Making Not Taking Photographs

Backstage views on making photographs professionally

Posts Tagged ‘Photojournalism’

Getting Fired by the Associated Press

Posted by Mike on January 30, 2014

January 2014:

I am an ex UPI employee so I don’t care much for AP (they act too much like a monopoly and helped kill UPI for one thing)… I would never work for them because of their “work for hire” “rights grabbing” contract anyway.

But it is bugging me… this last thing when they fired one of their well thought of photographers for spotting out a distracting element in a photo. For the record… I have never produced a photograph for newspaper or magazine that wasn’t painstakingly burned, dodged, spotted for dirt, treated with potassium ferricyanide, cropped, selected over another photo for artistic or informational rationale, or had the color or tone shifted to make it a “better” photograph capable of conveying the situation in the best way possible to the end reader.

That’s what we all want is for the photo to be transcendent… (not in the way of the information).

AP cut ties with Contreras publicly after the photographer informed the wire service that he had removed a video camera from a corner of an image of a Syrian rebel soldier taking cover during a fire fight. Contreras says he knew it could end his relationship with AP, but that he didn’t expect to be shut out of the process.

AP-photoshopWas this firing really necessary? Was the picture compromised? I doubt it. Really, the picture doesn’t tell you much anyway so that presents another problem where the cutline writer can spin it anyway he/she wants. (In the old days Pravda was humorously famous for making up cutlines that were just  amazingly fake.)

Here are two examples of my own work which would probably get me fired I guess. When it comes to the scenic of the boat which photo is fake? As far as I am concerned the retouched one is actually more accurate than the dead looking one from the unprocessed RAW image the camera produced.  Under AP rules are we supposed to be stuck looking at dead, automaton generated purely “documentary” crap a camera produces. Then I guess you don;t need photographers to interpret the RAW file because there is no need for “artistic” or “explanatory” efforts in news photography, right? What a load of crap IMHO.

023sunset-2 023sunsetIn another example I worked on a food shoot yesterday. And I am always looking for a better way to enthusiastically promote my client’s efforts to produce a quality product and sell more stuff (so they can afford to pay me help them sell more stuff).  But back to “accuracy” Which photo is more accurate?

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Posted in Advertising Photography, Concept Photography, fine art photography, Food Photography, Photojournalism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Man with a Mission

Posted by Mike on April 22, 2009

Jeff Jackson’s “office” is a rat infested, smelly,
dangerous place. It’s where you throw the stuff you
don’t want to think about anymore: garbage, compost,
Jackson works with one eye over his shoulder as he
wrestles containers weighing up to 700 pounds over to
his waiting truck. Two guys passing through the alley
just minutes before were fighting, drunk, and one
used the space behind the dumpster as a toilet.

Jackson has a daughter in school. He works to support her just like lots of other folks do. But Jeff has another burden… He needs to spend 12 hours week tied up to a kidney dialysis machine so he can stay alive. He believes that if he underwent a transplant operation he would no longer be able to work and would lose his job and ability to care for his daughter.

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Look back once in a while!

Posted by Mike on November 25, 2008

I was getting no where on this assignment due to the nasty ol’ sun blasting me right in the lens… So I turned to go around and get a new position and hey… there was the shot….


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Homelessness: The same experience 70 years apart…

Posted by Mike on November 15, 2008

This photo, when published in 1936 from a farm workers camp in Nipomo ( a few miles south of San Luis Obispo) motivated the government to send a shipment of 20,000 pounds of food into the area to feed the farm workers who were starving. Response time was 3 days. Compare that to 2007-2008 FEMA.

The 2006 photo got the city council and the cops to force the people to move away… as a nuisance and health hazard… and a criminal threat to the well to do neighborhood where the tent city was located… on purpose I might add.


A Life Beyond Limits

By Linda Gordon

Illustrated. 536 pp. W. W. Norton & Company. $35

Gordon expertly analyzes the political culture of Depression-era California, where the enormous power of big agriculture kept tens of thousands of landless workers in peonage and despair. She portrays Lange as an ambivalent radical, deeply sympathetic to the plight of the migrants yet uncomfortable with the chaos that social conflict inevitably produced. Early in the Depression, Lange had tried but failed to photograph the labor protests that shook San Francisco. “Much of the action was so fast-moving and so violent that slow-moving Lange could not or would not get close,” Gordon writes. “This was the territory of the new breed of adventurous photojournalists.” Lange’s talent lay elsewhere.

Gordon is more in tune with the politics of Paul Taylor, who believed in organized protest to redress economic grievances, than she is with Lange’s more passive approach. A portrait photographer at heart, Lange stressed the inner emotions of those facing injustice and deprivation. “Her documentary photography was portrait photography,” Gordon says. “What made it different was its subjects, and thereby its politics.” An individualist at heart, Lange provided an alternative to the photography of wretchedness, which centered on the misery of beaten-down victims, as well as to the Popular Front mythology, which showed earnest, well-muscled men and women laboring together in fields and factories to produce a Soviet-style paradise on earth. Lange saw America as a worthy work in progress, incomplete and capable of better. By portraying her subjects as nobler than their current conditions, she emphasized the strength and optimism of our national character. She became, in Gordon’s words, “America’s pre-eminent photographer of democracy.”

But not for long. Though Lange would go on to photograph the dehumanizing process of Japanese-American internment during World War II and produce a number of elegant spreads for Life magazine, her unique brand of photojournalism — dignified, personal, contemplative — was overwhelmed by the action of wartime photography and the more abstract avant-garde imagery to come. In some ways, Lange, who died in 1965, remains frozen in the ’30s — a relic of the Depression and the enormous creative energy it unleashed. But even a glance at “Migrant Mother” reminds us of the timelessness of her best work. “A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera,” she liked to say. Gordon’s elegant biography is testament to Lange’s gift for challenging her country to open its eyes.

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Out on a limb…

Posted by Mike on November 9, 2008

Or a yard arm….

Only by having these two people in the shot can you appreciate the immense size of these ships.


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Family support for Mom, 91

Posted by Mike on November 8, 2008

Carmela Rinaldi is 91 and slipping away. She still has fun though. Freddie the dog is her constant companion. Her children and grand children are taking care of her 24-7. People are at home for dinner. Hospice visits. Her doctor makes house calls. High quality Italian food tastes and smells permeate her home.

I cheated a bit on this photo by combining two pictures. I really needed both Freddie and Carmela in focus. So I shot two shots, each at a different point of focus, combined them in layers and layer masked away what I didn’t want.

2-27-09 Update: Carmela passed away today.

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Small detail makes a big difference…

Posted by Mike on November 7, 2008

One of my clients published these photos as part of a story on Hospice care. This is the unfortunate story of a young woman who is dying of cancer. I immediately knew I wanted her dog in the photos. As a dog owner, I knew the dog probably had empathy for his master when she was feeling poorly (lots of pain in cancer cases). My feelings were confirmed by the woman who described her dog as able to read her situation each day.

The first photo shows the doctor touching the dog…oops! we goofed. This photo told the story that the dog was sick… not the woman. So, in a followup story we ran the second photo. The third photo is my rendition of the photo as I would liked it to appear… more mood involved… more selective direction of the eye to the subject matter and less on the hospital room clutter.

Posted in Photojournalism, Public Relations Photography | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Studs Terkel Dies…

Posted by Mike on October 31, 2008

Studs Terkel was one of the great story tellers of our time (or any time). I think he easily rivals Mark Twain.

Mr. Terkel died on Halloween in 2008. I was thinking of him the previous week when I was working on a story about homeless people in Seattle. The reason I was thinking of him was all the people I was meeting in shelters had such compelling stories. There is practically a book in every one of them.

It’s tough being homeless in Seattle. The weather is bad and the city and the cops are looking for every opportunity to steal your stuff and send it to the trash.

Literally, this last fall, churches were giving people sleeping bags and the cops were taking them and putting them in the trash, arresting the people, and releasing them with nothing and no where to go.

90 (that we know about) homeless people died or were murdered on the streets of Seattle in 2007.

Here are 3 people I met in shelters who allowed me to photograph them as they participated in one of the most difficult situations a person  might find themselves in… no place to live.

This particular place has 220 places for you to sleep on the floor. Volunteers bring food everyday but sometimes it runs out. You can’t come before 4:30 pm and you have to leave by 8:00. Life sucks at this level.

Shelter JoeJoe is a pro. He knows the ropes… and brings a book, gets there early, and calmly settles in.

shelter johnJohn is a disabled veteran. He gets some limited amount of money to live on. But it wasn’t enough to live in Alaska (his first choice). I met him in a Seattle shelter while he was waiting to save enough money to move to Billings, Montana. He had arranged a place there which he could afford. I was kidding John about his eating habits. There used to be a restaurant supply company called Pacific Desserts here in Seattle. Their motto was “…life is short. Eat Dessert First!…” John was eating his dessert first.

shelter RandyThis man used to be a photographer. He developed a bad addiction, sold his cameras to buy “stuff”, and slipped into the twilight zone of being homeless.

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Street Photography

Posted by Mike on October 20, 2008

I have never been really great at just walking up to people and getting them to agree to a photo… I’m OK at it but not as good as some others….

Bo helped me out… he was game for anything when I met him and gave me a 20 minute performance. So I gave him a portrait of a man who may not be the same guy he sees in the mirror, if you know what I mean.


Posted in Photojournalism, Portrait Photography | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Quincy Jones…

Posted by Mike on September 28, 2008

Mr. Jones travels in a bubble…. He creates it as he moves and people gather around forming the perimeter. He is, after all, famous and successful.

As a result of whatever is going on inside this bubble (which is not necessarily a visible thing), he is very difficult to photograph. Looking at the camera is not going to happen…

So one way to photograph him is to back off with a 400mm lens and zero in on the core of the bubble.

The other way I get people to pay attention is to start making up a fictional news story involving the person of interest and recite it out loud starting with a scandalous headline.

I needed a photograph with this young woman and Mr. Jones. He wouldn’t pay attention so I start in on this news story about how Mr. Jones and this woman were just married and this was their first photo shoot together…. The result is below…. much better than previous frames. When he realized what I was doing he cracked up…. and it worked out fine…

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