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.
Lake Eildon, Victoria, 1983 drought. Nagaoka 5x4 Field Camera, Schneider 210/9 G-Claron Process Lens.
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.
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.
Gordon Dam, Tasmania, 2016 drought, Fuji X-T1, 100-400/4.5-5.6 lens.
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!