Monday, January 6, 2014: Downpour Edition

by ag

(Click on images to enlarge.)



Last night, I stayed up late watching a two-hour video of Gregory Heisler, a contemporary photographer I’ve long admired, speaking to students about his magazine portrait work. Even though it’s quite long, I recommend it highly. (You won’t lose anything viewing it in short clips if you can’t see it all at once. PetaPixel, btw — where I first saw the video — is another wonderful photographic site I visit daily.) During my career, I faced many of the same problems Heisler encounters in his assignments — not at the same level of course — and it was both eye opening and inspiring to hear of the planning and testing, creative problem solving, and resources he brings to his work (e.g., taking up to 15 assistants to a rented location so he can shoot seven different set-ups with his subject(s) in the space of an hour.) His can-do outlook, ability to roll with the punches without losing his cool or enthusiasm, and never-ending experimentation are truly impressive. Plus, he seems like a genuinely nice guy.

I don’t know whether it was Heisler’s influence or my own evolution as a photographer but when a downpour began at around 1:30am, I turned the computer off and ventured outside to take pictures, the ones that are posted above. Heavy rain; darkest night; near-freezing temperatures; deserted sidewalks — there was a time when I would have gone right to bed instead of placing myself in such unpleasant circumstances. But over the last two years, I’ve discovered that inclement weather and worse can open up amazing photographic opportunities rivaling anything done in the magic hour. In fact, a bad forecast no longer depresses me for that reason.

Late last year, I discovered the photography of Saul Leiter, a New York-based commercial and art photographer, who died in November at the age of 90. I have to confess I had no idea who he was until I came across his obituary. Of all the photographers I’m now familiar with, Leiter’s feet are probably the ones I’d worship at — or the boots that may have carried him through snow and sleet to frame a lyric moment with his eye. In addition to his exceptional body of work, here are two quotes and an anecdote that are dear to my heart:

“I must admit that I am not a member of the ugly school. I have a great regard for certain notions of beauty even though to some it is an old fashioned idea. Some photographers think that by taking pictures of human misery, they are addressing a serious problem. I do not think that misery is more profound than happiness.”

“In order to build a career and to be successful, one has to be determined. One has to be ambitious. I much prefer to drink coffee, listen to music and to paint when I feel like it.”

“Leiter confided that he often purchased inexpensive color film that was past its expiration date: he loved to be surprised by the odd shifts in color that would result.”

Speaking of quotations from a legendary photographer, I came across this one from Henri Cartier-Bresson not long ago: “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” I have tremendous respect for Cartier-Bresson but he and I part company here. I still keep images in my portfolio that were taken at the start of my career when I wasn’t half as knowledgeable about photography as I am now. But I was young and fresh and open and enthusiastic and that took me quite a distance. I consider those photographs as good as any that I’ve taken in the 40-50 years since.

(To be continued.)