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Archive for the ‘Lighting’ Category

Dietmar Busse is (primarily) a fine-art photographer living in a one bedroom walk-up in that nondescript neighborhood around lower Lexington Avenue. His apartment has become the set of an amazing series of portraits that he calls “The Visitors”.

In the years that I have known Dietmar he has done some beautiful fashion work,

photographed NYC street-life,

hung out with barbershop beauties,

went full floral,

and documented where he grew up in northern Germany.

His work is intense and calm at the same time and always feels personal. Whenever I stopped by Dietmar’s place over the last few years he had rough prints of new mesmerizing portraits pinned up. I’m very happy that he agreed to be interviewed for The Heavy Light.

Dirk Anschütz: First things first, Dietmar. Why did you become a photographer?

Dietmar Busse: (Laughs) Well, after I finished high school I was not sure what to do. I signed up for Law School in Berlin and went for one day. At the same time I found out that I got accepted for a job in the south of Spain, that I had applied for earlier. I immediately hitchhiked to Badajoz only to find out that I really didn’t like my prospective employers. On my way back to Berlin I stopped in Madrid and met all these creative people, designers, artists, and so on and I became friends with a model and a photographer. I guess somehow I always wanted to be an artist but I never thought of photography as an accessible career and talking to my new friends changed that. I thought, I can do that. The model was friends with Michael Wray, an English photographer and I ended up being his assistant. We often had 2 or 3 shoots in a day. It was insane, but the great thing was that we did everything. Studio, runway, location, still life. I learned everything from 35mm to 4×5. I just received an amazing amount of knowledge in only two years.

DA: How did you decide to come to the US?

DB: After I finished working for Michael (I was exhausted), I felt that there was really not a lot to learn for me anymore in Madrid. I stayed for another two years mostly partying and building up my portfolio, but I knew I had to leave Spain and decided to go to Milan. Then a friend talked me out of it and convinced me to go to New York. I didn’t know anybody except one person who I had met a few weeks earlier in Madrid and who gave me his business card. I called him up and by coincidence his roommate had left and I had a room in New York.

DA: So, let’s talk about “the Visitors”. What made you start that series?

DB: I did so many different things from fashion, reportage, still life to glueing flowers on to myself for a few years. So here, I wanted to start a body of work that was cohesive and coherent. Something that was very focused. I wanted to work on something that I love. I wanted to work on something very simple. I love the intimacy of a studio as opposed to location and I figured, oh, I can do this in my apartment. I like being here and I like to invite people into my little world. I love being with people especially in a small setting and I love people that stand out in society especially visually. I love fashion and I asked people to dress up, so that gave me a chance to bring a fashion aspect into my work without dealing with magazines and agencies and all that.

DA: How did you get people to sit for you? Isabelle Toledo for instance?

DB: I worked with Isabelle Toledo before. I shot her for a magazine in the 90’s. I love her and love her work. It’s people like her that make it exciting to be in New York.

DA: How about Allanah Starr?

DB: Well, in the beginning of the project I would go out and ask people on the street, later I went clubbing to spots that are still pretty crazy. Allanah was referred to me through a friend at a nightclub. A lot of the casting was word of mouth. Or if I wanted to photograph somebody, I tried to find someone that knew that person, so they could make an introduction for me.

DA: Was there anything that surprised you during the project?

DB: No, not really. I guess sometimes I’m surprised by the results. During the shoots of this project I was working in a small studio, locked up almost, with people I really didn’t know. So, there’s an emotional response to that. Sometimes it’s awkward, sometimes it feels like a weird encounter. Sometimes it feels like it wasn’t a good shoot, and then I look at the contacts and they’re great. It’s very intense. I mean the work is intense, because I’m intense (laughs). Sometimes I look at work that I shot a few years ago and I’m amazed at how good it is and I can’t understand why I picked such a mediocre picture as my final selection or why I wasn’t happy with the photographs back then.

DA: What equipment do you use?

DB: (Rolls his eyes, laughs) I’m really not interested in the technical aspects of photography.

DA: Come on, you might not be a gear-head but you create a very specific and consistent look that could not be achieved with any old camera.

DB: Ok, I’m only interested in the technical part as far as it will help me get the results I want. With the set-up here I keep it to the minimum. I only thought about it in the beginning, now everything is always the same. I use a Hasselblad from the 500 series for the quality. I always work with one lens, an 80 mm. I use always strobe, never daylight. The light [an ancient “brown” Speedotron. DA] is always set up, I just have to push the on button and move the stand into position. I painted the background gray, it’s a wall in my apartment. I don’t think about it anymore. That way I can concentrate on the sitter. I don’t change the camera, the film, the light. During the shoot I don’t want to think about the technical part.

When I’m on assignment I always have to adapt to the given situations. Here it’s always the same. That said, I got a new lens recently for close-up work, a 120 mm Macro.

DA: Tell me about the double exposures.

DB: It basically started as an accident. I was printing in a rental lab and exposed a sheet of paper with two negs. First I threw it in the trash, but then I pulled it out again and took it home to look at it. I thought it looked a lot like photo school, but it also just looked right, then I went back to the lab and tried it with a few more negs.

The use of multiple negatives allows me to go past what you see through the viewfinder and explore a world of fantasy.

DA: How do you decide which images to combine?

DB: It has to feel right. I look. I play. What I have as landscapes in black & white is from my village in Northern Germany. So I have to see what’s there. Trees, or cows, or meadows. I look to combine images that have an integrity on their own, that don’t need help. I look at a portrait and I wonder what would he look like with an upside down tree in his face (laughs).

It combines two very strong and influential experiences of mine that are very far apart. My growing up on a small farm in Germany and my life in New York.

DA: You’ve shot some very different projects but there is a combining quality to all your work. How would describe your approach to photography?

DB: I see myself as a story teller. I like to show things that I feel. Photography for me is a way to communicate emotions. A photograph has to feel honest to me.

I’m always interested in showing beauty, even if it’s a fat man with pimples and only one eye (laughs).

DA: Thanks a lot for the interview.

Dietmar Busse’s website

You can also see for yourself where the magic happens, because Dietmar has an open studio this coming Saturday (Dec. 11th) and Sunday (Dec. 12th) from 2 PM to 8 PM
at
120 Lexington Avenue, Apt. 4E (@ 28th Street)
New York, NY 10016
(212)683-0865

All images in this post ©Dietmar Busse.

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From the Visual Research Dept.: It is a near scientific fact that every German male would rather be a cowboy, so it’s easy to understand the strong fascination I felt growing up for one of the records my mom owned. It was the brilliant Ennio Morricone soundtrack for “Once Upon a Time in the West”, Sergio Leone’s Western masterpiece. The album cover was just incredibly striking, the music was strange and mesmerizing and I always wondered what the movie was like.

Unfortunately my mom never allowed me to watch it because she thought I was much too young for the stunning violence and brutality of that movie (a fair point as I found out later). I was probably around 12 when I finally snuck into a rerun at a local theatre and, man, did it not disappoint.  The violence was stunning (right, mom), the rhythm of the movie was  amazingly slow, the characters ambiguous, and everybody was dirty and sweaty in a good way.

While the film had great set ups with stunning vistas,

romance (kind of, and not a lot),

and good old-fashioned gun fights,

the thing that still impresses and influences me the most after many years and viewings are the beautiful portraits of the actors Charles Bronson,

Claudia Cardinale,

Jason Robards,

and Henry Fonda,

that Sergio Leone and his cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli created throughout the film.

There is also this pretty cool but mildly depressing video about how the films locations have changed in the 40+ years since it was shot.

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One of my most favorite parts of being a photographer is that I’m allowed to use a smoke machine pretty much whenever I want to. During my cross-country trip a few years ago I even ended up buying (a used) one, since that was cheaper than renting. I’m not sure how many people drive thousands of miles with a smoke machine in their car, but in any case, I’m one of them. So, Mr. Smokey and I went to San Francisco to visit my friends Jerry and Laurel and do a little shooting for stock. We had shot on a boat earlier that day and still had time to squeeze in a few more set-ups at another location. We went back to Jerry and Laurel’s beautiful house and started setting up in the kitchen.

We lit the place with a Porty and a head in the hallway, a 7b and a head behind the camera and a 7b hidden behind the stove with one head pointing at the model from below and the other head stuck in the oven. Also in the oven was my travel companion, kite-high on fog juice, chugging away.

I love disaster pictures. I really enjoy taking photographs of things gone wrong and trouble around the corner. At the same point I want to make money and stock pictures should be commercially viable of course. So here I talked myself into believing that this could be a great ad for a food delivery service or a restaurant business. I mean what better way to send a person to Taco Bell than to show the futility of home cooking. Alas, I can’t claim that I have produced a bestseller that foggy night in San Francisco. I had to learn that unfortunately disaster and commerce don’t always go hand in hand (at least not in stock photography). And yet, deep down inside I feel that smoking up a joint is it’s own reward and the shoot was completely worth it.

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When Prevention magazine’s Helen Cannavale called me up with an assignment to illustrate a story about the effects of sleep deprivation on the workforce, I immediately knew we were going to have a bit of fun on the shoot.

Based on the journalist’s findings, Helen and I bounced ideas around about what it means to be half asleep at work.  We figured the model should be wearing a night gown and slippers to make it obvious that she should still be in bed.  Then we came up with three work situations that can be caused by being overly tired.  The first being a good nap on your desk, the second being a portrait of a cold, which tired people are more prone to, and the third showing clumsiness and irritability.  Yeah, good times.

We scouted the workspaces at Prevention’s midtown office and found a corner with a few (mostly) empty rooms that worked out very nicely.  We could set up there and be out off everybody’s way for the duration of the shoot.  Then Helen worked her magic.  First she booked the beautiful red haired Jana Schoep (Ford Models), who totally fit the color palette, did some nice acting and was a great sport on top of it.  Then she got Jane Choi to do hair & make-up.  Jane is a true artist and has worked with some great photographers and film makers.  She did makeup on Bill Clinton and Christopher Walken for Martin Schoeller, for instance.  Great Stuff.  She can do nice and subtle and she can do nice and over the top.  Here she  turned our healthy, happy, well-rested model into a cold-suffering insomniac on the verge.  After Jane was done with the makeup I kept wanting to apologize to our model for still needing her around for a few hours.

Maria-Stefania (Halley Resources)  was the stylist and she put together a good outfit that worked well within that red, purple and blue color combo of a cold sufferer’s face.

We shot with a Mamiya RZ and a tethered Phase One back.  We used Profoto Acutes to light the backgrounds and as fill lights and a ringflash as the main light because I wanted to get that “deer-in-the-headlights”-feel. The ringflash produced also some red eyes in the model, an effect that we didn’t expect (this was only my second shoot with it) but that we happily accepted.  No, wait, wait:  That we didn’t lose any sleep over.  HA!

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Returned and rested from my extensive (not really) European vacation, I have to ease my way back into the blogging lifestyle, so, here’s a short and easy post as a warm up for next weeks usual wordiness.

These pics were taken as a quick and easy shoot for Getty a few years back. The brothers live near my German hometown and are the neighbors of a friend of mine.  When shooting stock it is important to keep the costs of production down (now more than ever) and besides, it’s always nice to work with people I know.  So we asked the kids if they wanted to model in exchange for prints/files and we asked the mom if she was ok with it, and would sign a model release.  Once that was squared away we went through the kids’ closets to pick the wardrobe.  It wasn’t exactly easy to find outfits without tons of logos, but we got it done in the end.

If I were to ask a New York mother if it’s ok to take her two boys into the woods for a photo shoot, I would be a little afraid of the answer, but these boy’s mom just said I should try to keep ’em busy ’til dinner time.  I love rural Germany.

We shot with a Mamiya RZ67 with a tethered Phase One P25 .  One set of Profoto 7b’s and and set of Hensel Portys (2 heads each).

We started of with the ferile close up portraits….

staged a brotherly fight, which was a big hit (pun alert) with the boys…

and ended up showcasing their soccer skills.

Then dinner was ready and we all had to go home.

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There is a little beach in Brooklyn, between the bridges in Dumbo, that is one of my favorite spots in New York. Whenever I’m there I have this phantasy of going for a quick swim to Manhattan. So, when I was planning an urban sports shoot with my friend and Getty AD Sarah Foster, the image that popped first into my head was of course a swimmer preparing to cross the East River.

We mapped out a few more scenarios at that location and also scouted the beaches at the Far Rockaways in Brooklyn, since they were nice and deserted during a weekday. I didn’t want to pack the day too tightly since this was one of my earliest shoots with my (then) new digital back and we figured we’ll keep it easy all around by just shooting one model.

When it came time to cast I turned to trusty old Craigslist. I’m always amazed about the great talent you can find on this internet standby for apartment shares, used electronics, and sensual spankings. So, I sent the call out and got (amongst the usual fair share of weirdazoids) an email with the picture of a woman with an amazing body and in a pose that clearly shows that she knows how to run much better than the rest of us. I asked for a few more images and they were consistent with the first one. I gave her a call to see if she was available for the shoot and asked her if she was a runner.  The answer was yes.  Then I asked if she was a good runner.  The answer was yes.  Then I asked if she was a competitive runner.  Yes again.  And that kept going until I asked if she ever competed in the Olympics.  And again the answer was yes.  Then I fell off my chair.

The runner’s name was Aliann Pompei and she was an Olympic 400 m runner and a gold medal winner of the Commonwealth Games!!

We did the first shoots at the Dumbo beach and tried to cover certain variations of running, triathelon and swimming.  We worked with two assistants and Alliann provided the running wardrobe, while I brought the swim outfits.

One of the weird things about shooting sports for stock is the need to remove any logos, which in case of Adidas gear means that you have to turn them into the brand with the 2 stripes.  That always brings back childhood memories of anguished shoe store arguments with my mom who insisted that the cheaper sneakers with 2 stripes are as good as the ones with 3, and that no one would ever know the difference.  Yeah, right.

Alliann worked up a sweat in seconds thanks to a spray bottle.

We had 4 heads with regular reflectors on 2 Profoto 7bs that we positioned around the model, or as close to it without putting them in the river and the camera was a Mamiya RZ 67 with a Phase One P25 back.

One of my favs was the jump-the-city set-up.

After the Dumbo beach we drove to the Rockaways.  First was a close-up of Aliann’s legs on the boardwalk, which turned out to be much harder than anticipated.  It took us an uncomfortably long time to get the timing, focus, and lighting all in a row, but in the end we came up with an image that’s been selling surprisingly well, and I’m glad we stuck it out.

On the beach we shot with only 2 heads since the surf made it too dangerous to put the 7bs on the ground.  Each assistant carried a head and a pack and I shot on card instead of tethered.

At the end Aliann gave us a “game face” that I’ve been trying to emulate in every beer league soccer game since.

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Once a year, I usually go back to Germany to visit Mama, bond with old friends, and make sure that nothing crazy happened while I was gone. I also try to work on some personal or stock projects when I’m there, since I like working outside of New York in general, for the obvious reasons like cheaper, easier, nicer, and with parking. So, when a friend told me about a kid near my hometown, who was supposed to be a crack BMX’er, I thought this could make for a nice little Getty shoot.

The rider’s name was Johannes Burg (which would’ve been funny in South Africa) and he was just a hint over 18. We talked about the shoot and he was totally into it, so we decided to meet at his local BMX track, a dirt loop with plenty of built-in jumps that was pretty much abandoned when we got there. Ideal circumstances. We started off with an easy shot to warm up.

Johannes had to go full speed into a bank, pop the front wheel a bit and then avoid the lights and the camera.  We had this shot after a few tries and moved on to the next and more difficult scenario.

For the next shot he had to fly off a jump and I had to catch him in mid air.  We picked the jump with the nice tree details in the background and set up lights from the 4 corners.  We had one Profoto 7B with 2 heads and regular reflectors on one side and and a borrowed Hensel Porty with 2 heads and regular reflectors on the other side.  We did a few trial runs to see where I could set up the camera and to get the timing down since I couldn’t see him (and he couldn’t see me) until he was in the air.  We nailed it pretty much straight away.  This was the second frame we shot:


And we should have moved on, but we didn’t.  Why, you ask?  Because we were stupid, that’s why.

Johannes and I looked at the good frame and we felt that if we can get that on the second jump, we can get something even better if we keep trying.  During the next few jumps I kept inching in with the camera for something a bit more straight on and Johannes kept trying to get more height out of the jump.  Finally between my moving the camera closer to the landing spot and Johannes changing the line of his approach we created this situation:

Johannes came over the hill and he was pointing fairly straight at me.  I let out a mighty gulp, clicked the shutter way too early and tried to hustle out of the way with a tethered Mamiya RZ and a tripod.  Johannes tried to change his trajectory in mid flight, which is never a good idea, though I’m still grateful he did.  He was way too high anyway and came down hard in the flat part after the jump right next to me.  He fell and slammed into the next bump, breaking his hand and his bike in the process.

There was a pretty depressed drive to the hospital, that didn’t get any better when he realized that he would miss two major championships he was training for.  Johannes got his x-rays and his cast without any trouble thanks to the German healthcare system and the most positive take on the situation was, that it could have been worse.

I had a miserable, sleepless night after this disaster and felt out of sorts for a few more days.  Mostly because looking back I couldn’t believe we kept repeating a dangerous stunt for no good reason and getting sloppier and sloppier as the shoot went on.  I felt like an amateur and a moron.

I saw Johannes again a few days later and he was back in good spirits  ( I guess, if you’re a serious BMX’er, you can’t dwell on spills and injuries ) and that in turn made me feel better.  He was not pressing charges against me (yeah) and I reimbursed him for his smashed up bike parts. The lessons of that shoot are still with me of course: Don’t push your or other people’s luck, stop when you have the shot, be in control, don’t egg each other on, work precisely and carry insurance.

The most interesting part of that last shot, is an extreme crop, because this is the face of someone, who knows he’s in trouble.

There is also a curious little aside to the story:  I promised Johannes to get him some bike parts from the famous S&M Bikes in California.  All the parts he wanted had names like Beringer Fork, Beringer Stem, Beringer Bar, etc. , I didn’t think anything of it until I met Matt Beringer himself last year on another BMX shoot.  And there you have it, it is a small world.

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