This is a truly inspiration story, proving that it is never to late to reinvent yourself, learn something new and enjoy life. I found it particularly interesting since he is shooting with a rangefinder and has little use for a (d)SLR, shooting both film and digital. As I am sure you are aware I recently picked up my first film rangefinder, so I have some idea as to why David loves rangefinders.
Tell us a little about yourself?
Sure. I am a former left-brained person reinventing myself during my 50s as a right-brained person — and hopefully learning to have more fun along the way.
More specifically, I studied computer science in college and had a very literal and logical career as a software developer that lasted 30 years. By virtually all measures, it was a successful career as well. At age 52, however, I’d had enough coding and debugging, and I left the business I had founded in the 1980s and became a full-time artist.
It took a few years from that point before I was able to drop the quotation marks from around “artist” and truly believe that I was making progress into my new left-brained artistically oriented life.
Certainly the term “emerging artist” still applies to me but I’m definitely having more fun as a photographer then I ever did writing code and managing my software business.
Right now I split my time between my long-time home in Austin, Texas and the photographic mecca that is New York City.
I feel like I’m off to a good start in my new life.
What inspired you to get started in photography?
I really have to dig into my memories for the answer to this question. My interest in photography developed in my mid-teenage years but I really can’t pinpoint any single inspiration at this point. My grandfather was a very serious amateur photographer and slide shows were very a common (if not often very boring!) evening diversion back in the 1960s.
My grandfather introduced me to rangefinder photography and allowed me to use his Leica M3 frequently. Even as an often befuddled teenager, I knew the Leica was something very special.
Soon I had a rather fantastic darkroom (for a teenager of the time) in the basement of my family’s home and I was developing both color and black & white film and making prints from both as well. I was really proud of having mastering the art of color printing while in high school.
I went to college with some dreams of becoming a sports photographer for the Detroit News or Free Press but my father had other ideas for me. Being the dutiful son that I was, I left photography behind and graduated college with the engineering degree that dad had always dreamed of.
What gear do you take to each shoot and what lens can you not live without?
My gear tends to be as minimal as possible. I don’t even like carrying a camera bag. So, I usually have just one camera and lens over my shoulder and that’s it. Maybe a second lens is in my backpack.
Not doubt because of my grandfather, this camera has usually been a Leica. An unspoken question here is: film or digital? Fortunately with Leica, it’s pretty easy to say both since, to Leica’s credit (and at the insistence of its customers), there is very little operational difference between their film and digital rangefinder cameras. And I am definitely a rangefinder photographer — I have very little use for SLR style cameras.
As for lenses, I almost exclusively use a 50mm lens or equivalent. That means a 35mm lens on a APS-C sized sensor on a digital (such as the new Fuji X-Pro1 which is seriously luring me away from my Leica addiction) and an 75/80mm lens on medium format camera (such as my Rolleiflex and Contax).
Wide angles are useful in some situations, I almost never use a telephoto or zoom lens, but I cannot live without a 50.
How do you market yourself and has social media been an important part?
This is probably the single most important and relevant issue to photographers today — at least those trying to make a name for themselves either artistically or commercially.
Actually this interview and the exposure derived from it is a direct result of my efforts to promote myself and spread the word about my photography, in particular my FAIR WITNESS book project.
My goal with FAIR WITNESS is to find a publisher to produce a book the old fashioned way. Although I will self-publish if I have to, I feel that my pictures fit nicely into the historical narrative of street photography and, as such, warrant publication. Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind and step down off my high horse — I am presently an unknown, after all.
But that is precisely the point of marketing and PR, right? I mean, it is create awareness and, ultimately, to build a market for a product or service — in my case, for a book. Then from the book, gallery representation and shows, the MoMA, and the title as the world’s greatest photographer, right? Look out Gursky, here I come!
Seriously, this interview and any other exposure FAIR WITNESS has received thus far is a result of my personal research and hours of culling names and email addresses of (so far) approximately 250 photo blogs and magazines around the world. This involves lots of time online, following links from one blog, for example, to another, then perhaps another, and so on. If the web site I land upon looks like it might be supportive of my style of photography, I do more digging to find the name(s) of the blog owners or editors which I add to a mailing list. This list is constantly evolving.
This only one of my lists. I have (or will have) lists created more or less the same way of galleries, book publishers, and photography institutions. But building awareness and hopefully, ultimately, a market by via blogs and magazines comes first. That’s my plan, anyway, and I’m sticking to it!
As for social networks, I only use Facebook. I do not tweet or anything else. Frankly, I think that these are of limited value to me. I’m certainly open to the idea that I don’t know what I’m talking about here but very hard for me to see how my Facebook friends, all 500 of them, are going to help me publish a book. Sure, maybe a few of them might repost something but this is completely untargeted and really just a matter of chance. Twitter seems even less helpful in the regard.
Perhaps there is a science I don’t know about about how to create an ever expanding network of friends and/or followers that might actually amount to an effective marketing campaign — but I haven’t taken that class yet.
What’s your favourite photo that you’ve taken and does it have any significance?
It’s impossible for me to pick ONE favorite picture but one does come to mind with regard to this question.
Recently I was involved with the Austin Center for Photography and our signature event were lectures by what we referred as icons of photography. My hero of photography is Elliott Erwitt and I set out to bring him to Austin for a talk and presentation of his photographs.
ACP was very new at the time and it took some convincing but he did agree. Throughout the process I had to chance to meet Elliott and spend quite a bit of time with him, particularly while he was in Austin.
One afternoon we were walking around with our cameras and paid a visit to the Austin Museum of Art to see an exhibition of work by Chuck Close. (Elliott isn’t a Chuck Close fan, by the way, he confided in me.)
Upon entering the museum we were given AMOA stickers to put on our shirts to show that we had paid the admission fee. I dutifully placed mine over my breast pocket as convention dictates — but Elliott, true to his playful nature, had another idea.
The resulting photograph is here.
A print of this is now in the museum’s permanent collection and has been selected for exhibition in a few competitions I have entered.
It’s significant to me simply because Elliott is my hero.
Select a photo you have taken, explain how it was taken and how did you edit it?
I’d like to select a very recent one, one that is really very different from ones that I had been producing over the past several years.
I call it “East River”. It can be seen here.
It was taken with my 1960s vintage Rolleiflex T. The “look down into the viewfinder” style of a twin lens reflex definitely encouraged the vantage point of this photograph. I also used a wide angle lens attachment on the camera. Hence, the down low and up close perspective made a relatively small rock on the shoreline look more like a boulder.
Passing ferries and other vessels in the river occasionally produce some wave action along the the waterline and resulting waves breaking over this rock were making for some pretty cool spray. The sun was setting and I saw this picture in my mind’s eye.
I’ll add that the Rolleiflex was loaded with the newest Kodak Portra 400 color negative film. This is probably the finest film ever made. It’s color rendition is gorgeous, it has tremendous exposure latitude, and it scans beautifully.
The film was processed and scanned by Precision Camera & Video, my hometown Austin camera store.
I not use Lightroom, so I took the high-resolution scan into Photoshop for some minor tonal enhancements and sharpening. The JPG you see on my web site is a very small version of what could very easily be an incredible 30×30 inch print.
What processing tool do you use and do you believe in the camera doing all the work or in post?
Like I said previously, I use Photoshop. I was very discouraged my early versions of Lightroom so I never adopted it.
My feeling is that the camera is a tool to capture the raw material for a final photograph.
The amount of image manipulation I do on any given image varies. Some, like “East River”, are very true to the original film scan. But I have no shame about cropping, adding vignetting, removing minor distracting elements from a scene, adding grain to a digital image, and other post-processing techniques.
I don’t see this any different from what I used to do (or try to do) in the darkroom when improving a particular image in print using darkroom “tricks”. It’s just easier now and there are many, many more possibilities.
Whats your favourite photography accessory other than your camera?
You probably have never heard this one before but without a doubt my favorite accessory is a camera strap.
Not just any strap — only hand-made leather straps from a particular Italian craftsman who may not be very well known outside the Leica and vintage camera crowd.
In these circles, this craftsman is well known simply by his first name, Luigi. He is Luigi Crescenzi and Luigi has been selling custom leather straps and camera cases for years from his web site www.leicatime.com and on eBay.
Okay, maybe it sounds crazy, but no camera is complete for me until it has a Luigi strap. Black leather for any black cameras (i.e., my Leica M9 and Fuji X-Pro1) and brown for anything else (i.e, my Rolleiflex, Leica IIIf, Leica M3).
Luigi is a gentleman and a rarity in today’s mass produced, Chinese dominated consumer marketplace. His products add a touch of class to any camera they are attached to.
Where do you prefer to post your photos online and why there?
I have been posting one picture a week to my web site, www.dlkphotography.com. I call this my PAW, or Picture A Week. I started doing this in January 2007 and I haven’t missed a week in over five years.
I have a mailing list where I announce when a new PAW has been posted to the site. It’s not a huge list but I know that my weekly announcements are welcomed by a great many people. I also post a new PAW announcement on three different Yahoo! forums that I follow regularly, and I also post a notice on Facebook.
Anyone reading this can join my mailing list here.
The personal growth of my photography over the years has been more or less defined by my PAW. Nowadays, at the time I am considering taking a photograph, I will ask myself “is this PAW worthy? — if the answer is “no”, I will usually not press the shutter release.
The idea of my FAIR WITNESS book project came about in large part because my mentor and friend Eli Reed is a regular viewer of my PAW galleries.
Do you ever get photographers block and if so what do you do to get inspired again?
Oh, yes. I am feeling fairly blocked right now when it comes to doing more street photography. I hope that this doesn’t sound too prima-donna-like but I feel like I have set the bar pretty high for myself with my past work.
Nowadays I feel I must always improve upon what I’ve done before. This results in some perhaps overly restrictive self-editing when I am walking around with a camera in my hand.
The way I have chosen to break out of this is to change cameras, more specifically formats. Instead of the 35mm-like Leica M9 or one of my 35mm Leica film cameras, I am now just as likely to be carrying a Hasselblad Xpan (this is a wide-format panoramic 35mm camera), or medium format cameras like the Rolleiflex or my newest camera addition, a Contax 645.
I also have been loading these cameras with color film. Yes, Portra 400.
This has forced me to see things differently — both in the physical aspect ratio of the pictures I am taking and also to see the world in color instead of black & white.
Is this an effective way to dealing with my photographer’s block? I’m not sure yet but, hopefully, “East River” represents the beginning of a new period in terms of style for me.
Is there anything you wish you had done when you first started in photography that would of made a difference?
No, not really. Things were so very different back then. Photography in the 1960s and 1970s may as well have been in another century… oh wait, it was.
I think the reverse is more true. So many photographers today never had the experience of using film, using entirely manual cameras, working in a darkroom and seeing their first print come up in the developer. So many have never touched the aperture ring on a lens or a shutter speed dial.
Aperture and shutter speed speed, therefore, become almost abstract concepts to today’s high-automated digital photographers. How many of these people could read a scene and just know, almost metaphysically, what the proper exposure of a particular scene is?
These same people might say, who cares?
Okay, fair enough, I suppose. But I cannot help but think that there is something incomplete about their experience as a photographer. Dare I say, some of the fun is absent.
Any advice for new photographers wanting to go pro?
I don’t really consider myself a “pro” yet. It’s a matter of semantics for me, I know, but since I do not (yet) support myself with photography, it is hard to me to call myself a professional photographer.
Yet, due to some smart decisions earlier in my life (and LOTS of hard work), I am now a full-time photographer.
So, my advice is, first, to love what you are doing. To be successful in just about anything, you have to be passionate about it. Some by achieve some level of success out of shear luck — but unless there is passion that drives you, success will limited if it can be achieved at all.
My other tidbit advice, some have argued, does not apply to every photographer. Still, I say that a photographer should always, always have a camera with them. iPhones don’t count. I’m talking about a camera on a strap over your shoulder or, at least, within reach in a bag or backpack.
A camera encourages a photographer to think about taking a photograph. A iPhone (or other camera phone) just happens to be a gizmo that takes pictures — its very multi-purpose nature and uncamera-like operation is a distraction when it comes to photographing… Uh oh, that unexpected text message just caused me to miss that last (possibly great) photograph.
Writers write, the saying goes, and photographers photograph. You cannot photograph without a camera.
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