Friday, February 25, 2011

Stolen from Brian Doan's Blog

a few good quotes

“ Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.
– Imogen Cunningham

“ If I saw something in my viewfinder that looked familiar to me, I would do something to shake it up.
– Garry Winogrand

“ I always thought good photos were like good jokes. If you have to explain it, it just isn’t that good.”
– Anonymous

“I’m at war with the obvious.”
– William Eggleston

“Unless a picture shocks it is nothing.”
– Marcel Duchamp

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My Evening with a Master

First I apologize for not posting something in some while. Preparing for New York, being there when the thermometer rarely rose above thirty degrees, then recovering from the trip consumed a lot of time and energy. To add to my excuse I was very sick before we departed, so I simply did not have the energy to blog. However, I promise my dedicated followers, all fifteen of you, in a future post to write in detail about my New York experience.
On this post I 'd like to write about my evening hanging out with Tom Paiva. I first met Tom at a photo critique at Ann Mitchell's home about a year and 1/2 ago. Tom is a very successful photographer who is commissioned by variety of creative directors all over the world for his acute compositional eye and ability to produce superior work; however, his passion is to use one of his many beloved view cameras to photograph prodigious manmade stuff in the stillness of the night. It's awe inspiring to view his work. On first inspection you notice how harmoniously he composes his views of massive structures of metal. On second glance you become aware of his precise use of ambient lights as if he strategically places them to illuminate his image. His awareness of the temperature of and color emitted by each source of light allows him to compose their opposite and complementary colors into kaleidoscope of hues. He works with the colors of the night as Eggleston does with those of the day. Unless he is obliged to shoot digitally, due only to the budgetary concerns of his client, Tom exposes his images on sheet film. In addition to being an excellent photographer, Tom is a lover and collector of all things view camera. He has an arsenal of lenses and cameras acquired over the years from colleagues, E-Bay, and camera shows that allow him to fine tune his work for any possibility. I've always been wary of too much camera gear fearing that it would alter my style. However, this evening I learned from Tom that a different tool can enhance rather than detract from one's vision.
Recently Tom has embarked upon photographing abandoned auto dealerships, please see his blog. So the other night Tom invited me to join him in making images of abandoned capitalistic waste. Serendipitously I happened to know of a couple of nearby vacant lots, so we agreed to meet at my house. Tom arrived around 3:30, in the afternoon, and gave me a little show and tell. He displayed his newest toy, and boy it's a doozy: a massive lens once used to take recognizance photographs during WWII. What's facinating about this lens is that its glass is made with radioactive elements, so as Tom says it's not something that will slip through airport inspection undetected. Tom has rigged the lens so it mounts onto his 4x5 Speed Graphic. The lens is super fast and that coupled with the the Speed Graphic's ability to tilt and shift can create an affect that makes a typical landscape image appear as if it's a still life. The famous photojournalist David Burnett has used this set-up to create some amazing unreal images.
After the demo we drove to a nearby abandoned dealership where I bought my first truck. He agreed that it was a perfect location-"plenty of patina"-unfortunately, it was heavily gated and Tom wasn't interested in trespassing. Yet, let the record show that I was up for some fence hopping. Of course I only had to get my 4x5 Super Graphic over the fence, Tom's weapon of choice this evening was his Toyo 8x10.
So we headed north to Norwalk to another abandoned dealership that Tom had been commissioned to photograph when it opened. But, no luck there either. The dealership hadn't completely shutdown and was not that interesting. It was too new, and hadn't any character. It lacked texture, or as Tom noted, "patina."
It was getting late and if we didn't find another dealership soon our evening would be without. I knew of another abandoned auto dealership in Carson, so off we sped in hopes of capturing something. We arrived at the lot with just a little atmospheric light remaining. I got out my Super Graphic and Tom his 8x10. And as quickly as you can set-up an 8x10 camera on a tripod Tom had lined up his shot. I attempted to set-up mine, but I immediately realized how unprepared I was for night shooting. Lesson 1: when shooting at night bring a good flashlight, duh! Also, my Super Graphic is not yet second nature to me, and it's one thing to not be completely familiar with your camera during the day, but quite another in darkness. We were just on the edge of loosing what remained of the sun's affect on the evening sky. And in my case it didn't help that 20 minutes into setting up my shot I realized I opted for the wrong lens. However, on this evening it wasn't important that I make an image; I was there to observe and learn. Once I had the correct lens I needed to raise my camera, and rather than extending the legs of my tripod I lazily raised its neck. Tom looked at my set-up, cracked a grin, and kindly told me that the passing cars would create enough vibration to shake the long neck of my tripod and blur my views. For a ten minute exposures this can be a problem. There were many other tips and anecdotes that Tom shared as we stood by and waited for his camera to complete its nearly half an hour exposure. He pointed to the pink clouds and told me there is only one type of transparency film that truly brings out those colors. He informed me that the deep blue hue of the night sky is only revealed in an 8x10 negative and that for long exposures, especially with 8x10 film, he's learned that he must pull the dark slide and let the film acclimate with the night air's cool dampness so the film doesn't buckle in mid-exposure.
After shooting we concluded the evening over a couple of beers and Mexican food. Photographing can be such a lonely endeavor, so it was nice to share an evening with a friend and colleague. I noted something interesting about Tom's demeanor throughout our afternoon and evening together. He didn't seem to be bothered that we had missed the best light, or anxious in pursuit of it. He accepted what was there and worked with it. In addition to all of Tom Paiva's technical and creative skill and knowledge, as with all masters, there is more than a teaspoon of zen in his mix.
Finally, the evening reinforced what I've known, but it was good to get another dose of it. If you want to be a successful photographer you have to be extremely dedicated. And if you wish to see your work in museums and be considered a master, making memorable magical images best be your single most important cause.