Or Did You Know?
I was interviewed by Catherine deCuir the other day at About.com. Which is nice. I was surprised.
I attended a get together of graduates of a night photography class I took last year, held Wednesday evening in a building near the old San Francisco Presidio army base headquarters. It was a meeting of graduates who wanted to come by so they could compare recent photographs and then go out and shoot some night shots around the Presidio. It was held in an old two story military administration building of some kind in a line of old military administration buildings, blocks of wood structures with their paint just beginning to peel that make interesting photographic subjects under moonlight. And daylight. Or, as it happens, under street lamps, in the fog.
I believe I shot a roll of color using a lens with a light yellow filter that is normally only used with black and white. I changed lenses in the dark and didn't notice the filter. I checked it, of course, but it's hard to tell, light yellow or clear, and besides, I'd made it a point to check earlier when I was packing. This is why I stress check lists. Preparation ahead of time. Still, not to worry. Might even be interesting. Might not. Might have to stop using yellow filters in the future when I'm running both black and white and color and switching lenses back and forth. And then again, maybe I will just continue to screw up.
Interesting group, though. Maybe twenty people, six or seven women, some there for the first time, most earlier graduates of the course, all fairly serious night photographers. You have to be serious or unemployed I think to drive into San Francisco in the middle of the week to shoot pictures in the fog until midnight or whenever. I pooped out around ten and headed back to Oakland.
You can tell, though, that there's a definite night photography subculture. There are street shooters
and portrait photographers and advertising (product) photographers, and wildlife photographers and garden photographers and night photographers too. A bit like Ansel Adams only under moonlight. Adams liked to shoot national parks and deserts. Night photographers like deserts too, but junkyards in the desert, old cars and abandoned drive in movie theaters in the desert, Mel's Drive In The Desert. One of the photographers keeps a web site with his night photography and his work gives a good feeling of what I've seen of night photography so far. I don't prefer color, but he is clearly following his own well defined vision and that's what it's about.
A note (I know you've been waiting with baited breath) on their equipment. The men who had
obviously been into it for a while brought an array of Hasselblads and other exotic medium format equipment. One brought a view camera, a 4" x 5", I think, but it could have been larger. These were serious suckers. Two or three of the women had that same determined aloofness, dressed as if they'd already done this on five different continents. I would pass them hunched over their cameras, lone men and women, lenses open, capturing something only they could see. I understood, I think, and passed along. I don't think that this night photography business is my bent, but you can never tell and there were some interesting possibilities, the peeling pale paint under the street lamps, the fog, the outline of a group of trees against a starless sky. How would they photograph if you upped the exposure a bit? Probably not all that well when you're using color film and a yellow filter. No need to mention that. The expert.
Actually, 20 relatively serious photographers together in one place is quite a few. I mentioned the amateurs shooting the Carnival Parade. Some of them seemed fairly serious, no so much by their equipment, anybody can buy equipment if they have the money, but in the way they approached their subject, the way they handled themselves. I'd be curious to see their photographs and hear what they might have to say about them, if they were in the habit of saying anything about them at all. There were maybe 20 serious photographers, professionals and amateurs at the Carnival Parade, but maybe less.
I sometimes cover events where I'm the only good, bad or indifferent photographer present and I sometimes think that's odd. This is a big city with a lot of people, you'd think there might be more photographers around (still photographers, local news video guys don't count.) I remember some of the photographers I knew when I was younger who made waves in rock and roll and news photography. Yes they were there in the beginning and got lucky, but they were the only photographers there (and they got lucky). I remember talking with one guy who took a camera to a Big Brother and the Holding Company concert and thought he got some decent pictures, so he looked up Janis Joplin in the phonebook and called.
"You shot some pictures of me at the concert", she asked?
"Well, come on over. Let's take a look."
I don't think at my age I'm going to start a new career shooting pictures of rock and roll concerts. Whatever is happening right now is called something else. But younger photographers are sitting out there right now wondering how to turn this into an interesting profession. Go find something you like, that excites you, and shoot pictures of it. Just go out and do it. And don't listen to anybody's voice but your own. The others don't lie, as such, they just don't have a clue. Keep asking questions with your camera until something answers back. You'll hear it. In the beginning nobody else will, but trust your ears (eyes, nose, throat, heart, liver and onions) and it will work. Honest.
Look at the great success I've had over these last many years as an internationally famous photojournalist and then look at my journal page and read the two sentences written on the wall in front of Holmes. And read again what I've just written above. My advice about advice. That's a snake eating its tail statement. One of life's little secrets. Or did you know?