Speaking of Paris, let me just say, I love Paris. And, here’s the surprise, I love Parisians, in fact, all the French. Parisians to me are New Yorkers who: 1-speak French, 2-eat better, 3-know wine, and 4-get four weeks vacation in the summer. They are not falsely polite, not one checkout person at my local supermarket ever asked if I had any nice plans for the afternoon. Not one! Not one in five years! Going to my local Boulangerie was like an undercover mission, hoping not to be discovered by the horrible woman who owned it. Aah, but the baguettes were worth the risk, to say nothing of the croissants! I was born in The Bronx, but I sort of grew up in Paris.
I often worked for a magazine group which included “Decoration”. Everything was run through the Director of Photography’s studio. Studio Astre. It was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Astre, and they specialized in shooting wedding dresses. He was the photographer, she was the stylist. By this I mean, he told the models exactly where to stand on the permanent X painted on the floor, while she pinned the gown to the seamless paper in a perfect circle. All of this went on while they engaged in a furious, shrill, loud argument. Most of which I could never understand, no matter how good my french got. Yet I learned a lot when I shot there. This was because on day #1 Mr. Astre talked with me about the “system” at the studio. I was often hired to do the tabletop stuff for the magazines. Sometimes it was beautiful home accessories, but sometimes it was horrible wedding gift ideas. The stories that had gifts often meant 3 spreads, each with 15-20 gifts. Hopefully, artfully arranged. So far, so good. Then Mr. Astre told me the policy of shooting just 3 sheets of 4×5 per shot…and only 2 sheets of b&w Polaroid. His fee for running the show didn’t include film expenses, so the less film shot, the more profit for him! OK, the challenge began. Next he showed me the 20,000 watt/sec ancient Ascor strobes. Now Ascor strobes of that vintage looked like a weapon of mass destruction, and they were! Many stacked metal boxes with immense connectors joining them in some combination who’s secret was known only by Merlin and Niels Bohr, neither of whom were around for consultation. So I could see this would be an up-hill battle. Then he told me that the model lights hadn’t worked for years! The studio had no windows, no daylight. That was a plus. I would turn off the house lights, look through the camera under the dark cloth and fire the strobes. The more I did this the better I got at seeing what the whole mess was going to look like. I never used more than 3 sheets of film and dared not to ever ask for an extra polaroid. So studio Astre taught the 28 year old me many things. Don’t waste film, some vulgar French expressions, and Cootie Williams. They had a record player with about 6 records. I must have listened to the Cootie Williams album 100’s of times. I still like it, and I still love Paris.
In December 2008, Portland was treated to the biggest snow storm in 30 years. Depending on who you asked it was between 16-24 inches. It was a great time to stay inside except I had accepted a job for Portland Monthly Magazine shooting 5 vintage movie theatre marquees. This had to be shot at dusk or later. I had a hard time getting myself out there to shoot. The house was warm. I wasn’t working with an assistant which made it easier to procrastinate, no one out there waiting for me to show up. So I put it off a few times. And a few more. By now the snow had stopped and it was melting. So I found my way to the Bagdad Theatre on Hawthorne, sort of like Portland’s Bleeker Street. I parked and got out my cameras and tripod. When I found the POV I wanted, the tripod was just off the curb in a slushy puddle, as were my Doc Martens. It wasn’t very cold, but very damp. I had been given little instruction by Hector Sanchez, the Creative Director at the time. Just told to do something unorthodox. So there I was, out in the falling light, shooting the theatre and something happened. I fell in love again. I realized that when I was looking through the camera, I was totally happy. The world went away. It was just fun. Unfortunately Hector hated all the photos, and the story was “demoted” to the web pages. I actually don’t know if it ever ran or not. I know that I realized I am happiest when I’m looking through a camera.
Hello from Portland
So I’m entering the 21st century…I now will be blogging. Stories from the past. Stories from the present. Speculation about the future. Whatever seems fun, whatever seems relevant, and sometimes, whatever I just feel like saying.
Actually I’ve sorta been blogging via Instagram. As I get more and more into it, I like it less and less. To me it should just be about vision. Low fidelity vision. Take it with your iPhone and post. No stupid filters to make the mundane interesting, just what you see. No images from your library, Photoshopped beyond belief. No images that make you think you are now living on Neptune. And most of all, no inane comments from inane people. Most of the comments are just ego strokes. “Beautiful”, “wonderful”, and my favorite “amazing!!!”. Does anyone remember what amazing really means? I am amazed when I look up at the night sky, not some cute photo of someone’s cat. And, I LOVE cats. Don’t comment on my photos. If you like them, understand them, or resonate with them…then “like” them. That’s enough. I like to follow Daniel Root, Cirof, Laura Jennings,and Hornbecker on Instagram. Their photos are no bullshit.
I have the same trouble with Flickr and Tumbler. I’m not even sure how they are spelled. To me, they are just a place to be stroked. Same comments apply. Do you need justification of your work by people you don’t know? People who may have absolutely horrible taste, or just want you to stroke them back? Years ago, Lloyd Ziff told me “there is no such thing as good taste. But there is bad taste.”I recently heard about a Master’s of Photography thesis where the candidate put his work on one of these sites and then edited by choosing the one’s that got the most positive feedback. In my old-fashioned mind I thought that was ludicrous, just ridiculous. I know when my work is good and when it isn’t. I’ve always been my best critic and I believe in myself.
So as you can see, I’m entering the 21st century…but sort of kicking and screaming. I’ve never been easy, so don’t expect it here!