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Archive for July, 2010

When the big (and reluctant) switch to digital came for me, I decided to go with a medium format back instead of 35 mm setup. The price difference was a strong argument for the small format but I really loved working with the larger, slower cameras and the “big occasion” feeling they bring to a shoot. I also like how things just have a slightly different feel with the longer lenses needed to cover the same view. Unfortunately I still think that the medium format sensors are pretty close to not worth it since they’re not even 645. I wish they would finally come out with a 6×6 or 6×7 sensor, real medium format, and it wouldn’t even need a gazillion mega pixels.

But anyway, I bit the bullet and got a Phase One P25 with a Mamiya RZ adapter from Dave Gallagher at Capture Integration (highly recommended).

After I exchanged a very large portion of my bank account for a very small metal cube that I didn’t even really want, I felt an inexplicable feeling of anxiety and decided to calm my nerves (and blow some more money) by visiting a friend in Salt Lake City for a little skiing.

On a heavy legs day I checked out Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. I was absolutely blown away by the beauty of that place. It looked like something out of “Lord of the Rings” and there was one of these great Western storms approaching. I took some pictures and was pretty much all thumbs. I took the back off the camera to change from horizontal to vertical and was immediately hit by a good old dust cloud. Fumbeling like the absolute beginner that I was, it took me forever to get the back back on. Fortunately there was no permanent damage done to the sensor, and things started to go much more smoothly in the P25 department soon after, but retouching approximately 764 dust spots was a pretty special way to start the digital era.

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© Irving Penn

From the Visual Research Dept.:  When I was around 16 or 17 and I just started to toy with the idea of becoming a professional photographer, traveling the globe with my two tiny Leicas, splitting time between shooting Supermodels on tropical beaches, taking portraits of the high and mighty and documenting the occasional war, I came across this mysterious picture in a magazine.  I had no idea who Irving Penn was and probably forgot his name again within seconds.  But the image was such a mind-bender for me that I kept the magazine and when the local photo studio (Foto Klotz) had a sale on having any picture you wanted enlarged to any size you wanted, I brought in the magazine and had the the image enlarged to the biggest size I could afford.  I hung it up in my room and many times I marveled at the photographer who could arrange four mostly naked, scary looking guys into a giant pretzel, make it look cool, and keep their dignity fully intact. Just as often I wondered who these four guys were.

Well, years later I found out a bit about the athletic foursome. They were Emil, Ernie, Rudy and Wally Dusek, aka The Dusek Riot Squad, aka The Nebraska Riot Squad, aka The Dirty Duseks.

They were brothers (except for Wally) from Omaha, Nebraska who became successful traveling wrestlers in the first half of the 20th century. Their motto was : Never a dull match with a Dusek. And there is plenty of evidence that they weren’t kidding.

There was this clip in a Time Magazine article from 1935:

“In Boston, Rudy Dusek watched Brother Ernie wrestle an Irishman named Dan O’Mahoney. When O’Mahoney got the decision, Rudy Dusek jumped into the ring, tried to assault the referee, started a free-for-all among the seconds. In addition to helping his brother, Rudy Dusek performed in five bouts of his own last week.
In Camden, N. J., a few nights after the bout in Boston, Ernie Dusek wrestled Gino Garibaldi. A spectator in the balcony hurled down a chair which hit Ernie Dusek on the head. He was hospitalized.”

And this description on the “Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame” website:

Their style was rough and rougher. “They were big, rugged guys. They weren’t smooth workers, there weren’t a lot of smooth workers back then compared to the way these guys are so articulate today,” said Nick Bockwinkel, whose father Warren battled them often.

“The Dusek brothers, Rudy and Ernie, left their bruises on me. They had done all the damage to my ears it was possible to do, so they concentrated on pounding me into a docile hunk,” said Paul Boesch in his autobiography.

The Dusek Brother portrait that originally ran in Vogue was this one:

showing that even back then the best images didn’t necessarily make it into the magazine.

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We finally ended our road trip through Turkey in Istanbul where I found the name for this project.

At the Topkapi Palace is an impressive portrait gallery of the original Sultans, the Ottoman rulers of yore, and there was just no denying the resemblances of faces and postures between the subjects of the old paintings and the men we had just photographed.

Like most people who are groovy with Democracy, I’m not big on the concept of royalty, as a matter of fact it creeps me out quite a bit.   However, many of the common men we photographed had a quiet dignity that came across as noble.  The more I thought about it the more I had fun envisioning the new Sultans as working farmers, shepherds and fisherman instead of inheritors of power and wealth.


These paintings were often done by Italian artists like Bellini whose portrait of Sultan Mehmet II is at the top of this page.
As we were walking through Istanbul’s great bazaar in the following days we found simple hand drawn copies of these portraits on pages cut out of old books. We bought one of  Mehmet II, a ruler famous for conquering Constantinople, an event that eventually marked the divide between the middle ages and (more) modern times.

Another portrait we purchased was of AbdulHamid II, who was one of the later Sultans.  He was not exactly known for his skillful governing, but rather for escaping dozens of attempts on his life. He was also such a cruel, murderous ruler that he earned himself the nick name “The Red Sultan”. But who can stay mad at a guy wearing a fez. I know I can’t.

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Third day:

After Cerali we drove along the coast and worked our way to Palamutbükü, a small sea side town on the Datca peninsula. Again we asked about a local assistant at the pension we stayed at and again the guy we asked, Fehmi was his name, volunteered to do the honors.

And just like the other two he worked out splendidly. He took us on some small roads up the hills of the peninsula and the first guy we saw was this nonagenarian sitting in a plastic chair in front of his house watching the (few) cars go by while his family worked in the front yard.

He was the oldest man we shot for the project. His eyes were very cloudy and he could barely see. Apart from that he was not able to sit on the Tenba case without a backrest and so we photographed him in his own plastic chair. We propped him up high enough so we didn’t see the backrest and stabilized the chair from behind with a Tenba case to make sure it wouldn’t tip over. He took all the proceedings in stride and kept himself busy by flirting with Susie. And you know he was good at that, just check out his dapper cap adornment.

Further up the road we set up shop near the tea house. The quality of light was very different from the first two shoots. The natural light in Anatolia and on the mountain top was clean and heavy, here near the coast it was lighter and had a translucent haziness. It’s not easy to describe but I think it can be seen in the photographs. Even though I don’t try to hide the fact that I’m using a good amount of strobe, I always try to adjust my light to the ambient and not go completely against the mood.

This next guy was a bit of a revelation. He was one of the people who really didn’t stand out to me at first glance. He wore a baseball cap and I nearly overlooked him, but once in front of the camera he just transformed and his portrait is one of my favorites from this series.

Towards the end of the day Fehmi took us to his home village and again we set up outside the tea house.

Here I’m trying to break the ice with a fish story…..

….and it worked.

This gent below was probably the most difficult model of the trip, he was very impatient and not too pleased with the process but still agreed to have his picture taken, and I’m very happy he did.  His haughty attitude and impeccable style wrestle with the sweat stained collar of his old shirt and create their own stories.

After that we packed up, backed up, drove to the coast, went for a swim and I had myself a wrap party.

Back in New York  came the boring part:  I turned the project into a Magcloud magazine (OK, that was still fun). But without the benefit of email (our models were seriously behind the bend on the technology curve)  I had to print 11×14’s for everybody we photographed on the trip, then Susie and I spent hours deciphering cryptic handwriting to figure out everybody’s addresses (there is something to be said for clear and thorough record keeping), and then I mailed everybody a print and a magazine.

The Sultans-Magcloud Magazine

The Sultans-Issuu

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