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.
Michael Erlewine is a long time member and contributor to the material found on Fotozones.
1. Tell us about your journey in photography. Where did you begin and where do you think you might end up?
In 1956 my father, who was an amateur photographer loaned me one of his cameras for a six-week journey around the country with kids my age in several school buses. The camera was a Kodak Retina 2a, along with a light meter, some close-up lenses, and a small tripod. I was shooting 35mm slide film. When I came back from the trip and Dad had the rolls of film developed, he was shocked at how good they were. So, that was the beginning. I was 14 years old.
I was trained as a naturalist, a herpetologist, specializing in salamanders and was very active in that until late in my teens. That also required some field-guide type of photography. I have had cameras most of my life, including early (and current) video cameras, 4K, etc. I see photography as an attempt to capture impressions. I have run a meditation center where we live since the 1980s and somewhat early-on I mixed what is called Insight Meditation with my photography, so the process of taking photos is more important to me than the resulting photos.
2. Your close-up work appears to be very technically challenging. What has been the most complex project you have done in terms of input?
I once photographed 33,000 concert rock posters for a project. It took a couple of years. I built my own vacuum table and light setup, etc. Otherwise, most of my work is still life, close-up (not macro), and requires a fair amount of patience, since I sometimes stack 150 images into a single photo. I live in mid-Michigan on the edge of the Manistee National Forest, some 900,000 acres of woods, etc. We have cold winters, so I split my time being outside in the summer, but inside during most of the winter. I have a small studio in my home and a large studio about one block from where I live.
3. Of all the cameras you have used, including film, which is your favourite and why?
That would be the Nikon D810, because of its low ISO of 64 and fairly-usable LiveView. I have never even used the Optical Viewfinder, except to check that it works. I specialize in APO (apochromatic) lenses, lenses that are highly corrected for the various aberrations. I also do a considerable amount of my work on technical cameras, my Nikon D810 mounted on the Cambo Actus, a small technical camera with most of the various movements, like tilt/shift and swing. I have a good-sized collection of industrial lenses, like the Printing Nikkors, Noct Nikkor, various special enlarger lenses, and the like. I also have a new Hasselblad X1d mini Medium-Format camera that looks like it is going to produce very good images, so I am working with that.
4. What gear do you recommend for somebody who perhaps would like to do macro/close up photography but isn’t able to afford the specialist exotic lenses and bellows setups?
Those on a budget might do well by getting something like the Nikon 7100/7200 camera (a small DSLR) and a lens like the Micro-Nikkor 105mm VR or Micro-Nikkor 60mm lenses. I very much believe good equipment is a big help, so I am not going to tell you to just use any old camera, tripod, head, or lenses. Own something that you are proud of and that can produce really excellent images. In my opinion, that really helps.
5. What is the best piece of photographic advice you ever received that you can pass on?
Follow your own sensitivities as far as creating photographic impressions. Do something that pleases you, rather than for others. Plus, post-processing usually demands more time than taking the photos. I have a number of free books, articles, and videos on photography, which are available here.
Here is the best advice I know of:
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins came up with a concept that struck me as true. He even made up his own word to describe it, “inscape.” Inscape was to Hopkins an insight into the eternal or beautiful, literally the way or sign of the beautiful. Let me explain.
I look forward to my trips out into the fields and woods. They offer me a chance to get my head together, to relax from the day-to-day grind of running a business and generally to relax a bit. This is not to say that just going outside and walking in nature means that I am instantly relaxed. That usually takes time.
It is the same with taking photos. In the first ten minutes of a morning shoot I often don’t see all that much to photograph. This too takes time, time for me to slow down, open up, and ‘see’, to let the natural beauty all around me in. It could be that I am still filled with all the workaday-world thoughts, the things I have to do, problems, and what-have-you. It takes time for my mind to relax and let go of its constant chatter. This endless worry and thinking affects my photography.
And here is where the word ‘inscape’ comes in. As I get out there and wander through the fields or wherever, I gradually start to slow down and gradually I begin to see things that are beautiful, scenes that I might actually want to photograph. Slowly my view of the natural world around me starts to open up again and I begin to view things differently. I begin to ‘see’. It takes time and usually does not happen all at once. This little pattern of leaves over here or the way the light comes through the forest canopy, grabs me just a little bit, and the chatter of my mind begins to pause and slows. As I continue to walk along, some little thing or scene appears beautiful to me; I am touched by it, however lightly at first. I gradually get distracted from my daily distractions and begin to center. I wake up.
These little moments are ‘inscapes’, ways out of my mundane world of distractions and into the beauty of nature or, more accurately, back into the state of my own mind or being. As I take my time, I am able to see the beauty in things once again, and what I am seeing suddenly seems worth photographing. Like most of us, I photograph what catches my interest, what I find beautiful or worthy in the world around me.
These inscapes are signals that catch my attention, and they flag me down on my busy way forward to nowhere-in-particular. These moments and signs are how I stop going nowhere, and manage to almost miraculously arrive somewhere once again, perhaps only at my own peace of mind. This is one of the functions of the beautiful, to catch us in the turmoil of life, flag us down, and induce us to pull over and take a moment of rest. Time out.
These moments of inscape are different on different days, and different for different people. They represent the clues or signs that catch our attention and show us the way into the beauty of the natural world, actually into the beauty of our own mind. Another way of saying this might be: what is beauty actually? What happens when we see something beautiful?
Beauty is not simply somewhere out there in nature waiting to be found, but always here within us, locked within us, we who are seeing this nature, we who can now see the beautiful. Beauty breaks down the rush of the everyday world and opens our heart a wee bit, making us vulnerable again, open to experience and input.
Through natural beauty we go inside and experience the inner beauty of things, which is none other than our own inner beauty. That is what beauty is for, to be touched on, seen, so that we find once again the beauty within our own hearts that we may have lost through the distractions of our daily life. We look outside in nature to see in here, to see into our own heart once again.
We can be sensitive to beauty in our photography. I would hate to tell you how many photographs I have of this or that butterfly or critter that are perfectly good photographs, but are empty of magic or meaning. They are well lit, well composed, and have everything that makes a good photograph except that ‘magic’ that keys or excites me. Instead, they are ‘pictures’ of a butterfly, but they have not captured any essence of anything. They might as well be in a field guide – snapshots in time with no meaning and for no one.
The reason for this, so I tell myself, is because they just happened to be there, photographic opportunities. I saw them and I took a photograph, but at the time they did not instill or strike any particular beauty in me. This, to me, is what I call “gotcha” photography, taking a photo because I can, not because I saw beauty in it or was moved to do so. There was no inscape moment, no moment of vision – snapshots only.
I find that it is really worth paying attention to what strikes me as beautiful or meaningful and photographing that, rather than just photographing the Grand Canyon because it is there or I am there. A lasting photograph, in my opinion, requires more of me than that, by definition. It has to mean something to me and, for that to happen, I need to actually be moved or inspired. Photographs that have special meaning for me usually have some form of inscape into a special moment that inspires me to capture the scene in a photo.
We can wander for miles looking for something to photograph, chasing down this or that butterfly or animal… searching. Or, we can slow down and let nature herself show us the signs, the inscapes through which we can relax and begin to ‘see’ naturally and photographically once again. We can listen to our own intuition. This process of inscape, of insight into the sublime in nature (the sublime within ourselves) I find to be the key to good photography and to creating photographs that are real keepers, at least in my mind.
If we don’t touch our own inner self in our work, we touch no one at all, but when we are touched by a moment, I find that others also feel this. Touch one, touch all.
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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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