Archive for the ‘Secrets of the Competition’ Category

Good friend and Heavy Light interviewee (?) Stefan Falke is running a Indie-Go-Go campaign to fund his (already) epic project about artists along the Mexican-US border. While he will probably miss his full funding goal, he can use every peso raised (here Indie-Go-Go is different from Kickstarter). The fundraiser is in it’s last days and in my opinion, the project is well worth our support.

Here is an official statement for the project:

New York based photographer Stefan Falke started to work with artists in Tijuana in 2008 in order to document an amazing cultural life in a region that is portrayed by the international media mostly with the sole focus on violent crime.

Falke, who just returned from Tijuana where he was invited to participate in the art festival Tijuana Interzona to present his project LA FRONTERA: Artists along the US Mexican Border, will soon travel along the entire 2000 miles long border and visit cities like Nogales, Juarez, Reynosa and Matamoros. He estimates that he will need at least 3 month on the road to finish the project.

(His work along the border will be shown at the Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington DC beginning November 9.)

He is currently raising funds on IndieGogo to cover expenses. (A modest grant has been awarded by a German foundation).

Here is the link to his fundraiser:


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Now, I know for a fact that not every reader of this here blog is a starving artist or commercial photographer. No, some of you have regular jobs with employers like a big soulless corporation or New York State. And as I imagine you sitting in your penthouses, country estates and castles, contemplating your next fur coat or stretch limousine, I’m wondering why you don’t hold off on that Beverly Hills mansion and give the $85.000.000 that you saved to Claudia Hehr?

Claudia Hehr, as you might remember, graced the pages of The Heavy Light once before and has another interesting project in the pipeline. This time she wants to photograph the orphans of the Good Hope Center in Tanzania and document the work of Artists for World Peace, which is not Ron Artest‘s new name, but a non-profit that works with above mentioned orphans. And for this she needs your help.

To find out more about the project, see a video interview with Claudia, and donate the $85.000.000 go to


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My good pal and office mate Myriam Babin is an interior and travel photographer, who branched out a year and a half ago into the blogging business. Her blog New York Kitchen shows her photographs depicting the hustle-bustle and set-up of New York City’s restaurant kitchens. Addressing the inherent frustration that comes from seeing delicious food on a computer screen while sitting in an apartment with a fridge that has nothing but expired condiments, Myriam decided to stage an art event called “On The Line” where you can see her photography as well as taste the food from some of the restaurants shown in the images. So what better time to have a little interview with the New York Kitchenette herself.

Dirk Anschütz: First things first: How did you get started in photography?

Myriam Babin: Originally I thought I wanted to be a painter, but after taking a few classes I came to the realization that it was not meant to be. I hated waiting for the paint to dry. So I started taking photography classes during my second year in art school and was instantly hooked.

DA: How did you get into the profession?

MB: After college I did several cross country road trips and did a photographic series of motel rooms as an art project. That’s when I got really interested in interior photography. I had a solo show of the motel images in Tucson, AZ, where I was living at the time, and an editor for German GQ happened to come to the show. He hired me to shoot some fashion spreads in upscale hotels. Then I started showing my book around and somebody from French Vogue assigned me to shoot hotels, boutiques, and restaurants in New York where I’d moved to in the meantime. I got into travel photography when the NY correspondent of French Vogue became the editor in chief of Air France Madame and brought me along. At Air France Madame I got the chance to shoot travel and interiors all over the world.

DA: What made you start your blog New York Kitchen.

MB: I live in New York and I wanted to have a project that would have me shoot interiors locally on a regular basis while giving me a visibility in this town, that I just didn’t get from my work published in Europe. The reason that I picked restaurant kitchens is that they’re utilitarian spaces that nontheless display a vibrant culture, especially in a food crazy town like New York. And of course it’s nice to get to see behind the scenes.

DA: What equipment do you use?

MB: I shoot with a Canon 5D with a 24-105 lens. I shoot the establishing shots on a tripod and the details and action shots handheld, using available light for everything.

DA: So tell me about the upcoming event.

MB: The idea is to bring the blog to life, to bring it from virtual to actual. George Uneishi from Digital Plus (a fine printing and mounting place in Gowanus, that did the mounting for The Sultans exhibit I had earlier this year. DA) asked me if I wanted to create a show for the 411 gallery, an exhibition space that’s adjacent and connected to the Digital Plus workshop. I started thinking how to create something more than just showing pictures and liked the idea of giving the viewers a chance to not just see images of the food, but also taste it. A lot of times a gallery space can be austere, or cold, or almost sacred. For this event I want to turn it into something more lively. So I asked restaurants that I’ve photographed if they would be interested in providing food for the event and quite a few were really into the idea. So during the show opening there will be food from Market Table, El Quinto Pino, Txikito, Gramercy Tavern, and Chef Gregory Torrech (formerly of Brown and Sixth Street Kitchen). Some of the food will be cooked on the premises.
There will also be a silent auction where people can bid on prints from the show or dinners at participating restaurants. All the proceeds will be donated to “Share Our Strength” a non-profit dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America.

DA: How has the blog affected you business so far?

MB: I’ve met lots of new people including my fiance, I’ve gotten several new clients who have hired me to shoot their restaurants and menu updates, and I’m in the process of launching a restaurant consulting company named Supper’d with Chef Gregory Torrech (the aforementioned fiance).

DA: Thanks a lot for the interview and good luck with “On The Line”.

411 Gallery @ Digital Plus

411 Third Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215

To RSVP for the event Click here: www.eventbrite.com/event/2275959456

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It was a typical midwinter spring day in Minneapolis, the real-life snow globe on the Mississippi, and I was in the middle of preparing for my Upstream show at Intermedia Arts ( which I possibly might have mentioned here, here, here, and here), when I got a semi-mysterious email from a fellow photographer named Ryan Herz. He complimented me on my Upstream images and sent me a link to a series of portraits that he shot at a mental institution in the mid seventies. The email was short, to the point and all caps.

The images were quite a revelation. They reminded me of images that made me want to become a photographer in the first place. I wrote him back and asked if I he could tell me more about himself and the images and here is what he wrote:




In late summer through early fall of 1976, I had the privilege of being allowed to photograph at
Edgewood. The State was requiring I.D. photos for all the residents. The local school photographers would not take the job, I volunteered. Edgewood’s staff did wonderful work. The residents were very well cared for. There was love and happiness in unexpected supply.

The title and much of the inspiration for this work came from discussions with those who take care of these people, both before, during and since the photographs were taken. They are children, no matter what their age might be, their feelings right on the surface without façade.

The portraits were completed in three or four sessions. I had just a few minutes with each person.
This both forced me and freed me to be instinctual rather than manipulative. Always an improvement.
That, coupled with the intense humanity and the unfiltered emotions of the developmentally disabled,
gives the photographs their power.


He also included a few 35 mm images that are more journalistic.

I’m not sure if Ryan Herz has a website but you can see more of his Edgewood series here.

Update: The book “Children of Edgewood” is available on Blurb.

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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
120 Lexington Avenue, Apt. 4E (@ 28th Street)
New York, NY 10016

All images in this post ©Dietmar Busse.

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Claudia Hehr is a young, talented New York-based photographer transitioning from assisting to shooting full time. Obviously never an easy step, it is probably even harder in these tough times of ours. A great thing to do for a young photographer (or an old one, for that matter) is to work on a good project. Hone your craft, build a showpiece and be a good human being, and that’s exactly what Claudia Hehr did with NAKED, her beautiful, unflinching reportage about a woman’s struggle with breast cancer.

Dirk Anschütz: Claudia, how did you get started in photography?

Claudia Hehr: After I finished High School I came to the US for one year as an au-pair. As part of the au-pair program, I took some photography classes at a local college and that’s when I fell in love with taking pictures. After going back to Germany, I decided to become a photographer against the advice of friends and family (laughs). I apprenticed with the Fashion photographer Burkhard Hellwig in Stuttgart for 3 years and then moved to New York, where I started assisting a variety of photographers.

DA: Tell me about NAKED.

CH: When Meredith Gray was diagnosed for the second time with breast cancer, this time with a more aggressive form of the disease than the first time, she decided to have her struggles documented in a film and photo project.
Meredith wanted to use her situation to help other women that had breast cancer or would get that diagnosis in the future. She wanted to show the process of treating cancer, since women who get diagnosed don’t really know what’s in store for them, and she wanted to send out a positive message that there is a community and that you’re not alone with that disease. She also wanted to show that the beauty of a woman is not defined by her breasts, that a woman doesn’t have to define her femininity over her breasts. The mastectomy and the resulting change of self-image can cause tremendous difficulties and mental anguish for women.

I think having this project also helped Meredith during therapy.  It occupied her and the production of it gave her something to focus on beside her illness.

Meredith wanted to give a message of hope, while showing what happens during the therapy and that was an approach I could really identify with.

DA: How did you meet Meredith?

CH: Meredith is a fashion stylist and when she got sick, she sent out an email to the photographers that she knew, among them Jack Deutsch, whom I assisted at the time. Jack thought that I would be perfect for that project and forwarded me the email. I sent Meredith some work and a link to my website and when we met we immediately clicked. We decided to do the project together after maybe 10 minutes.

DA:  How did you approach the different shoots?

CH:  The idea was that I would be there for every surgery and major medical treatment as well as for some key moments like buying a wig or her returns from the hospital.  We also did several portrait sessions during that time.  We had to negotiate with the hospitals and get model releases from the staff.  We originally had permission to photograph the mastectomy but unfortunately the hospital people changed their mind.  They weren’t comfortable with a photographer in the OR.  Other than that the doctors and medical staff were extremely helpful and really embraced the project.

All in all we did between 10 and 15 shoots.  Sometimes we would shoot over an entire weekend.  I would take the train up to Meredith’s home in Connecticut and spend the evening before a surgery with her, than accompany her to the hospital and go back to her house when she returned home.

We spent so much time together that we quickly developed a comradery and friendship.

DA:  What equipment did you use?

CH:  I shot with a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 5D.  The lenses were a 24-70 mm, 2.8, a 70-200 mm, 2.8, and a 50 mm, 1.8.  I used mostly daylight but I also shot with a bounced Canon Speedlight and occasionally used Dynalite strobes for the portraits.

DA:  Did you work with an assistant?

CH:  No.

DA:  Why did you choose Black & White?

CH:  Very early on, when Meredith and I talked about our vision for this project, we decided to present it in Black & White.  We wanted to really concentrate visually on the essential parts of the story and we thought that color might be distracting.

DA:  There was also a film documentary being made at the same time.  How closely did you work with the film team?

CH:  For the big shoots like the surgeries or when it came to get permits we worked as one team and I also made my photographs available for film stills.

A lot of times we kind of worked parallel to each other but a lot of times both Lisa Simmons (the director) and I worked alone with Meredith, too.

DA:  What was the biggest surprise to you during the project?

CH:  It was how strong Meredith was in dealing with the situation.  Because of that strength, I never felt sorry for her.

We also laughed a lot and had a lot of fun, I didn’t really expect that.

DA:  What did you do with this project so far?

CH:  The biggest thing is probably that Meredith and I set up a Facebook  Fanpage that developed into a community.  We have now over 3100 fans.  Our mission was to educate about breast cancer and to give courage to people who have the disease, and the fan page has been quite successful with that.

Some women shared their cancer stories on the page, some wrote to support Meredith or some to support each other.  Overall we’re very happy with how that page developed.

One problem though with Facebook was that they banned some of my images because they showed nudity.  And strangely nudity in the US seems to be defined by a woman’s nipples.  So, the topless images before the mastectomy had to go, the topless images after the mastectomy  and even the ones after she got her implants but hadn’t her nipples reconstructed yet, could stay on Facebook.

DA:  How is Meredith now?

CH:  The reconstructive surgeries are done, Meredith is cancer free and she’s doing well.

DA:  Thanks a lot for the interview.

All images are in chronological order.

To see more of NAKED go to Claudia Hehr’s website and look for the “NAKED” tab.

You can also check out the Facebook page or go to the NAKED website.

All images in this post © Claudia Hehr.

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Stefan Falke is a Brooklyn based German photo-journalist who has worked and traveled extensively for a wide variety of magazines. On top of that he has made himself a name as a stills photographer on big German movie productions, a part of the business I know almost nothing about. So I’m very glad and grateful that Stefan agreed to do an interview with me for The Heavy Light. The movie we’ll be talking about is “Die Buddenbrooks”, an adaptation of the sprawling Thomas Mann novel, directed by Heinrich Breloer.

Dirk Anschütz: Tell me a bit about the Buddenbrooks project. How big was the production?

Stefan Falke: The movie was a big feature film released by Warner Brothers. For a German production it had a very large budget of around $20 million, of course that would be pretty small for the US. The filming was done in the summer of 2007 and the movie was released in late 2008. The director Heinrich Breloer is considered a Thomas Mann specialist, he won an Emmy for his TV series about Thomas Mann and his family “The Manns”.

DA: Did you read the book before the job?

SF: I tried but then I decided to wait for the script. (laughs)

Da: How did you get the job?

SF: I’ve worked with the director before, as well as with the production company Bavaria Film, as well as the distributor Warner Brothers. My initial way into the business was by complete coincidence. An old childhood friend of mine Hermine Huntgeburth became a movie director and asked me to shoot stills on one of her productions in 1996. It was just one of these things in life.

DA: For how long did you work on that movie and how long were your days?

SF: I worked for about 4 months, 5 or 6 days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day. When I started shooting on films, that’s when I thought I really became a professional photographer, because you have to shoot everyday for months. It’s different from a lot of other freelance jobs.

DA: What equipment did you use?

SF: I had 2 Nikons D200. The lens I used the most was a real cheap plasticky Nikkor 18-135 mm f 3.5 to 5.6. I never thought I would use this lens, it just came with one of the cameras but I ended up really liking the range of the zoom. The other lenses I used were a Nikkor ED 28-70mm f 2.8, a 17-35mm f 2.8, an 80-200mm f 2.8, a 300mm f2.8, and an 85mm f1.4 for portrait shots. The lens factor of the camera was 1.5 and changed the focal lengths accordingly. I work out of a backpack on set but it’s easy to store gear and lenses that are not needed on a film set.

DA: Do you shoot with a blimp (a device that muffels the sound of a camera) ?

SF: No, which is rare in the business. There are two aspects of the filming I need to cover: The making- of and the film stills. For the making-of part or if there is a lot of noise in a scene, I don’t really have to cover up the noise my camera makes. For the quite scenes I work like this: During the filming I look for photographically interesting moments during the scene, and when the filming is done I jump in and ask the actors to redo the entire scene or a part of it, while all the lights are still set up. If it’s only a part I give them the sentence they said at the time and they can snap right in. Obviously to do that you have to really get along with the actors, the director and the DP (Director of Photography).

DA: How do you interact with the actors or the director or DP for that matter?

SF: I’m just being myself but as a stills photographer you have to be aware that you’re the only person on the set not involved nor needed in the making of the movie, and many people treat you accordingly in the beginning. I hear there are a lot of tears being shed on movie sets by still photographers (laughs).
Beside being a good photographer this job is really about weaseling your way into a large group of people that have very little time. You work around them, they don’t work around you. I treat a film shoot mostly like a reportage. Even though they pay me, I still want something from them. You also have to be totally decisive in the moment that is your moment, which can be nerve wrecking. You might have to wait around for your moment for 2 or 3 hours and then it’s only going to be there for a very brief time. In that moment you stop a huge machinery, 40, 50 people stop what they’re doing for you to take your pictures, so you have to be decisive about what you want.

DA: How much do you mimic the DP’s vision in your photographs?

SF: The photographs have to look like they’re images from the movie. I try to shoot alongside the camera as much as I can but at other times you have to come from a different angle.

In this picture below the camera crew set up in the speeding carriage to film the actress cradling her husband in despair. There was no room for me in the carriage and I could not ask for a restaging of this scene for my photo. So I asked the DP where exactly they would stop filming and he showed me the spot on the street. I set up a ladder right there to shoot down into the carriage while it was still moving and while the actress was still in the full emotion of the scene. Everything had to be very precise cause the second they stopped rolling film you could see me and my ladder in the frame of the movie camera.

DA: Do you ever work with an assistant?

SF: Almost never. If you shoot the poster, you’ll have an assistant but not on set.

DA: How do you deliver the images?

SF: It depends. For the Buddenbrooks I delivered RAW files and they did the post. But I also gave them my edit as finished jpgs as well. Sometimes they say they will do the post but they don’t always do.

DA: What ASA do you normally shoot on?

SF: I’m usually on 800 (inside scenes always 800, outside 100-400, 800 at night). And let me just say that I love digital. I love digital! It made things so much easier. You don’t have to carry a huge bag with daylight and tungsten film and filters and all that, and shooting with a high ASA is really not a problem anymore.

DA: How is the field changing with movies being shot on HD video? Do you think that a lot of the stills will be pulled straight from the video?

SF: Yeah, that will become a problem. Right now though a lot of the “moving” images are a bit blurry since a lot of them are shot at 1/50th of a second and you still need a photographer for the making-of pictures.

DA: Did you ever shoot video on a job?

SF: Yes, I tried to shoot a making-of video during a film once but had to stop. I could not shoot video and stills at the same time. I’m really an image maker. I want to fill the frame. I’m a stills maker.

DA: Are you a Movie buff?

SF: Pretty much. I normally watch half a movie every day. I usually fall asleep on the couch halfway through.

DA: Do you have a favorite movie?

SF: Well, there are a few, but maybe my favorite one is “The Professional” by Luc Besson with Jean Reno, Gary Oldman and a young Natalie Portman.

DA: Is there a director you would like to work for?

SF: I would like to work with Wim Wenders for the visuals of his films and I would love to work with Werner Herzog. I can really relate to his mixture of fantasy and documentary. Plus he works all the time. I really admire that.

DA: Any concluding tips for working on a movie set?

SF: Don’t think you’re important. I mean, of course you are important, but don’t let it hang out. You have to be really strong and might have to stand up to the director or DP to get your shots, but you have to fit into the team. The best praise I’ve gotten was when at the end of the movie the film people love the pictures but ask when I had taken them.
I see every production as a privilege. If I get the opportunity to get access to these great actors and directors, the job might be difficult, but it’s a privilege.

DA: Stefan, thanks a lot for the interview.

Stefan Falke’s website

all photos © Warner Bros. Pictures / Bavaria Film / Stefan Falke

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Stephen Mallon is a Brooklyn based industrial, art, and industrial art photographer. His photographic documentary of the salvage of Flight 1549 (the one that Sully landed safely on the Hudson) resulted in some stunning art work and generated a lot of buzz in the media.  His project about the sinking of old subway cars in the Atlantic to build reefs can be seen in his upcoming show “Next Stop Atlantic” at the Front Room Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Stephen graciously agreed to share the nuts and bolts of this project during an interview for the The Heavy Light.

Dirk Anschütz: Let’s start at the beginning. When and why did you decide to become a photographer?

Stephen Mallon: When I found out I couldn’t become a pilot (because of spinal meningitis at age 15) I started to follow other interests. At that time I had a Kodak Instamatic, after that I upgraded to a Kodak Disc Camera, then I “stole” my Dad’s Canon AE1 and so on. I took some photo classes in High School, worked for the student newspaper and finally went to RIT in Rochester.

DA: Did you shoot industrial images straight out of college?

SM: No my first passion out of school was fashion photography.

DA: That’s a hard field to establish yourself in. Did you get a lot of work in fashion?

SM: Well, I had a few jobs for Maxim which in turn led to an ad job for Canadian Club Whiskey, but…..
There were quite a few editors who liked my work, but suggested that I start using “real” people as models and take it more in a lifestyle direction. Especially for stock.

DA: So, what caused the switch to industrial photography?

SM: A conversation with my CD at Photonica Karen D’Silva. I had traveled to Africa in 1999 and showed Karen some landscapes I’d taken in Niger. She liked them, but told me that they needed some kind of human footprint to become commercially viable.

DA: So what was your first industrial photo shoot then?

SM: Well, I’ve always shot industrial stuff. Even in high school I loved shooting mechanical things. I’ve shot airplanes and airfields. Once a pilot phoned in to tell the airport that they really shouldn’t let a photographer sit on the runway. I just lost my way a little bit in college.

DA: Let’s talk about the subway shoot. How did you learn about the fact that old subway cars were being dumped in the ocean?

SM:  I’d first read about it in the New York Times in maybe 2004 and I thought that project was all finished.  But in April 2008 I spotted a barge loaded with subway cars while location scouting in New Jersey.  I drove to adjoining yard which belonged to Weeks Marine, the company that turned out to be the owner of the barge.  I talked to the security guard and told him that I was interested in photographing the barge.  The guard passed me on to Lou, the yard manager, and Lou passed me on to Jason, the senior engineer.  I told Jason about my ongoing photo project about recycling “American Reclamation”, and gave him my website.  He was himself interested in photography and liked my work, and after I secured permission to photograph from the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) he gave me full access to the “loadout”.

When the loadout came I drove to the 207th Street rail yard in the Bronx where the old stripped down subway cars were loaded onto Barge 297.  It took about 2 days to load the barge with as many cars as possible.  Then the barge shipped back to Bayonne, NJ where it sat for a few days.  I wasn’t allowed on the loaded barge for safety reasons. I was also not allowed to stand under subway cars for safety reasons, but I only found that out later.

Finally Jason called that they were ready to head out to the drop site. I set up on the crew boat on May 16th while a tugboat pulled the barge out on the Atlantic to a spot off the Maryland coast.

DA:  How many shoot days did you have during this project?

SM:  The subway cars were dropped off the coasts of Maryland, South Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware and Georgia.  I went to 4 drops  and 2 loadouts.

DA:  What equipment did you use?

SM:  I shot with a Canon Mark III DS and 4 lenses.  A 24-70 f 2.8, a rented 70-200 f2.8 with image stabilizer, a 70-200 f 4, and a 17-40 f 4.

DA:  What were the technical challenges?

SM:  On a boat everything is moving.  I had to use pretty high shutter speeds since things happened very fast.  I usually shot 1/500th at 400 ASA.  I was tracking the action like on a sports shoot.  Almost everything was shot with the motor drive on high. Oh, and one more thing: Don’t try to preview your images on the back of the camera while shooting- HELLO MOTION SICKNESS!

DA:  Tell me how this personal project has influenced your career so far.

SM:  The subway project was what introduced me to Weeks Marine, so when the plane went down in the Hudson, I called Tom Weeks to see if they would do the salvaging. When they got the job, Tom asked me if I wanted to work. I had to get permission from National Transportation Safety Board and after that got full access to the proceedings.  I had been staying in touch with Front Room Gallery for about 3 years, showing them  my work and going to openings, so when they saw my series “Brace For Impact: the aftermath of flight 1549″ they decided to give me a solo show.

That work also got a Lucie Award and led to a commercial assignment for Maytag, which turned out to be the biggest job of my career so far.
The image of the floating subway car made it into the Communication Arts Photo Annual and the subway work will be shown at the Front Room Gallery in September.

It’s just great how it segued from a personal project to an art project to assignments to another project and so on.

DA: Thanks a lot for the interview and good luck with your show.

Stephen Mallon‘s show “Next Stop Atlantic” will open at The Front Room Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on September 10th.

All images in this post ©Stephen Mallon.

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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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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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