Archive for the ‘documentary’ Category

We are at a crossroads, now more than ever.  At first it was just digital technology as a new way to capture light and make a picture. We all embraced it because it was no cost, no worry, shoot shoot shoot and delete later, or don’t. (Because let’s face it, we don’t delete, we just get more hard drives or up our iCloud plan.) There, done!

Then we filled computers with images like there was no tomorrow.  Thousands of photos downloaded from our digital cameras.  DSLRs.  Point and shoots.  All kinds of cameras shooting more and more megapixels.  Win!

More is more.  More is good.

Then phones got really good at shooting and sending a pic, and even if the form factor wasn’t very good, and the photo wasn’t as good as a camera, ah well, so what, it was good enough, and it had the added perk that it fit in our pocket and we could be sent now.  No need to download to our computers. Score!

Sure, the phone manufacturers charged quite a bit for these, not to mention that computer or laptop upgrade, hard drive purchases and Photoshop software licenses, but we still felt like it was free. Yay!

And we became video producers at concerts, shooting and posting whole songs to whole shows so our friends could hear Elton sing, too. Because we can.  And look where we are. Too bad for the people behind us–we’re working here. Impressive!

More is more. More is good.

And then we got computers to compute.  Computational photography, we can make everything work, and everything perfect.  We can fake blur the background in ‘portrait’ mode, no need for a real photographer. It’s not like they do anything more than our phones–good thing Avedon isn’t working today, that chump would be out of a job.  Loser!

We can even fake videos and make it look like people saying things they never said.  We have technology.  We win again!

It used to be the news was a good source if information, but then we got the internet and things got a bit cloudy, lines were blurred.  News outlets and not-so-trustworthy news outlets  We have fake truths, alternative facts.  No one knows what to believe anymore.  Sucks!

So, this crossroads we’re at. Which way do we go, now?  Keep heading down the same road we’ve been on since we stopped shooting film and making actual photographs? You know, those paper representations of the pictures on our phones.

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The ones of grandma and grandpa that don’t need a computer to enjoy? The ones that are authentic, storytelling.  That aren’t digitally altered and perfected, but just…  Real!

We used to have fewer pics and we enjoyed them more.  Now we have more and, oh no…

More isn’t more.  More isn’t better.

We have become inundated with images that they don’t even matter.  They don’t matter! Who cares? It’s not like we look at them for more than a half-second anyway. Instagram double tap–scroll, scroll, scroll, double tap, scroll, scroll.  That’s what photography is now.  Lame!

Phones are note-takers, and notes don’t need to be saved.  Photographs used to be historical family documents, not anymore.  Now, it’s where we ate, where we parked, what we drank and never see them again.  Sucks!

Professionals don’t make our portraits anymore. We shoot everything ourselves, even for our businesses, since we’ve adopted a mentality that good enough is good enough.  Even if it’s not, it is.  Because it doesn’t cost us anything.  Cheap!

What will it take to hire a pro to photograph our family?  Maybe they do have something to offer that we can’t do ourselves.  But the lure of free is so strong.  Why pay for anything? We can put that money into more cloud storage and new phones.  Score!

We’re standing at the crossroads.  Which way we go will very seriously impact what photography is, what value it holds and purpose it serves.  It may be the biggest challenge in its history, what it will be for. Decisions!

I know which way I’m headed–I’m photographing my family and friends on film, printing their photographs and living with them on the shelves of my home.  Call me old school, I know where my photographs are and I get to see them for more than a swipe-second.  Dinorsaur!

Maybe, but maybe it’s the digital photos that that will go extinct.  Gone!

True story happened yesterday.

I met a young couple, mid-20s, and we were talking about film photography. I told them how they could get one roll of black and white film from Mike’s Camera and shoot one photo a month in an old Minolta SLR they had, and after three years they’d have a wonderful surprise waiting for them–all the photographs they forgot but the moments they got to relive.

ml-mom-car1That’s the power of film and removing the immediacy of the results. You have a chance to step away and come back to the moment later, it’s not all complete right now.

(To me, that’s what makes photography special, and why I still shoot film for portraits of family and friends, and what’s missing in today’s phone-snappy world.)

So, they said they wanted to do that, shoot some black and whites and print the photographs.

The couple said they were recently married, and they have exactly three photographs from the wedding, and a hard drive of all the photos, which they said has several hundred pics–too many and that they never look at. They wish they just had a photo album like their parents do.

How many wedding couples want “all the photos”? Why? What are you ever going to do with them? Get some prints, put them in an album, lay it on your coffee table. Done!

More is not better. Printed photographs can be shared without screens, and are more fun as real photographs, just like holding a book still has appeal in the days of e-readers.

Print your memories. Share your stories.

If you need help, have a hard drive of useless images and want some prints, let me know: FamilyPhotoAlbums.net

Here’s what one North Carolina photojournalist created by going back to one roll of black and white film.

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The photographers of days gone past, they used view cameras, those lovely wood 4×5 and 8×10 cameras, which gave them the ability to keep their verticals straight.  Not tilted.  Not leaning.

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Basically, if the film plane is parallel to the building, the vertical will stand straight.  But if you tilt the film up, like when you tilt up a 35mm film camera, or a digital SLR or phone, the film plane/sensor isn’t parallel to the buildings, so the tops of the buildings will converge.

That’s why there is that angled brass piece on the back of the camera above–you can tilt the camera up, then reset the back to parallel.

Look at these photos.  See how all the verticals are, well, vertical?  These were made for the FSA–Farm Security Administration, and they often used large view cameras.

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Same with this one.  (This is from the wonderful Shorpy.com web site that I highly recommend.  Click the photos on the Shorpy site to make them load large so you can zoom in on details.)

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You don’t see straight verticals in photographs by cameras without perspective control.  But these were made with view cameras that you could control perspective.

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Those are a far cry from photos made today, with their tilted verticals.

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It’s a look we’re used to seeing, but it’s not accurate to the way they are really, and to me, it’s a sloppy representation of the town/building. It’s a record shot, but not much of a photograph.

There’s a time and place for quick and easy and convenient.  But speed and easy aren’t always the best way to document a location well.  And until you see the difference, you might not even know what you’re missing.

If you want to get straight verticals in your photographs, make sure you keep the back of the camera parallel to the subject, even if you have to lower it down or up to make that happen.

I have a difficult time making photographs sometimes. It’s because I know what I want a photograph to do, how I want it to look composition-ally, or story-wise, or just the right light. And when those don’t come together in some combination, I don’t fire the shutter.

It just sits, idle, waiting.

I’m reading a book about the beauty of everything, and I believe what it is saying–that there is inherent beauty in everything. Not just the things we’ve been told are beautiful. Things that have been drilled into us–“This here is beautiful.”

But how do you un-see and how do you un-know what you do see and do know?

If I look at a Walker Evans photograph, like this one, Negroes’ Church, South Carolina, 1936″, he didn’t wait for the light to be early in the day or late in the evening. Or people to be entering or exiting.  He was documenting the church when he was passing it. The very act of him photographing it creates the picture’s importance, and why we’re still looking at it 80+ years later.

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Negroes’ Church, South Carolina, 1936

There’s beauty in the act of framing the photograph.  And there’s beauty in the ordinary, the mundane, the regular stuff.

I went on a photo walk recently with a photographer friend to a rural town heading east called Platteville, and we each brought old film cameras.  I was shooting a Mamiya C330S with a wide-angle 55mm lens and Kodak Ektar film (expired 2011, shot at box speed).  The very act of shooting it made me look for subjects to shoot, and so I was able to find them.

There is something to putting the frame up and seeking a photograph.  There is something to being on a time frame–the photo walk starts now and goes til dusk when we’ll stop and then get a beer.

Structure, deadlines, they make things happen.  If I weren’t on the lookout for these images, I wouldn’t have seen them and wouldn’t have stopped to make them.

It’s an incredibly important part of the creative process–to show up.  To schedule time for the muse to join us and work to create.

And in a world where technology seems to value the quick and instant ability to share phone snaps, there was a real specialness to shooting these 12 frames, and then sending the film off to be processed and waiting for the results.  Having the thrill of seeing the photographs once they were finished and I had stepped away from them.

To see them with fresh eyes.

To have had time to play with color. To seek out compositions. As a photographer who often gets asked what’s the best way to learn to make photographs, I say, go out and make photographs.  Work to create pictures in a set time frame and you and the muse, play.

Photography is a wonderful art. It allows us to stop time so we can revisit it later.  To go back to that Negros’ church in 1936.  To visit Platteville in 2019.  And to document our lives and the lives of our families and friends so that we will always be able to go back and savor those times.

But we’re not limited to these images.  We can photograph small details.  Little things that we think of when we think of someone.  The way they hang their coat on a chair.  The indentation on their pillow after they get up in the morning.

We just have to see that there’s beauty surrounding us.  And not to wait for the only moments we’ve been conditioned to see.

I have this thing of shooting photographs out my car window.  Moments that unfold in front of me. I like the energy of these photos.  Some have people really engaging in their surroundings.  Like this guy in downtown Boulder.

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Others have a stillness.  Like these people waiting or standing–a woman in Denver, people on a street corner on a Sunday morning in Vegas, and three businessmen in Rochester.

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And sometimes I see a story on the street, that I have to pick up the camera and shoot.  Here are two different people with shopping carts as a major part of their lives.

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To get photographs like this, you need lightning-quick reflexes with a camera that’s already preset.  I use aperture priority on a Nikon D610 with a 50mm or 20mm with back button focus.  I make photographs out of both driver and passenger windows.  And sometimes out the front window.  I love the weed-sprayer man with the two cyclists.  Would look amazing large!

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There are scenes out there.  Just keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel, too!

I’ve noticed what wins street photography contests: Weirdo photos.

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2018 winners in StreetFoto

Oddball pictures.

Have you seen this?

The photos at the right are the 2018 winners in StreetFoto.

To my eye, none of them look like the classics by Garry Winogrand or Henri Cartier-Bresson, who I’m betting are masters that these street photographers look up to.

The Winogrands and Bressons, the Friedlanders and Davidsons made pictures of real moments, not just oddities, freaks and crazy scenes.

I would suspect that none of their photographs would even place in street photography competitions today.  They look more like documentary photographs than photographs with a gimmick or a hook, grabbing the viewer’s attention.

Their photographs documented the human condition and I don’t see that as being terribly valued in today’s street photography, at least by what I see that wins awards.

What else wins awards?  Busy streets with lots of people filling in different areas of the frame.  That’s a big winner.   Add in faces of foreigners, you’ll win first place.

Visual puns–they’re also a favorite of contest judges.  See for yourself in the second place photo.  Nothing against them, but I believe that’s what’s in.  More gimmick/grab, less human condition.

Deep shadows, with something in a spot of light.  Strong graphic elements.  Those are winners, too. See the Honorable Mention to see what I mean.

Perhaps it’s because in this digital age, everything is quicker, and we have no attention span, so a photo without a hook isn’t going to be seen.  No one has time to look at a photo that doesn’t shout its meaning.

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Garry Winogrand’s Hollywood & Vine scene.  What is that, social commentary?  Next!

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Henri Cartier-Bresson’s shoreside picnic — seems rather usual, who cares, pass.

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Garry Winogrand’s sailor photo — Would this photo place anywhere today?  Doubtful.

Here’s one of mine.  I think it’s a tremendous look at a part of Las Vegas that isn’t the glitz and glamour of that city, made on a Sunday morning just off the strip when most of it was closed.  I bet these are locals who work in the area.

Las Vegas Blvd, just off the strip, Sunday morning, June 29, 2018

That’s not getting entered into any street festival award contests.  It’s real people, it’s documentary, but there’s no crazy element.  Here, see it big–does it give you any sense of what these people’s lives are like, even without the crazy?

Same with this one.  To me, it’s a fun photograph of a boy telling his mom what he saw a fisherman catch.  Not enough of a hook to win anything.  Here it is big.  With a famous name on it, everyone would be praising it, and it would hang 20×24″ in a gallery.  Without a name, it’ll never be seen.

A boy and the fishermen on the Santa Monica Pier, July 4, 2018.

Or this, of a celebrity stalked by paparazzi.  I wanted to make a photo featuring the photographers.  Not going to win any prizes.  Here’s a bigger version.  It’s a storytelling photograph of celebrity life in the early 20-teens in Studio City, California.  The celebrity is Julianne Hough from Dancing with the Stars.  I’m glad I don’t have her face.

Paparazzi on a Studio City CA sidewalk, July 5, 2018.

I know what it’s like when I’m out shooting street photos–I’m looking for the oddities, too.  That’s what grabs my attention.  I’ve been conditioned just like everyone else.

Here’s my street life photo gallery, you’ll see obviously I’m seeking a hook at times, too.  Because that’s what street photography is now.  Not a documentary photograph.

And that’s unfortunate.

I prefer the storytelling images of human nature, and people living today.

How could that possibly be a good thing, having your work rejected, you ask.  Well, let me tell you about myself.  I’ve both won awards as a photojournalist and haven’t won awards as a photographer.

Why is that?  Timing.  Placement.  What the curators want.

I have my brand of photography–documentary photography, photojournalistic storytelling, street life photography.  I believe in myself and know I have my own view.  It’s not copying anyone.  It’s uniquely me.

Knowing that, I pursue it and keep working at it.

And I get rejected all the time in contests and competitions.

So.  [Shrugs]

It means that my work isn’t what they’re looking for.  What are they looking for?  Maybe what they envision the art to look like.  Like it’s always looked like.  The regular kind.

Not straight, perhaps.  Little weird, maybe.  “That’d be cool for the show,” they might think.  “Like a cow wearing roller skates.  That’s way rad!”  If that’s what they want, I have nothing to offer them.

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It doesn’t matter the reason.  Maybe they just didn’t like it.  What is their experience with photography, and what do they like?   Where is their history, what defines them?  What is their agenda for what they want their show to look like?

What is it about them liking it or not liking it that makes me okay with it?  To me, it’s not about the acceptance.  It’s about the placement.  I guess if my work isn’t accepted, it’s not right for them in this show.  My work wouldn’t have fit so it’s better to not be included.  And misfit.

They must have a different kind of work in mind.  Okay.  Do I stop doing what I do and change up to try and please them?  No, of course not.  That’s impossible.  We can only create our vision.  Our view.  And we must be true to it.   (Mine doesn’t include cows and roller skates!)

No one can create what we can the way we can.  That’s our vision, our brand.  We must work at building it.  And one day, when they are looking for something different, something unlike what they thought they wanted to find, but instead discovered something else, something you make, your work will be incredible to them.  And you’ll be included in their show.  And they’ll love it.

And they’ll wonder why you didn’t submit sooner.

But that’s not every show.  Every competition.  Every contest.

Every show isn’t ready for our vision.  But we don’t dare stray from our truth.  Our art.

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If you’re an actor and you go into a casting session for a role, and you’re 5’6″ tall and they want someone 5’9″, they have a preconceived notion of what they want and you will never get the part.  You can nail the audition, you can bring the casting director to tears, you still won’t get it, you never had a chance.  Because you don’t fit the size they want.

Same if you have red hair and they want a brunette.  You can’t play where you never had a chance to play.  But you can only be you, all 5’6″ and redheaded as you are.

What’s your work?  What do you believe in?  Make that.  Make only that.  Create your truth, your point of view.  You have something uniquely to say.

I see my work as a constant creation.  I add photo stories to the RoyStryker.com documentary photo project three times a week (sometimes with other photographers, and you can contribute, too.)  I create portraits on film.  I shoot street life photographs–these will be a huge hit in 30 years, because time makes them valuable!

Someday, my work will be featured.  My work will be chosen.  But not every time, not every contest.  Not today, as I just got a “We regret to inform you…” email.

Even when I won press awards back at the newspaper I worked at, I often said, “Change the judges and you get all different results.”  It’s true.  Plus, there were photographers who weren’t very good photojournalists who were often the award-winners.  It doesn’t always mean an award-winning photographer is necessarily a great photographer.  It even makes me question the value of my win–“Yeah, but you also like THAT?”

Competitions are about what fits what they want.  Where does your work fit?  Keep making it and they’ll find you.  Your work will get discovered, when they’re ready for it.

So, maybe we don’t fit today.  Maybe this show isn’t for us.  Ok, good to know.  Move on.  Keep working.

We’re making our vision.  They’ll come to see it one day.