Posts Tagged ‘Rolleiflex’

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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Riding a bike was part of my growing up, but not exactly my favorite part. The only times I was very, if briefly, excited about biking was when I was given a banana seat bike, and again after I got a snazzy 10 speed racer. For the most part though I only biked when I was too late to walk someplace. My biking career ended abruptly and not surprisingly on the day I got my driver’s license.

To my amazement though, biking has made a strong comeback in my personal life as well as becoming an important part of my photography. I thought it might make for a nice intermittent series of blog posts to write about the bike shoots I have done.

It all started with me still being a committed pedestrian, when my good friend Silvia (a journalist) and I teamed up as a writer-photographer combo. We were mulling over possible projects to propose to German publications, when we came across ” The Ride of my Life” the autobiography of Mat Hoffmann, the daredevil BMX champion and later Jackass semi-regular. The book was highly entertaining as it described the growing-up and daily brushes with death of a child/man with no fear. Anybody reading the book would seriously question his/ her desire to become a parent, since one would suffer at least 47 heart attacks if fate would bless one with a little Mat Hoffman. To read about it though, was great.

©Unknown Photographer

Silvia and I wrote up a proposal to portray Hofman and send it to a high-brow weekly newspaper in Germany, that has a section somewhat comparable to the NY Times Magazine. They liked the idea and hired us, but then our arrangement kind of backfired on me.

On a previous job I did for the paper the expenses ran (not terribly) high. Not completely because of my fault either, but my invoice was definitely higher than usual. Then the editor for the paper called me up to suggest that I pay for part of the unexpected expenses by lowering my fee. After a bit of arguing back and forth I agreed to do it, if and only if he payed the same amount as I towards the bill. I thought it would be only fair if we both help the paper financially since we were both involved in the production. For some weird reason though, spending his own money was less attractive to the editor than spending my own money, and he agreed to pay my invoice in full. Of course little victories like that often come back to bite me in the ass.

And now was ass-biting time. When Silvia and I got the assignments to produce the Hofman story, the editor presented me with a budget that was so tiny that I had to work for free instead of very cheap, which was normal. I would have never done that, but here he clearly had me by my huevos. If I just turned down my assignment, they would have sent (and paid) another photographer to shoot my story. If we had turned it down as a team, I would have cost Silvia her job as well, and they might have sent another team to do our story. Silvia graciously offered to share her fee with me, which I didn’t take because of course it was more the principle then the dough. In the end we did the story and I was glad we did, but I never worked for that paper again. To paraphrase Paul Simon: There must be 50 ways ways to lose a client.

The shoot was taking place at the Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando, FL. We flew down and up in one day, and sans assistant of course. To transport my equipment ( 1 Pro Acute 1200 with 2 heads) in the park, Universal gave me a hard plastic double toddler stroller. It’s always important to travel in style when on a job.

Mat Hoffman and a bunch of fellow BMX’ers were doing a regular show there that summer in a bike park in an amphitheatre. I looked for a quiet location that didn’t scream theme park and provided us with some privacy and a clean graphic background. I found it behind the theatre. After an hour of corporate interference we were finally allowed to shoot there.
In the first portrait I tried to come up with a classical pose in which he can be clearly seen and can make eye contact with the camera, yet in which he also shows his athleticism. We talked about this, and Mat came up with different suggestions. Finally he busted out the one seen on top. I love how he looks like he’s just loitering on his bike with a half-bored sarcastic ta-daa pose. I used a little slower shutter speed to get a little bit of movement in. This way you realize that he’s not just leaning against the wall, but rolling down the lane.

For the second picture I asked him to take off his shirt. I’ve been around athletes a lot and have seen some banged up people, but no one ever came close to Mat Hoffman. We talked about his knee, which was his injury-du-jour and he showed me how he could move his kneecap around in ways that made you question every assumption you ever had. His torso doesn’t look so terrible until you start zooming in on all the scars and bruises hidden in plain sight.

His amazing pain tolerance and complete lack of fear still astounds me. A while after the shoot Mat was in a vicious car accident in which he nearly lost his right arm. For years after that he couldn’t ride a bike, but thanks to a special brace and some major physical rehabilitation he now is back on the bike again.

There is a recent ESPN movie out about Mat, that was produced by Spike Jonze and Johnny Knoxville. Looks like it could be a lot of fun.

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A few months after 9/11 I received a phone call from Michele Fleury , the photo editor at The Advocate, a gay interests magazine based in L.A.. They wanted to publish a tribute to honor New York’s gay and lesbian police officers and firefighters and Michele wanted me to shoot a group portrait of some of these brave individuals. I was thrilled about the assignment to say the least.

I’ve known about this rooftop location with full view of The New Yorker Hotel for a while since an acquaintance had his studio in this building. I’ve always wanted to shoot there but held back until I needed the “ultimate” NY backdrop. Obviously now was the time. I called my buddy and asked if he could get me up on the roof. He hemmed and hawed a bit but finally agreed for a reasonable fee. Rooftop access wasn’t really in his studio lease, but I figured once I was up there with a bunch of cops I could talk my way into or out of anything.

The group shot went pretty smooth even though we had only one fireman. The FDNY was still so decimated from all their losses during the attacks that only one of the openly gay firefighters could make it to the shoot.

Some of the stories we heard that day were truly heartbreaking. One of the police officers, who was securing the area downtown during the attacks ran into his boyfriend, a firefighter on that September morning. They talked briefly and then went on to do their jobs. The cop survived, the fireman did not.

Everybody in this picture lost friends and colleagues that day.
It’s still hard to think back to all the grief that came to New York that day.

Beside the group shot there was another picture I wanted to do that day. Part of the inspiration came from a 1993 New Yorker Valentine’s Day cover by Art Spiegelman.


In the summer of 1991 a car that was part of a motorcade for a hasidic Rabbi, spun out of control in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and killed 7 year old Gavin Cato, the son of Guyanese immigrants.
The Jewish driver of the car was beaten by bystanders and taken from the scene by a Jewish ambulance while police and other EMT were still trying to free the child from underneath the car. Black locals perceived this as favoritism and became outraged. Rumors and allegations started flying, mixed with long held grievances, stewed in the August heat, and finally exploded in what became known as the Crown Heights Riots. A few hours after the deadly traffic accident a young hasidic scholar named Yankel Rosenbaum was stabbed to death. The riots went on for a few days, partially because Mayor Dinkins couldn’t bring himself to act decisively against the violence. These events probably cost Dinkins his job and poisoned race relations in New York for years.

A while later the Valentine’s Cover appeared on newsstands and started a big controversy. People were outraged, outraged I tells ya. But when asked what was so outrageous about kissing a Jew or a black person, well, a few brave, confused souls contorted themselves in pseudo theological arguments but most just knew better and shut up at that point.

I had never read the New Yorker before, my English wasn’t up to snuff back then, but I had been a fan of Spiegelman ever since I’d read Maus, and I was totally amazed that a magazine would do a cover like that. To throw a nice little peace bomb into a hateful situation, to help a city return to civility, was just a fantastic piece of publishing. It also drove home the point that you can express certain things with a picture that cannot be expressed with words.

That cover drawing popped back into my mind when Michele called me with this assignment.
The rights of gays and lesbians represent probably the last major frontier in the long struggle for equality in the US and I thought photographing a kiss between a gay cop and a gay firefighter could be my modest contribution to the cause.

But when the shoot came I was extremely nervous about asking for the kiss. Obviously there was only one firefighter (so I knew who to pick from that camp) and I thought I should probably ask the friendliest cop, but they were not boyfriend and boyfriend and I was afraid that I would piss them off with my request. Plus, I didn’t want them to think that I’m turning the 9/11 tribute into a joke. So, first I made sure we got the group shot in case they would walk out on me, all the while I was thinking about the proper way for a man to ask a man to kiss another man. Then I took several deep breaths, counted to 10 and just as I was about to pop the big question the friendliest cop started telling me a story about how he and the fireman met a few days earlier in a subway station, both wearing uniforms and how they greeted each other with a big hug and a kiss, and how that was a total freaker-outer for a bunch of subway riders. At that point I just asked if they would recreate that scene in front of my camera and both were immediately into it. Easy as pie.

There was one kind of funny observation I had during the shoot concerning the gay men. By no means would I call my “gaydar” above average but on all the other Advocate shoots I’ve done, I would have known that the guys were gay even if I hadn’t known it already. Yet with these guys in uniform it was different. If I had met them while they issued me a traffic ticket (that’s how I normally hang out with cops), I wouldn’t have thought in a million years that they were gay.

I met some of them again a few months later to give them prints from the shoot and now in civilian clothes they were pretty clearly gay. When they were in uniform it was like they switched something on (or off for that matter).

Years later this is still one of my favorite pictures and as an added bonus it made it into American Photography 19.

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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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