Since my last post, which really wasn’t much of a post (it was an early SFX image made with sparklers and telephone landline cable – see preview post, below), I’ve been making a lot of changes, and rather than bore you to death with a 3000-word post, how about I just post the short form and a few snapshots.
Technically (because I love anything techie), I’ve moved from the Leaf/Hasselblad to the Nikon D800 for more flexibility. Now, even tho’ I was trained as a fashion photographer in college I ended up shooting large format 8 x 10 still life and special effects for over a decade, so medium format was a logical choice for me when I went digital in the late 90s. But as much as I have loved medium format it’s a bear to use on location and expensive to keep upgrading.
The new Nikon D800 is one-tenth the price of Leaf camera backs, very high resolution and far easier to handle with people and traveling. And I’ve been shooting far more people and locations in the past year. I love Brooklyn, but it’s not Italy.
I’m also working with more EFX stuff, which is in my veins. I just purchased an Arduino-based Camera Axe system, a programmable high-speed flash trigger for water, light and sound. This time it’s not a kit; I purchased it ready made. I’m moving up in the world! I just have to learn how to program the damn thing…
Personally (because I don’t look at my job as work), I’ve been much happier with my photography (nothing to do with the tech stuff) simply because the new studio (which isn’t that new anymore) has been a terrific work environment. My partner, José Pelaez – smart, funny and insanely creative – has been a joy to work with. He challenges my sensibilities in how I plan, see and shoot. There’s been a definite shift in how I’m approaching lighting, composition and execution. Not to mention his influence in my return to photographing people, something I love to do. Hard to believe we’d lost touch with each other for nearly a decade.
Be careful with those fireworks!
Don’t drink and drive!
And don’t forget to call mom once and while!
I do not fear exploring electronic devices that do not work. I open them the way a surgeon might open a patient. Slowly, step-by-step, piece-by-piece, I remove the parts, taking careful note of plugs, screws, colors and shapes. I once disassembled my laptop and replaced the logic board, which meant complete disassembly. And, with the exception of two screws, reassembled it to working condition (I never did find out what those screws were for).
I’ve also built computers from the ground up, purchasing components and creating a fully functioning workstation. And, although it’s been awhile now, I’ve just finished assembling a light and sound trigger for high-speed photography from a bag full of resistors, capacitors, potentiometers, and microchips.
The kit came from HiViz and, so far, it’s a brilliant little device (we’ve only done preliminary tests and it’s working quite well). And, with the help of my SVA intern, Ken Lavey, I (we?) even found a minor wiring mistake that kept the light trigger from working the first time around (Ken was a great second pair of eyes).
Soon it will be time to play, splash water, to throw food, toss toys and miscellaneous paraphernalia in front of the camera to see what happens. And, maybe I’ll step to the next abyss and get some Arduino controllers and learn to write code. I could do that.
More to come…
It only made sense that I started out assisting fashion guys, since I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. But through a series of fateful events, I ended up assisting the brilliant photographer and lighting master, Ben Somoroff. Ben is one of the photographers whose career and vision blossomed under the tutelage of Alexey Brodovitch of Harper’s Bazaar fame. Brodovitch also influenced the likes of Art Kane, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, to name just a few of the ground-breaking photographers in that elite circle.
Ben shot fashion. He shot still life. He directed television commercials. He was a master craftsman and I was his apprentice. And while he was inventive and clever, patient and thoughtful, he was also easygoing and immensely likable. Remarkable traits in an incredibly challenging industry (polite words for stressful). During my time with Ben we worked with Milton Glaser, Walter Bernard and Gael Greene from New York Magazine, and Madison Avenue icon David Deutsch, who designed my first business cards because I asked (I didn’t know who he was). I was sponsored into NABET (National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, a union) by Mel Sokolsky’s studio manager (and former B&W printer for Avedon), Frank Finocchio, so I could work with Ben on TV commercials as a prop man. Ben taught me so very much over those years and I’m still learning today. I owe him a debt of gratitude, but regrettably can not give it. Ben died in ’84.
I never saw Ben loose his temper. Not even when I accidentally ruined a batch of film by washing it in near boiling water. He wasn’t happy, but I didn’t get fired either. I was a pretty lucky kid. Over the years, Ben has increasingly come to mind in my work. I now see and think in ways that allow me to take bigger risks. Ben did that all the time, he went with the flow. Now I find I’m doing that, too, and with a bit of patience as well. Some risks fail, fall short or look routine, while others succeed.
Eventually the risks become technique. Technique becomes style and style becomes vision. I’m taking even more risks these days, because even now, there’s so much more to learn. So why not reach out and explore?
The heydays of photography may be long since gone, but the challenges of reaching for greatness never change. Be complacent or take risks. It’s a choice. I’ll keep walking on that ledge to see what happens.
And if I fail or fall short, I’ll get right back up and try again. Boy, have I been there before.
For years I’ve entertained the idea of pursuing a line of kitchen art. I even toyed with a shop on Etsy for a while called Kitchen Graphics. Now, after shooting thousands of personal photos of fruits and veggies, both in the studio and out, these berries,hot peppers, sprouts and assorted salad fixin’s are available online as museum wrapped prints from Somerset House Fine Art in their Kitchen Decor category. I have them in my kitchen. Why aren’t they in yours?
I (very loosely) use Richard Avedon’s series of Nos as a guideline to capturing my produce - “No to exquisite light, no to apparent compositions, no to the seduction of poses or narratives.” This allowed Avedon to get to the raw unadorned beauty of his subjects. I apply this approach to appliances and products as well. (Is there no shame?)
Well, it had to happen sometime.
The 2010 Hasselblad Masters, which, at some point later on, became the 2012 Hasselblad Masters because someone decided, midway through the competition, that the competition should take place every two years instead of annually, is finally over. I was competing against a field of highly talented shooters from around the world and I was certainly happy to have been selected at all, considering there were 2500 entrants. The published online magazine of finalists and winners is available at the Victor by Hasselblad site.
All in all, second place is pretty damn good when you consider all the amazing photographers I was competing with.
Thank you, Hasselblad and, to all the amazingly talented judges: Alex & Felix, Colin Prior, Efrem Raimondi, Joachim Ladefoged, Jonathan Roquemore, Mark Holthusen, Nina Berman, Ripley & Ripley, Thomas Gerwers, Xie Mo, Anne Geddes, Danqing Wen, Grant Scott, Joao Carlos, Lyle Owerko, Mark Zibert, Peter Bialobrzeski, Sean Conboy and Tim Flach. You have all humbled me by acknowledging my work.
Now, it’s off to Nippon Photo Clinic to pick up my beloved 20 year old Hassie ELX. It had an unhappy confrontation with my studio floor last week.
Full of daylight if I want it, or downstairs on the first floor if I don’t, the huge new 10,000 square foot studio has nooks and crannies, floor to ceiling windows, natural wood floors, an additional 5,000 square feet of basement storage, a 1,500 square foot workshop and I could go on. But I won’t. It’s just an out and out terrific working studio. And, I have been working.
Hugh Burckhardt, my assistant, and I set up some fabulous gluten free baked product photos for Karen Freer of Free Bread, Inc. (gluten-free, that is. - that’s the tagline) Karen’s wonderful, warm toned, pine antique ironing board was the key prop for many of the shots. And having skipped lunch, muffins and cream cheese were the placeholders. Who knew gluten free could be so good?
(And, what’s Frosty the Snowman doing in my background? My studiomate, José Pelaez, is shooting stock for next year’s holiday season. So, between the gift boxes, pine trees, ornaments and other holiday paraphernalia out and about, I set up my daylight shoot. While we were at it, the holiday spirit was infused into the muffins.)
Addendum 12/7/2011: On a final side note, Karen left a box of muffins for the studio staff. That was Sunday. It’s only Wednesday and those three dozen muffins? They’ve all been eaten, nothing left but crumbs!
I just finished a three-and-a-half-week intensive program at SUNY’s Levin Institute called FastTrac NewVenture and boy, am I fried. It was a NYC sponsored class that, “helps entrepreneurs develop their skills needed to start, manage and grow a successful business.” Yes, I’ve been an entrepreneur, but no, I’ve never really made any plans, done much research, written any kind of business plan. Nothing. Just a seat-of-the-pants business approach to starting a business.
Wrong. All wrong.
Entrepreneurship (I learned how to spell that in class, too!) is so much more than starting a business. It’s not just about having a plan, it’s about having an exit strategy. It’s about putting your life into the equation and making sure you’ve researched the whole idea thoroughly, from how long you plan to work every day, to how it affects family, from competition to profitability and simply, whether or not the idea is feasible at all.
I may have relaunched my career a few years ago without much planning, but I still have time, so I’m going back to the drawing board. I’m starting by writing a plan, having mentors and listening carefully to my advisors – yes, even advisors. I’m being watched very closely by my classmates and facilitators (the FastTrac terminology for instructor), as we will continue to keep in touch as our projects develop. Photography is a tough business. Making a startup plan isn’t a half bad idea.
Ah, if only I knew then what I know now. Hindsight is 20/20.
(I can’t say who the client is, but it has something to do with telling time.)
Shooting virtual, 360º objects is one of those skills I honed in another lifetime. I’ve shot 360s of corporate jets, firetrucks, model trains and couches, but never 360s of small, highly reflective (basically mirrors, really) jewelry. And shooting a mirror (yes, I know, it’s a watch, but you get the point) as it rotates is a bit of a challenge. It means lighting that doesn’t burn out, or reflect me, my camera or the studio. This recent assignment meant shooting more than a hundred of them, and well, let’s just say it was work. (On the upside of this, I’m still in shock that I now have a remarkable 10,000 square foot studio and this shoot was almost a relaxing event. Really. More details on the new studio to come…)
In the end, the client was gracious and loved the results.
And me? I loved every minute of it.
P.S. Hat’s off to Jim Galvin and Jim Anders for their help – above and beyond the call of duty. You guys are my heroes.
2012 Hasselblad Masters Finalist, D.A.Wagner is a Brooklyn boy who took up photography after finding an old twin lens reflex roll film camera in the family attic. He promptly started taking pictures of rocks, wood, girls and subway stations, however not necessarily in that order. After a stint at the Fashion Institute of Technology he assisted a few notable photographers and, being an impatient sort, launched his career shooting still life and later, venturing into special effects in the waning days of film (before digital). He works out of a 10,000 square foot studio just outside the Lincoln Tunnel.
It may have been Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe who said, “Less is more.” But it took D.A.Wagner to do more with even less.