A Backwards Painter

When I was about 12 years old, I took art classes from a well known art school. We were required to draw from a human skeleton in many different mediums.

It was a style of learning that was alien to me. I was completely uninspired and didn’t complete the classes. I thought that I must not have any artistic talent as a result.

It took me many years to realize that I just didn’t fit in to more traditional styles of art and that photography is one of my mediums of creative expression.

Multiple exposure photography in New York City
Cuddling, New York City, June 2014

So I call myself a backward painter. I rely on that which physically exists in front of me and my camera. It is always a combination of how I feel and see things on a given day.

It isn’t so much about thinking or having a preconceived notion about what I will create. Rather it is about observing that which is taking place around me.

This is true of both my abstract and street photography. They are a reflection of how and what I see in the world around of me.

Every Picture Tells a Story

I don’t imagine that a day will ever occur when I tire of shooting in New York City. I have no interest in taking photos of nature and landscapes that aren’t urban.

New York City is a perfect environment for photography that illustrates the condition of humanity in the world that it has created.

Coney Island, Brooklyn, 2009
Entrance, Coney Island, September 2009

Whether it’s seeing people who are comfortable in their environment or those that are disturbed by it, the human condition is reflected in street photography.

I like photography that tells a story and especially when it is open to interpretation by the viewer. You can’t plan it. This is the beauty of street photography.

It is, when done well, like poetry. The activity of photography is satisfying all by itself. Discovering at the end of the day you were able to obtain photos that capture a story is like icing on the cake.

Photography is a Reflection

Photography is a reflection of life and the world that we live in. It is a small piece of the larger whole. It is an opportunity to stop and examine those things that we may overlook in our hurried lives.

You could say that I’m rather obsessed with photographing reflections of all kinds. The same is true of reflecting on what photography is and how it affects us. Even the word reflection gives us much to reflect upon.

Puddle reflection of the Manhattan Bridge
Street of Gold, New York City, July 2012

If photography is already once removed from ‘reality,’ then perhaps reflection photography can be thought of as something almost magical. Sometimes reflection photos are even more appealing than the so-called real thing.

To find and see reflections to photograph you already need to slow down and be more observant of your surroundings. It is rather easy to pass by reflections without realizing that they are there.

When was the last time that you reflected on a photo?

I Never Intended to. . .

Yes, it is a cliché to say that you can’t take the same photo twice. That is true. But I have been sorting through my archives and realizing how much has changed.

I shoot many of the same neighborhoods on a very regular basis and many of my photos illustrate just how much they have changed. And not necessarily for the better.

I am not sentimental about the past and I do not have wishes or dreams to return to another time or place. But I never intended on being a documentarian or a historian.

Triste Corsets, New York City, April 2012

Alas, I have many photos that are rather like relics of the past now. So when I am out on the streets shooting these days I often end up shooting those buildings and businesses that look like they have a limited existence.

I actually started doing that more because I would like to avoid having big corporate logos and buildings that feel sterile and cold. So yes, without me intending to do so, I have started documenting that which is likely to change in the near future. At least I still have abstract photography to blur the lines!

Photography Changes Everything

Sometimes a photo can change the world. Can change the way we see and think about the world we live in. And sometimes a photographer comes along with a body of work that is a radical departure from what we are accustomed to seeing and we stop in awe. Maybe we even hold our breath.

One such photographer passed yesterday at the age of 94. Robert Frank was a Swiss born American photographer who documented American life on a road trip across the country in the 1950s. The book was appropriately titled, The Americans.

The Americans is not a pretty picture book. It reveals many of the injustices that took place at the time. On the surface that was a rather bold statement to make. To turn a mirror on our society and reveal things that one didn’t discuss in polite company. But his photographic style was also very different from the standards of the time.

Robert Frank, New York City, May 27, 2019

Something that I quite appreciate about Frank’s photography is how he dared to photograph America as he saw it and also his dislike of the so-called rules of photography that were made popular by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

For many, Cartier-Bresson is seen as the godfather of street photography. Perhaps more importantly, he was a founder of the elite Magnum group. Frank was not to become a Magnum member. Likely because of his disregard for the rules.

The fact remains that neither Frank nor Cartier-Bresson called themselves street photographers. These are labels that were given to their work after-the-fact. Labels are not always helpful.

I am fortunate to have met and photographed Robert Frank in front of his apartment in New York City in May of this year. I thanked him for his contribution to the world of photography. Somehow I wish I had said more. Frank may be departed but his photography is still as relevant as it ever was. And The Americans is still in print.

Photography is a partial truth

Photography is a partial truth. It is not the whole truth. And certainly not truth with a capital T. It is always subjective. When we take a photo we are translating a situation into our own way of seeing and believing. It is a version of reality.

A photo is always past tense and the subject is taken out of context. This is especially true in street photography and photos that are candid, that are taken without the subject being aware of their photo being taken.

Memory, New York City, June 2010

The opposite is also true. When you take a photo of someone and they know that you are taking it, they may smile when they aren’t actually happy. They respond to the presence of the camera.

There are a number of different examples. But perhaps more importantly, people are always more than what a single image is capable of revealing. We are always a composite of many images.

It does however happen that we attach one image in our memory to represent a person or event. Photography has provided bookmarks for the memory to utilize when recalling the past. And they are even capable of deception. (That is another topic that I will be writing about in the near future.)

I wonder what happens to the minds of people who are constantly taking selfies everywhere they go and if all these photos that they amass of themselves actually become meaningful to them? Or perhaps it’s a form of self-deception.

Sex Sells

It should come as no surprise to anyone that sex sells. There’s nothing new about that. But for some strange reason it continues to grab our attention. All the products and companies in the world that are vying for your attention and ultimately your cash are using this in some form or other.

The invention of photography has certainly helped to create and perpetuate the sex sells method of appealing to consumers. I’m not writing about nudity or pornography. That is an entirely different subject.

Urban Bliss Two #15, August 2017

Whether it’s about fitness, fashion or cultural norms to mention just a few possible areas, people are expected to live up to certain standards that are typically influenced by campaigns that utilize sex appeal. Your life will be marvelous if you buy or do whatever it is that’s being advertised.

It would perhaps be inaccurate to label it as subliminal. However, the more that we see images that utilize sex as a method of appealing to us, the more it seems normal. We no longer stop and question it.

I don’t know how we escape this or if it’s entirely possible to do so. But perhaps taking a little time to have a look at the messages that you’re being fed on a daily basis and questioning their claims is a good start.