Tamas Dezso . Photographer


GL: I always look for pictures that talk to me. Often I don’t really know how or why, but they talk. There are many pictures in Tamas Dezso’s Romanian series that spoke to me more than the photo of the boy in the bearskin. When he suggested that we talk about this image I wanted to know why. No matter what we do, there’s nothing more intriguing or exciting than choice and the act of choosing.

TD: At the beginning of the 2000s I visited Romania as a photo journalist. During my journeys at the time I experienced a very interesting world, populated by puzzlingly frank people with their reserved, yet deeply mystical stories. About three years ago I decided to start a series in Romania parallel to the Hungarian series that I started in 2009. The concept is identical: both examine the transitional period of these countries recovering after a communist dictatorship. The story has two threads: documenting the disintegrating remains of enforced industrialisation and disappearing traditions in villages gradually losing their inhabitants due to migration to the cities.

Tamas_Dezso_Epilogue_06The image of the bear-dancing boy is part of the latter theme. Photographing was preceded by serious preparation. First of all we learnt that there was a unique, nearly 1000-year-old tradition in Eastern Romania, and even there only in a few places, whereby on Boxing Day and at New Year people wear bearskins prepared by themselves. They gather in the streets, finally on the main square, and perform a ritual dance to drive away evil spirits. This tradition has been passed on from generation to generation and may slowly die out because of young people leaving these villages. We found several families in Comanesti and Salatruc who still took part in the ritual ceremony every year. The seven-year-old boy in the photograph is the youngest member of one of the oldest families still keeping the tradition. He received his first costume at the age of two and the family has 12 bearskins, some of which they hire out to less well-off village residents who would not have their own “outfit” during the festivities.

GL: How do you pick your topics? What are you most ‘sensitized’ to: light? Motion? Emotions? Stories?

RomaniaTD: My co-author, writer Eszter Szablyár and me research the themes and locations, travel and think about the book together. We then visit the locations that we have researched in advance, finding them in various sources such as books on ethnography and social sciences, novels, on the internet, or from stories that spread from mouth to mouth. However, it also happens that while we are on location we find a site that no written source has mentioned. During our journeys we talk a lot to people, which is greatly eased by their unaffected nature, informality and real hospitality. When taking pictures it is always the story that grips me first, light and technical conditions only follow later. I am planning to publish the Romanian series, Notes for an Epilogue as a book by the end of next year.

GL: As a photographer (a craftsperson, not as an artist) how do you get ready for the ‘moment’?

TD: Making the series does involve a state of continuous “hunting mood”, although the use of this expression may really seem a bit too strong and perhaps it doesn’t fit in with this type of contemplative and inquisitive photography. It rather involves a continuous intellectual readiness, which demands lots of preparation at home. Once we cross the border to Romania, the readiness sharpens, focusing simultaneously both on what’s been thoroughly planned and on themes that appear suddenly, incidentally.

Tamas_Dezso_Epilogue_03I took the photographs for the series with a medium format Phase One camera. I began taking pictures at the turn of the century and as a photo-journalist I had still experienced how, with the deadline in mind, we arrived running to the editorial office to develop the pictures. Those were exciting times. Later on, I have continued doing my own series on black-and-white film.

I changed for the digital medium format camera when I started the series documenting the transitional period in Hungary and Romania. That had several reasons. On the one hand, I had decided that I would turn towards photographic art and I wanted to achieve the best possible technical quality which also works in large size on white walls. On the other hand, I wanted to reduce the technical factors and conditions to a minimum, as these can distract my attention from the content. Incidentally, turning to digital for me does not involve accumulating an unlimited number of shots. I have maintained the discipline of film photography. There aren’t many discarded pictures – what I take mostly gets into the series.

GL: What’s your relationship to daylight and artificial light?

TD: I don’t use any lighting and lamps, I want to preserve the original atmosphere of the locations. It sometimes happens that as a result I spend more time at a certain place or return several times, waiting for the best light.

GL: Your series are all color images. Do you ever go for black-and-white series?

Tamas_Dezso_Epilogue_05TD: The present series works in colour. This is what renders what I saw and the feelings I experienced there the best. The photographs recently exhibited in the Robert Koch Gallery in San Francisco have black, relatively thin frames and anti-reflective glass, which really makes you feel that you are standing at the location. The use of colour is part of this effect. I have no objection in principle to black-and-white pictures. It may easily happen that in the future I myself will use this language.

GL: You have mentioned to me that you do not like your earlier work from Romania that much. Why?

TD: Perhaps it was an exaggeration on my part when I said I did not like those photographs. After all, my bond to Romania was imprinted in me when I took them, and it drew me back later. I rather meant that I had moved away from that format, its compositional technique and its photo-journalistic way of seeing. Those years of learning gave me technical routine and with its help I can by now entirely focus on essential matters.

GL: How did this move – which to a large degree is also a career move – change you?

Tamas_Dezso_early_work_015_536TD: Nearly everything has changed when I left photo-journalism behind. My way of seeing things has become different. I’ve reduced the pace, which is essential for contemplation. The trajectory of the images has also changed. These photo essays will gain their final form no longer in magazines but as books supplemented with a text or on exhibition walls.

The format, the large size, presents both an opportunity and a challenge. The technical possibilities and the richness of detail help viewers become involved inside observers rather than external ones, they are placed in the atmosphere of the image. But it requires deep attention for the image to be compact in all its elements, so that no tiny detail would disturb the balance of the picture. Urgent deadlines were replaced by contemplation in line with my own inner sense of time and as a result the series could be free of compromises.

GL: Your change of equipment also reflected your need for a new approach. How did this technical choice influence your way of seeing?

Tamas_Dezso_early_work_002_510TD: The reason for my choice was to be able to probe the limits of quality and richness of detail in a technical sense for large pictures. In the case of images enlarged to a huge size compared to the dimensions of magazines, separate, little worlds open up within a photograph thanks to the details and this makes their reception even more exciting.

GL: It might be just my impression, but I have the feeling that you are very much attracted to white. Is that so?

TD: Yes, a specific color world, white and rusty, really defines this series. Two kinds of pasts are decaying simultaneously. The heritage of communism with its buildings and sites, and the tradition passed on from one generation to the next are fading away at the same time.

GL: When you moved to medium format photography, why did you choose digital? Why not film?

Tamas_Dezso_HereAnywhere_01TD: When I began thinking differently about photography and decided to start making larger-scale, independent photographic essays instead of doing short-term photo-journalistic jobs I would have preferred to shoot on a large format camera. But I had to realize that this complicated procedure lacked the appropriate technical conditions in Hungary. There are no up-to-date labs and the professional background is absent. Digital technology simply presents greater freedom.

GL: You are obviously a person to whom the way your pictures are exhibited matters a great deal. What do you think about the way we all view images today? Most of it is on the internet, compressed and small jpegs on small computer monitors and displays. How do you feel about people moving away from large prints and large displays? Especially when you’re photography is medium format?

Tamas_Dezso_Epilogue_04TD: The democratisation of photography, which is often experienced as a dumping of images, is interesting rather than oppressive for me. Continuous image-making has become an independent language. It has almost replaced of the role of written texts in people’s personal, daily communication, which reflects the extreme acceleration of information delivery. Looking at an image on a monitor to me represents fast access, the spread of visual information at the speed of lightning, which may help an art photographer’s work. This means that the opportunities available for appreciating quality photographs are increasing.

(To see more of Tamas Dezso’s pictures visit his website at www.tamas-dezso.com. All images © Tamas Dezso and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer also teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.


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Tony Ray-Jones . Photographer

Tony Ray-Jones died when I was one year old. There is no way I can have my usual weekly conversation for l1ghtb1tes with him. I’d love to, but it’ll have to wait. To make up for that, here are two pages from his diary.

If you are in London or can get here before 16 March 2014, have a look at them in the Science Museum, at the Only in England exhibition of photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr. I know, I know, it is not allowed to take pictures there, but when I went there today, I just couldn’t help it. (Especially the first letter reminds me of how I keep looking for photographers to talk to on these pages.)

Tony Ray-Jones Diary 2


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Andrew Miksys . Photographer

Andrew Miksys Disko 04

GL: How did you meet this girl in this disco that more than anything looks like a set from a David Lynch movie?

AM: The problem with photography is that you never know what’s going to work in a picture and what’s not. I find it impossible to plan a good photograph. It’s more about getting into interesting situations and environments and then just seeing what happens. I asked this girl if I could photograph her. The location was kinda good because it was in the lobby of the disco and not too chaotic. Then I tried a few different things from photographing her standing near a wall and then near this column. When I was photographing, I can’t remember seeing all the guys in the background in leather jackets, but when I saw them on the contact sheet I thought the contrast between the girl and the them looked great.

GL: How long work you working on this series? And how did you know that you were done with DISKO?

Andrew_Miksys_DISKO_03AM: I spent about 10 years on and off working on DISKO. It was really difficult to finish the series. I wasn’t exactly chasing after individual photographs. There was something more in the mood and atmosphere of rural Lithuania on empty back roads that I wanted to come through in the book and in a series of photographs. At one point a few years ago, I decided to stop photographing and look through every roll of film and start choosing images that worked together. There were about 75 images that seemed to fit the them which I later edited down to 45 for the book.

GL: What attracted you to the disco?

AM: I like projects that have many layers. In DISKO there were the teenagers growing up in a new post-Soviet reality with more influences from western Europe and the US. But the discos took place in Soviet-era cultural centers that were basically unchanged since the days of the USSR. Past, present, and future were all mixed together in one room. Lots of material. Photographing was always a bit cumbersome. I use a studio style flash on a stand. It’s pretty easy to move around, but I was rarely out on the dance floor trying to photograph. Instead I worked around the edges.

GL: How did those young people react to you? You mention that it was a kind of time travel for you. Do you think that – although they may not have consciously realised this – your “antique” equipment, your 6×7 camera and your studio flashlight meant a similar kind of magical time travel for them?

Andrew_Miksys_DISKO_01AM: Mostly I think they were a bit confused by my presence in their local disco. Why had I traveled all the way from the USA to photograph them? But in a way my imperfect Lithuanian and foreignness that helped me make the series and even kept me safe. I think a Lithuanian photographer would have been treated with more suspicion. Sometimes there is more intimacy in being a stranger and people open up to you in ways they wouldn’t if you were a local.

GL: How do you get ready for your pictures?

AM: Photography is very intrusive and you have to work to get the shots you want. I’m not sure I like the hunting metaphor, though. It’s more just work and you have to work weather you’re in a good mood or not. And the way I work there is a lot of waiting around to see if something interesting happens. I can’t really plan anything other than deciding to be somewhere and spend several hours photographing. Many times I get nothing good. This can be extremely frustrating. The only thing to do is keep going. And there is a great feeling when things are working well, but you just can’t plan for it.

GL: How do you deal with the emotional fatigue that sets in from time to time with any long-term project? Is it discipline that helps you through? Passion? Curiosity?

Andrew_Miksys_DISKO_013AM: Yes, you are right, the process can be very exhausting and emotionally taxing. There is a lot of waiting around for something to happen. Days, weeks, years go by where I get nothing. But then when I get hooked on an idea or interesting experiences, I can’t stop until I finish. Sometimes I even fight myself not to find interesting new projects because at this point I know what a commitment it takes to see them through to the end. And it can be a really awful feeling to start a project and not finish it. And in a way it’s even worse to leave it unfinished than to go through the difficult process of finishing.

GL: Have they seen your pictures? Has the girl seen her photo? If yes, do you make a point of showing images to the people who are in it? Or do you make a point of not showing them the images?

Andrew_Miksys_DISKO_05AM: I don’t have a set rule for this. At times, it’s an interesting part of the process. But sometimes not. Mostly people imagine themselves one way, but look very different in your photographs. This can be a little complicated when your showing people your photographs along the way. In a way it might even interfere with your work before you even know exactly what you’re looking for or what your vision is. It’s not really about being secretive or hiding things from your subjects. However, I think it’s important to stay true to your vision. In the end your photographs are a subjective view of the world. I think it was Avedon who said all portraits are self-portraits anyway. Of course people will recognize something real about themselves in a photograph, but in a way it’s also a fiction. That’s the amazing thing about photography. It’s reality and fiction. In other projects, like the one I did about the Roma in Lithuania, sharing my photographs with the people I photographed was a very important.

GL: What camera did you use for the project? Film? Digital?

Andrew_Miksys_DISKO_015AM: I use 6×7 medium format film cameras, a Mamiya 7, Pentax 6×7, and a Fuji 6×7. I scan all my film with a Imacon scanner. I still like the look of film over digital. Partially it’s just a format thing. I like 6×7. Going back to 35mm or 6×4.5 would be difficult. But I have been considering switching to digital. It would really speed things up to skip film process.

GL: If you switched to digital: how would that change your photography? Could you have shot Disko on digital?

AM: I would consider using a medium format digital camera, but it would probably take some time to get used to. Sure I could have shot Disko with a digital camera, but I think it would have had a different feel. It’s kinda difficult for me to judge photographs right after I take them. I need to wait a month or sometimes more before I can really see what worked and what didn’t. And with film there is a natural delay between the time you photograph and when you finally see what you did after the film is processed and scanned. If I started using digital I would probably take some time to adjust to the immediacy and I would have to change the way I work a little.

GL: There are two kinds of images in the series: ‘landscapes’ (interiors/exteriors) and portraits. They reinforce each other, they blend into each other. Are these two different modes of thinking for you?

Andrew_Miksys_DISKO_010AM: No. It’s all the same. I want them all to have the same feel and look.

GL: What lens did you use for the project? What motivates your choice of equipment?

AM: My lenses range from 65mm to 100mm. Mostly I use flash so the shutter speed is not so important. Because I like sharp images I try to shoot at f/11 or f/16, ISO 400.

GL: How do you measure light when doing street photography / studio portraits?

AM: I have a flash meter. Sometimes I use a meter in the street or just use the meters in my cameras.

GL: How do you focus? Manually? AF?

AM: It’s all manual focus.

GL: What about lighting? What’s your relationship to daylight and artificial light?

Andrew_Miksys_DISKO_012AM: I like both daylight and artificial light. Daylight, of course, is more complicated. You have to find lighting situations that are somehow consistent and help hold the project together. Otherwise there is too much chaos. I really like grey November Lithuanian light. The sky, trees, streets and landscape are exactly the same shade of grey. No shadows. But in recent years I’ve been working on a new project and shooting in bright summer light. Usually, this is my least favorite kind of light, but somehow the blue skies, bright colors, and everything else seem to be working.

GL: And what about flashlight? How and when do you use flashlights?

AM: Anytime I’m inside I use a flash. I like to see all the details in a room.

GL: How much do you rely on post-production?

Andrew_Miksys_DISKO_08AM: I spend a lot of time trying to make my digital scans as good as they can be. However, I don’t change them too much. They’re not so different from when I used to print my own color photographs in the darkroom. But I’m not a huge purist or anything and will alter the photograph in Photoshop if I think it needs to be changed.

GL: The series is in color. When do you go for black-and-white and when for color?

AM: I always shoot color.

GL: I know it’s difficult to talk about color, but perhaps I could approach it from another angle: why don’t you shoot black-and-white?

Andrew_Miksys_DISKO_02AM: I just like the way color shows reality the way we see it with our eyes. Black-and-white is a little too abstract for me. I even like the way color can be a little garish. Bright reds and pinks are just great. Of course, you have to control what’s in the frame and the combinations of colors, but I like all the contrasts between colors. I would hate to lose that. And seems to have a stronger emotional quality than black-and-white.

(To see more of Andrew Miksys’ pictures visit his website at www.andrewmiksys.com. Andrew’s freshly published DISKO book can be ordered on his website. All images © Andrew Miksys and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer also teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.


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Sébastien van Malleghem . Photographer

Van_Malleghem_Sebastien_20 copie

I have already talked about how sometimes I look at an image but instead of the photo, I see a wider shot of the photographer with the camera glued to his or her eyes, index finger on the shutter release. Sébastien’s photos evoke this immediacy, urgency and fragileness. A split second too soon or too late and the image is gone. I look at them and it’s like watching the finish of a great race, the runner about the beat his personal best: there’s a flash of anxiety (‘Oh, no, he’s gonna miss it!’) followed by sharp relief – ‘He did it!’

Van_Malleghem_Sebastien_32SVM: This is a personal reportage that I’ve been doing since 2011. I wanted to continue my project about justice, and the prisons are the second part of it. I went and visited several prisons to understand and to show the daily life of the inmates inside the walls of the penitentiaries. This photo was shot in a prison for women in Brussels, it was in the summer and I was surprised to see women playing and enjoying life inside this ‘place’. It was really hot and some of them were even sunbathing. For me this picture shows that these people in the prison are not merely criminals, they are also humans with emotions. No matter what they did in the past, it simply shows how they struggle to keep going.

GL: What about the first part of your reportage?

SVM: I’ve always been interested in violence and I wanted to talk about what it’s like in my country. There’s no direct link between this subject and my personal life, but yes, I have a certain fascination for the unseen, for crime stories. I’d like to understand what can make people commit crimes.

Van_Malleghem_Sebastien_22So the series about the police was an interesting opportunity. I wanted to show something different from what the TV shows and all the magazines do – talking all the time about the police using the same clichés: arrests, bulletproof vests, car chases…

I wanted to show reality, no concessions, just speaking the truth. After a while my interest in the police evolved and I was increasingly fascinated by the relationship between the police and citizens. I have spent years with the police, taking pictures of them as they work, trying to understand them, photographing their daily scenes that are never seen. I was shooting pictures of emergencies, of the impact of crisis on people. I think the justice system is like an old administrative system: completely out of date and not aware of the needs of the country. And I wanted to show that, as well.

Van_Malleghem_Sebastien_23So after the police, the next part was obviously the prisons… What happened to the people who got arrested ? Where do they go? What is the daily life inside the walls that the justice system had created like?

GL: What caught your attention when you saw these women play badminton?

SVM: I just saw the scene and I felt touched. So I took the picture. I don’t usually ‘think’ when I’m taking pictures, I act more on instinct.

GL: What do you think about this instinct? Is this something you were born with or is it a question of experience and training?

SVM: I’m a kind of nervous person, and my job is a passion. I’m totally involved in it so… I suppose that taking pictures with instinct is related to this passion, to this feeling.

GL: Looking at your pictures I have to feeling that you are always ready to take a picture.

Van_Malleghem_Sebastien_24 copieSVM: I focus mentally when I leave home and I focus my camera when I aim it. But the only things that really matter are people. What they show, what they feel, the moment, the energy and obviously, the light.

GL: What camera do you use?

SVM: The first camera that I bought was a Canon 5D Mark I in 2008, it was a second-hand camera. I bought it because it is full frame and it wasn’t too expensive. I learned to shoot with it, and I began to get used to it. Ever since then, that camera has never left my hands, and I’m able to use it without ‘thinking’.

GL: So you haven’t upgraded to the Mark II or III? Why? Is it emotional attachment to your camera or is there something about the Mark I that you especially like? Do you have a favorite lens?

Van_Malleghem_Sebastien_01 copieSVM: I also have a 5D Mark II, but I don’t like the way how your pictures are intensified with these new cameras. Colors and black-and-white look like advertising pics. I have no favorite lens, I use what I need. Maybe a crush on the Canon 28mm f/2.8 – the sharpness is really good.

GL: What was the original picture format? And what about your settings?

SVM: I shoot in manual mode and sometimes I crop my images. But I don’t think it’s too interesting to talk about shutter speed and settings. Because I’m on fully manual, my settings change all the time as the light changes. Sometimes I underexpose my pictures to get more blacks.

GL: How do you focus?

SVM: Mostly auto-focus but sometimes in the dark the AF doesn’t work too well, so I switch to manual.

GL: What’s your relationship to daylight and artificial light? How do you feel about flash photography?

Van_Malleghem_Sebastien_24SVM: I love shooting with a flash when it’s necessary, I like to put a light where there is none, to force people to see… It’s different inside the prison because I can’t stay there at night, so I don’t need a flash, there is enough light. And I don’t want to use it like an effect. The flash can be useful but must used with clear intentions.

GL: How do you think the flash influences your pictures? It calls attention to you, people react to you, you become a part of the situation.

SVM: First of all, flash photography has existed for a long time and flashes are part of people’s everyday notions about photography. So they aren’t too surprised by them, especially at night when it’s normal to use a flash. Yes, many photographers are obvious, but it’s not your camera that makes you visible, it’s your behavior. Whether it is a flash on a reflex camera or just a smartphone. If you just act slowly, respectfully and discreetly, people don’t pay attention. Yes, sometimes people react, but I’m used to talking to people, so that’s okay.

GL: How much do you work with your images in post?

Van_Malleghem_Sebastien_31SVM: I’m not the best in post. I don’t like to use all these new ‘tools’ coming all the time with Adobe Photoshop CS and all these programs. So, I work like I would in a lab with paper and filters: I adjust the contrast, the exposure, and I fix my blacks.

GL: I am also ‘conservative’ with my digital black-and-white pictures – but I often tweak the luminance of individual color channels. Do you do it to get the most out of your images?

SVM: Not at all. I can’t change the color channels because I’m color-blind ! I turn all my rushes directly into black-and-white in Adobe Bridge, using the original black-and-white settings from my camera. I don’t like to see my pictures in color. I think mainly in black-and-white.

GL: Do you shoot on film?

SVM: I mainly shoot digital, although if I love film. Sometimes, when I want to work slower I shoot with a medium format camera and an old Canon EOS-1.

GL: How do you choose your distance from your subjects? When do you go close and when do you stand back and just observe?

SVM: Like any human, I observe, I feel. If I can go closer I will and then I’ll shoot really close.

GL: How do you see your relationship to your subjects in the police/prison pictures? How do you build acceptance or trust?

Van_Malleghem_Sebastien_13 copieSVM: My relationships were different for the police and the prison series. Because the project lasted so long, I was accepted into the ‘family’ by the police. And also because the cops were close to my age, so we had a lot in common. For the prison series it was different. Prison is an administration, and I can’t stay as much as I want to, where I want to. I think if you want to be accepted somewhere, just be honest, explain what you do, why you do it, be sincere and then the people who you meet will trust you, and they will feel comfortable with what you do.

GL: What about your latest images, the North Road pictures? Looking at them they are obviously a lot calmer than the police/prison pictures (the topic is different) but I somehow sense that you are just as intense and alert when you observe nature, weather and ‘ordinary’ people.

SVM: I went on a road trip with a friend in Norway in August 2013. We were invited as artists in residence for one month, to do something new.

When we first drove into the North of Denmark, I was shocked by the intensity of the light. Then the interaction of the road, and nature, how people live in the north. I took pictures of these, simple as it was. I tought a lot during this trip and I noticed that I liked that a lot. So afterwards I decided to continue the trip in Iceland. You can take pictures of violence for a long time but sometimes you just need to find a way to breathe, it’s a part of the balance.

(To see more of Sébastien van Malleghem’s pictures visit his website at www.sebastienvanmalleghem.eu. His recently published book, The Police can purchased on Amazon. All images © Sébastien van Malleghem and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer also teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.


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Edward van Herk . Photographer

Edward van Herk Milonga 1

I look at a lot of pictures. We all do. Lately, I have found that the images I react to fall into two categories. There are the ones that I like. And there are a few that I like so much, I almost feel like I’m behind the camera taking them. Here’s one of them.

EVH: Travel comes with a bag full of expectations and clichés to some extent. When I got an opportunity to stay in Buenos Aires for a few days, I immediately had to think about Tango music. When visiting a new place, I always search for authenticity. Tourist dance performances, Tango dinner shows and so on didn’t interest me. When I found out the porteños (locals) passionate about music and dance came together at Milongas, I knew right then I wanted to get inside and connect. I bought a newspaper to search for locations. This particular picture was made in a traditional Buenos Aires Milonga salon, where passionate Milongueros come together to escape everyday life. Time seemed to freeze there and it felt really exciting.

GL: What are you most ‘sensitised’ to? Light? Motion? Emotions? Stories?

Edward van Herk Milonga 2EVH: Mostly emotions. A Milonga night is filled with passion, drama, beauty, grace, tenderness, love, desire, envy, romance, tension, and of course music. This couple immediately drew me in. The age difference between them simply seemed to fade. Generally a photographer’s first choice is what to photograph. David Hurn once said ‘You don’t become a photographer because you are interested in photography’. He meant that photography is only a tool for expressing a passion in something else. A desire to become famous, to get many likes on the Internet or to fall in love with cameras as desirable objects doesn’t improve your photographs. Mostly it requires practice, getting out there and going to work and not letting failed attempts set you back. Therefore is important to do some research and find an accessible subject and start a project or story. When your subjects become most important, your heart opens up and you will respond and discover and develop your own style. It will allow you to enhance your level of perception and get involved in the world around you. I mostly develop a strong desire to connect to people during my projects. The greatest gift I have received through my work is the connection with my subjects.

GL: How do you see the role of preparation and intuition in your photography?

EVH: Before I go to a location I check my equipment and make sure it is in good working order. When arriving at a location I judge the quality and characteristics of the light. I start to think in frame lines and what I should dismiss. Only position and timing can be controlled. My mindset is that of a painter with limited time. With moving subjects like Milonga, time to find the optimum position is limited. Making a picture like this, combining a peak moment of emotion (content) with intellectual decisions (composition or form, when all formal elements are in harmony), requires training of the eye and understanding of two important concepts in photography, visualization and anticipation.

edward_van_herk_04Visualisation means judging how a subject would look when photographed. Anticipation is the ability to assess the moving elements of a scene and integrate them into an effective photograph in fractions of a second during a moment of peak action involving the subject. Combining the two requires intuition. This is achieved through practice, experience and knowledge. Technical knowledge is important to express yourself freely. Without technical knowledge about the craft of photography it is impossible to comprehend the medium and control it creatively.

GL: What camera did you use for the project? Film? Digital? Why?

edward_van_herk_09EVH: Equipment serves a purpose and is not the goal of photography. However it is important to select an appropriate tool for the task. The Milonga story was made with a 35mm analogue film rangefinder camera (Leica MP). This camera fits my personal style and complements it, allowing me to further my creativity and artistic ambitions. It is small, unobtrusive and most important, allows me to make my own decisions. The viewfinder allows me to look around the frame, which enhances my anticipation. The viewfinder is located on the side of the camera, which allows me to open the other eye when required to see what is going on around me, without it being blocked by the camera. The choice for film is an aesthetic one, in black and white I always work with film, in color I work both with film and digital. I also have a medium format film camera, which I sometimes use for ‘slower’ photography such as portraits in both color and black and white. Digital and film photography both have their benefits.

The digital versus analogue debate is silly in many ways. Digital and film are just different tools, both have benefits and drawbacks. Working with digital gives me a different feeling than film: the aspect of instant gratification can be distracting. I like to focus on my subject, on the connection, on the moment we share. The photographic result is for later. The fortes of digital photography are the convenience and the possibilities.

GL: The series is black and white. But you also do delicate color photos. What is your attitude to color? When do you go for b/w and when for color?

edward_van_herk-20071028-0066-EditEVH: It has to do with visualization of the subject matter and what I feel I want to express about a subject. For example in my ‘Deep Soweto’ project, the color added to the spirit and vibe of the people. Color and black and white require a different way of seeing.

GL: What about lens choice and your settings?

EVH: Technically this story was challenging. The light was very dim and the subjects were moving. I just had 400 ISO films with me. I was forced to push the film 3 stops (400 to 3200 ISO) in order to be able to work. Pushing film means you underexpose and overdevelop. Pushing 3 stops really approaches the limits of the film; there is hardly any shadow detail and the contrast increases. Although it doesn’t bring out the maximum quality potential of the film, I decided it adds to the feeling of this story. Flash was no option during this event. It would have been too obtrusive, without respect to the people and the intimate atmosphere and setting. I had to work with the lens full open (f/2), and slow shutter speeds (1/4 or 1/8). In order to get sharpness I had to move with the subjects on the dance floor, panning, following their motion, dancing with them. I always come very close, a 35mm lens is my favorite focal length.

GL: How do you set your exposure?

edward_van_herk_10EVH: Normally I use a reflective light meter in the camera. I apply part of the zone system to 35mm photography. This means I can measure the light from any part of a scene and relate it to a specific zone and open or close the lens accordingly, adjusting the measured reading. This works for me as a bridge between expression and technique, a language to translate creative choices into technical procedures.

GL: How do you focus? Manually? AF?

EVH: My cameras do not have autofocus. I am not against automation as long as the photographer stays in charge. Manual focus has advantages. If you know how to use it, it gives you a lot of control.

GL: How do you process your images?

edward_van_herk_sinti8EVH: I print my black and white negatives in the darkroom on traditional fiber paper, my usual format for 35mm is 30×40 cm prints in 40x50cm frames. For display on the web I make smaller prints, which can fit in a flatbed scanner. However photography shouldn’t only be viewed on the web as a small jpeg. I didn’t crop these pictures. Usually visualisation was less effective when cropping is required. Further I like to print my full 35mm negatives with a black border, this is light from my enlarger head that surrounds the negative edges on a slightly larger negative carrier and exposes the paper.

GL: What about lighting? What’s your relationship to daylight and artificial light?

EVH: In some projects the light is more important than in others. Especially in color photography, the temperature of the light has a big influence on the quality of the colors. Similar light helps consistency. Of course I love to work when the light is good. Also in black-and-white photography, good daylight brings out the maximum quality potential of the medium. I hardly ever use flash.

GL: What do the darkroom and printing mean to you? What is the difference for you between making a print and then scanning it or scanning your negative, working on it digitally and then printing it?

edward_van_herk_sinti9EVH: The difference with negative scanning is the shadow and highlight control. With black and white film, exposure controls the shadow detail and development controls the contrast and the highlights. When printing in the darkroom, you get back a lot of highlight detail that is hidden in the silver. This is how the process of film is designed. When digitizing negatives, shadow detail can be enhanced, but it is hard to get back highlight detail, things become muddy quickly. Digital is like slide film, you expose to prevent the clipping of highlights and this is the opposite from black and white film. I do find very good results can be achieved by scanning prints. The highlight detail is already there.

Exposing, developing, printing, toning, drying, matting, framing yourself, is photography from a to z. The end result is a unique print, a handcrafted piece of art with rich tones, grain, depth and maximum density. For me personally, completing the entire image management process myself is very rewarding and enables me to optimize my print statement (my interpretation of a negative). Holding a well-made print in your hands is a wonderful feeling.

GL: Could anything make you give up your Leica?

EVH: Leica is a brand, they provide tools. I will use whatever tool I need, preferably a camera format that compliments my personal style. What is much more important than the equipment, is to decide what you want to photograph. What do you have to say? Photography is special, it provides a way into the lives of others and has enabled me to deeply interact, to go out of my comfort zone, to learn about life. For this discovery I am very grateful.

(To see more of Edward van Herk’s pictures visit his website at edwardvanherk.com. All images © Edward van Herk and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer also teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.


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Erica McDonald . Photographer

Erica_McDonald_windowGL: How did you ‘meet’ the woman behind the window?

EMD: It happened close to the end of the time when I was working on The Dark Light of This Nothing. I had the bones of the series laid down but was out looking for the kinds of moments I had missed in the previous months. The woman just happened to be looking out her window – we saw each other and shared a moment.

The Dark Light was done as personal project. Up until that point I had been focused on the single image, and I had decided that I’d like to invest myself in a long-term story. Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey runs a site called Burn and he had been encouraging a group of readers to see what they could accomplish over a period of a month or so. I met with David and told him about a few of my ideas, and together we came to the conclusion that I should focus on this one; what was started as a month-long project became a several-year endeavor.

GL: There are two kinds of images in the series: street photos and more formal studio portraits. You look at the people in your images from various points-of-view. Where did this approach come from?

Erica_McDonald_06-2EMD: The series had a very specific arc. I had intended to shoot only large format portraits against white backdrop on the street – that was the initial idea of the whole project. I had been looking at Richard Avedon’s In The American West (which was shot over five years) and wanted to shoot a very miniaturized homage to him over the course of a month. Shooting the portraits on a street corner in NYC involved getting assistants, a permit and working around the weather as well as my schedule and in the end took a few months to complete.

I had hoped to shoot all the portraits with this amazing 4×5 Gowlandflex – it’s a rare large format camera that operates as a twin lens reflex camera, like the medium format Rollei I had been using regularly; this kind of camera is terrific because you never lose sight of the person you are photographing, even at the moment the shutter is released. It was my first time with a large format camera so I had a learning curve, and I was doing audio interviews and getting model releases and running across the street to get people to come over. There was a lot going on, and a little wind could knock down my portable backdrop, and passersby didn’t always have time to sit for the time it takes to make a large format image. So after a while, I brought a second camera, my medium format Rollei, and did some of the portraits this way.

GL: The series is from between 2008-2011. Starting a long-term project is simple, but how do you know when to stop? What tells you that you have reached the end of your road with your theme?

00027032-SPP-TheDarkLightOfThisNothing02-009EMD: When I felt like I had built a representative body of portraits of the long-term residents of the area I scanned everything, did an edit and sat with the work for a month, and realized that what I had shot was only a part of the story I wanted to tell. Photographing the neighborhood consistently for a full year to cover the four seasons seemed like it would serve to express what I hoped for.

So I started that way, this time working with a smaller 35mm camera to be able to move more quickly and intimately in a documentary style. When this year was over, I sat and looked at the work again, and saw what I needed. The last handful of successful images came very slowly, over the course of two more years, but I was only going out looking for them occasionally. There came a point when I got several rolls of film back without any keepers and then I knew I had nothing more to say that would add meaning, and that the project was completed.

GL: As a photographer, how do you react to what you see?

Erica_McDonald_07R_gatedEMD: I’ve always been what you might call a watcher. With or without camera, I’m framing and shooting mentally. My greatest weakness as a photographer might be that I sometimes get so involved watching that I forget to shoot, even though my camera is in hand; I try to train myself out of this, but I actually don’t mind it that much – sometimes this uninterrupted watching actually informs the way I shoot at another time.

GL: How did your choice of material influence the way the project took shape?

EMD: For The Dark Light of This Nothing reportage images I made an aesthetic decision ahead of time about what I wanted the work to feel like and that informed my choice to use Tri-X film pushed to 1600 ASA. The quality of light I wanted happened at, and after four o’clock in the afternoon, so that dictated my schedule. I knew how much I could open up the aperture when I lost the light and still be able to shoot above 1/30th of a second and built my project around these details – out at four whenever possible, and home when the light was really gone.

Structure really helps me, keeps excuses at bay and then within these confines I start to play little games to challenge myself. With this work, I had very set geographic boundaries that I extended by three blocks after the first year when I learned that some old timers thought of the boundaries of Park Slope differently. This was a huge gift to myself as sometimes I felt like a hamster on a wheel and would spend whole afternoons searching without even taking single image. The upside is that people in the neighborhood became used to seeing me, and if I was without my camera they’d ask why.

GL: What film camera did you use for the project? And why not digital?

Erica_McDonald_dl_partyhatEMD: In the end I used three film cameras for the body of work: the 4×5 Gowlandflex and the medium format Rolleiflex for the portraits, and the Leica M7 for the reportage. As this was my first long-term project there was no question that I wanted to shoot it on black-and-white film; so much of the work that has inspired me – Eugene Richard’s Dorchester Days, Bruce Davidson’s Brooklyn Gang and East 100th Street, was shot this way. Money wasn’t a serious consideration for the 35mm because I shoot very few images when I use the Leica and a friend was processing my film at his home affordably, and then I scanned everything. The cost of the 4″x5″ was killing me though, and this partly dictated my decision to also shoot the portraits with the Rollei.

GL: How much do you work with your images in post?

EMD: The goal is to get what I want in camera, so hopefully little post-production is needed. As for framing, all the images are as shot – I only crop if at the time I saw the image, I knew what I wanted but it was physically impossible to shoot it without the rest of the elements in frame – but usually these images aren’t in the final cut anyway.

GL: How do you measure light?

Erica_McDonald_howlEMD: Both my Rollei and Leica have built-in light meters, but I always carry a hand-held meter anyway and do my readings that way for street work unless the light changes swiftly in an unexpected way. There is a certain formality combined with intimacy that happens when you meter for a portrait that sets up the moment of shooting nicely – you move in close and talk with them for a second, they take the process seriously.

GL: How do you focus? Manually? AF?

EMD: The only time I might use auto focus is if I am shooting digitally – my film cameras don’t even have the option.

GL: The series is black and white. But you also do delicate color photos. What is your attitude to color? When do you go for black-and-white and when for color?

EMD: The choice to use color or black-and-white is usually easy to discern as an intuitive thing, but a bit complicated to explain. It has to do with the intended voice of the work and texture as well as the quality of light.

Erica_McDonald_parachutedropOne of the little games I play is that other than for an assignment, I can’t shoot with a camera or take an image unrelated to the project I am working on. I have a lot of miscellaneous films in the freezer, and cameras I don’t use for long stretches. Occasionally, when I’m not working on anything specific, I’ll load a camera and then purposefully forget if it is color or black-and-white, and just take note of the ASA – it is a sort of test to see if I can make strong imagery irrespective of the film color tone.

A reason that images can work without the knowledge if the film is color or black-and-white is because you are looking for elements beyond that to create meaning. And then the color becomes a bonus, or the black-and-white functions as it should because you are thinking structurally anyway, and that includes things like shade, and light and dark. It’s like when you take painting 101, you do what is called a value exercise when starting out, so you aren’t influenced by hue or actual color – instead you see relationships between grey tones. Vermeer did this in an elevated way by using his so-called “dead coloring” or underpainting method. Interestingly, it seems Vermeer may have used a camera obscura as part of this technique. Going back to the film question, it comes down to training yourself to see what is before you in terms of tonal value.

GL: I really like your ‘landscapes’ from the series (rain, snow, sleet). It’s dumb to put it like this, but they are ‘my kind of’ landscapes: landscapes/cityscapes with a context, not just pretty trees and stunning colors. How do you feel about landscapes in general?

Erica_McDonald_snowlightEMD: I’ve just returned from hiking in the remote wilderness and I didn’t photograph because the beauty is greater than I can translate through my camera – or perhaps simply already perfectly authored. Urban landscapes are made in conjunction with man, and I feel comfortable adding my voice to that equation.

GL: How much do you get involved in the lives of the people who you meet over such an extended period? How do you see yourself in such a project? Observer? Participator?

EMD: The experience of participating in others’ lives always has different meaning and results for me, and at times has yielded friendship and at other times taught me lessons about personal boundaries, but I always try to remain mindful about what my presence may mean for the persons I am asking something of. I know I have a responsibility when someone lets me see into their life.

GL: Have your subjects seen their pictures? Did you show them? Were they interested? How did they react? (People have such a hard time seeing themselves on pictures.)

EMD: Depending on the circumstance, sometimes I’ll make prints for the people I have photographed – I did that for Surf Manor, because these were the only recent portraits the residents had of themselves, and they very much wanted to see what I saw in them, and most displayed them proudly in their bedrooms. But that isn’t always practical, so I am sure to tell people my name and that I have a website, and the project name so if they are curious they can see if the image we made was part of the final story, and request a file.

When you work in a context where you will see the people again, it is terrific to get feedback. One man sent his portrait to his daughter, another significantly changed his attitude – for the better – toward the idea of me photographing ‘his neighborhood’, another thought his family wouldn’t like the image and asked me to take it down, so it varies but is usually a positive experience. On the other side, there is a man I run into weekly who I have photographed several times and interviewed, but he hasn’t taken the time to go look. I tease him that I’m going to stop him and make him watch the multimedia version of The Dark Light of This Nothing on the street one day.

(To see more of Erica McDonald’s pictures visit her website at ericamcdonaldphoto.com. All images © Erica McDonald and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer also teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.


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Bruno Bourel . Photographer

Bruno Bourel Lovers (Flirting with the Photographer)

GL: Any image is a record of two roads crossing: the person behind camera walks onto the path of the person in front of it. How did this meeting happen?

BB: This picture was born like many others of mine, like almost all of them. First, I check out if something is happening today in the town (or in the world) I am living in. For the past almost 20 years this city has been Budapest. That day in 2004, Hungary was celebrating joining the European Union. Having lived here – at that time – for more than 10 years, I knew that e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e was waiting for this moment. A huge, festive weekend took place and I was out with friends and kids, strolling on the waterfront, on the Buda side. When I had the feeling that something was about to happen I stopped and waited and told my friends that we’d meet somewhere later. Ninety-eight percent of the time I am alone when I work, but I remember that this day, there were many of us around.

GL: The metaphor we use when talking about ‘capturing a moment’ is misleading in some ways. A moment like this is about the years, months or minutes leading up to it that get you ready, as a photographer, as an observer to capture it.

Bruno_Bourel_Jaszai Mari ter-2BB: This is very difficult to explain. This is maybe the essence of the medium. To reach that rare moment of grace where everything is (?!) or seems to be perfect, seems to fall into place for the structure of the image: light, composition, emotions and above all – for me – the strength of a picture to go beyond time, the particular date or year that it was taken. No relation to time, just an instant extended to a whole lifetime. I think an image could guide or live with you until you die!!!

One has to disappear in front of the model, being at the right time at the right place and being willing to share a human emotion. I think I am walking on a very thin line: many subjects and topics all guided by the light that surrounds me and the goal is to go beyond the surroundings and to show the inner light!!!

And yes this requires concentration, paying attention almost every minute while at work. After all, everything is in front of you, but you do have to pick it up!!!

GL: Technically: what camera did you use?

Bruno_Bourel_nykv-2BB: Technically: I keep it simple, simple, simple. Photography to me is related to what the eye sees and has nothing to do with any technical matter. Your eyes, your emotions. The question is if one has something to say with this medium. Does the photographer really have a ‘world’ to show with this medium?

This takes a life. Who’ s willing to sacrifice one’s life to that? I don’ t have an answer to that.

GL: Film? Digital?

BB: Film. Kodak Tri-X, Ilford HP5. In 1987 I spent a few weeks in Tokyo discovering Fuji black-and-white film. It was very good, still is. My camera is a 20-year-old Leica M6, sometimes an even older Leica R6 or it could be a Mamiya 4.5×6 I bought in Budapest for next to nothing… but it still works perfectly well.

Bruno_Bourel_29Digital or analog? Nonsense. A good picture is not a question of the technology that it comes from. As Lajos Parti Nagy, the Hungarian novelist with whom I have published a book about Budapest (Fényrajzok – Lightscapes) wrote: “Taking pictures is a must. If with the worst rubbish of a camera, then with that.”

This, by now, is and will forever be an aesthetic choice. The richness of silver grains on an acetate base has nothing to do with the world of pixels. But this is very difficult to judge.

GL: What was the original picture format? Did you crop it?

BB: I never crop my pictures, but if I felt that I wanted to crop it I would do it. If it needs to be cropped for one reason or another, it’s okay. I very rarely do any cropping because I started photography in ‘77 with the Polaroid SX70. A whole world in itself with no cropping or retouching whatsoever.

GL: What lens did you use?

Bruno_Bourel_Polaroid SX 70 007-2BB: The lens I have used every day for almost 20 years is a 35mm. When I moved from Polaroid to black-and-white photography I used every day a Leica R4 with a 50mm lens. I still have it but I don’t really use it. But the 50mm was always great for me, half of my Budapest book was shot with it. The ideal would be a 45mm lens – almost the field-of-view of the eyes- but that’s a lens you’ll rarely find.

GL: What were your settings?

BB: I do not remember precisely – it’s been almost 10 years now. But it was in May. A bright, slightly cloudy day – probably 1/250 and f/8.

GL: How do you measure light when taking pictures like this? Manually?

BB: The Leica R and M cameras have a light meter that works more or less fine and I often go for aperture priority.

Bruno_Bourel_Esernyok uj-2It’s very difficult to say how the camera is set up when I leave home. But the one thing that’s certain is that it’s always around my neck or on my shoulder. Light conditions are always changing, e.g. Budapest gets lots of sun and even in the winter you can have very strong light. I just cope with it and setting the camera can be done very quickly.

GL: How do you focus?

BB: My focusing has always been and hopefully will always stay manual!!! The least of an issue for a photographer.

GL: How much do you usually work with your stills in post?

Bruno Bourel Lovers (Flirting with the Photographer, contact sheet)BB: There is never any ‘post’ whatsoever. I have scanned the piece of contact sheet for you to see what was ‘before’ and ‘after’, that should say it all.

There is, of course, plenty to do in the darkroom if some part of the image needs to be worked on. I did lots of practice in the lab and when I started with black-and-white I got used to developing and printing every film and picture. I have to admit that nowadays I give the film to a lab, scan the negative and I see what comes out. But everything is on film.

GL: Most of your images are black-and-white. Do you also shoot some of them on a digital camera?

BB: I have no digital camera, except my telephone which I use more and more. If I could get a digital Leica I would work with it with the same intensity. I think Europe is maybe not really the best place to do colour photography.

What we see today is either a reproduction of the colours around us or a manipulation of them. Very few people have a world of colour to show.

It’s obviously utter nonsense to turn a colour picture into black-and-white with just the push of a button. Digital technology will never help anyone to become a better photographer.

GL: Being from Budapest and looking at your photos, I am amazed how your images often transform the city into Paris. After 20 years, are you still able to see Budapest in this different light?

Bruno_Bourel_16BB: It is difficult to say if I ‘do’ Paris in Budapest. I often meet people who say: “Your work is very Hungarian!” The only fact is that my visual culture was made in Paris.

GL: As I am getting older, I somehow find that photography for me is becoming more and more a question of subject distance, how far away from me that other human being is.

BB: Yes, I try to get closer and closer to my subjects in order to get their emotions. This image is a good example of approaching it successfully.

A photographer must have, more than anything else, a point-of-view and has to show his position regarding the world that surrounds him. Mine was never related to strength, violence, poverty, misery. I do see that every day, but do not feel that I have the right to add my tribute to the flood of images on that subject. And they are easy to do.

I think I have never disturbed anyone and I never will, that is who I am. I am a rather silent man. I have been trying to practice on my piano for 15 years every day now and music is my second passion but someone once said that my photography is silent.

(To see more of Bruno Bourel’s pictures visit his website at www.brunobourel.com. All images © Bruno Bourel and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer also teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.


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Izabella Demavlys . Photographer

Izabella Demavlys Without a Face

Without a Face

Izabella Demavlys started out as a fashion photographer. Years later, she is still interested in beauty; it’s just her definition of beauty that has changed. As I was looking at her portraits of acid attack victims in Pakistan, I realized: certain pictures you take (or see) and then you move on. But certain images you take (or see) and they pull you into themselves and stay with you.

GL: You photographed this woman in what seems like a traditional, painterly ‘Virgin Mary’ pose. Head slightly tilted, looking gently away. Her face is horribly disfigured. What is it like for you now, years later, when you look at it?

ID: I shot several women before I met Bushra. So, I was rather calm and focused. Bushra was also very comfortable with herself and we were actually joking around before I took this picture. She was one of the most grounded of all the women I shot for this particular project; she made me feel at ease.

The decision to travel to Pakistan had changed how I view things in life. I have an emotional connection with the ‘Without a Face’ series, more than with any other series I have done. It marks a huge shift in my life both spiritually and professionally.

GL: When talking about portraits we seldom discuss what they meant for the subject of the picture. There’s always a ‘contract’ between photographer and subject and a classical studio portrait is a combination of the photographer’s vision of the subject and of the subjects’ ideas about how they want to see themselves. Do you know how these women felt when you took their pictures?

Izabella Demavlys Without a Face 2ID: Because I was shooting with my Sinar 4″x5″, I was taking Polaroids as well, so all the women whom I shot for this project had a choice of seeing the picture before it was taken. Some of them didn’t want to see the Polaroids, some of them did and then changed their hair or make-up. Bushra, who is portrayed in this picture, actually changed the scarf and wanted the white scarf for the picture in instead.

I don’t know if it was a conscious decision to shoot her as the Virgin Mary. I think growing up and being surrounded with and collecting catholic iconography might have subconsciously made me portray her as the Virgin Mary when she put the white veil on.

To me Bushra represented a woman who, after so many years after her attack, had achieved a state of acceptance. She was smiling in all of her pictures and was hugging me and chatting away afterwards. She embodied everything that I went to look for in Pakistan – beauty and what that really meant to me.

GL: How do these pictures fit in your opinion into the centuries-old tradition of portrait painting/photography?

Bronzino - Eleonora di Toledo col figlio Giovanni - Google Art ProjectID: I grew up in a household where both my parents were interested in the arts and both of them painted a lot – I was surrounded by art books from all kinds of artist and painters, such as Van Eyck, Bronzino, Vermeer, to name a few, and they are painters that still inspire me today. When it comes to portrait photography I am inspired by Paul Strand, Alec Soth, Rineke Dijkstra. The interest in the tradition of portraiture and the aesthetics of the large-format camera will always be present in my work.

Looking back on my old fashion work, most of my editorials were portraiture/fashion stories inspired by other great portrait photographers and painters. I once did a whole black-and-white fashion editorial inspired by Bronzino’s – Eleonore of Toledo & her Son Giovanni de Medici – but it wasn’t too popular. Magazine editors always wanted my images to be sexier, when I wanted it to go the opposite direction. No wonder I got tired of the fashion world.

GL: An image, technically, is just the surface it takes up on paper or on a screen. These portraits simply do not allow you to stay there. It’s a vortex that pulls you in and I really cannot describe it in any other way, that what I feel is pure, unbearable pain. So, in a way, these are photographs that ‘undo’ themselves: they stop being stills, moments in time – they become an event, a history.

izabella-demavlys-ss3_8bitID: I didn’t want to reduce these women’s existence to one single event in time – though their stories and their scarred faces are parts of their identity. I want people to see this – as a reminder of what is wrong with our world and what needs to be changed.

I think when you look at the series of Saira in her home it forces you to try to understand what life after such event can look like, and that life still can mean happy moments spent with your family. Because life does move on for these women and they are forced to embrace and deal with these horrific events and they do that with so much grace and courage.

GL: You are also shooting a film about this topic. Instead of still images, you have decided to use moving images.

ID: I felt I needed to continue this project within another medium; I wanted to explore it even further and see if I could make a film about the same issue. Making a film is a totally different ball game and requires even more planning, structure and funding than working with a photography project. Suddenly, sound or what people are saying become a lot more important. I can shoot hours of film, beautiful cinematography, but without any interesting dialogue going on it stays just that – images. Editing is also a complicated process when it comes to film and I can already see that this part will be much harder than I have previously anticipated.

Someone told me once: “Forget about still photography, it has nothing to do with filmmaking!” He was right.

GL: What equipment did you use for these portraits?

Izabella Demavlys Afghanistan Pool 2ID: For my portrait work I use a Sinar 4″x5″, 150mm lens, f/5.6, shutter speed between 1/60-1/125. I used the natural light in the office of the NGO I was working with at that time. I always use film with my personal projects, and yes it’s an aesthetic choice. I like the 6×7 and the 4″x5″ format, I have problems with the 35mm format, it feels too cropped to me.

GL: What about post?

ID: In my previous work as a fashion photographer there was a huge amount of retouching. Now there is none, just some dogging and burning, that’s all. I never crop my images in post.

GL: What motivates your choice of black-and-white or color?

ID: I mostly work in color but sometimes I pick up a roll of black-and-white or two after I’ve shot all my color film.

izabella-demavlys-saria-2GL: In most of your other images from Pakistan and Afghanistan, e.g. in the Saira images you never go as close to your subjects as you do in these portraits. You stay ‘politely’ at a slightly greater distance; you’re close but not intimately close.

ID: I wanted it to be a traditional head and shoulders set of portraits. Working with a 4″x5″ camera and with the lens I had I needed to be careful not to get too close in order to avoid any distortions. But, out of respect for these women, it was never my intention to get closer than this. They are close-ups but not intimately close. I wanted details of their skin but made an artistic choice to keep the aperture wide open to keep parts of the image softer.

GL: The picture of the young woman feeding her child is another painfully beautiful religious icon. It is almost idyllic but there seems to be a deep shadow under the mother’s right eye. As a viewer it makes me uncomfortable, the idyll is broken. Am I making this up? Or is it really in the image?

Izabelle Demavlys Afghanistan Woman Feeding Her Child

ID: I travelled to the Bamyan province in Afghanistan where I visited the Bamyan Hospital founded by the Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS). I took this photo at the female ward where mothers came in with their malnourished babies. In this particular case the baby was dying. (Afghanistan has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world; almost 20% of children die under the age of five.)

When I met the mother and started to communicate with her through the translator – she smiled while her baby was passing away. She did have a black eye – probably due to domestic violence. It was a sad and awkward moment. She couldn’t even have been 20 years old.

We saw a lot of very young mothers at the ward with their very sick children that day.

GL: You move a lot between color and black-and-white. At what point do you decide if color is something you’re interested in or not? Do you always have two film cameras with you?

izabella-demavlys-afghanistan-ii-5No, in Afghanistan I worked with a single Pentax 6×7 camera. When I felt that I was ready with my color shots I moved to black-and-white film. I always start with color. This image was shot on T-Max 100 film, f/4, shutter speed between 1/30 -1/60 with a 55mm lens.

GL: What do you think about beauty? Do you think that this portrait is beautiful? (Or is it just pain organized into a frame, into color and grain?)

ID: I would like to ask you the question – what is beauty? Why can’t this portrait be beautiful? Can this woman change someone’s perspective about beauty?

I went from the fashion world where beauty is only ‘skin deep’ – what you see is what you get and people in this world will only judge you by that. But there has to be something more to it all doesn’t it? I think so. For me beauty radiates through how you make an example of yourself to others. How you directly or indirectly inspire others through your personal struggles and through your accomplishments in life.

But I guess as much as I tried to convey this in these images, I am the only one who can truly understand this because I have met these women in person and have felt their beauty. Most people will see only sadness and pain. I guess all the dimensions of a person cannot be viewed in one single photograph.

(To see more of Izabella Demavlys’ pictures visit her website at www.izabellademavlys.com. All images © Izabella Demavlys and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer also teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.


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William Coupon . Photographer

Coney Island, New York City

Coney Island, New York City (Rolleiflex with Tesar Lens, 400 ASA Kodak B&W film)

GL: You’ve worked with every possible format that photography can offer. What motivates your choice for a given project? Is it a practical decision or an emotional one?


Miles Davis (Rollei 6006, Kodak PanX 32 ASA)

WC: Completely practical as I am looking for the viewer to firstly view the content. Of course, that tends to become an emotional decision but I first want to see the information and not whether or not it is a platinum print or digital one. I have done both and it’s the information that you need to convey first and foremost.

I have two distinctly different approaches to photography. For one of them, I am a traditional studio photographer doing painterly like studio portraits. I set up one of my backdrops (that I painted in the early 80’s), set up one light source shot through a Chimera lightbox, set up my camera (this could be a Rollei 6006 or a Canon 5D) and the sitter has to be in one consistent setting: comfortable. Often, especially with the ethnographic images, the sitter is a bit bewildered but settles into their own quickly. A celebrity often has “set” poses – they’ve done this before, and often. Especially in the earlier days, I had always used Polaroid SX-70’s to give to the subjects. It was not only a “gift” and a record of the shoot, but it also gave them a clear idea of how I was depicting them in the studio setting.


Coney Island, New York City (from the series ‘iPhone America’)

I also do street photography: see it as it appears, and with photography, appearances are pretty much everything.

GL: What catches your attention?

WC: It depends. In the studio I look for something classic, something where the light hits the subject in a new way. With the street work, I look for irony and sometimes, edginess.

When I started in 1978, with Studio 54 and Coney Island and then on to my earliest Punk portraits from the Mudd Club, I thought I was really on to something. At that point I realized I could photograph the world. I got off to a pretty good start, but I realized it would take a lot more work than originally anticipated.

GL: Street photography is about ‘catching’ moments. How do you feel about this metaphor?

Coney Island, New York City

Coney Island, New York City (Rolleiflex with Tesar Lens, 400 ASA Kodak B&W film)

WC: I don’t hunt – I gather! You know it when you see it, and you don’t see it much. This process is more like learning to see. And then learning how to see again in the edit process. I am not a techy. I have my ‘tricks’ and they serve me well. It is, as I said, all about appearances.

GL: Technically: what cameras do you use? What motivates your choice?

WC: I started with the old Rolleis then went to Hassleblads then to the Rollei 6006’s and now I do digital with my 5D. For the street work I often just use the iPhone 4, or these days I have the Sony RX100.


Coney Island, New York City (from the series ‘iPhone America’)

The reasons? Content over ingredients, i.e. I am really only looking to get substance with design, and if that means the iPhone, then so be it. Of course, for street work there is the unobtrusive element to the camera size and the inherent dismissive nature to the fact that it’s a phone. People wouldn’t suspect I am getting the kind of quality I achieve on it – it’s not a “real” camera.

GL: Does holding an iPhone as opposed to a medium format film camera ‘change’ you? Does it change your relationship to your subject?

WC: I like to be as gadget-free as possible. The “tool” defines the moment. Therefore, an iPhone, being ‘flippant’ is a more disposable perceptor to both the subject and the photographer. It’s easy. It’s quick. And these days, it has good qualities so it’s very difficult to dismiss its capabilities.

GL: How do you perceive the iPhone? Freedom? Severe technical limitations?

William-Coupon-iPhone America-Betlehem-Steel-Pennsylvania

Bethlehem Steel Plant, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (from the series ‘iPhone America’)

WC: It’s a device that is quick with quality and leaves content intact. The phone is, from my experience, only good in VERY good light. It is not good in low light so I do not use it then. That in itself is a certain big limitation, especially when working with people.

GL: How do you measure light?

WC: In the studio I have the settings fairly well in place after 35 years. I do use a longer exposure to capture some of the ambient light. I like the aperture to be down to near f/16 to get decent depth of field. For the street, it’s a guessing game. I haven’t used a light meter in ages.

GL: Has the amount ‘post’ you do changed with the transition from film to digital?

William Coupon Neil Young

Neil Young (Rollei 6006, EPR 120, Ektachrome 64 ASA)

WC: I never like to crop. For decades I only did square format, the older Rollei black and whites were shot as straight as can be with 400ASA film. The studio portraits are shot on low-speed film, like EPR120, and Ektachrome 64 film. I use an app for the iPhone shots called Plastiq. I love it as it gives the impression of a 50’s technicolor veneer but retains depth and grain in the dark areas.

In the digital darkroom I hope to do very little and I stick to that generally speaking. It is about the content and the contact that has already taken place that determines the image. I am not particularly a technical person and I don’t think that will change going forward.

GL: Could you imagine doing a ‘classical’ studio portrait session with someone well-known on the iPhone? How do you think that would work?

WC: Not so good. For the studio work, when there is that option, you may as well go with more quality in your film. After all, there you are not constrained by time or space, so what would be the point, unless for some stylistic choice. And for that alone it may be intriguing. But for the studio I like the tightest grain possible with a camera that gives me the greatest mobility.

I usually use the iPhone for candid shots and street images. I could use it for studio work but the dynamics don’t really work there as the studio is a controlled environment – the cameras in that environment should also be of greatest quality to take advantage of the lighting.

William-Coupon-iPhone America-Manhattan

Freedom Tower from Fulton Street, New York City (from the series ‘iPhone America’)

It’s more important to see it than to photograph it. Of course, without documenting what you see, you would not be able to share it.

(To see more of William Coupon’s pictures visit his website at www.williamcoupon.com. All images © William Coupon and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer also teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.


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Jeff Jacobson . Photographer

Jeff Jacobson Melting Point New York City 2003

GL: Looking at the image of the red dog I can’t decide who was more surprised, you or the dog. But you were definitely the faster one.

JJ: The picture of the red dog, which became the cover image of my book, Melting Point, was made in a split second. I was walking along Houston Street, in New York, with my wife and a friend, when one of us noticed the dog, who was standing in a doorway next to a bar with a yellow incandescent light over its head. I had my camera with me, as always, raised it, took two quick exposures, and walked on. What initially grabbed my attention was the stance of the dog and the ghostly light pouring over it from above. I shot quickly so the dog did not have time to react and change position.

GL: One aspect of street photography that fascinates me is the need to be constantly alert. I often find myself thinking about it in terms of hunting.

Jeff Jacobson The Last Roll Deer in HeadlightsJJ: This kind of intuitive, responsive photography is crucial to someone like me who photographs the world as I see it, not as I create it. I don’t approach photography like a hunter. I think this metaphor is way overused, and damaging. There is a big difference between going out into the world and “hunting” photographs as opposed to being in the world in a state of mind open to receiving images that the world presents to you, almost as a gift. The hunting mode is way more aggressive, and often leads the photographer into the morass of his or her own ego which creates photographs in the mold of the photographer. When you are in a more receptive state I feel the photographs go deeper.

It’s a problem for working photographers who shoot on assignment. When you are being paid to produce photographs you must come back with the goods, so the tendency is to push, push. But even on assignment I’d argue it’s better to put yourself in the physical space of the assignment and then wait for the photographic moments that are presented rather than trying to push reality into your own photographic mode. Space and time, those are the essential, unique elements of the medium.

GL: What camera did you use? Film? Digital?

Decorative-Grass-Reflection-HottubJJ: The picture of the dog in the doorway was made with a Canon T90 camera, 50mm lens, and Kodachrome 200 ASA film pushed 2 stops. This was the photographic formula I used on most of my pictures from around 1990 until all processing of Kodachrome ended at the end of 2010. I had worked exclusively in Kodachrome for 35 years when the film was discontinued. I published three books, My Fellow Americans, Melting Point and The Last Roll, all shot on Kodachrome.

GL: How did it feel when Kodachrome, ‘your’ film was discontinued?

Girl-in-Chair-PurpleJJ: When Kodak announced they were discontinuing Kodachrome, I was very angry and sad at first. I knew that Kodak had destroyed the market for Kodachrome in the 90’s when they tried to make a new processing machine for Kodachrome so that more labs could afford to use it. They convinced A&I, in Los Angeles (where I was living at the time and processed my film) to junk their perfectly operating processing machine and go with the new one. A&I was the largest processor of Kodachrome in the world at that time. The problem was that the new machine did not work, A&I’s Kodachrome processing was down for many months, all the large institutional users of Kodachrome in LA switched to E-6 film and never went back. The market for Kodachrome never recovered, digital technology just finished the job Kodak’s own mistakes began.

But my anger and sadness passed. Nothing lasts forever. Photography is an industrial art, dependent on the capitalist market for its tools. We live by the sword and die by that same sword. Technology drives the market and we photographers must move on, even though we feel buffeted by those market forces. I am still taking pictures and still love the photographic process. I never would have dreamed I would be using a glorified point-and-shoot digital camera, and be happy with it. I have learned to never say never.

GL: What kind of digital camera do you use nowadays?

My Fellow Americans-42JJ: Since the end of Kodachrome, I have been using a small point-and-shoot digital camera, a Lumix LX-7. It is a 10 megapixel camera with a Leica lens. It is a very complex machine masquerading as an amateur camera. I love it because no one pays any attention to me when I have my Lumix as everyone assumes I’m a tourist. I can, and do, shoot anywhere. I dislike the hyperreal, plasticity of digital photography, and the smaller end digital cameras, like the Lumix, or even the iPhone, have a funkier, grainier (or more pixellated) look.

GL: How do you go about setting your exposure?

JJ: In my Kodachrome work with the T90, I always had the camera on shutter priority and focussed manually. The Lumix has an auto-exposure/focus button that, once set, allows me to shoot rapidly without any delay. It is slow to manually focus the Lumix, one of the drawbacks of this camera. But the autoexposure/focus button allows me to quickly choose my point of focus and exposure and go forward.

GL: What about lighting? Do you use flashguns? And what is your attitude to flash photography in general?

My Fellow Americans-9JJ: When I first started working in color, in the 70s, I pioneered a technique of using flash combined with long shutter speeds. At the time, I was making my way as a photojournalist, having joined Magnum in 1978. My technique was considered very controversial there at that time as it directly violated one of Cartier-Bresson’s hallowed dictums against the use of artificial light. My framing was more influenced by the Americans, Frank, Winogrand and Friedlander than Bresson, so, that too was considered controversial in that world at that time. I continued use of this technique after leaving Magnum and throughout the 80s and it resulted in my first book, My Fellow Americans. Since then I rarely have used flash. I moved to Los Angeles in 1990 and was captivated by the light and space. I was also getting older with a more fragile back and didn’t want to schlep a flash and battery around. I never use flash with my Lumix. Digital doesn’t like flash as much as film does.

GL: What attracted you to using flashlights initially? The technical possibility? The quality of the light? 

My Fellow Americans Superman

JJ: I initially started working with flash by accident. I was experimenting with slow shutter speeds and just got the idea to pop a flash off in the middle of it. The effect created a foreground/background differential which added layers to the picture plane. It also seemed to add layers to the time in the photograph. I could see the moment just before the flash went off, and the moment after. Time in the photograph became more fluid, or so it appeared. I also liked the way flash mixed with artificial ambient light. Whatever the flash covered in the frame was balanced for daylight and was highly illuminated, popping off the incandescent or fluorescent background. I loved the weird mix of colors at that point in my life. When used in daylight, especially at dusk, I loved what the foreground/background separation did to the sky.

GL: How does using a flashlight change a photo? Apart from the obvious technical aspect you, as a photographer, make your presence obvious. Is this something you liked to do? Or simply didn’t mind?

JJ: The flash made it impossible to be invisible as a photographer. It announced my presence. I tended to work in situations where people were not surprised to find cameras, often public events. I was photographing the public life of America so it worked for me. I could still make photographs where my presence did not change the situation too much, but I had to announce my presence and then get people to relax and forget about me. It was good training.

My Fellow Americans-17

GL: How much do you work with your photos in post?

JJ: I don’t do much post-processing. I was never very good in the darkroom when I started out and shot transparency film for 35 years where I never printed my own work. My skillset in the technical realm is extremely limited. But one thing I do like about digital technology is that I can now make my own prints, at least the work prints. I’m good enough at Lightroom and Photoshop to get my images into some recognizable form where I can evaluate them, if not hang them on the walls. Digital is more like negative film than transparency, in that with digital, as in a negative, you look at the image as a starting point and make decisions about how you want the final image to look. With Kodachrome, it was more of what you see is what you get, in that I always wanted a print to refer as closely to the original Kodachrome as possible. So I find that digital post presents me with questions I never had to consider in Kodachrome. I like that as it forces me to learn and keeps my work fresh.

GL: What does technique mean to you? Initially, we experiment with the technology that’s given to us and then, certain people at certain times come up with something novel or exciting. And then, in their own photographic (artistic) lives it becomes technique. How do you see this process?

Red-SilverwareJJ: Technique in photography is important but it only works if the picture underneath the technique is compelling. What I love most about photography is what makes it unique as a medium, which is that it can render a still image in a specific moment in space and time. That’s it. No other medium does that. All the art world hullabaloo over images which are created and staged by the photographer leave me cold for the most part, with a few exceptions. That kind of work is usually more about the ego of the photographer than the meeting of one photographer with the world.

I became known for the flash and long exposure technique. I could have kept doing it the rest of my life and had a safe, predictable career. But at some point I became bored with it. I was repeating myself. I could go into an event with a Leica and a Vivitar 283 blindfolded and come out with pictures that looked interesting. Some photographers find one way of making pictures and stick with it the rest of their lives. Others constantly change. I have always been attracted to the ones whose work varies in form and content, like Andre Kertesz, and Josef Koudelka.

Jeff Jacobson The Last Roll Sundance, Mt Tremper, NYI never made a conscious decision to change technique, it just happened. When I finished My Fellow Americans, I started photographing outside the United States, especially in Mexico. I moved to Los Angeles and was photographing more in the American West. I became more interested in landscape, or cityscapes, where people were less central to the image and I didn’t need flash to illuminate a dark environment. I was aging and didn’t want to schlep so much equipment. I began using an SLR instead of a Leica because it became important to me to know where the edges of my frame fell. I slowed down. All these factors mitigated against the use of flash. There are very few flash pictures in my second book, Melting Point, and none in my most recent, The Last Roll. Since the end of Kodachrome, I have been using a small digital camera, a Lumix with a Leica lens. It has four aspect ratios. The camera is spurring a new change in my work, one that I can’t, and don’t try yet to define. It will emerge.

(To see more of Jeff Jacobson’s pictures visit his website at www.jeffjacobsonphotography.com. All images © Jeff Jacobson and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer also teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.


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Jonathan van Smit . Photographer

Jonathan Van Smit Heart of Darkness 4

I keep staring at Jonathan’s pictures on my screen.

I cannot take my eyes off them.


JS: A friend of mine in Phnom Penh runs a charity helping the disabled, and is a musician too. I was touched by the words in one of his songs, and started a project loosely based on the lyrics.

she no like but she do
no money, no eat
love you like monkey
I no lie, I speak true

I spent a few days simply walking the back streets of central Phnom Penh, taking lots of photos as I usually do, and one day plucked up enough courage to speak to Phouk, a girl who worked a corner where a slum alley led onto Street 51 which is a notorious red light area full of girlie bars and clubs.


She spoke good English, and was quite happy for me to take photos provided that I gave her money so she could get her teeth fixed. I explained that I wanted photos related to drug use and also her work, and we arranged to meet the next day. The next day, Phouk introduced me to her friend, and took me to their room which was a small plywood shack reached by a ladder on top of the slum shanty buildings.

jonathan-van-smit-heart-of-darkness-6I eventually did two photo sessions with them. I wanted a blurry, ambiguous nude photo and some that were more explicit about drug taking. Both the girls must have been beautiful once but drugs, poverty and their work have taken their toll. They smoke the local cheap methamphetamine ‘yama’ to cope and sometimes mix it with heroin.

GL: How do you pick your subjects?

JS: Like most photographers, I had this dilemma of what to photograph. A turning point for me was a trip to New York a few years back. I took ten rolls of Tri-X, and pretty much randomly shot anything that my eye lingered on for more than a few seconds. I tried not to have too much intent and part of the plan was not to use the viewfinder and to just guess focus. Many of the photos were rubbish but I also ended up with some that were blurred or out of focus but still had plenty of meaning to me. I was then able to edit these down to a small set that seemed coherent. I was surprised by the outcome, and even now, many of my favorite photos are the result of serendipity or instinct. I still estimate focus most of the time, and rarely use the viewfinder.


I mostly take photos in a fairly aimless sort of way. I just walk the streets endlessly at weekends or on holiday. I like walking, and watching people too. If I’m lucky, I might have a handful of okay photos out of two or three hundred frames. I try to work within some loosely defined themes. For example, how people overcome adversity, or anything that has a ‘noir’ feel to it. I find the more deprived parts of towns more interesting. They’re the opposite of my professional experience working in wealth management, and visually more interesting too.

GL: I don’t think I have seen many nudes that have shaken me to the extent that this photo of Phouk has. I am still trying to understand why.


JS: I was quite disappointed with this photo as it was very hard to process. The room was very dark, and I had under-exposed many of the shots so the set was mostly unusable. I was using a high ISO, partly because of the low light but also because I like to degrade my images. I’m okay with grain, blur and digital noise. I just shot on continuous mode until the camera buffer filled up. I was using a slow shutter speed, and was hoping to have a shot with enough blur to provide meaning & context but without being abstract. If I’m taking photos like that then I might have one or two usable frames if I’m lucky.

GL: Looking at your pictures it’s clear that there’s some deep correlation between your personality, your shooting method and the emotional impact of your images.

JS: I use a rangefinder as it’s faster than fully automatic cameras. I always try to be pre-focused, usually at 1.5 metres or even at one metre depending on the location as I use very wide-angle lenses. I don’t like to have the camera in front of my face as it limits my peripheral vision so I usually shoot at shoulder height. This way I can anticipate people’s movement, and time the shot more precisely. I set myself targets like shooting 200 or 300 frames over a weekend. The more we shoot, the more likely we are to have a ‘lucky’ shot. Mentally, I usually have to psych myself up especially if I’m taking photos in difficult or challenging situations. It’s easy to let fear take hold and run away!

Jonathan van Smit (10)

Taking photos can be a lot of hard work. I walk for hours at the weekend, and often late at night or on uncomfortably hot, humid days here in Hong Kong. I don’t often have the luxury of being ‘in the mood’ and frequently have to consciously motivate myself to go out and take photos. It’s a discipline thing for me, and not always easy.

The technicalities don’t interest me very much. I’m not trying to take photos that are technically ‘good’, and I’m not trying to take ‘pretty’ photos of the type so often seen in photo magazines. It’s harder, I think, to take photos that are technically ‘bad’ but still have meaning.

GL: What camera did you use? Film or digital?


JS: I’m not really into this film versus digital thing. Digital is easier and more flexible so I use it. I mostly use Leica digital rangefinders and small Ricoh point-and-shoots. I like small cameras as they’re lighter to carry all day and less conspicuous. If there was a cheaper rangefinder alternative then I’d use it as I’m not hung up on Leicas and the poor quality is frustrating. I black out manufacturer’s logos and lettering with a permanent marker.

Currently I’m using the M9 and Monochrom, and sometimes the Ricoh GR. More importantly to me, I use wide-angle lenses: 15mm, 18mm, and 21mm. I do have longer lenses, 28mm and 35mm but don’t often use them. I’m used to the Leica form-factor so I can change focus or shutter speed without having to look down at the camera. I don’t have standard settings though I usually shoot at high ISO between 800 and 1600 as I want to use smaller apertures to avoid bokeh (which I hate!) and have good depth-of-field.

GL: How do you measure light?

jonathan-van-smit-and-pass-me-by-2JS: I’d love to be able to use auto-exposure all the time but the metering on Leicas using wide-angle lenses is problematic so, unless the lighting is uniformly flat, I often have to set exposure manually especially at night. I can quickly change the aperture or shutter setting as I walk from shadows to streetlights.

How do you focus?

JS: I usually pre-set focus and then adjust either side from that if there’s enough time. I don’t like auto-focus as it’s too slow in poor light and sometimes I want the subject out of focus, for example, I might focus on a dirty, tagged wall while a person walks in front.

GL: What about lighting? Based on your images it’s clear that you take pictures all the time. What’s your relationship to daylight and artificial light?

JS: I only use ambient light, not flash, and prefer shooting at night or towards the end of the day as the light is more interesting then. I’ve nothing against flash though, it’s just that I’ve never got around to using it.

GL: How much do you usually work with in ‘post’ with your stills?

JS: Photographers have a tendency to focus on camera choice but I think post-processing tools are equally if not more important. Not that I spend a lot of time on it. I mostly use contrast controls as that can have the biggest impact on the photo’s emotional content or implied narrative.

jonathan-van-smit-flickr-2I use Nik Silver Efex after RAW conversion in Lightroom. Basically, I just play with sliders until some meaning or implicit story emerges from the photos. I might dodge and burn too as well as using the red and yellow filters. Every camera responds differently to post-processing so I don’t have a generalized workflow but treat every frame differently.

GL: Most of your images are black-and-white. Why? Do you shoot on film or on digital?

JS: I haven’t used film for years. I like black-and-white. This is partly an aesthetic choice but also because restricting subject content can have a greater emotional or narrative impact. For example, increasing contrast also darkens a photo which in turn withholds detail, and something that is implied can have more meaning than something that is explicit. Sometimes, I’ll use colour but this is usually because I want to break out of my usual routine. Importing the photo into Nik Silver Efex automatically turns the photo into black & white.

GL: You have lots of extremely wide-angle shots and I haven’t really seen pictures that you’d take with longer lenses. Why is that? What does focal length mean to you?

Jonathan van Smit (2)JS: My favorite lens is my 15mm Zeiss though I mostly use 21mm as the 15mm is very extreme. It’s hugely expensive too and quite heavy but can focus down to 300mm, and I can shoot someone head-to-foot at 1.5 metres away. I like being close to the subject but I don’t usually want interaction. I just want to be an observer or passer-by rather than a participant. Being close to the subject results in a very different emotional context compared to using a longer lens but it’s much harder to use in practice.

GL: You don’t want interaction but you want the energy and directness that comes with being close to your subjects. How does that work?

JS: Occasionally I’d like to to be invisible or merely a shadow! D’Agata, for example, wants to be a participant, and that’s central to his work but I’m often taking photos of a world that I don’t generally belong to. Appearing to be a participant would be a contrivance on my part. This notion is ambiguous though, Sometimes though I do want interaction or at least a direct gaze into the camera lens. I guess a lot of this is instinctive on my part, and not something I think about much There’s also an adrenaline thing going on sometimes. Photo-taking can be potentially dangerous, and that can be exciting.

GL: How do you feel about having paid Phouk? Is this something that you generally do or are willing to do? Or is it simply a last resort?

jonathan-van-smit-heart-of-darkness-8JS: It’s something I’m uncomfortable with unless they’re a model in which case I’m paying for their time. It’s just an emotional thing on my part. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with paying someone but it does change the dynamic in a way, and perhaps risks diluting the authenticity of the photo.

GL: When you get as close to your subjects with your camera as you have to with your wide-angle lens, you become part of their world for a little while. What impact did your ‘Heart of Darkness’ series have on you?

JS: The experience has shaken me a lot, and I’m not sure if I’ll continue. As well as the normal human concerns about the two young women’s well-being, I’m left with nagging questions. Was it ethical to agree to pay them money for the photos? Should I be taking photos like this? Was I exploiting them? I don’t know the answers but the questions remain awkwardly in my mind.

I’ve been back a couple of times since. One of the young women is clearly very sick, and the other has disappeared.


(To see more of Jonathan van Smit’s pictures visit his website at www.jonathanvansmit.com or follow his stream on flickr. All images © Jonathan van Smit and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.


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Annalisa Brambilla . Photographer

The more pictures I look at, the less I am able to say why I feel attracted to some images. Sometimes the answer is not so much in the image itself but in the emotional attachment that forms between me, the viewer and the photo. It’s a strange umbilical cord that ties me to what I see, it has the power to turn me into the photographer who took the picture.

GL: Two pairs of feet, one black and white, the other color, two pictures from two different series but there’s some playfulness and intimacy that they share.

Annalisa Brambilla As If 9AB: These two images are parts of completely different works of mine, and also from very different phases of my life, both personally and photographically. There is not connection between them, at least not at a conscious level. The black and white image was taken at a spa in Argentina a few years ago. I decided I was going to work on my first proper photojournalistic story. I took a month and a half unpaid leave and I went off following a story about water, water scarcity and abundance. I had both a DSLR and a compact digital camera, for which i had a waterproof case. That’s what I used for this photo.

Annalisa Brambilla As If 5

As If, the series this picture is part of, came together when I decided to format my hard drive and bin it all. I ended up being caught up in a crisis about the meaning of photography. I could not find myself in what I was doing and I didn’t like my photographs. I started looking here and there more with a nostalgic feeling than anything else, and all of a sudden I looked at some images in a different way. I had my little humble epiphany and As If came out.

GL: A photographer about to ‘burn’ her pictures? May sound romantic, but it must have been a huge crisis.

Annalisa Brambilla As If 1AB: I was feeling defeated in my hopes, dreams and ambitions. I was about to press ‘confirm formatting’ when a friend of mine phoned me inviting me out. I told him what was going on and he suggested to leave it there for the moment and go out. I did. I took the camera with me. I got drunk. I took photos and the following day I turned up at the last day of the workshop that I was attending that week with my series. The series wasn’t bad, and I never formatted the hard drives.

Annalisa-Brambilla-My-Star-Wars-Family-18The color image is from My Star Wars Family. I took all the images mostly during the three months I lived with this family in 2011/2012. In this case the subject was quite clear from day one, even though it became clearer while in the process. As far as I remember I was helping one of the children taking a bath and Ibu, the little one, was messing around with us.

GL: How do you respond to the situations around you? How do your pictures get taken in the technical sense?

Annalisa Brambilla My Star Wars Family AsleepAB: I don’t have any mantra, any exercise. Sometimes I am luckier than other times. More often than not, when I really think I got a picture situation and all is there the result is pretty disappointing. At other times, as I go through what I shot, I find something I like. I see something that I didn’t really realize the moment it happened. But in all honesty, I wish I could draw and make all the pictures I didn’t take. I have the feeling those are the best ones.

GL: What are some of the best pictures that you didn’t take?

AB: Moments and portraits, some situations. Mostly portraits of people, interactions…. Those things you see and surprise you. You have no time to grab the camera, but also you may feel you’re intruding. I have this. And I let it go, I guess.

Annalisa Brambilla My Star Wars Family kitchenAs for technicalities, I’m not so fussy about that. I try to get the best possible file so that afterwards I can work on it more easily. Having said this, I don’t post-produce much and if I think a picture works I get over the fact that it is maybe overexposed or underexposed, badly composed or focused and use it anyway.

GL: Technically: what camera(s) did you use? Film? Digital?

AB: A digital SLR, a Nikon D700. I mostly use a 50mm, f/1.4 and sometimes an old 35-70mm, f/2.8 lens. I used to have an old Nikon film camera, darkroom and all and when I moved on to digital I thought of getting a Nikon so I could swap lenses and carry on with both digital and film. I, regrettably, never did. The color image was taken with this camera, I don’t remember the settings, probably high ISO, around 1600 or so, and maybe f/2.8, but definitely no more than f/5.6 and 1/60.

The black and white image was taken with the Lumix GF2, which I use with the 20mm, f/1.7 pancake lens. The settings were on auto. The waterproof case wasn’t the most perfect and I could not control the camera at all.

GL: How do you choose what camera to use for a given story?

Annalisa Brambilla My Star Wars Family picnicAB: So far, I have mostly used my Nikon D700. But I used the GF2 a lot during the family project. I really had to try to be ready all the time. I was staying with them as an au-pair, so I was also working and looking after 4 children. No time at all to plan anything and the house was quite big, three floors. So I would leave a camera here and the other one there and grab the one that was closer to me when I needed it.

GL: How do you prefer to operate your cameras?

AB: I rely on the camera’s light meter, shoot one image, check it, and compensate exposure accordingly. I mostly use aperture priority, or manual mode, depending on the light situation.

GL: You’ve mentioned that you don’t like to do too much in post. How much is that ‘not too much’?

Annalisa Brambilla My Star Wars Family mouthAB: I don’t retouch my images very much, I get bored quite quickly so I do an overall adjustment and some details, depending on the photo. The color image is very close to the original, I balanced the white a bit better and added a contrast curve, just to adjust the image’s depth.

The black and white is a different story, I cropped it a bit and turned it into black and white. The series this picture is part of was my first attempt at translating feelings into images. In a certain way black and white simplifies your life, it’s both direct and evocative. I wanted the light in the upper side of the image to be like an explosion, so I stretched the contrast there playing with layers and masks.

GL: How do you feel about color? With the My Stars Family you are sticking to color. With the As If series, it’s all black and white.

AB: I think color and black and white. I’m not at all a fan of the strict rules some have about photography, about styles, signatures and all. Different stories deserve different approaches and require different expressions. My Star Wars Family had to be color, it was such a strong element in general, it would have been crazy to erase it. As If had to be black and white, and not only because the pictures came all from different series/times/places. Black and white and a few shades of grey were the right colors for transposing what I was feeling, and this is what it was all about.

GL: In my mind, there are two kinds of photography. One is more about the individual image: you happen to create something that is just right. The other is more about the act of photography: the beauty is in the series, in the repeated act of taking pictures.

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AB: Yes, one is more about aesthetics and the magic of photography in itself, and the other more about the process. Evocation vs narrative, unless you are someone like Henri Cartier-Bresson and you get the two to marry and ‘live happily ever after’. I find fewer and fewer single images that ‘prick’ me. It’s more often series. Also a story on a page, the layout/design, the sequence and size of images – all that, which belongs to making a book grabs me more at the moment.

GL: How do you feel about photography now?

AB: It’s like an intense relationship. There’s always tension.

(To see more of Annalisa Brambilla’s pictures visit her website at annalisabrambilla.com. All images © Annalisa Brambilla and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.


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Yolanda van der Mescht . Photographer

Yolanda van der Mescht 1GL: When I first saw the picture of the Man on the Bridge, I thought he was a preacher calling to God. And there was some intangible contradiction between his formal gesture and the informal urban setting that I found very exciting.

YM: While the majority of my photographs are unchoreographed, this was part of a conceptualised shoot. The photograph was taken on the Nelson Mandela bridge in Johannesburg at 9 o’clock on a winter’s morning. I wanted to connect with the post-apartheid spirit of South Africa. The man (a friend of my sister’s) is a business analyst who holds dual citizenship of Nigeria and South Africa. I was interested in exploring the dichotomy of being a successful foreign black man in South Africa.

GL: How did you come up with the shot? Was it all prompted by the location? Or was the primary force his body posture?

YM: The location and posture were incidental. I wanted a city landscape as a backdrop, we happened to pass the bridge and I was immediately drawn to it. Initially he was just walking along the bridge and then as the shoot progressed that barrier between subject and photographer disappeared and he was no longer playing a part but just being. For me photography is more about feeling than thought. Words that come to mind are intuition, premonition, magic. I see photography as a form of metaphysical alchemy.

Yolanda Van Der Mescht - Street 2I have always been drawn to photography. I got my first film SLR when I was 21, but at the time I couldn’t afford the cost of film and developing. The camera ended up gathering dust and I eventually sold it. When I moved to Hong Kong in 2006 I started taking photographs with my mobile phone camera. I took photos of anything, whatever caught my eye. I was smitten. I bought a Canon G7, then upgraded to a Nikon D7000 and now I have a Nikon D800. Photography has become a way to express my personal thoughts and feelings and I find that it is a lot less incriminating than words. It also speaks to anyone anywhere in the world as it transcends the constraints of language, it is in itself a universal language.

GL: What equipment did you use for this picture?

YM: I used the Nikon D7000. At the time it was my latest acquisition and I was keen to try it out. As I am self-taught I am cautious to spend a lot of money on equipment. The picture is uncropped. I used a Nikkor 18-105mm DX VR Lens, which is the standard lens that comes with the camera. Shutter speed: 1/400; f-stop: f/5.6; ISO: 100.

GL: How much do you usually work with in ‘post’ with your stills?

Yolanda Van Der Mescht - Street 1YM: It definitely depends on the shot. With this picture the ‘post’ was limited to a black and white conversion and some minor adjustments in the brightness, contrast and midtones. As I find post-production rather tedious and I would not entrust it to anyone else, it has definitely motivated me to become a better photographer in the sense that I try to minimise the need for post-processing.

GL: Most of the images on your website are black and white. What draws you to it?

Yolanda Van Der Mescht - Street 4YM: I took this picture with the intention of turning it to black and white. I have nothing against colour, but I love black and white. If the composition and perspective are not perfect the picture might succeed as a colour photograph but definitely not as a black and white photograph. In a black and white photograph there is nothing that distracts the viewer from the emotion, the message. I think Robert Frank said, “Black and white are the colours of photography.”

GL: Do you ever work on film?

YM: I don’t work on film, but if I was not faced with time, space and financial constraints I would absolutely love to. I have succumbed to the instant gratification of digital photography.

GL: I noticed that in your street photography you are usually quite far from your subjects. You observe from a distance.

Yolanda Van Der Mescht - Street 3YM: I am an introvert by nature, so I am acutely aware of personal space. When I shoot portraits there is certain level of familiarity and intimacy. The subject is obviously aware of me and my camera, the subject has to let me in, connect with me. For a few hours we become emotionally involved and I am allowed to enter his or her personal space, I can get up close and personal with my subject. But with street photography I am just a passive observer, I don’t want my presence known. I don’t want to alter the course of events, I don’t want to influence anything. I am just an outsider looking in, leaving my subject unaffected, untouched. Distance definitely makes this easier. I guess there is a certain amount of voyeurism attached to my street photography.

GL: What do you like about the Man on the Bridge the most?

YM: I like the lines and his expression, to me we stopped the time-space continuum at exactly the right moment. I take pictures because I want to. The feeling of capturing a moment that will never be repeated again is unlike anything I have ever experienced.

Yolanda Van Der Mescht - Street 5

(To see more of Yolanda van der Mescht’s pictures visit her website at www.yolandavandermescht.com. All images © Yolanda van der Mescht and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.

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Elaine Mayes . Photographer


This blog is just as much about my love photography as about my interest in the people who create images. But to be honest, I am more interested in people than in photography. L1ghtb1tes is a hi-tech excuse for me to meet people. Dear Elaine, thank you for meeting me and letting me to get to know you a little bit in this strange, 21st century manner. And for those of you who do not know her yet, well, meet Elaine Mayes.

The Coach

Elaine Mayes Autolandscapes Coach

GL: Simple, elegant, lonely – these are the words that came to my mind when I first saw your picture of this coach.

EM: Well, this is the old bus image… I like it a lot. It is part of a series I did called, Autolandscapes. The series is from my moving car while driving from San Francisco to Massachusetts in 1971. It was 6 AM, I was driving my car East at about 65 mph in Utah. I really got lucky.

GL: How did this picture happen to you?

EM: Most all my photos are spontaneous reactions to what I see. In the case of the Autolandscapes I intended making an image each time the landscape changed. I love the idea of skill combined with serendipity. I also was interested in formal issues and the way when one shoots out the side of a car the near landscape is blurry. I further wanted to make images that felt still and like there was not movement at all. I wanted to see what normally goes by too fast to be seen the way a camera can stop motion.

GL: What camera did you use?

EM: A Leica rangefinder camera, and the shutter speed was 1/500th of a second at either f/16 or f/11. I always try to have my camera ready. I judge my exposure by knowing how the film will respond to particular light circumstances. I used a 50mm Leitz lens and Tri-X film that I processed myself using Rodinol or a similar developer. There was no digital system then, but now I use digital, and my newer Autolandscapes have even better stop-motion because the system can employ much higher shutter speeds than a 35mm film camera.

I used a Leica because it makes high quality pictures, and I like the rangefinder system because it allows me to see the image without seeing any distortion caused by a lens. I prefer normal or wide angle lenses because I like maximum depth-of-field.



GL: Why did you decide in 2010 to embark on a new (photographic) journey that in many ways is a reflection on the 1971 trip?

EM: I photographed across the country West to East only twice. My two trips called Autolandscapes (1971) and Across America (2010) were my way of recording my moving from one coast to the other with the car full of my belongings, nothing more. The journeys came first. The decision to photograph them came second. All my work in some manner reflects my life, as my subject matter comes from photographing my life experiences. I am not trying to document my life, but my photography always accompanies my life, and in this sense I see my images as creating a diary of my life experiences.

GL: What has changed for you in those four decades?

elaine-mayes-across-america-10EM: Now the world is more crowded than it was in 1971. What has changed for me is that I have gotten older and have had many more life experiences. In 1971 I was 34 years old. Now I am 76 years old and have experienced more dimensions to life than when I was younger. I no longer teach photography. In 1971 I had been teaching photography for only three years. I have moved to many places since that time, and I have lived nearly a lifetime.

GL: To my mind both Autolandscapes and Across America are about time. First, about time in the sense that you also mention, in the form of more or less motion blur, i.e. a side-effect of shutter speed. Second, it is about your perception of how time passes while on the road. Personal time. And finally, it is about time as a reflection, time measured in decades when you look at your American landscape and you realize not only how much it has changed but also how much you have changed.

Elaine Mayes Autolandscapes HighwayEM: For me both trips are about the same, except I have had a lot of practise and have done many other projects in between. None of my interest is beyond the way I see and the way a camera can work except for my formal horizontal idea the first time, and my long-standing idea that I am interested in things in the world. I am primarily an observer and feel that what I have to express is part of what I make, not something extra or added.

None of this work had for me anything to do with time passing except that being in a car for hours can be boring, and I wanted to distract myself from being bored. Of course when I photographed during driving I was taking the idea I began with and went one step further. The photographing had turned into an idea. The blur to me is not a side-effect of shutter speed, but in a physical sense is about what happens with relative motion seen up close and then photographed. Then with the digital camera one can stop the blur except for up close because a faster shutter speed is possible. I believe we don’t look at the blur because it is distressing to the eye, until of course one decides to focus on it. I always choose my “good photos” after the fact, when I see them either on contact sheets or in digital files.


GL: Technology plays a major part in both journeys. First, your beautiful Leica. And now a digital camera. Why did you choose digital the second time?

EM: I changed to digital for economic and personal reasons. I lost most of my income in 2008 when this country had its downturn. I lost my major source of income (the bank I had invested in all my life went broke) and have been trying to learn to operate with less. This has meant much confusion and living-style changes. It has meant moving around and renting my houses for income. Along with several times staying with friends because I rented my houses, I moved back to New York from Oregon, renting my Oregon house, and in the moving back I decided to repeat my focus on taking pictures while traveling.

elaine-mayes-autolandscapes06I chose digital for practical reasons. The world changed, and I needed to change with it. I did not decide to minimise blur, but I found that my digital camera when set on automatic can render a sharper image because it uses faster shutter speeds. I learn with every effort, and I try always to keep learning. I wish the world had stayed the same, but life in fact is about change, and the cultural changes that I don’t much like are the way it is. I feel it is important to go with the flow, to embrace what is necessary in our changing culture.

elaine-mayes-across-america-07Also, in 2010 my eyesight was very bad, and I broke my glasses the first night out, so my partner, Randy had to do all the driving. All the photos on the second trip are from the passenger seat. I needed cataract surgery, and I could see well enough to shoot pictures with my practised method but not well enough to drive a car. I bought drugstore close-up glasses so I could see the image later. I used autofocus and auto settings, primarily with my new 5D Canon camera with its zoom used mostly on its most telephoto setting which was about 60mm. This meant I was free to take pictures without much technical consideration.

By the way, I always set my digital cameras 1/3 stop under so as to not overexpose the whites. On the second trip I decided to look in any direction not just out the side, and I was thrilled to discover that the shutter speed was making the background very sharp indeed, and also the foreground was less blurry. I also used a G10 point and shoot Canon when I left my battery charger in a motel room. The Canon 5D with its zoom was the cheapest good way for me to continue working. Its limitation is its inaccurate finder.

Reflection v. translation

GL: How much do you usually work with in ‘post’ with your stills?

EM: I like digital printing. I like digital photography less than analog otherwise. I prefer digital printing because it means more corrections can be accomplished than when using a darkroom. (I had given up working in the darkroom because it was impossible to maintain one while living in a number of places.) But I almost never crop my pictures because I believe the entire frame is the photo, and I like the 35mm film shape.

elaine-mayes-autolandscapes04I remain interested in light and how to render light with both technologies. I fear that digital-only trained photographers will never know the wonder of light and light senstive materials. I bring this kind of knowledge to my digital photography. I never manipulate except to correct color and contrast. I have never been interested in “creating” photographs but always interested is seeing them and then making prints that are true to what I see and what the camera can do. For me the difference between analog and digital is reflection v. translation. I remain attached to the idea of reflection, and I bring this idea to my digital efforts.

Seeing what there is to see

elaine-mayes-autolandscapes08GL: There are obvious visual parallels between the two series. Were you looking out for these? Or does this come from the nature of the project, as there are only so many types of views you can have from your car?

EM: I was not trying to be parallel. I was just trying to photograph in the best way possible with the materials at hand. I did realize that I was revisiting an old project, but I never thought about the changes except when they occurred. I am not much interested in technique but want to see the world. I try to live in the present and see what I see, and my entire life I have been trying to see what I see only.

elaine-mayes-across-america-05The main difference between the two groups is letting go of the horizontal idea some of the time during the second round. Both trips were for me journeys that I photographed quite deliberately with the equipment I already was using at the time. Both trips involved primarily seeing what was there to see. I found more culture near the road on the second trip. The first trip was only a few years after the interstates were built, and the roadside culture then was primarily truck stops. Now there is more traffic and more business next to the road.

GL: Why did you choose color for the second series? To avoid nostalgia?

EM: I have been using color since 1978 and also before for commercial work. It was not possible to make for me good color images in 1971. But as technology changes, I do my best to use the best of the new methods. My work primarily has been in color since 1978, so choosing color was natural. In 1971 color was not as good as it can be now. I originally was worried about permanence, and black-and-white was the only way to get images with a long life. With digital the images when properly stored and printed using archival materials can last. I love black and white, but color is what the world is about. Black and white offers greater abstraction; color shows us more or less the colors we see without cameras. I appreciate showing the colors of things in the world. I say more or less because the materials used always affect the results. Photography is always an abstraction because with black and white or color the world becomes flat.

GL: How does digital photography ‘feel’ to you compared to your Leica? Did your DSLR change your approach during the second trip?

EM: I do not change my approach except for the limitations of the technique availalble to me. I do take a lot more photos with digital because I can, and digital does not cost as much as did film, so I can expose more exposures without spending a fortune.

elaine-mayes-autolandscapes14I like and prefer fixed lenses, so that seeing is part of my collaboration with the equipment I use. I would love an M9 Leica camera, and maybe one day I will be able to afford one. I have lost a lot of potential photos using point and shoot cameras, and I find it difficult to take the pictures I want to take. Maybe someone will award me a Leica soon, or maybe I will sell some prints so I can afford to purchase one.

If I could afford a good quality rangefinder Leica I would get three lenses and not look back. I would get a 35mm, a 50mm and just possibly a 105mm. But I would most likely use only a 50mm and a 35mm. Maybe I would get a 28mm, too. I like to use one simple approach without changing my vantage point by using a zoom. I like to work with my eyes, my emotions and the materials I have. I believe that the technical part should be best for what I want to do. I am not the least interested in technique except for making the best seen photos I can.

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(To see more of Elaine Mayes’s pictures visit her website at www.elainemayesphoto.com. All images © Elaine Mayes and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.

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Daniella Zalcman . Photographer

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New York + London 52, 2013

Our lives are surrounded, flooded by images. All of these images have an impact on us, but only a few of them register consciously and give you that ‘aha’ sensation. Daniella’s New York + London did just that to me: there’s some playful immediacy about them, you’re drawn into a game of trying to guess where they were taken. At the same time, many of them take you floating above these cities, showing you the world from a dreamy, lonely, god-like perspective.

GL: How did you discover your method of digital double exposure?

DZ: I basically had no experience with double exposures before this project, outside of accidental composites in my film photography. A few weeks before I moved to London I stumbled across the Image Blender app and thought it was kind of fun, and so when I came up with the idea for New York + London it just clicked.

daniella zalcmann ny:lnd 1All of the photos for my New York + London project were taken very casually — in New York, they were taken with a twinge of nostalgia as I was preparing to pack up and move, and London they were taken through the eyes of a tourist, essentially, in my new home. None of the images were taken with composites or specific pairings in mind — that all happened organically. For this specific double exposure, the New York photo was taken while on an assignment for the Wall Street Journal on the 100th anniversary of Grand Central Terminal, and the London image was taken just around the corner from my flat in Pimlico.

GL: With street and documentary photography we all have our methods of being (almost) always ready to take a picture. How would you compare your own attitudes and strategies when you’re shooting film, digital or on a smartphone?

DZ: My attitudes differ pretty dramatically depending on whether I’m working with film, a DSLR, or an iPhone. With medium format film I’m slow and thoughtful, with my DSLR I’m a little trigger-happy. The iPhone is somewhere in between — because it’s such an informal medium, I tend not to overthink framing and composition, which can be surprisingly freeing.

18My phone is almost always in my hand. It’s a horrible habit (born of spending many years as a spot news photojournalist in New York City and always being on call in the event of… pretty much anything), but it means I’m always ready. For New York + London I was a little less in street photography hunting mode because so many of these images are architectural and, thankfully, buildings are a little more forgiving than people.

GL: You used your iPhone. Why not film? Digital? Is this a technical/financial choice or an aesthetic one?

DZ: It’s mostly a choice dictated by convenience. I love my medium format camera dearly, but it’s a bit of a tank and not really something I stick in my handbag when I run to the grocery store. My iPhone is with me at all times, and it probably most accurately captures what I see on a day-to-day basis. I really wanted New York + London to reflect that.

GL: How do you feel about not being able set your camera manually? Does it bother you? Does it free you?

DZ: Sometimes, not having manual control over my phone is a little annoying, but for the most part I’ve embraced it. I almost make images with my phone like I would with a film camera — snap a frame or two, lock my phone, and look them over later.

GL: How much do you usually work with in ‘post’ with your stills? What about this image – could you talk about the relationship of the originals and the final output?

daniella zalcmann ny:lnd 3DZ: I’m a fairly terrible editor. I never really learned how to properly tone images and it’s still a huge weakness. That being said, as a photojournalist I really don’t believe in a lot of the heavy postprocessing that’s become so popular recently. These images aren’t actually edited all that much — once composited, I apply one (sometimes two) Instagram filters, and that’s it.

GL: What is it about this picture that makes it your favorite from the series?

DZ: It’s partially for sentimental reasons, since the NYC image of Grand Central Terminal was taken during one of my last weeks working for the WSJ’s metro section, and the London image is from my new neighborhood in London. It’s also not quite as straight as some of the other New York + London photos — it’s a little weird and surreal and I like that.

GL: Do you have any other projects in mind that are smartphone-specific?

DZ: I’m working on another iPhone double exposure project called @echosight with buddy and fellow photojournalist Danny Ghitis. The images are much more fantastical and surreal, and are based more on collaboration and combined vision rather than my own nostalgia and memory.

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(To see more of Daniella Zalcman’s pictures visit her website at dan.iella.net. Click here to see more of her New York / London photos. All images © Daniella Zalcman and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.


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Anders Petersen . Photographer


As I am sitting down to edit our conversation with Anders Petersen, I realize that it turned out to be much briefer than what I was hoping for. While at first I felt disappointment, I have come to understand, that his words are like his photography: he has the power that only true artists and scientists have, the ability to tell you volumes with just a few words. And so, I now understand that his dialogue with me is not only about a mysteriously intimate portrait of a woman, but a lesson in being concise and to-the-point.

GL: Can you tell me about how you took this picture? How is this image part of your Rome? I’d like to know more about the context in which you took this photo.

AP: What counts is meeting people and asking questions. On the streets or in bars, sometimes in somebody’s home, yes, anywhere. I don’t know how I take the pictures, they are less important, what I like is the meeting, the identification and the learning process and, of course, the communication.

GL: As it is with all good pictures, it’s hard, if not impossible to say why the moment they catch is so powerful. How do you get ready for such moments? And how do you make sure that the image is going to be okay technically?

Petersen Anders - Rome, A Diary 2005 3AP: It’s not about a good or a bad picture. It’s more about being believable. When I feel the temperament and the emotions of the person behind the picture, then it works even if it’s technically bad. It’s simple: photography isn’t about photography. You ask about shooting mood. It’s back to basic. Being curious and motivated and then it’s all about your focus. And innocent enough.

GL: What’s your attitude towards preparation before the shoot? Or do you rather improvise and react freely to what’s in front of you?

petersen-anders-19AP: No preparations. I need a working camera and a lot of films. I have no fantasy, it has been the same all the time.

GL: What camera did you use?

AP: I mostly use a Contax T3. It’s a simple, small, analogue camera with a sharp 35 mm lens. I prefer small tools I can have in my pocket.

GL: How do you measure ligh? Manually?

AP: When you have been shooting for some years you train yourself in different lights, so I don’t measure it. It’s become a kind of habit.

GL: How were you focusing? Manually? AF?

AP: Nowadays AF.

GL: What about lighting? What time of day did you take this picture? Is it “found” light or did you light this scene?

AP: I like available light. Sometimes flashlight. And mixing sun and flash. This picture is from the late afternoon inside the apartment.

GL: How much do you usually work with with your stills in ‘post’? What about this image – could you talk about the relationship of the original and the final output?

AP: I have no rules, but I keep the negative format. I really don’t understand why, it’s disturbing. I print until something is coming out, trying many different ways and also using bleach.

GL: What do you like about this picture most?

AP: The presence.

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p.s.: I liked Anders’ answers a lot and was hungry for more and more so I kept on asking. And while this is not something that I’d normally do, I cannot help but quote his last email to me:

“I think it’s fine you are showing interest. But my writing is poor and my English is even worse. So it takes too much time. Another thing, I have difficulties in explaining how and why I’m shooting. I’m sorry, but I’m more a photographer than a writer.

Best regards,

And so, dear Anders, here is my private public reply to you:

“Thank you. And that has been the whole point. That you’re a Photographer.”

(To see more of Anders Petersen’s pictures visit his website at www.anderspetersen.se. All images © Anders Petersen and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.

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