Archive for June, 2010

Second day:

After Cappadocia we traveled on to the southern coast where we stayed in a little village named Cerali. We asked Ali, the owner of the pension we stayed at, if he could recommend a local helper and he volunteered to do it himself. After walking around Cerali for a day we got the strong impression, that old men were in short supply and Ali explained to us that the older population leaves the sea side for the mountains during the summer, but that he knew where to find them. After a few days of swimming and lounging, Susie, Ali and I made for the hills. We climbed about 1600 meters ( 5250 ft) during a 45 minute drive which led to some nervous giggles amongst the non-locals.

The first people we met on the mountain top were Mehmet and his wife, who graciously invited us for tea in their “summer shack” before we started setting up.

Field Editing Station:

As our shoot with Mehmet was winding down, we saw 2 gentlemen drive by in a pick-up truck. Tied up in the back was a stately billy goat. Ali flagged down the car and asked Yusuf and (another) Ali if they would have their portraits taken. Without any questions or hesitation the two got out of the cab and climbed on the cargo bed where they immediately started posing with their (very impressive) angora goat.

I snapped a few frames with my Canon G10 and was seriously considering bringing the lights over for this scene, but I quickly decided against it. I usually try to start with the stuff that’s most important to me especially when I shoot “real” people. You always have to expect a short attention span and if you don’t get what you want in the beginning you might not get it at all.

Shooting on that mountain was one of the highlights of this trip. We would have never found this place on our own and the people we met during the shoot were interesting, gracious and very hospitable. At it’s best photography is a door into another world that you would not find without it. Plus: Another great thing was that they did their own styling.

The Sultans-Magcloud Magazine

The Sultans-Issuu

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I’m always fascinated by how some ideas percolate in the back of one’s mind before they find the right outlet.

I took these 2 portraits in 2007 during a stock production in India (more about this in a future post) and even though I liked what I was getting during the shoot, I didn’t think too much off them until I got home. Without really knowing why, I kept being drawn to these 2 images in edit after edit.

I printed them up and taped them to the wall next to my desk where I kept an eye on them for about 2.5 years.

Last September my girlfriend and I decided to spend our vacation doing a road trip through Turkey. Obviously a vacation is always a great time to work and so I decided to bring my camera and a set of lights.

I met my friend and Corbis AD Tobias Prasse for dinner a few days before departure and he generously offered to loan me his lights for the trip. This would make it my regular 2 packs/ 4 heads set-up. For a little while I was tempted to stick with just my set, since one 7b outfit is already a substantial schlepp, but Tobie quickly talked sense into me. Something along the line of “If you gonna take pictures, you might as well take your kind of pictures.”. He’s a good dad and clearly he was right.

We did some damage control by not bringing spare batteries but otherwise accepted the idea of traveling heavy.

One thing we probably all can agree on is that air travel is in a very sorry state and the American carriers might be among the worst of the bunch. So, my priorities are usually 1) get a direct flight and 2) with a non-American airline and 3) for a reasonable price. The direct flight is paramount since my anecdotal evidence shows that any stop-over represents a 20% chance of your bags getting send to purgatory.

Anyway, we went 3 for 3 and got a reasonable direct flight with Turkish Airways. We took a car service to JFK, paid for excess baggage, went through the usual check-in cluster-f, and were on our way.

We flew into Istanbul, rented a Renault Megane Diesel (which really helped us save on gas quite a bit ) and made our way to Cappadocia. After settling in a bit and checking out the area for a few days, I was itching to start the photo project. The problem was though that I still wasn’t sure what the project would be.

We were hanging out on the horse ranch of a friend’s friend and asked him if he could find us a local guy we could hire to translate and assist. He recommended Sedat, a young guy working with the horses, who turned out to be perfect for the job. He was highly energetic, charming, not shy at all and a quick learner.

When in doubt I would always consider myself a portraitist first and so I decided to start driving around with Susie and Sedat and see who we could find to take pictures of. I’ve always been interested in portraits of men and Turkey has such a patriarchal society that it made sense to explore that angle. We photographed this young guy first…

and then this older guy….

and then it all snapped into place.

Looking at the older man through my lens the India portraits started to make total sense. I realized that what I liked about them was that the men carried their age in a way that’s all but extinct in western societies. In the US and Europe just about everybody tries to be between 25 and 35. No matter if you’re a five year old girl or a seventy year old man you try to hit that sweet spot as fast as possible and stay there as long as you can. This is also true for fashion. A little girl and her grandmother might both dress like Byonce or a 4 year old boy and his 70 year old granddad might wear the same kind of shorts, sneakers and t-shirt without ever being considered strange.

In Turkey the old men looked like old men, and there was no air of defeat about them.

They also had great style even when their clothes were old and worn. Almost all of these guys were tough and skinny, and you could read their history in the lines of their faces.

I had my project.

We drove on to the next town and saw 2 or 3 oldtimers hang out at the town square. We set up our lights in a spot where we could easily rotate for 2 different good backgrounds and once we were ready to shoot, Sedat approached the men and explained to them what we were trying to do. They were a bit skeptical at first but finally decided to help a fellow out and once we could show the first portrait on the computer we had no problems convincing other men to sit for us.

What also helped was that a lot of these Anatolians spend time as guest workers in Germany when they were young and so I could talk to quite a few of them without Sedat translating.

After the town square we went to a more rural part trying to find a few men that Sedat knew from his horse rides. We drove a few miles on dirt roads and the first one we met was this shepherd with his flock of goats. He was in his early forties and the youngest in this project.

Trunk editing station:

The next stop we made was at a little cabin that was used by father and son beekeepers. It was on a beautiful spot of land near the Avanos river where they kept around 180 (!!) beehives. The portrait of the father became one of my favorites….

and we got a snack of honey that was nothing short of incredible.

We drove through a little town where we saw some prime candidates for our shoot sitting in the tea house but by now the sun was getting pretty low and we couldn’t find a decent location with good light in easy walking distance for the old men. So we decided to drive some more on the dirt roads around town to look for the last shot of the day and we came across this man who was riding on his tractor. He was working on a nearby construction site and told us, he would sit for us but had only a few minutes.

We hustled to set up our kit in record time, but as soon as he saw that there were 4 lights plus a large camera pointing at him, he told us, we could take all the time we want. I guess everybody likes a little Hollywood.

The Sultans-Magcloud Magazine

The Sultans-Issuu

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© Jamie Warren

I met Julie Grahame a few years ago at a portfolio review, which felt like a very mild waste of time until I sat down at her table at the very end of the shindig. She was sharp, insightful, articulate, and very funny. A few months ago she started aCurator.com, a wonderful and highly entertaining online showcase for photography. So here, without further ado, is the The Heavy Light’s first guest blog written by the curious Julie Grahame:

I’ve always fancied publishing a magazine, having a desire to show more images than regular magazines do, and since I know a lot of interesting photographers I felt I could launch something with content that people would really enjoy. No bells or whistles, not much editorializing, just fabulous content. aCurator came about because Mike Hartley, owner of bigflannel web design and luckily also my husband, was brilliant enough to develop something straightforward for me to use which is gorgeous to look at. Photographers were really into being published in ZOOZOOM (full screen fashion magazine, launched in 2000, Webby Award winning, visionary, which Mike ran for a few years and latterly I worked for) so I thought I probably wouldn’t have trouble getting features from new contributors. And, happily, I was right. aCurator has brought some wonderful people back into my life (including yourself, Dirk) and a bunch of new contributors with whom I’m thrilled to have developed relationships.

© Ashok Sinha

It launched a few weeks ago and I’ve had new submissions daily; I’m still working out what schedule makes sense for viewers – one feature a week, or two? Thanks to Google Analytics I get plenty of data to muse upon. It’s important to me that I also have a blog, so I can publish more than I would put in the magazine itself. So far, the feature that has brought the most traffic is M. Sharkey’s ‘Queer Kids’.

© M. Sharkey

I’m asked what’s important in a photo and I find it a difficult question to answer – I go very much on my gut, but I can critique for a photographer pretty well. I’ve been in the photo biz for 20 years now, I’ve seen a whole lot of photographs; I want them to tell me something, make me feel something. Inevitably, there are some days that are utterly uninspiring and humorless, but I work on other stuff too so I can always take a break from aCurator and hope that tomorrow doesn’t bring children or animals.

© Leland Bobbe

As far as what I want to see, though, I’m really open to all kinds of work. As much as I like consistency, I will look at different styles from one photographer, but I do crave some info about the work – always nice and often lacking. Give me some sense of who you are; naturally, I try to do some research, but it’s almost like looking for staff – why, out of 100 resumes that are kind of similar, should I call YOU in for an interview? I don’t care how established you are, or not. For a good example, a British guy named Max Colson sent me an email explaining his interest in photojournalism, included a statement about his photo-video project, links to it and to his stills portfolio, and asked for feedback as to whether I thought he could be a fit for aCurator. Max is going in my blog, and hopefully in the magazine itself soon. I’m particularly interested in personal projects that the photographer has not published elsewhere and that would benefit from viewing in this format – I think of it as the best online tear sheet you’re likely to have for some time!

© Rob Hann

I could spend my entire work week on aCurator, but until it’s making some kind of income I can’t afford to do so. My aim right now is to develop a bigger mailing list and get a lot more viewers so that it is something I can market. Print sales, sponsorship, I think there are more opportunities to come.

© Dirk Anschutz

© Simon Larbalestier

You mentioned things like making difficult decisions, staying creative; I believe I am a good editor, it’s something I love to do, so if the hardest decision I have to make is whether to run 5, 6, 8, or 12 images from one contributor, I’m happy to have that problem! Staying creative, well, thanks to all you brilliant artists, I don’t have really have to. Mike is creative as far as the building and design of the site, he is always thinking about development, so I need to keep the magazine fresh to secure his creative input.

Julie Grahame.

© Yousuf Karsh


aCurator Blog

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On June 11th the wait will finally be over. 32 teams from all over the planet will meet in South Africa to figure out which nation will be on top of the soccer heap for the next 4 years. The best players will try everything to become legends. Ordinary people will strut like roosters if their team is winning or lose every last ounce of self esteem if their country can’t make it out of the group phase. Productivity levels all over the world will be way down. Good times.

Much, much further down the skill ladder I have been playing New York City soccer and it has been nothing short of a great experience. For years I’ve been playing every Wednesday at the edge of Chinatown in a game that was started by English, Irish and Scottish bartenders and has since expanded to include a regular cast of footballers from Mexico, Brazil, Australia, China, Sweden, Vietnam, the United States, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Columbia, Turkey, Austria, France, Germany (of course) and maybe even the occasional Welshman.

Beside the obvious benefits of exercise, comradery and acquaintance with bar-tenders, the game has also been a great source of models, for all sorts of shoots, for me. A lot of soccer players know how to move, and quite a few know how to act. Especially the Italians.

In the picture above I photographed Hassan, a very skilled Moroccan striker and Peter, a tough Irish midfielder during a stock shoot for Getty.

We shot at a studio with a cement floor cushioned by an extra thick futon mattress, that’s why we needed a tough guy for the flying header.
We lit the place with a mix of Pro Acutes and Elinchromes. The flash duration was a bit on the slow side, so we got a tiny amount of motion blur which I like better than the completely frozen look. The 2 players were shot separately and combined in Photoshop. The camera was a Rollei 6003 with an 80 mm lens and we shot on Kodak NC 160.

Enjoy the World Cup and let’s all hope the German team wins.

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From the Visual Research Dept.: In case you haven’t been invited to the party, you might have missed it, but it was Clint Eastwood’s 80th birthday this week. I’m obviously stating the obvious here, but the man wrote a very large chapter of the book on looking good, cool, and masculine. There is a lot a photographer can learn by watching how Clint moves, stands, strums a guitar, squints, or swings from a chandelier.

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This is the first interview on The Heavy Light, and I’m happy that I got my good friend Juergen Frank to be the first photographer answering a bunch of questions here.

Juergen was the photo editor for German Elle before he moved to New York “with a strong German accent” to start his photography career 15 years ago. He’s very versatile and works equally well in portraiture, architecture and travel. He really knows how to make people look good, and has become the go-to guy for quite a few German magazines when they need a celebrity portrait. He works for a wide spectrum of publications from very glamorous to bread and butter.

When we started talking about doing this interview, he was scheduled to photograph John Irving (one of my favorite writers) at his house in Vermont for the news weekly “Der Spiegel” and we decided to discuss this shoot for the blog.

DA: When did you first hear about this shoot?

JF: The photo editor Susan Wirth first contacted me 2 days before the shoot and it got confirmed 1 day before.

DA: Did you do any research on John Irving and if yes how?

JF: My first step is usually to check on Wikipedia and Google. I also try to find video footage of the subject so I can see what gestures and expressions they use. How physical they are.

DA: Have you read anything by John Irving before?

JF: I read the Cider House Rules after I’d seen the movie. I liked the story a lot, more than his style of writing. His language is very factual, not my personal preference.

DA: What equipment did you bring?

JF: We brought 2 Profoto Acutes, 3 heads, 2 big and 2 small light stands, 2 6 ft. umbrellas, 1 medium softbox and a Scrim Jim with different fabrics. The camera was a Phase One 645 with a P45 +. The lenses we used were the 35mm, 55mm and 80mm (with a +1 close-up filter). We also shot some pics with the Canon G11.

DA: Did you rent anything, or was this all your own equipment?

JF: (Laughs) Budgets are tight, the client doesn’t pay for rentals.

DA: What briefing did you get from the magazine?

JF: They needed an environmental portrait in his office (both vertical and horizontal), a close-up, a picture of his writing desk, a photo of John Irving during the interview and a shot of him with the writer for “Der Spiegel”. (It is quite common with German publications to send the writer and the photographer out at the same time. )

DA: So, tell me how the day unfolded.

JF: My assistant Patty Willis met me at my apartment at 6:30 am. We picked up the car at 7:00 am. I don’t like to do the driving before the shoot, so Patty drove on the way up. We arrived in Vermont at 12:30 pm. Had lunch and met John Irving at 3:00 pm. The writer for the magazine was there as well.

DA: How much time did you have with John Irving?

JF: All together we had about 1 hour and 25 minutes, but that included the interview. After we met John Irving we had about 1 hour and 10 minutes to location scout, set up, take a picture of his desk and do the pics during the interview (for that we used the G11). It’s very important to ask in the beginning if they have another appointment after the shoot, or if they are a little flexible with their time. Irving had a tennis lesson afterwards, so we knew he wouldn’t be able to give us a lot of extra time.

We went to his office and I decided to photograph him with a giant, well-used encyclopedia that is positioned next to his desk. We started the prelight with a 6 ft. umbrella, but realized pretty fast that that spilled way too much light onto the background and so we switched to the softbox. I aimed for a darker background to reflect the mood of his latest book.

We tested the light on Patty, who’s skin is darker than John’s and on me, who’s skin is lighter and kind of split the difference. We positioned the light close to his face and made sure there would be a nice fill light bouncing back from the side wall, but no reflections from the glass frames in the background.

Once we had everything set up, I went to take the interview shots, but even if that wasn’t necessary I always try to catch a few minutes of the interview to see how the subject moves, and if he reacts quickly or slowly to the questions. That usually gives me an idea about the pace of my shoot later and how many pictures I might be able to get.

When John finally came to the set I was considering asking him to put on another shirt, but decided not to because it showed him still as an athlete, the bright red kind of worked, and it would have cost us another few valuable minutes. We needed about 3 or 4 minutes to adjust the light for him and then we started shooting. He laughed a lot and it wasn’t easy to get him to look serious.

After 10 minutes on set he had to leave for his tennis lesson, but he offered that we could come along and take more pictures of him there. From the location scout I knew that there was a small wooden shack and a green wooden wall for practicing his tennis shots. We had maybe another another 5 minutes with him at these locations. We shot natural light and untethered.

At this point the problem is that they’re already (mentally) gone from the shoot and I have to see how much talking I can do to keep them there a little longer without pissing them off. How many times can you say: ” Five more frames.” ?

DA: Was there anything about him that stood out for you during the shoot?

JF: The nicest thing he said was that I can take any picture I want. In a sense he’s not vain. Having said that , the house is full of pictures of him, many taken by his friend Mary Ellen Mark. He definitely likes to have his picture taken, but he doesn’t care what he looks like in it. And he was ready to laugh.

DA: When did you guys get back to the city?

JF: Around midnight.

DA: Thanks a lot for this interview.

Juergen’s website

Juergen’s rep

All images in this post © Juergen Frank

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