All the equipment in the world can't save your butt if you can't observe, deal and, sometimes, even understand your subject. Indeed, all of the equipment in the world, when it is hanging around your neck, can be a real impediment to dealing with your subject.
This is not to dismiss those photographers who cover the media events of the day, pushing their way through crowds with extreme wide-angles, and then standing on distant platforms realizing their 300mm lens is not long enough. It's just to say it is an extremely hard job, one that doesn't have a very good ratio of exceptional images to film shot, and one that can numb you to the point that you really don't know what to shoot when there is not a "photo op."
In other words, those folk work for a living. The rest of us work part-time, but mostly enjoy our hobby and get paid for it. Once, one of the Time photographers asked if he could assist me on an assignment in his hometown. He was deeply disappointed when I showed up with just one Domke bag. I don't know if he was disappointed that there was nothing for him to carry, or disappointed because I had no magic equipment that would produce "good" pictures. I just didn't think I could take very good pictures of strangers in their homes if I couldn't give them most of my attention.
David's pictures, on this website and in his new book, Cuba, are also on exhibit at the Leica Gallery in NYC. The exhibit opens October 30, and closes December 4. If, however, you are in NYC before October 23, look at the Constantine Manos exhibit, now hanging. You will be able to compare two photographers who work in a similar manner. The Manos pictures, taken almost 40 years ago, are in black and white. His most recent book, American Color, not surprisingly, is in color. The big similarity in their working techniques is that Harvey and Manos work primarily with a 35mm lens. Rumor has it that Harvey sometimes carries a 50mm lens and film in a small gadget bag. Manos also sometimes carries an extra lens and film in his pocket.
Photographers who work in a simplified manner and concentrate on their subject are many. The obvious choice is Cartier-Bresson. But, there are many less obvious choices. How about Avedon? He works primarily with a twin-lens Rollei and an 8x10 view. Many of his most prominent recent images have been with the 8x10. A view camera is about as simple as you can get, but Avedon makes it even simpler. Assistants cocking the shutter and changing the holders leave him free to deal with the two big questions of photography: (1) What's happening? and (2) When do I push the button?
While many of us are straining our backs and herniating our discs on the campaign trail, it may be wise to remember Arthur Grace's 1988 Newsweek coverage of the presidential campaigners that became the book Choose Me. It was done totally with an old twin-lens Rollei. For me, it was clearly the best campaign coverage, and perhaps the only lasting coverage of that season.
During one campaign season, when I, as Mister GoodBoy Carries Everything, finally went down for the count, Arthur was the only one who was still in good enough shape, and traveling light enough, to pick up my body, dump it in a taxi, and send it home.
Are there dangers in traveling light, working simply, and concentrating on the subject? Of course. You can blow a single moment. Sometimes, the guarantee of bringing back a publishable picture comes at the price of not taking the risk that might produce an exceptional picture.
Nowhere is this more evident than quick-in and quick-out assignments that are expected of many of photojournalists. After a number of photographers produced outstanding work on the homeless, by spending extended periods of time with them, a lot of editors wanted their photographers to do similar work in one day. The one-day guarantee came in the form of long-lens shots that often weren't very good and certainly didn't require the same level of knowledge of the subject that was expected of the writer of the piece.
And, on a day-rate basis, the photographers who took the routine long-lens shots probably made more than the photographers who took several months out of their lives to deal with an important subject.
This is the reason I don't blame photographers for choosing the guaranteed quickie. Photographers and their families need food, rent, clothes and a little entertainment. My concern is, by the time they have earned enough to slow down a little and look at what they are shooting, they will have forgotten how. Or, worse yet, they won't enjoy taking pictures. I recommend the "rich dentist" cure--one very expensive camera, a trip to a fascinating place that you have never been before, and the realization that you've got to like some of the pictures you take.
|Contents PageColumns Page|
|Contents Page||Editorials||The Platypus||Links||Copyright|
|Portfolios||Camera Corner||War Stories||Dirck's Gallery||Comments|
|Issue Archives||Columns||Forums||Mailing List||E-mail Us|