5 Questions For Alan Lesheim


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In this new series of articles Fotoozones poses 5 personal photography questions to some of our more well known members and contributors. In our first instalment the questions are put to one of the most popular members on our site, namely Alan Lesheim (aka @Alan7140). 

 

Question 1. Why did you pick photography as a profession?

 

It was always going to be – I can't recall ever seriously wanting to do anything else. My mother wanted me to be a doctor, my father (who was an A-Grade motor mechanic) expressed a preference for me to become a ladies' hairdresser. I guess that paying for my mother's weekly hairdresser visits in the heyday of complex 1950's & 60's permed and bouffed-up beehives led him to conclude this to be a certain way of gaining great wealth.

 

The conditions imposed on me to obtain their reluctant consent to my photography preference (after first trying to scare me off by offering me as a free assistant to the photographer who had his studio next to my Father's service station during my summer holidays at age 15) were that I was to achieve passes in all my subjects to qualify for the various scholarships that would be necessary to pay the fees to complete both 12th year graduation at school and then to qualify for entry to, and pay the fees for the three year tertiary course in photography at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (now renamed RMIT University). I think they thought I'd fail to meet those conditions, and also that they didn't want me to change my mind mid-stream and become what my Father referred to disparagingly as a “professional student”. The fact that I'm now at the tail end of a 46-year full-time involvement in photography is my polite middle finger extended to them for their lack of confidence in my resolve, I guess, along with my undying gratitude that they stuck to their word and never tried to talk me out of it or interfere after the decision was affirmed. 

 

Question 2. If you could go back in time to photograph one historic event what would you choose and why?

 

Easy question for me to answer: the trial and execution of Jesus Christ. The connotations and repercussions of what accurate colour photographs of that event would have would make anything else that comes to mind trivial by comparison for the effect it might have on Western Civilisation. My bet is that in the very least there'd be a lot of artists repainting blonde hair very dark brown/black, white skin a lot, lot darker and blue eyes brown, aside from anything else that may eventuate.

 

Question 3. Who's work in photography has influenced your style the most? 

 

This is a difficult one for me to answer, but in all honesty I have to say that there is no-one in particular that comes to mind. While there are many photographers whose work I greatly admire, to say that their work has consciously influenced the way I take photographs now would be inaccurate. I've always pretty much done my own thing, which has over the years most definitely cost me in monetary terms, but if “Photographer” is the way I define myself, then I really do just take photographs the way I see fit, and not by deliberately amalgamating styles or techniques of others to do so.

 

That said, I can list the following photographers who I admire most: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Helmut Newton, Ansel Adams, Matthew Brady, Sally Mann, Carol Jerrems, Wolfgang Sievers, Diane Arbus, Jock Sturgess – these were the names that immediately came to mind, so I'll run with those. Probably most notable with this list is that there is no-one in that lot who is known primarily for working in colour, nor anyone who is currently at the peak of their working life (most being deceased), and that most worked large format. Read that perhaps as a disapproval of the volumes of pumped-up colour digital crap we are bombarded with daily these days if you will, for my ongoing disdain for the banal way digital as a rule renders B&W, and the approach many people now take to photographing in B&W, which is often just an originally-intended colour shot with the colour removed.

 

I suppose I also really like and identify with the way these listed people saw the world, the way they went about recording and interpreting that through photographs, and their in-general disregard for photography as being a money-making device, but rather as being a means of expression. If that is defined as an “influence”, well that's also fine by me. Sure they all also made a living from photography, but I'd hazard that the photos they took that pleased them (and their followers) were mostly not taken with making money as being the primary objective. I guess that's been my approach as well, then, and while I'm not in the same league as these people artistically, my original motive for taking photographs was also never primarily the making of money, although that has figured large overall as it is also been my business by default.

In fact it's true to point out that when I have photographed with income as a primary goal, I've usually been disappointed both from a personal satisfaction point of view and in the results obtained. Obviously, then, as a career photographer, I've endured a lot of dissatisfaction and disappointment! I can't think of any advertisement, wedding, event or other commissioned job that has left me anywhere near as satisfied as have done almost any of the myriad photos I have taken over the years that I either dreamt up or stumbled upon in my own time, and then taken in my own way for no-one other than myself as the primary audience. 

 

Walhalla, Victoria, Cemetery, 1973, Hasselblad 500C/M, Carl Zeiss 50/4 Lens.

Zsb346G.jpg 

 

Lake Eildon, Victoria, 1983 drought. Nagaoka 5x4 Field Camera, Schneider 210/9 G-Claron Process Lens.

jZfLd8Q.jpg 

 

Growling Swallet, Florentine Valley, Tasmania, 2011. Nikon D3s, 50/1.8 lens. 615 photographs in multi-row, stitched panorama, final print 8 feet long x 42" high.

N4sxJsR.jpg

 

Elizabeth Debicki, Actor, scouting a film location , J Ward, disused Willow Court Mental Asylum, New Norfolk,Tasmania. 2015. Fuji X-T1, 56/1.2 lens.

kO8D3AY.jpg 

 

Gordon Dam, Tasmania, 2016 drought, Fuji X-T1, 100-400/4.5-5.6 lens. 
5SnOydG.jpg 

 

Question 4. Where do you see professional photography in 10 years time?

 

I have a history of picking this sort of thing accurately (I remember describing tethered studio photography linked direct to pre-press output to my boss in 1974), but equally I have had an uncanny knack of completely failing to get in on the ground floor myself before everyone else jumped on the band wagon (the huge amounts of money usually needed to do so in the early stages being perhaps a prominent player, here).

 

For what it's worth, then, my pick for 10 years hence will have VR as being a prime driver of the business, with a completely separate and much, much smaller parallel field running gallery-type, boutique level stills-photography-as-art-collectibles businesses, accompanied by a dedicated band of amateurs trying to crack the fields in any way they can. Whatever is left will probably have been consumed by whatever the Internet has evolved into.

 

VR, I think, will eventually completely upend the advertising, news, wedding, portrait and fashion photography world in a way that hasn't upset the apple cart since.... well.... photography itself did.

 

Question 5. What advice would you give somebody starting out a career in photography today?

 

Quit and become a ladies' hairdresser. Or, failing that, get heavy and involved with VR now, and adopt advancements early. 

 

Footnote: I asked Alan to provide a selfie so that we can see the man behind the answers. He did so in fine style! 

 

bvLdGCY.jpg 


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Alan, Thanks for sharing your story

Dallas thanks for thinking about this

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9 hours ago, Mike G said:

Alan, you have almost as much hair as I do. :yes:

 

I like that I haven't had to pay for a haircut for maybe 15 years now, Mike. I guess that benefit has paid for a lens or two - much better investment!

I'm not one of those who bemoaned losing hair. To be honest, I couldn't wait for it to happen, which was a foregone thing anyway as the fineness of my hair and a widow's peak that would have put Dracula to shame always pointed to that ultimate outcome. :D

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Nor do I, but that said I'm off to get a number 2 all over with a square neck this morning, so I'll have to snug my winter cap a bit lower. 

 

I don't think you look at all like Christopher Lee at all. :D

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3 hours ago, Mike G said:

 

I don't think you look at all like Christopher Lee at all. :D

 

I should have been so lucky - I was more referring to the hairline that Dracula is usually shown with_ 3026.jpg

 

Mine was far worse - you can still see it slightly in that selfie - the peak was just above that third crease on my forehead, receding in an arc to almost where the highlight on top of my head starts, then curved forward and down, again following the highlight on the right side in secondary "V" shapes. I don't have any photos front on showing that mass of almost black hair I had with that very accentuated peak, but it was dramatic indeed. I'd have been a shoe in for the part of the chief vampire had I auditioned, no false headpiece was necessary!

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That's what I meant as you probably know Mr Lee played the Count in many a Hammer Horror Film! :D

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Alan:

 

Thank you for posting your beautifully written, and extremely interesting, story — together with a sampling of some of your very fine photographs.

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1 hour ago, Ann said:

Alan:

 

Thank you for posting your beautifully written, and extremely interesting, story — together with a sampling of some of your very fine photographs.

 

Thanks, Ann.

 

Unfortunately picking 5 photos covering over 40 years as representative was almost a bridge too far.

 

The Walhalla Cemetery photograph was the first photograph that was ever published with a paid commission while I was still a student at RMIT.

 

The Lake Eildon photograph was by far the picture of which I have sold the most copies (many being 20x24" prints individually hand-coloured with Marshall's photo oils).

 

My second most successful photograph, and most successful accolades-wise - the pano of the "feral" protester and her friends in the Florentine Forest (and that I have also posted before) - was obviously a prime contender, but I went with the river scene as being better representing what I was working towards with that initial protester photo - stacking and stitching combined to have an infinite DOF with a normal perspective in panoramic form. I only ever did a few more after the "Growling Swallet" to hone the technique, but to this day that river scene remains the biggest single print combining the most individual photos that I have ever done.

 

The last two are more contemporary, separated by only months (2015, 2016), and which are current personal favourites. They're the sort of thing I hope to be doing into my "retirement" years.

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I'm really happy that this "interview" style article has been warmly received. I will be picking other well known FZ members to pose 5 different questions to over the course of the year, so expect my message! :D 

 

5 questions is only a few, so please feel free to use these articles to ask more photography related questions of the interviewee. 

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Joking aside Alan is a super choice for the number one spot, he was a great inspiration for me in my transition to a Fujifilm system! A chap who is always unstinting in helping us understand this hobby of ours! Rock on Cobber.

 

Alan is just one of my list of photographers that I would like to spend an hour or two having a chat. :yes:

 

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Thanks for those kind words, Mike. Should I ever get to The Old Dart, I'll make sure that a stint a lot longer than an hour or two results! :) (You have been warned! :D:D )

 

It's a bit lonely down here in Tasmania being the only one who actually is compulsively obsessed with photography anywhere close to the degree that it appears to have messed with my brain since I turned 8.  :D 

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What a wonderful interview. The integrity, honesty and talent of the man shine through loud and clear.

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