Rick Waldroup has been a member of Fotozones since practically the beginning of the original site in 2006. Over the years his photos of American street life shown on FZ have constantly fascinated us. We ask Rick 5 questions about photography and his life in this craft.
1. Tell us how you first got interested in and then later involved in photography as a professional.
I was about 8 years old in the early 1960's when I received as a gift, a Kodak Instamatic type of camera. I started taking pictures of my friends and my family. I found myself wandering around my small town taking photos of people, buildings, parks, whatever I could find to photograph. I never gave much thought about why I was taking photos of such mundane scenes, it just seemed like the right thing to do. A few years later, an art teacher gave me a copy of The Americans by Robert Frank, and suddenly, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
That led to shooting for school / college newspapers and eventually shooting professionally for several newspapers in the Dallas area. In the 1980's I abruptly made a career move and started shooting architectural photography. I did this for over 20 years. I later shifted back to photojournalism and documentary / street work and that makes up the vast majority of my photography today.
2. We’ve seen your amazing work in photojournalism shown on Fotozones, what other genres of photography interest you (of any) and why?
I mostly admire and follow street and documentary photographers, but I also have a deep respect and a certain fascination with personal art photography or performance art photography. Loretta Lux, Cindy Sherman, and Marie Cosindas are very inspirational to me, just to name a few.
3. The personal project work that you’ve shown us in the past is always interesting. Tell us a bit about the project process and how you work through and decide undertaking a project. I’m personally interested to know if you go out and shoot for your projects specifically or if you file work you have done into projects retro-actively?
I find I am at my best when I am shooting for a particular job or project. I am focused, in tune, and usually on target as to what I want to achieve. I also find that I seem to find a deep sense of release when a project is over. At times I go out shooting with a particular project in mind, but I also hit the streets and simply shoot. what I find. I shoot multiple projects at a time. For myself, I find that this type of approach to photography is what keeps me going because my success rate or keeper rate is low, which is as it should be.
"We'll Meet Again" is project that I have been working on for several years. This type of project is long-term as I do not go out and specifically shoot for it. It is a series of street portraits which is very different from my normal street photography. I find strange, unusual looking, and eccentric characters to shoot and this project involves me actually interacting with the subjects, something I almost never, ever do with my street and documentary work.
This is another project that I would go out and specifically shoot photos for it. Being shot almost exclusively in downtown Dallas, Dream City was my attempt to capture the slightly surreal, sometimes dreamy images that can occur in everyday life in a thriving downtown area. For this particular project, I purchased a Holga lens for my digital camera and I also used a home-made set of diffusion filters to achieve the certain atmosphere that I was looking for."
"Riding the Rails." Shot between August of 2008 and August 2009, Riding the Rails documents my travels on commuter trains in the Dallas / Fort Worth area. The goal of the project was to capture images of people who ride the trains and who also frequent the various trains stations. I purchased a particular camera to shoot the photos- a Ricoh GRD II. A very discrete but excellent point-and-shoot camera that proved to be perfect for the project. Almost all of the photos were shot with the GRD. This is the type of project that I go out and specifically search for scenes to shoot.
4. We’ve seen you move from being a Nikon man to a micro four thirds shooter and now back to Nikon again. What prompted the reversal and how have you found it impacting your work (if at all)?
After decades of shooting professional Nikon cameras and lenses, in 2009 I decided to make the change to the micro 4/3 system. My first camera was the Panasonic GF-1 with the beautiful 20mm 1.7 lens. I was shifting away from carrying extremely heavy Nikon gear to a lighter platform with an amazing set of lenses at a very affordable cost. For the next 8 years I shot micro 4/3 cameras and lenses professionally and also for my personal work and for the most part, I loved the system. However, when the Nikon Df came out I remember visiting a local camera store and taking a look at the camera and I immediately thought that this might finally be the digital camera I have been looking for all these years. I finally changed systems just a couple of months ago. I do not know how to explain it, but I went back to my roots. I have found the Df to perform brilliantly in low light situations - something I shoot quite a bit of. It is much smaller and lighter than my last professional Nikon cameras, the D2H and D2x. I have assembled a great set of prime lenses and a couple of excellent zooms for documentary work. I am having a blast.
5. With all the changes in the technology of photography, how do you see things playing out in the next 10 years?
Despite my latest fling with the past, I see the photography world constantly moving, shifting and above all, constantly inspiring people to share their images world wide. Cell phone photography is the ultimate future, until that future is replaced it does not matter. We are all connected.
FZ: Tell us your story about photography - how did you come to be interested and then fully immersed in it?
AL: I’ve always been fascinated by photography. I remember early on, my parents had an old Polaroid 600 camera that they would let me use from time to time. Couldn’t really afford more than that at the time. Fast forward a few years and I start looking for creative outlets. I couldn’t draw, paint or really - do anything artistic... at least that is what I thought.
I all but gave up on anything creative. I was just documenting life with a Sony DSC-P51 point and shoot. I then met and started dating my soon to be wife. During one of our “getting to know you” dates, she asked what kind of interests I had. I mentioned photography and offered to show her some of what I had saved on the computer. I didn’t think much of it, but she really liked a lot of the images she saw and encouraged me to take it more seriously.
I had the opportunity to get a good deal on a Nikon N90s and 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 lens with SB-22 speed light. A pro photographer in my area was getting rid of some of her gear and sold the whole lot back in early 2000’s for $100. OK...I’m going to take this seriously! And I used that kit for quite a while. Saving up what I could, learning as much as I could from books and other photographers.
Then in 2005, I had just enough to upgrade my camera. A brand new Nikon D50. For a short time I used the old Nikon 35-70 from the N90s. Not satisfied with the range of the lens, I spent a little more and was able to finally afford a Tamron 28-200mm f/3.8-5.6. And for a few years I shot that kit everywhere. On vacations, our pets, family events. Loving the instant feedback. My learning curve increased almost overnight. I was learning more and more everyday about photography, gear, people….it was great. I wanted something faster, and took the recommendation of many and purchased a used Nikon 50mm f/1.8D.
Fast forward 2008. I’m honing my skills, getting better and confident enough to share my work outside of showing them to my wife. A co-worker talks to me about how expensive it is for senior pictures and wished there was an alternative. It spurred me to think about getting into the profession. I analysed everything, did the research and in an effort to provide the people in my area a lower cost alternative for portraits, I start my business, Best Light Photographic LLC in June 2008. Having studied many famous photographers, I took the name from a W. Eugene Smith quote, paraphrased “What is the best light? Any light that is available!”
From there I got jobs, enhanced the portfolio...but made the classic mistake. I tried to be everything for everyone. I was a jack of all trades, but never had the time to master any of them. Hell, I started out as the “available light” portrait guy. Struggled on some jobs because I didn’t know understand the importance and need for getting that little SB-22 off the camera or diffused. I still had a lot to learn. With the support of my family, I pushed through and learned what I needed to learn to be successful. I enhanced my knowledge not only of the gear I would need, but of the shooting techniques, people skills, business acumen.
Still going strong on the business front. Have some returning corporate clients, shoot lots of sports and events. Get some portrait work mainly during the senior school seasons. I’m actively looking for more creative ways of using photography….always moving forward, forever learning!
FZ: What are the most important lessons you have learned in photography?
AL: Everyone has something to teach you
No matter how experienced or inexperienced a person may seem - everyone has a story to tell and a way of doing things that we can learn from. I never dismiss anyone. Even if everything they do ends up not being successful, you have the opportunity to see what mistakes they made and use that as a learning tool for yourself. As the old saying goes, we learn more from the failures than the successes.
What I like as a photographer is not always going to align with what the client/viewer likes
I learned quite early on that what I find as an excellent image does not always fall in line with the expectations of the client or viewer. It taught me that photography really is art and art as a subjective thing is something that we all will have a different perspective on. Doesn’t mean one person is right or wrong, just different.
Don’t try to be everything to everyone (jack of all trades master of none)
I tried to shoot everything under the sun when I first started out. In a way it helped me weed out those things I like to shoot from those I didn’t. The nasty side effect being, though - I stretched too thin my capabilities and often over promised and under delivered. I was decent, but not good or great. Love for the art was lost in the mindset of I have to produce and make this successful without actually defining what success was, or better yet...having a poorly formulated definition. At first, success was defined as “was I getting paid”. I retooled my thinking into, “I need to produce a product that not only does the viewer/client like...but am I proud of what I’m producing. If I put out a quality product, the jobs will come.
I’m only limited by my imagination
Technical perfection is something that we all can achieve. The limit is not in the gear we use or the technology. The limit is what I can imagine. Nothing is out of the realm of possibility. If I can think it, I can create it!
Go Out Open and Empty and Visual Pushups - Jay Maisel
Jay Maisel is probably one of my favorite street photographers producing today. I first heard about Jay when I had a KelbyOne membership and started looking around the courses for street photography videos. The courses were not about gear, exposure settings but about theory, mindset, attitude. Just all kinds of wisdom bombs, if you will. For certain jobs, I have a set plan of what I want to get, usually at the direction of a client or art director. When shooting for me, for pleasure, I remember Jay’s quote - “go out open and empty”. In a nutshell, if you go out with a preconceived notion of what you want to get - let’s say it is a bicyclist going down the street - you would spend all your time looking for that and missing out on the 20 other great things that are going on. Let the flow of the world around you pull you into a direction and capture what is given to you. Another great one from Jay, is something I still do to this day. I never leave the house without a camera of some kind. I do my daily “visual pushups”. I exercise my brain to think photographically all the time. This way I do not get stale or complacent. I credit visual pushups and street photography for enhancing my professional photography because they both have been great tools in helping me learn to read people and situations. Have anticipation for when something might happen greatly increases your chances of getting a shot not only in the street, but at an event, during a wedding or reception.
I wrote a blog post about my thoughts on Jay Maisel. More in depth reading can be done at the link below if you are interested.
Develop a thick skin
No one likes to be told that they suck, their work is garbage. Sometimes it is, other times it may just be misunderstood or underappreciated. No matter!! Push through the nay sayers. Use their criticism to analyse your work, enhance it….make it better...make it even more different. Only through the continual evolution of your craft and artistic vision do you grow.
FZ: If you could travel anywhere tomorrow as a photojournalist to cover a story for National Geographic where would you go and why?
AL: Japan. I’ve always had a pull toward the far east. Even from an early age, I would watch the Kung Fu Theater on USA channel. PBS would play Seven Samurai and other Kurosawa films. I started my formal martial arts training at the age of 10. I studied Hapkido, Shotokan, and Judo. Digging deeper into the cultures, I studied Buddism, Taoism, Zen, Chinese, Japanese and Korean culture. I always seemed to have a pull there, but never had the opportunity to go and experience it first hand.
I’d love to go there and just experience the cultures from the big cities like Tokyo, to the smaller villages in the more remote prefectures. Not only would it be a great opportunity to take some great images, but I would be immersed into a culture that I know very well, but not intimately.
FZ: You’ve used a lot of different camera equipment since we have known you on FZ, tell us about your favourite and least favourite gear experiences.
I don’t think that I’ve had a lot of very bad experiences. Every system I’ve used has had their strengths and weaknesses and deciding between them was very difficult. If I had to pick, I’d say the most disappointing experience was with the early Fuji X system. I absolutely loved the image quality and the analog control systems. The overall system speed, auto focus speed and system quirks had me move away from it into the Micro Four Thirds camp.
My favorite experiences have come from my Nikon systems. My most favorite camera of all time is the Nikon Df. It just fits my personal shooting style and ethos very well. It has a wide range of capabilities of accepting lenses from all generations of Nikon glass. Followed closely behind the Df, is the olympus PEN-F. Having used many Micro Four Thirds cameras in a personal and professional manner, the PEN-F reminds me of a mirrorless version of my Nikon Df.
Most recently, I have been finding the joys in using manual focus lenses in Nikon F mount on both the Df and adapted to the Olympus PEN-F.
FZ: If you could pick 5 different photos from your work to be the only ones in your portfolio, which would you chose?
AL: Brian Shaw - Strongman. In the sports area, this image of one of the top Strongmen in the world, Brian Shaw, is one of my favorites. You see the power, the determination and the perceived ease at which this man dead lifted this tremendous weight.
Warrior Painter. This was a spec piece, with very specific requirements from the client. This work allowed me to use my own creativity to show an artist and their personality. This is how I prefer to shoot portraits. Not just a well lit image of the subject, but showing a part of them and their personality in the finished product.
The Wedding Kiss. 50 years ago, this couple married and decided to renew their vows. I was honored that they asked me to shoot their ceremony. The church gave great opportunity to use it’s colorful background to make the couples kiss memorable. The framing, lighting...everything just comes together so well. The couple loved this shot and is now living in their home as a large canvas.
Zombie. A local, annual event the Zombie Walk Columbus allows those who are interested in dressing up and walking the streets as a zombie the opportunity to do so. The event collects money and canned food for donation to a local food pantry. This image captivates me as we have the out of focus foreground element with the ominous zombie having spotted me in the background.
Dog In The Middle. What I think an interesting street photography shot should be. I like the monochrome conversion, the out of focus renderings as well as the depth of this image. The dog is the star, but would not be as interesting, IMHO, if the group was not encircling him.
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The second of our 5 Questions series is from none other than @Ann Shelbourne, who has become one of Fotozones most prolific members since first joining in 2009.
1. Why did you pick up a camera?
The first time that I ever handled a camera was when I was about nine: but I was cheated and only realised exactly how much later.
A Great Aunt, bearing a camera loaded with Kodacolor film, visited us. I asked if I could have a turn with her camera and was told: “Certainly you can — in a minute”. When she later sent us prints I couldn’t understand why none of my shots were included — the devious old so-and-so had finished and wound-off the film before letting me have my turn!
Someone must have noticed my interest because they bought me a Coronet box camera. I read the instructions and followed them very carefully and when all twelve shots on my first film turned out perfectly, I was hooked! (I still have all of those photographs.)
Soon dissatisfied with taking static snapshots (with the sun behind me), I tried action shots and indoors shots and, of course, the results were dreadful. The Coronet was not designed for those antics so a much better camera (with adjustable lens and shutter settings) was lent to me.
[Years later, when my own children wanted cameras, I remembered my frustration with that Coronet and bought them proper adjustable cameras from the start.]
Then I bought a book about Photography and discovered that it was possible to develop and print one’s own pictures — and my path forward was probably set in concrete (although the stained paintwork and towels in our bathroom-turned-darkroom were the somewhat unfortunate by-products of that adventure).
After School I was extremely fortunate to be granted a place on the Photography Course at the Guildford Art College where I could learn the correct way to do things and eventually I acquired a properly equipped darkroom of my own.
For me, it has always been the total hands-on experience of both taking and making my photographs which has mattered. I have consequently processed all of my own work from the beginning and have never used outside labs or photo-finishing services. It saved a lot of money too if I did the processing myself but, more importantly, doing my own processing and printing has always given me a lot of pleasure and a sense of achievement when I get the results that I am chasing.
2. What kind of photography brings you the most joy, and why that type?
Tackling any subject which is difficult or challenging; or which leads me to learn about the subject matter itself; or causes me to master a new technique; is the most fun and most stimulating.
It is the subject matter itself that fascinates me and makes me want to dive in and research it more deeply; and then I love being able to use the camera as a tool to portray its unique features and qualities and to tell its story as effectively as possible.
Projects of this kind have included the creation of several Museum exhibits where researching the subject, and writing the text, has been as much fun as taking and printing the photographs and then creating the supporting printed materials.
At one time I was deeply involved in photographing very fine antique silver, high-end jewellery and precious stones; bronze sculptures; and Middle Eastern antiquities. I consequently became fascinated by these lovely pieces and bought a lot of books on those subjects.
“The Sands of Time”: photographed for Topaz, Knightsbridge, London for a full-page ad. in Vogue
“The Last Golden Age of the Cameos 1890: ‘Satyr enjoying a nymph’ “.
One of many photographs which I shot for the Ad. campaign of Hancocks, London.
A Sassanian gold vessel (possibly an incense burner) circa 224-642 AD; shot for a London Gallery
Persian Ceramic circa 1000 BC. Translucencies formed by the glaze over burned-out rice-grains which had been embedded in the soft clay before firing.
I am always intrigued by how things are manufactured, in various industrial processes and in new technologies so I have been involved in many very varied projects for different industries. Most of them have been more pleasurable experiences than taking the photographs for the brochure which I created for a German manufacturer of Sludge Pumps.
[No, you do not need a graphic description of what Sludge Pumps do: suffice it to say that I felt that the Clients might find it appropriate to incorporate “Scratch and Sniff” patches in their brochure!]
Sludge Pumps in the Furnace Room in the Water Pollution Control Plant at Duffin Creek,Toronto.
Whether it’s about the unique aspects of a client’s product, his industry or a new technology; or whether it introduces me to the history and art of an ancient civilisation; or makes me want to know more about the plants and animals of the natural world; it makes no difference — I am excited by the mere chance to see, experience and learn about the new things to which the camera has drawn me.
I have photographed so many different things including complete ranges of products for catalogues and extended sets for editorials ranging from Horticultural supplies, operations in an Oil Exploration company’s Labs., Playground equipment, Wood-working tools, Hand-enamelled boxes, a unique hunting gun, Swedish glassware, and specialised machine tools — among many others.
Horticultural Products (one of a series shot while the growing-season progressed to Harvest).
“The Last Elephant Gun”: photographed for Holland & Holland in 1973 and now in a Texas museum.
Precision Machine Tool used for orbital head-forming and parts-assembling.
Perhaps my cameras have always led the way and I have just followed along; but those cameras have led both me, and my family, into some incredible journeys and global adventures in general. And (but only very recently and since the advent of fast and sophisticated DSLRs) into the pursuit of Wildlife photography and to fabulous expeditions to Africa and Asia.
I had signed-up for Dallas and Pepe’s very first NG Safari on the spur of the moment (which is the way that I am usually inclined to do things!) and then realised that I had absolutely zero experience in photographing wild animals and no suitable lenses either.
The first thing I did was to buy a membership-pass to the nearest Zoo; followed by the rental (and subsequent purchase) of my 200-400mm lens.
I practised diligently on the Zoo animals and was both surprised and delighted with the photographs which I obtained during that first trip to Africa and I think that I became hooked on Wildlife photography from that moment.
Wildlife photography has been particularly rewarding; not only because of the knowledge that I have accrued about the creatures themselves and the ecology and history of their territories; but also because of all the amazing and wonderful people from all around the World that I have met as a result.
Lioness and Cubs at Sabi Sabi in 2016,
Mud-wallowing Hippo on the Chobe River in 2015
3. If you were in charge of camera design at a major manufacturer describe the features and aesthetic of the flagship camera you would have made.
There would be nothing more for me to do: Nikon have already done it with their D5!
That camera is sheer perfection: it seems to be capable of photographing any subject, under any conditions, infallibly. Just handling that camera is thrilling. I have never owned such a superb machine before and I can think of nothing that I would change about its design.
On second thoughts, there is one small thing that I would change: that button on the back of all Nikons, including the D5, which is labelled “Quality”.
This dangerous button (which is not custom-programmable) is hazardous because it can lurch you into shooting JPEGs instead of RAW if you press it inadvertently in the dark—although at least on the D5 it is now illuminated at night.
4. What is the best photography assignment you have ever had as a professional?
One’s first big account always remains memorable and I was given the wonderful opportunity to roam freely around the huge Tate & Lyle sugar refineries in London in the early ‘60s photographing whatever I wanted in order to make a series of eye-catching colour cover photographs for their in-house magazine and for their Annual Report.
Unloading Raw Sugar from a barge on the River Thames in 1964.
When Tate and Lyle introduced new packaging, they asked to photograph one of their new displays in a Super Market together with some models. It was as a bit tricky because we could only have access to the shop during normal opening hours when we had to contend with customers who were trying to shop while we needed quite a lot of space for studio flash units, trailing electric cords, camera, live models and Tate & Lyle’s Product Manager.
A very confused two-year-old Julian being remonstrated with by his stage Mom for eating the sugar (which I had just told him to eat!). Nicola played the part of a superior Big Sister.
I always shot colour negative film and made my own colour prints which went totally against the accepted practice during the Film Era when virtually every other professional photographer shot all colour on Transparency film.
By working with prints I had total control over the final colour balance and, once the Separators and Plate Makers had been persuaded (rather firmly!) that this was the way it was going to be, my clients found that they got very accurate colour reproduction from my photographs so that is possibly why I was given so many great projects.
Another interesting job was shooting a series for the covers for a Lawyer’s magazine when I was given free rein to come up with whatever relevant ideas I could. These ranged from photographing Magna Carta, the Inns of Court in London and various accouterments which were part of the legal world.
The wig and robes of a High Court Judge. I arranged with his clerk to borrow them for photography but I am not sure if the Judge himself ever knew about it.
The book on the table was printed in 1599.
The wig and silk gown of a Queen’s Counsel Barrister.
Close-up of the top left corner of the Salisbury Magna Carta which lists the names of those present at the sealing of it by King John at Runneymede in 1215.
One extensive project involved me in photographing several hundred different historical objects which had been assembled for an exhibition in a New York Museum entitled “The Jewish Community in Early New York 1654-1800”.
A professional Exhibits Designers company had been hired by a prominent New York family to create a travelling photographic version of the exhibit and they commissioned me to take the photographs and make all of the colour prints — many of them as large as 30”x 40”.
The travelling version of this exhibition was first shown at the Hudson River Museum in New York before moving to Washington (where President Gerald Ford opened it). It then moved on to the Spoleto Festival and finally found a permanent home in Israel.
I learned so much about Display techniques from that company which later proved very useful when I was asked to design exhibits for museums and for Industrial Trade Expos.
Some of the panels in the photographic representation of the “The Jewish Community in Early New York 1654-1800” Exhibition.
I have been incredibly fortunate to have had so many very different projects over the years but the most satisfying have been those where I have been allowed almost unfettered control over the complete project from concept through all stages of production to delivery of the final materials.
This has involved me in complete advertising and marketing campaigns from the preliminary basics of designing the Logo and company stationery; establishing the marketing thrust; dealing with all aspects of publicity and promotion including the design and construction of booths for Trade Expos, preparation of press releases, building of web sites and production of Print materials together with all the necessary photography and copy-writing along the way.
One example of that was when SSMC (Singers) asked us to produce everything needed to launch their new invention: a system for remotely monitoring the state of the batteries which are used to fire-up generators during a power-outage.
This very utilitarian product consisted of a distinctly unprepossessing black plastic box and a translucent white Tupperware container attached to a probe!
First,the product needed a name and then to be registered and trade marked. Once we had done that, we designed a Logo which could scale to be used on everything from Business Cards, letterheads and on the sides of trucks.
Next I shot night-time photographs of the sorts of places which must never lose power and which depend on reliable generators. Locations included a hospital, the control tower of an international airport, a shopping mall, a high-rise residential building and a high-security jail. (This series led to a few exchanges with security police who were very concerned as to why I was prowling around such places with a camera in the dark!).
We then designed and produced brochures, Direct-mailing pieces, press advertising, press releases and a booth for Industrial Expos.
Just two plastic boxes . . . with some fairly sophisticated circuitry inside them.
The PowerAlert Booth on set-up day at the International Electric & Electronic Expo at the Jacob Javits Center in New York.
It is fairly unusual for a photographer to be allowed that amount of freedom but for the past 40 years that has been the situation in nearly all of my commissions.
This came about because my husband and I always seemed to get ourselves deeply involved in the other one’s activities so it was probably inevitable that I got drawn into his work for the clients of his Advertising Agency.
I have always felt that it was essential to have a total understanding of the next man’s job so that I could hand-off my work in the way that best fits his requirements in the chain of production.
I soon realised that I needed to acquire a thorough knowledge of Colour Separations, Pre-Press production, paper stocks, inks and coatings, and the actual running of an Offset printing press because, only by understanding these things, could I be sure that I co-ordinated everything between the different trades and coaxed their very best work from them and could also ensure on-time delivery for the Agency’s clients.
That inevitably led to me to take responsibility for far more than just the photographic part of the job and consequently I have always made a point of being “On-Press” (with my 10x loupe in my hand and with my nose almost in the ink-troughs!) when my jobs run.
When Offset Litho Printing “went digital” in the late eighties, I quickly realised that I needed to master the new technology and that catapulted me into the world of electronics: first with computerized PhotoType-Setting machines and then professional Graphic Arts software. This was the catalyst for my continuing fascination with the industry’s on-going growth and development.
I continued to shoot only on film until 2008 because, until the arrival of the Nikon D3, digital cameras could not begin to match the results which I could get from Film.
The complication with shooting on film before the invention of Photoshop was that all of the objects and lighting effects had to be perfect when you fired the shutter as no compositing after the event was possible!
Most of the images included in this article were shot on film and are scans of the prints which I made at the time they were shot.
5. If for any reason you couldn’t take photos anymore, what would you do to occupy your time?
I have so many interests, and have explored so many different tools and technologies over the years, that I cannot imagine ever being at a loss for things to do — although I would definitely miss being able to use a camera.
I love growing things, making things and fixing things. I am keenly interested in, and involved in, the development of software for the graphic arts. I get enormous pleasure from the Visual Arts (classical) but I also follow new developments in the Sciences with considerable interest.
Distant countries (and their traditions and their cultures) have always been a magnet and I love learning more about them — preferably by actually going there.
I read a lot — not only technical manuals (although I do read a lot of those too!) but also anything factual (including biographies) although almost no Fiction.
I reckon that I am addicted to collecting what most people would consider to be “Useless Information”; and I also like to write.
I am one of those lucky people who are never bored — and no day ever seems to be quite long enough.
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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.
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!
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