Friday, March 27, 2009

Shrink Wrap Building

Seldom do I find myself looking at a potential photo from 1/4 of a mile away. For me it is far more likely to discover the photographable from what is easily seen while walking. And yet here I was following the most readily observable object on the horizon while driving to San Francisco on the freeway. But then how often are hotels wrapped in white plastic. So the lesson here is don't ignore something just because it screams to be photographed. Oh and the other lesson...the best part was on the backside facing away from the freeway. So I guess having a walk around big obvious things can payoff in the end.

I have a nephew who likes to fish. And when he goes fishing it becomes obvious to those around him that he catches more fish. Inevitably these other fishermen want to know what he's doing. Some think it's the bait, some think it's the location. In reality my nephew catches more fish because he has developed the finely honed skill of knowing what kind of fish he wants and knowing what that fish wants. Some think of this as simple math, but I suspect that it has more to do with having a few easily known facts and an almost psychic ability to deploy that knowledge. Photography sometimes seems like fishing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Back in the day photographers liked to repeat the saying 'If you can't make it good make it big'. The photo taken by Omar Sobhani/Reuters is from a story in the New York Times, and deals with the reburial of the remains of the first president of Afghanistan Mohammad Daoud Khan.

Of course these days everyone makes it big. None bigger than Andreas Gursky, but then I may have missed something along the way. When Gursky's photos were shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art I was struck by the photos that, while large, were smaller than the immense images he also produced and were in the show. There came a point with the size of his images where the image began to come undone. When being immersed in a large image the photographer needs to retain resolution to maintain the bond with the actual event. Size restraint was called for.

In my commercial photography career I became aware that some of the people I was assigned to shoot would die and my photograph would be the image that became their most remembered identity. I recall when the first African American judge on the California Supreme Court died and his family requested a large picture to display at his public funeral and also at his law school. On another occasion a renowned scientist, who was also related to one the most prominent families in California, passed away and an image I made of him ran with his obituary in a number of scientific publications as well as in the New York Times. These instances made me aware of my responsiblities to the subject.

When Mohammad Daoud Khan had his photo made it probably seemed similar to other such occasions. Imagining that the image, blown up to heroic proportions, would be held aloft by strutting soldiers of another Afghan government was out of the question. And who could predict that the shaved head look of 30 years ago would seem so contemporary.

Monday, March 9, 2009


I'm going over my entries to the Communication Arts Photography issue that is coming due this week. As usual they announce a deadline, and then just as it is about to end, they extend the deadline by a week or two. That extension is the period where I find myself bearing down on what I would like to submit. Having had images accepted, as well as having none accepted, I begin to ask myself how strongly I feel about the images I'm likely to enter. Right now I'm wondering about the pig photo (above) that I shot last spring outside a supermarket in Interlaken Switzerland--I'm not sure about that one just yet. And because no one likes to throw money away I ponder the cost/benefit ratio. Of the images I've had published in the Communication Arts Photography issue I've made enough in stock sales to justify a fair amount of risk. One particular image sold over $10,000 in stock and another resulted in an additional $2000. Interestingly, when these went into the Getty Images catalog they generated very few sales. But, still, the cost and the economy nags at me to hold down my submissions and to evaluate whether I submit a cost effective series of shots ($60 for a series of 5) rather than the more expensive, but more realistic individual submission costing $30 a pop. Communication Arts seems to be leveraging game theory quite well.