a profession that had given so much to me. Besides, I saw my industry facing extinction and I was ready to do whatever I could to change the tide.
Unfortunately, I feel that I failed. My grief was more than the loss of something I loved — newspaper photojournalism — it was the feeling of having failed to be everything I could possibly be. I have wondered many times what extra part of myself I could have given that might have made the difference. My solace today is in realizing that I can still impact the industry from outside its walls. Perhaps, in fact, it is the ideal place for me to do it.
But the further I get from my life in newspapers, the more I realize that the best I can be is to be who I have always been, a small voice hopefully providing something of value to my world. In many ways, little has changed in my life. The day I knew that my career as a newspaper photojournalist had reached the end, I told my boss (and friend), the director of photography at The Dallas Morning News, that I had never been dedicated to a newspaper. Rather, I had always been dedicated to the ideals of photojournalism: through credible and ethical image making, we can bring needed change to the world.
I did believe I would likely retire as a newspaper photojournalist at The Dallas Morning News. But understanding that I am still in active service to my profession, even though I am no longer on the DMN staff, has softened the blow. The loss of a title did not change who I am.
MJ: What are you working on now? What is the biggest difference between what you’re doing now and what you were doing as a staffer?
DL: There is little difference today from the life I was living the last few years of my career. My position at The Dallas Morning News could best be described as “research and development.” I spent inordinate amounts of time on finding new workflows and methodologies to help speed the process of rich media integration. Oddly, I found that I enjoyed that kind of work, although I knew it failed to “scratch my itch.” More »
Miki Johnson: Tell me about how this project started.
Paul Waldman: After I left my position as managing editor of Zone Magazine, I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done, and that had both global and intimate scope. The Living American Master Photographers Project (LAMPP) grew out of this. At the time, far more emphasis was placed on photographic content as opposed to the individual artist. Nobody was studying the personal content of individual photographers. Portraits of these men and women, whose images were shaping society at a basic level, were not available.
I was appalled that as a society we weren’t in touch with what I considered a living national treasure: our photographic community. I began doing portraits, interviews, and occasionally both, with photographers starting in 1991. Back then, the idea of committing to an ongoing “living study” was somewhat foreign. At times, it is still difficult to convince people of LAMPP’s value as a social tool and document.
Many of the photographers resisted initially. Some had been “hunted” by fans who wanted a shot of them. But after the first ten or so portraits, a body of work began to emerge that was well received. Although my hopes for editorial assignments and assistant jobs from these encounters never materialized, what I ended up with had a greater value: some of the most rewarding personal relationships of my life.
MJ: What does a typical interview and portrait session look like?
PW: An interview is now a prerequisite for participation but in the beginning, it was an either-or proposition. I opted for the portraits, thinking I could always go back for a phone interview. There was never a template I followed; I think this enhanced the experience for both myself and the participant. Whenever possible, I tried to sit down and talk, not as an interview, but as two people sharing a beginning. Participants saw I wasn’t trying to coerce something out of them other than their love, experiences, and accumulated wisdom garnered from an eye within the craft.
I became close with Andreas Feininger and his wife Wysse. I’d often go up to their flat on 22nd and Broadway in Manhattan for tea. Jacques Lowe and I would talk about his time with JFK, his love of jazz, and his experiences photographing its legends. I did a portrait and interview on the road to and from Seligman, Arizona, with Allen Dutton and we remain close to this day.
When I photographed Sally Mann, Patrick Demarchelier was doing a street shoot as we were approaching our portrait location. I asked Sally if she wanted to meet Patrick and introduced them for the first time. There were other strange moments, like finally photographing Duane Michals in his basement laundry room after trying to meet with him for three years.
The first session I scheduled with Gordon Parks, a big Nor-Easter hit Manhattan. I realized there was no way it could happen as planned. When we finally met, there was a blizzard tearing through Manhattan. Snow appeared to fall parallel to the ground, as if it were orbiting the city.
MJ: Do you have a favorite image or story from a portrait session?
PW: That’s a challenge. Working with Bob McNeely at the White House under President Clinton was a privilege. After we’d met and he’d taken me down to the photo office, he needed to go and pick up his daughter from school. I told him not to worry, I’d be happy to hang out. Later, Bob snapped an image of the president and I as we talked about Bob’s daughter, who was quite young at the time. He had President Clinton sign the photo for me. Since then our friendship has blossomed. I recently spent a night out at his farm upstate from Manhattan, re-photographing him with his daughter — she was graduating high school!
Most recently I photographed Barbara Bordnick at home. She was so moved by the experience, she asked if I’d record an extra track at the end of our interview. To my surprise she shared some moving words about my presence as a portraitist and her love for the LAMPP body of work. Barbara’s an amazing editorial portraitist; her unsolicited kindness was especially inspiring.
Jill Enfield was incredibly generous. She and husband Richard Rabinowitz let me stay in their home in Manhattan for an LAMPP trip. I was a stranger, having only spoken with her and Richard by phone. I arrived at 6am! Her two teenage daughters were sleeping as I quietly settled in. That kind of love and appreciation for the project’s mission has been particularly touching.
MJ: What about a good story about recording an interview with a photographer?
PW: A favorite audio recording is of AP legend Marty Lederhandler. His “Pigeon Story” from WWII’s D-Day is well known among many of the AP people, but few know it outside that circle.
Marty Lederhandler – “The Pigeon Story”
One of my favorite moments involved Sylvia Pericon, a student who volunteered to interview Steve McCurry for LAMPP. After the interview, we sat at a cafe in New York’s West Village and did a post-interview about her experience. She was so moved and energized. When Sylvia told her teachers about her LAMPP interview, they were amazed she had such an opportunity.
MJ: Where does all the content live? Where would you ideally like to see it?
PW: I am committed to the idea that this content should “live.” Because the project has been almost entirely my creation, the negatives, prints, audio, media kits, FAQs, quote selections, contributed letters, kudos, and rejections remain with me. One of my highest hopes is that LAMPP escapes my personal gravity, that other people get involved. In retrospect, I feel LAMPP has suffered in part from its perception as “my” project. I’d like to see it expand, for others to experience what I’ve been blessed with.
There’s so much undiscovered country, so many older masters and emerging masters who haven’t been tapped yet. For the past few years I’ve been trying to establish foreign satellites that would explore global perspectives through the LAMPP paradigm, the LMPP: International. As our planet becomes smaller through faster, richer, deeper communication and media distribution, methods of common experience will be instrumental in forging more meaningful international, intercultural relationships.
I’d like to see LAMPP integrated into a higher education institution or museum with robust photographic programs if it does not attain its own self-sustaining presence as a foundation. The project needs space to expand, and the opportunity for participants and luminaries to visit for “micro residencies.” I’d like to see an interactive textbook created that students can collect and have signed by masters featured for that year.
MJ: What is the biggest challenge you face moving forward?
PW: Recently I’ve approached the Annenberg Space for Photography, The Smithsonian, and the Duke Center For Documentary Studies without so much as a commitment to an open dialogue. I find it ironic and disturbing that these institutions will feature an individual artist, but neglect the impact of the photographic community as a whole. It’s like trying to understand an orchestral piece by listening to one or two musicians individually.
The deaths of many 20th century masters was a wake up call to the community. Creating an active interest in LAMPP before participants pass has also been particularly daunting. Getting contact information for possible candidates is fraught with obstacles. With each master’s passing we loose the collected wisdom of a life and the synergy of that information within the context of an individual, gifted and trained in the art of seeing, perceiving, touching. My hope is that this will become an additional source of income for photographers, as well as a boon for our emotional, social, cultural, and political evolution.
MJ: How can photographers help?
PW: The best way to help is to get involved. Become an LAMPP evangelist. I’d love to build a proactive board that embraces fundraising initiatives. It doesn’t have to be just photographers. LAMPP was designed for the American public trust. I’ve been in a photo lab so many times when the people working there didn’t know the seminal living or past master photographers.
We’re changing. The photographic image is omnipresent. I tell people there’s probably a photograph ten feet from them; they’re probably sitting or staring at one as we speak. That’s powerful stuff.
It’s nothing to be intimidated about; not knowing photographers by name or face. There’s so much out there to get excited about, to enjoy, to participate in. But in practical terms we need grant writers, legacy donors, a LAMPP home, services, co-opt friends, associates, business partners, professional organizations, industry support, and interest from the government. That’s a wish list! Let everyone know we’re sharing vision; we’re growing sight through every man and woman’s contributed light.