If you’re a film photographer who shoots documentary photographs in the U.S, I want you.

Roy Stryker created the FSA photography collection to document real life in America during the Depression Era.

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Photography by Arthur Rothstein for the FSA

 

He was brilliant. He created a resource with a goal of ‘Showing America to Americans’. And the photographs changed the way people perceived folks in the rural areas, suffering in the dust bowl, living in poverty, etc.

I want to do the same, only show the life of American people today. I want to use only film documentary photographers, so that I can be assured that the photographs in the collection are authentic, and not photoshopped. And also to avoid the glut of submissions from phone snappers.

The goal would be for film photographers to contribute to the collection, build it out to represent American life–the most ordinary and extraordinary parts of life here in the U.S.–in all 50 states.

We live in a time where we label people liberal or conservative, 1% or 99%er. What are we really? Do we even know? Is the Facebook picture our best side forward only and not even true? Perhaps we’re not seeing the real America?

Certainly what’s on the national news isn’t who we are.

One commenter on the project said: I live in Germany and hardly can give any contribution though I would like to.  But you’re completely right with the “stereotypes”. We in Germany now have a “special” picture of the Americans – created by media of any kind. When I was in the US, it’s a complete different view and people are people, struggling with everyday life. Vice versa, some became very surprised when I told them I am German. They didn’t think one could talk “normal” with me.

If we had an accurate look of what our family or neighbors with opioid addiction looks like (maybe they look like us), or back from war with PTSD, or with a successful new business, or how they are training for the Olympics, or how they get by with three jobs so they don’t go to bed hungry–all kinds of real stories, positive and negative–could we impact Americans?

‘Showing America to Americans’!

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Photography by Dorothea Lange for the FSA

The news and the political climate make it seem like liberals and conservatives are worlds apart. But do we even know each other? Or are we just going off the stereotypes in our heads?

Please take a look at the site I built with more information, and I’m certainly still in the ‘seeing if it’s viable’ stage of the project and it may have elements to address I haven’t thought of yet. It’s at RoyStryker.com – Yes, I named it after him as a tribute. There’s a lot of information on there, and I tried to answer the most pressing questions.

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Roy Stryker, at right, with FSA photographers.

There would be a curation of the images–not just all images would be accepted.

There would be invites based on the photographer’s ability and quality of work to become part of the collective of photographers contributing to the collection.

The form for submission requires a high-res photo as well as a low-res image of the neg/slide for authenticity purposes. And it suggests an optional donation–see if that seems reasonable.

I would like to ultimately make the photographs:

1) on display on the Web site.

2) available for sale to publications–the photographer maintains all rights to their images at all times and would negotiate directly with the publications.

3) for a book project if the photographers would allow their photographs used.

4) eventually, if the photographers are willing, to offer the collection to the Library of Congress if we have created something exceptional.

Perhaps documenting life today could have an impact like the FSA project had on people’s perceptions of the folks during the depression.

I work as a professional photographer in Boulder, Colorado, shooting portraits, business headshots, and commercial projects for clients like the U.S. Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force, food and drink for Whitewave/Silk and American Homestead Meats, and event coverage for companies in the cable industry.

On a recent day off, I decided to take a stroll down to the Pearl Street Mall, the local outdoor shopping area in downtown Boulder, and figured I’d build my portraiture client list by photographing people on the mall, getting their email, and offering to send them a photograph. In the email, I asked them if I could add them to my email list where I offer tips to great phone photography (something they’re probably interested in) while promoting my services.

The truth is, while my business clients are regular users of photographs, many people sometimes think to do family portraits or couple portraits, but that’s where it ends, with a thought. They never actually order a portrait session.

OUT ON THE MALL FOR STREET PORTRAITS

On this day off from client work, I took out a Nikon DSLR that is 9 years old, a D90 which debuted in August 2008. Why I brought that instead of my D810 is that I wanted to shoot with a vintage 1970s-era lens, the Nikon 55mm f1.2 non-AI manual focus lens for the soft backgrounds it produces, since I would be working on a crowded outdoor mall, and the information at Nikonians.org about its lens compatibility with my digital bodies says:

NO!
Definitely do not use, for it may damage the camera body. Also, warranty will be void.

That didn’t sound promising. But I was determined. So, I mounted the lens on my backup body, a D7200, and it mounted but it was tight to attach and once attached, the aperture ring wouldn’t budge.  Hmmm.

That mount seemed ridiculously tight. It took a good strong twist to mount it. Definitely not a normal mount. I thought, I’ll do a test with it, and then another one with the old D90 that I had laying around, knowing that at f1.2, I wouldn’t be needing the latest sensor capability for low light performance–I’d be shooting at base ISO (200, in this case) since I was working outside wide open.

The test with the D90 looked as good as the D7200, though it was a 12mp image instead of a 24mp. Good enough for what I was working on. And if it damaged the body, oh well, not much lost since that’s not my go-to camera . (It looks like you can get a D90 these days for under $200.)

So, with that 55mm f1.2 Nikkor S-C extremely securely mounted, I hit the streets.

And then I approached people, folks who looked like they were in a good location to interrupt them. Sitting somewhere, or chatting in the shade. Here’s what I found and created, with the promise to send them each their portrait. psmfamilyBW-kennethwajda
This couple got two images, I liked them as a package. She replied: Thank you so much for the lovely portraits. What a great treat to meet you and let you make these portraits of Pieter and me. Yes, we have been in love since we met in the summer of 1965 in the Netherlands, where we grew up. I will certainly think of you when we need a beautiful family portrait when we are all together in Boulder for a happy family get together. I will also recommend you to our friends. Until we meet again. With warm wishes, Susanna.pearlolder
If I hadn’t made them, would they ever get made? It seems a shame that they might not, and I’m proud to have made them.pearlolder1
This guy was working on the mall. pearl6
These three were sitting in front of an ice cream shop, and looked like a photogenic trio.
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Visiting Boulder from Italy and very flattered to be photographed.
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She tagged me in this Instagram post.

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The ice cream on their faces were what drew me to them.pearl3
Someone was trying to get a photo of them with a phone, when I offered to shoot it for them.
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A couple out on the mall with their dog, who was too old to make it into the photo.
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A dapper man who engaged me in talk of photography.
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A couple of friends out for happy hour drinks.
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A grandpa and his grandson sharing a bit of time watching street performers.
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She wouldn’t hold still long enough to get the three of them in the same plane of focus, so this is the result.familypsm-1-kennethwajdaThey were heartily laughing, which is how I approached them: “I love your laugh.  Can I photograph you?”
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Another guy interested in talking about photography.michaelportrait-kennethwajda
She’s into photography and was talking about my camera, and her interest.
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A daughter and her father sharing a coffee break.

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Two friends cruising the mall, who I asked to photograph them together.
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The only one that I kept in color instead of black and white was a young woman at a local taco joint, while I was waiting for my burrito, who asked about my camera and mentioned that she likes photography. I asked her if I could take her portrait with the light coming through the broad windows of the shop.
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These were all made with a 9-year-old camera body, (a senior citizen of the camera world!), that no one into camera models would take seriously. I took care of that with a small piece of black gaffer tape over the model number. Problem solved!

The people who I photographed loved their portraits. I asked them to please tag me in any social media posts. And of course I included my contact card at the bottom or each of my emails. And now, I have their contact information for my growing list of contacts. These are new contacts to people who have now seen my work, who like my work, who may need anything from family photographs to business images–someone might be the CEO of a company.

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Portraiture is all about the connection to the subject in the image that we create, the emotion we draw out–not just the technical quality of the camera. I wrote this story because I think sometimes we feel we need the latest and greatest, and we really don’t.

It’s really not about the camera. We need something proficient for what we want to create. The D90 is from 2008 and the 55mm f1.2 is from 1972. Good gear matters, but it doesn’t have to be the latest in all cases.

It’s about creating art out of beautiful, wonderful subjects.  And these people certainly are.

Kenneth Wajda is a freelance commercial photographer and film producer in Boulder, Colorado. You can see more of his work at KennethWajda.com.

More people are experiencing the glut of photography. It’s everywhere, it’s instant, it’s disposable, and that’s exactly where it goes–away.

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES
I remember when I was a kid, we had professional portraits made every year, and our family would make family portraits that would line the wall alongside the staircase.

And all my friends, too, there were portraits of each of them and their family members up on the walls. What happened that we don’t value family portraits like that anymore?

SAD TALES OF LOSS
I’ve personally heard several examples in the last few months of people telling me they wished they had photographs that were better than the phone snaps they have of their kid when they were two. Or five or seven. Or in one case, of their grandma when she was 95.

At a recent conference, a manager for a major corporation told me that he didn’t know why they stopped doing family photos, they just haven’t for years.

A couple I was chatting with at a pub told me that in hindsight, they should have printed some of the better photos that they can’t find anymore.

And one person I met while documenting life out on the street said they wished they hadn’t thrown away all their parents slides after they digitized them, because now the disc won’t load and they’re taking it to a computer tech to try to retrieve the images.

The wonderful thing about the phone is you can shoot a million photos.
The terrible thing about the phone is you can shoot a million photos.

A PHOTOGRAPHIC DARK AGE
And those photos are disappearing. Far away.   Into some distant folder buried on some hard drive that people think they are saving them, but have no idea where they go.   Unedited photos that no one wants to go through. There are just too many!

Find me a photo of your grandparent or kid from just five years ago. Good luck.

I find this to be a sad time for photography, because many families are overindulging in low-quality snapshots, and only that. They are being led into a false sense that they’ve got their memories saved, and well-preserved, and that they have quality images.

They really don’t, and they’re not.

I PREFER MY FAMILY DARK AND BLURRY
I see lots of photos that get ‘likes’ on social media. Often they’re poor, blurry, dark, not a keeper in any sense of the word. But there are the likes. Lots of them.  And always the comment, “Great picture of you.” Really, you like to see them dark and out of focus?

It’s like the difference between cheap junk furniture from Wal-Mart versus fine furniture from an artisan woodworker–the photographs we’re choosing are cheap and not very good.   Functional, but low quality.

Many people who saved their photos to CDs or tapes over the last 20 years have had some amount of loss–either some discs won’t load anymore or the tapes don’t play, or they play with degradation through the images.  It’s threatening to become a real digital dark age.

PUTTING IT OFF
I know people who talk about wanting to get portraits made of their kids at every year, then figure they can wait a little bit, then the kid turns four, seven, ten, and then they realize they haven’t made any good portraits of them. I’m seeing this in my business, as people put off scheduling the sessions they used to book. Or if they do, they don’t even want prints, just the digital files.

I’ve actually had clients who’ve scheduled a portrait session, with prints included in the session fee, and they’ve never ordered them. They don’t see the point of a real photograph. I’ve sent them reminders that a print order comes with their photo session. But there’s no response. Nothing. Zero interest.

They see no value in the actual real, physical photographs.

And in five or ten or twenty years–some time in the very near future–those photos, even though they were made by me, a professional, will cease to exist as they get lost in the tidal wave of images. And buried in the sand by the digital undertow with all the rest.

I don’t see how they are ever going to make up for them. In fact, I know the answer. They’re not.

GIMME ALL THE FILES, JUST THE FILES
There are plenty of people who’ve picked up a digital SLR in the past few years and call themselves a photographer, who will shoot your family by a tree for very little money, and give you all the files.  They have no interest in photography as an art medium with a final product–an actual photograph–but only to shoot their camera and get paid for pushing the button.  You could print their photo dark with lines across the faces with an inkjet printer and they couldn’t care less.

The more I discuss this situation, the more I get people nodding in agreement. They concur too many photos is a problem. They say they know the quality is lower than they’d like.  And they admit to having lost a phone and thousands of pictures or knowing someone who has. But do they do anything and book a session?

No, they don’t. Because that I-have-a-phone-I-can-do-it-myself mentality persists.

AMERICA THE (LOOK) RICH
America looks rich, but isn’t. It just looks it. We think we have the best, but we buy the worst as long as it looks okay. That patio set in our backyard from Target, that’ll last a year or two then we’ll throw it away. Everything is disposable. Nothing is built to last. But it’s nice and cheap, and looks good for a little while.

There was a recent article in the Boston Globe where someone asked regarding school photographs, “Why does Picture Day still exist?”   That’s the mentality–that we have our phones and our snaps and they’re good enough.

Maybe I’m nostalgic, but I thought there was something to my folks ordering and framing photographs of us as we were growing up. I liked the way we each had something to remind us we were all vital parts of this family.

WHAT, ME DRESS UP?  ARE YOU KIDDING?
Now, to get people together for a family photograph, to suggest they come in for a formal studio portrait, I’ve had people tell me they can’t be bothered to dress up. They have some from the park they made themselves, and don’t really care about getting them done formally anymore.

I’m a film photographer who shoots legacy photographs on real film and I print photographs on real paper for framing and displaying in a home or other physical space.

I don’t understand the unwillingness to spend to photograph our families well.   Future generations are counting on it, and they will be surely disappointed by the lost pictures and bad snapshots.

Someone must still value the best in quality.  Someone who isn’t put off by the idea of dressing up.

YOUR FAMILY ARE ROCK STARS
If you’re a rock star or movie actor, and you’re being photographed by a professional photographer for a magazine spread, you don’t complain that you can’t wear your sneakers and t-shirt. You want to look your best.  You go to be your best. You dress up and feel your best. You’re a rock star, after all. Everyone knows the performer’s creed: “Look better than the rest of them!”

That’s my goal, to find those that see their families as worth the extra expense for a high-end studio, formal portrait that they will hang in their home, because they see their family as worth it. And that see me as the one photographer, an truly experienced professional, working in a special, unique way–not just another guy with a digital spray and pray camera, but with real film and quality lighting in an actual studio–that will actually preserve that memory and will truly capture them as they are.

With artistry.  And quality as the determining factor, not the cheapest price point as the basis for their decision.

The rest will have to hope to salvage that phone snap for a very long time.

 

[For the Millions of People who Lose Family Photographs Each Year]

It’s happened time and again in times of natural disasters, and every time, the answer is the same, when asked what do you take.  Photographs.

“I’m taking the photographs.  Everything else is replaceable.  Those are not.”

No one is running into the house for the hard drives.  They’re grabbing their parents and grandparents photos, and photo albums and getting them to safety.

I’m hearing more stories of people losing their photos on lost phones or dead hard drives–six people in the last few weeks–to the point that it makes me say come on, what’s it going to take to finally print our photos?

Millions of family photographs are lost each year.

Why are we refusing to spend a dime on prints, when services are readily available?  Too busy or too cheap–neither one gets our photographs printed!

You say you’re one of the ones who triple-backs up everything?  Great!  That’s not everyone.  In fact, it’s mostly no one.  Most people say they want to print their photos, but never do.

Good intentions don’t preserve family history.

What’s it going to take to make folks finally create some hard copies of their photographs?  Because online or a hard drive or a cloud, they really don’t exist.   And we can’t expect with technology changes they will exist in 50-100 years.

A print you can hold in your hand, and run out to the car.  Because it’s real.  It’s physical.

So, why aren’t we printing our photographs?

You can come to me at YourFamilyPhotoAlbums.com, and I’ll help you get them printed.  Or do it yourself through any number of online services.   But, do it!

Or there will be no photographs of this generation for your children or grandchildren’s generation to have of you.

Don’t wait for the fire or flood.

By then, it’ll be too late.

One of the greatest things about living in Colorado is the beer.  But the next best thing is the scenery!  Wow!

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With that in mind, and the holidays upon us, please consider a purchase of a NATURE PHOTOGRAPH for someone for a gift.   Or for yourself.

Colorado Nature Photography Gallery

Thank you!

Sold to Howard Zaremba. “Sweet Potato #1 (2016)”, $1.1 million | 162cm x 162cm

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(Or maybe it was dinner, $39.75.)  But I made him pay for the sweet potato!

If you like a daily affirmative talks about photography, take a look at my Inspiring Photo Talks.com Web Page with just that, photo talks.  Short, positive, fun talks about all things (mostly analog) photography.

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