Countdown to Peru 2013: iPhone Two

Round two of Peru iPhone snaps. What I think is important is the range of moment and location. Imagine having the time to work these scenes, these places, etc. Slowly, building the days and weeks, image by image, moment by moment. I’m sitting here foaming at the mouth in anticipation. If I could leave right now I would.

In 2013 I’m going all black and white, all 35mm. No color on this trip.(This is what I’m saying right now, today, but tomorrow I might tell you something different.) Going to just streamline even more and focus on making the best black and white snaps I can. Oddly enough, what is making me okay with this is the fact that I am contemplating a portrait lens for 35mm, meaning something in the 85mm range. I haven’t had a longer lens like this in several decades, but I’m thinking about getting one now. I don’t want to continue to work in both color square and black and white 35mm. It’s just too much and what I end up with is too easy, to predictable and too fractured. I’ve written about this in the past but color square is a VERY easy way of working because everything looks great. The great medium format falloff, the ease of the lack of composition using the square, etc. Working with the square is a crutch, unless in my opinion, you just entirely devote yourself to that format, which oddly enough in the age of digital has really seen a resurgence. When you work with the square it FEELS good because again you know you can snap a garbage can at 2.8 an it will look great(I actually did this last year in Peru). Black and white 35mm isn’t exotic and it sure as Hell isn’t easy. It takes far more time, more effort and more concentration. It is also, at least in my experience, a far lower success rate. It’s a very difficult decision to do this, believe me. We are surrounded by an industry that screams DON’T DO THIS. I just looked through a catalog from an art-photography fair and there was exactly ONE black and white reportage image. It’s not like there is a huge demand for it.

The industry screams shoot digital so you don’t have to travel with film. Shoot digital so you can have an endless amount of imagery. Shoot digital so you can have color and black and white on every image. Shoot digital so you can see those images at night in the hotel. Shoot digital so you can share your moments with the world as you go.
These are all valid points depending on who you are and what your goals are. The vast majority of my workshop students will be, and are, digital, but for me I like chipping away with a visual chisel. I would not, and am not, suggesting everyone do this. Just me talking here. But let’s move on.

I will no longer have an iPhone. I switched to a Samsung phone, which I feel has advantages over the iPhone, but again this is me talking. There are a bevy of reasons why I like the Samsung/Google pairing more than the iPhone world, but again, this is like debating Nikon vs Canon. Use what you like.

The images here were all iPhone from last year, and as you know if you follow this blog, I’ve done one post already about this work and have another on the list after this. Nothing wrong with these images, but when I studied what they REALLY were, I realized they were simply not good photographs. These images were about software more than photography, moments, light, timing, etc. When you strip away the Snapseed filters you are left with images that simply aren’t great. I feel this way about many of cellphone images I see, but I actually don’t think that is entirely bad, and I also feel this same about the vast majority of photographs I see for that matter. I think these mobile-images, for most people. serve a certain purpose. I think at this point when I see a project being sold as a “cellphone project” I just wonder why we still need to highlight that? Maybe I’m missing something but didn’t Robert Clark do a cellphone book back in the 1990’s? Once I saw that project I was under the impression the genie was out of the bottle, but again, I’m probably missing something. They are what they are. I think we should simply judge them like the rest of photography. Are they good photographs or not?

However, this isn’t why I’m NOT using a phone while I work. I’m not using the phone to make pictures, any phone, while I WORK because I can’t do two things at once. I surely can’t do three, which is what I was doing last year in Peru. Actually, I was trying to do four. I was shooting color square, black and white 35mm, recording audio and using my phone. People, this just doesn’t work. Did I get some decent images? Yes. Did I make anything cohesive? No. Now, to muy credit, I’m teaching, which is priority one, but I wasn’t making it easy on myself, that is for sure. I’m left with the question, “What would I have made had I only done ONE thing?”

I want to make something VERY clear. If you are using, or want to use your phone to make images, than by all means DO IT. I know several people who have fully committed to this device and are making interesting images and then fully utilizing the real-time delivery methods the platform was designed for. My ONLY suggestion is that if you are going to do it then commit to it and don’t do what I did. Don’t multitask because it really doesn’t work, not for you, or me, or anyone else. The bottom line is that the mobile phone has contributed HUGE amounts to the visual literacy of the world, and it will continue to do so. And, the options for how you use it, print it, showcase it etc, will only get better. I just know I have to pick my visual battles, WHEN I’M WORKING, and when I say “working” I mean those rare occasions when I’m in the field with the singular desire to make the best images I possibly can.

I guess what all of this boils down to is decision making. I’ve had enough time, both in the field and away, that I know now what I need to do. I know I have decisions I HAVE to make that will dramatically impact the archive I’ll have when my bones turn to dust. For me, in many ways, it’s not about the NOW. But again, to each his or her own. I think it is really interesting to have a workshop class where there is a range of angles working in the background, someone on a laptop, someone building a fire to heat chemistry and someone scouring the Lima streets for flash powder. Come July it’s game on.

Countdown to Peru 2013: Lima Beach

It is official. We are returning to the high lonesome of Peru July 9th-23rd of 2013.

Once again I will be teaming up with Adam Weintraub and PhotoExperience to bring fellow travelers and students a journey they won’t forget. I hesitate to call this a workshop. Yes, we are there for photography, but we are there for so much more. Peru is many countries in one. You have the coast, the Andes, the cities and the Amazon, and they are all exotic in their own way. This trip will take us from the eyebrow of the jungle and Machu Picchu to the steaming mist of the Amazon. This trip is about culture, travel, experience, critical thought, companionship, group dynamics, cuisine, Pisco and the all powerful photographic release. This trip is for people who want to explore, both physically and emotionally.Chanting is optional.

In a two-week time period you will see and experience so many different things, so many different people and so many different photographic moments it’s difficult to put into words. I teach once or twice a year at this point, so when I take the time to do this I make sure I’m doing something that can’t easily be replicated. I am the primary instructor but Adam is the key in terms of finding the heartbeat of Peru. Adam has lived and worked in Peru for fifteen years and simply put, knows everyone. Being a photographer he knows where to be, at what time and what to do if things don’t go as expected. Adam and PhotoExperience are not a factory. He does a few workshops a year, trips that take an extensive amount of planning. Take a look at the names of the other instructors and you will see what I’m talking about.

Last year, after returning from this workshop, I was depressed for over a month. I kept wondering why I felt so bad. My wife and I were both in somewhat of a haze and traced it back to returning to our little world. Peru does this to you. Peru puts the hooks in you and won’t let go.

Over the next few months I’m going to start sharing images from my past trips to Peru providing a little background on what was behind the image or images.

Lima Beach, 2011

This image was made the first day of this year’s workshop. As a small group we had descended on a beach in Lima. In some ways we were all feeling out the situation, the workshop and getting our “Peruvian sea legs” if you will. When you leave all that is known and comfortable and you land in a place like this, a place so different in so many ways, it can take a bit of time to acclimate. I know for me it’s difficult to “get my eye” going.

We split up when we hit the beach, people splintering off in all directions. I walked with two other people talking about the light, what to do in harsh conditions and how to shoot backlit scenes. The beach was somewhat quiet but the spacing was good. When I say “spacing” I mean how the parts of the scene come together. Not too many parts to worry about, just a few ingredients that all seem to fit well together.

I noticed what looked like a video shoot being done and quickly walked toward the scene and made this picture. Music video Lima style. I made two exposures. The first was off a bit, and the man in the foreground on the left blocked one of the performers in the back, but this image worked. It felt good to get an image so quickly. I mentally filed it away(couldn’t see it because I was shooting film) and moved on.

These workshops are interesting and very much about being placed in a scene or location and being turned loose to do as you please, visually speaking. You can find a theme and carry it forward for two weeks, or you can treat each location, scene, moment, as it’s own destination. Workshops for me are not about making perfect pictures, or having a list of photo-demands. You never truly know what you are going to get until faced with it. Just react and try to take chances, make pictures you aren’t sure you can make. I typically make a range of work from snapshots to complete and total abstract experimentations. Some work, some don’t, but I learn from them all.

Countdown to Peru 2013: Amazon Macaws

The countdown to Peru Workshop 2013 is in full swing and I’m checking in with another post relating to my past Peruvian workshop travels. Last year was my first opportunity to enter the Peruvian Amazon. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but after asking Adam about it all I got was, “Spectacular,” so I knew I was in for something unique.

The Amazon part of the workshop is an extension, so not an official part of the class, but most of our workshop group was able to go. It’s such an intense experience it’s nice to be with people you have gotten to know over the course of a few weeks, a few meals and a few laughs. Flying into Puerto Maldonado you look from the plane window and as far as you can see in all directions is a sea of the most intense green you can imagine. The door opens and the rush of humidity blasts in and the long, slow sweat begins. You realize immediately you are in a place unlike any other.

Getting to and from this spot requires, in our case, plane then bus then boat. The boats are dugouts, thin and relatively fast, but speed isn’t of the essence here. In fact, the slower the better. The hours on the boat are a good time to just take things in, sleep, enjoy the heat, or in our case bust open a bottle of Adam’s favorite Pisco, which I have to say was maybe one of the best packing jobs of all time. Thanks Adam.

Ultimately we ended up at the Tambopata Research Center.

The Tambopata Research Center (TRC) of Rainforest Expeditions is situated in the Tambopata National Reserve on the upper Tambopata River in the center of a large uninhabited track of primary tropical lowland forest, very near to the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, in the Madre de Dios Region of Peru.
The area hosts a unique forest environment, with the highest concentrations of avian clay licks in the world. A range of animals comes to satisfy their need for salt along the river banks of the region. Sometimes hundreds of macaws can be seen at the Collpa Colorado clay-lick near to the research center.

As you all know, I’m not a landscape photographer and I don’t normally shoot wildlife. I LOVE both of these things but never feel like I ever do them justice. However, when thrust into these places, environments and situations I make my pictures. They might not look like the normal landscape or wildlife images, but they mean something to me and I enjoy making them. The longest lens I had was a 50mm, so not really equipped for this type of heavy lifting, but I think these pictures still work, and the audio file is priceless. Think the jungle is quiet? Think again.

Perhaps the best part of this entire thing was getting up long before sunrise to walk through the muddy jungle, climb into the boat, get out of the boat, walk through more muddy jungle and then wait. I grew up bird hunting, so I was used to the idea of doing all this, but not used to not shooting the birds I’d come looking for. In this case I was glad I wasn’t hunting with anything more than my trusty Leica. If you haven’t been to this region it is well worth the effort. The Peruvians have done a wonderful job of preserving this place, much better than many of the other regions in South America, but human nature requires constant diligence. My motto, if you can go, go now.

Back from Peru

Amy at Tipon Ruins, shot by workshop student and supreme photo-editor Joann Morsch.

Well, I’m back.

But now I have a real problem.

I’ve, once again, tasted the forbidden fruit of the outside world.

Running a photography business is a full time job, and then some. So, after several months of going back to back to back to back to back with shoots, marketing, advertising, follow up, book making, etc, you get lost in this world and begin to think of the planet as a small place.

Sitting in front of a monitor for hours, days, weeks at a time, and suddenly you can find yourself in a time warp. Add in social media, random online surfing and your life takes you down a path of business isolation.

And then suddenly, there was Peru.

So now I’m ruined.

I’ve been home for four days, and JUST NOW turned on my computer. I walk into the office and can’t really stand the idea of sitting down at the desk and digging back in to the clutter of a my photographer’s life. My life should be about the field, not about being in the tent.

My film, many rolls, is being processed and contacted as we speak. Until that film comes back, I’m somewhat lost in the anticipation of what I will find on those contact sheets. I’m sure there will be disappointment, surprise, happiness and confusion. Even though I had never been to Peru, all of my shoots tend to have these characteristics.

The goal of the trip was to teach a workshop, and luckily, the class went exceptionally well. We made photos. We edited photos. We sequenced photos. We learned book software and we created books. A LOT to do in such a short time, but the students were all game to take on as much as possible.

Peru was enticing in so many ways. Culture, color, landscape, cuisine, textures and of course the people. The weather was also a key component, everything from burn-inducing sun to marble size hail. For me, this was the feather in the cap. When the weather changes, so does the mood of the shoot. I think we often times think that wonderful sunlight is the best light, but for me, the darker, the wetter, the better.

I lost weight which is always a good sign. Losing weight signifies movement, lots of movement, meaning we were on the go for much of the time. And we ate like kings.

Me at Tipon Ruins, shot by workshop student and master photo-editor Joann Morsch

Another aspect I’m very, very happy about was the opportunity for Amy to get back into the field and make some images. It had been several years since we both worked together in the field. Her job is not a shooting job, so her chances to make work are few and far between. Seeing as the class was about making books, and seeing that I shot film and could not make a book of my own work while in Peru, I used her images to mock up and design a book to show the class. She did really well, and I’ve only seen a small percentage of the overall take. She has a great book in there somewhere, we just have to sort through the layers and find the core.

This was also my first time working with Adam Weintraub at and had a great time learning more about he and his Peruvian life. Adam has been in Peru for many years, and knows his way around both the city and countryside. He also likes good food and consistently presented us with some of the best food I’ve ever had while traveling. I don’t consider myself a foodie, and when I’m traveling have always prepared myself to exist, work, on a minimum of niceties and calories, so I was truly amazed at how well we ate and how much this wonderful food added to the experience of being in Peru. I was also able to procure a steady stream of cookies to hole away in my backpack, another constant of mine when I’m on the road. Don’t know why I do this, I just do.

So now I sit here scheming. All I can think about is finding a way to get back to Peru. This happens to me every time I take a trip. The outside world is the perfect example of the grass is always greener. I always think this, or say this, and then suddenly years have gone by and I haven’t made another voyage. Well, this time I can’t allow that to happen. I have to go again. And again.

So if you find yourself staring at the map, spinning the global or Google searching “wanderlust,” then look South and think about Peru. And if you are photo-inclined a workshop might be a good way to go.