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Posts Tagged ‘Film’

Dr. Pfeil, a general practitioner, has been a medical institution in my German hometown for as long as I can think. I never really knew him though since I went with my troubles to Dr. Ertz, the other local medical institution. Like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones or Michael Jackson and Prince, it was one or the other. My mom took me to Dr. Ertz when I was a little boy and that was that.

In one of my early works I photographed Dr. Erzt and the mother of all desks.

A few years ago though I started to get to know Dr. Pfeil, through a common friend. He is a passionate hunter and has a great dog (always a good sign in my book) named Quitte. The Doctor and his family including the dog modeled for me on a few occasions and Quitte (which is the German word for Quince) actually ended up on the cans and boxes of a line of German dog food with this idyllic shot.

In any case I wanted to shoot a somewhat formal portrait of Doc and Quitte and after picking his best looking rifle we walked to the edge of a nearby field. We positioned 2 heads on a Profoto 7b and 2 heads on a Hensel Porty around the two, but made sure we didn’t overpower the lovely evening light. We shot with a Rollei 6003 with an 80 mm lens on Kodak Portra NC 160.

Both were a pleasure to work with and I really enjoyed our time together, but then again I might feel different about them if I was a forrest dwelling quadruped.

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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
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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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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Whenever I’m getting ready to go on a well deserved vacation, I struggle with the same question that has tormented photographers for thousands of years: Should I bring the lights?

And the right answer is: Yes.

I was traveling in Puerto Rico, driving through the El Yunque rainforest when I came to this beautiful spot. A window in the otherwise dense canopy opened up to reveal a view of sky, sea and a bit of civilization in the distance. I set up a 7b with 2 heads (regular reflectors) left and right of camera. I had to put a plastic bag around the pack because the ground was so wet that it kept sinking in. The camera was a Rollei 6003 with an 80mm, which in my humble opinion, is still the best camera I’ve ever shot with. I took a polaroid or two and then I exposed 2 rolls of Kodak NC 160, varying the light slightly and getting some different cloud patterns.

This image became my best-selling landscape with Getty back when there was still such a thing as a selling landscape with Getty, and I’m still having fun looking at the large print of it in my living room.

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One of the bigger photographic challenges that I’ve had to deal with on a regular basis is the corporate office.

I’ve had my fair share of portrait jobs involving people from the worlds of finance, academia or management and a solid majority of them work in a place that can only be described as “visual hell”. The standard issue place of employment is a combination of cubicles, private offices and conference rooms. There is usually grey carpet on floor, walls and sometimes ceiling, and everybody looks good and healthy in strange-colored office lighting.

The young up-and-comers live in cubicle land, with plastic desks and quite often a half-hearted collection of action figures or novelty footballs. The more established ones reside in private offices furnished with the finest Staples oaks. There is usually a picture of your subject shaking hands with Ronald Reagan or Tiger Woods or a right-wing astronaut. There might be a few inspirational posters about leadership illustrated with pictures of lone eagles. Like, who the heck was ever led by an eagle? The bird is called “lone” for a reason.

The conference rooms are usually a tragedy as well. Scuffed walls, banged up tables and piles of video conferencing equipment. Well, you get the picture.

Once you stopped crying about the location, you check out what your subject is wearing. Sometimes it’s cool, more often it’s an ill-fitting suit, a terrible tie (golfers, Santa Clauses, etc) and one of those tent-like shirts that gives the gent a lot of room.

Now, sometimes it’s ok to go ironic and just work with what you’ve got, sometimes you find that little corner or window that somehow saves the day, sometimes you can get your subject to leave the office and hit the streets with you, but sometimes it’s just a full blown mess.

And this is my full blown mess insurance set up.


It’s a Super 8 movie light from God knows when. It creates a nice over-the-bathroom-sink kind of lighting. It works on a regular outlet, it is set up in under a minute, it makes people look good, and it lets me get close so I can cut out the background clutter.

These images were taken with a Rollei 6003 and an 80mm lens with a Tiffen +2 close-up filter. I shot Kodak NC 160. The usual exposure with this light is 1/60th at f 4 at 100 Asa, so the depth of field is very shallow.

The gentleman on top is Lee Remmel the longest-serving employee of the Green Bay Packers. I photographed him as part of a story for Brand Eins, a fairly elegant German business magazine. The budget was tight and I had to work without an assistant, so the easy-to-carry aspect came in handy as well.

The gentleman below is Alain Belda, CEO of Alcoa. We photographed him for Money Magazine. He was very stylish and didn’t need the emergency treatment, but looked good in it anyway.

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