Two New “Dogs Can’t Read” books.

As many of you know, I’m a book guy. I love books. I dream about them. I’ve made several. Well, add two more to the list. And folks, I made these books rather quickly. These small publications were not labored over, toiled over. I did not pull my hair out. I did not consult higher powers. I just did them. Bingo. Bango. You book designers are probably saying, “No joke.” I made the images over a year ago, but I just got around to making the books, and BOOK is a stretch in both cases. I consider these “books” simply sketches of an idea that I’ve been carrying around and acting out on for at least five years. The beauty of this book process, the print on demand process, is simply that you can make a single book. I LOVE to play with books. I’ve made an assortment of hideous creations not fit for public consumption, and I’ve made others that I’m proud of that continue to sell. My advice…just play.

A few years ago I started a project about dogs and graffiti in different cities/countries around the world. Palermo, Paris, New York, Tijuana and now Panama and Peru have entered in the mix. Is this story a world beater? No, not really. Have I sold a fair amount of these books? Yes. Dogs are a safe bet, but oddly enough the range of response to THIS particular project has been as varied as anything I’ve ever done. I’ve had people look at these images and claim to see great religious or political slant. No joke. I just nod and say, “You got me.” But back to the books. I love making these books for several reasons. First, it allows me to revisit the work. Second, it forces me to edit the work, and three, it allows me to create a physical artifact from the project. I don’t sweat these books. I enjoy the process and I toss the final product in a pile and revisit them from time to time. That’s all. I think sometimes we make too much of all this stuff. Photography, books, BEING photographers or book people. Just enjoy the process. You wanna be a world-beater? Good, go for it. Wanna just play, then play.

And for all you tech crazies out there. I know you want it. Wait for it…wait….wait for it……all Leica, all TRI-X. As the gear wars rage on I always find myself keeping an ear to the ground, thinking, “Well, I should go and look at these new cameras.” And then I do and I end up driving home empty handed. My old fallback of Leica, TRI-X is hard to beat. And now that my darkroom is nearing completion I really don’t see a need to change anything now. Of course tomorrow I’ll be saying something new, but I reserve the right to do so.

First Book with Bookify

So this small sample is my first book using the Bookify application recently introduced by Blurb. Bookify is the online application for creating a book. I know there was much demand for this, and after tinkering with it while making this sample…my mind is racing with all the potential uses. Up until this point, your options for creating a book with Blurb were to utilize either Booksmart, the download software, or using something like InDesign to create a PDF. Now we have another option. Making a book with Bookify is streamlined, but I see this as a help more than anything else. For me, I’ve got to get better at InDesign because I want to utilize that more for the future, but at the same time I love the ability to make something quick and easy, and online. This is a perfect way to share small bodies of work, or collaborate with someone in another location.

If you haven’t checked it out, just to to Blurb and give it a go.

PS: If you haven’t noticed, this is a small dose of work from Panama, all color, all 35. This is not a book I’m intending to sell or promote, it was just a sample book to test out Bookify. I am working on a portfolio book from Panama, until another title, but will also not try to market or sell that book. Just wanted to make something that represents my trip.

PSS: You can click on the full screen button if you want to see the book at that size.

What I Was Thinking

So as I’ve mentioned before, I get a lot of questions about process, about how I work in the field, at home after I’ve made some pictures, etc. I thought it might be interesting for me to explain to you what I was thinking when I made a series of pictures. Now this image is not the be all, end all image of images, but I think it will relay to you what was going through my mind while out on a somewhat typical picture hunt.

DATELINE PANAMA CITY
CENTRAL AMERICA
TIME: DUSK

The end of another long, hot day, somewhat successful, a few pictures and there. My primary reason for being in Panama was not making photos, oddly enough, and if I had to rank it I would say making pictures was second on my list of goals.

I saw this couple at a distance as I was walking what I would call a Malecon type place, an area in the old section of the city where people go to watch the sunset, hang out near a breeze off the water, etc.

My thoughts:

“I gotta make something.”
“I’ve got to find something in this light, something, anything, right now.”
“If you can’t find something in this light you are a total loser.”
“You better start looking chump.”

Looking over I see the couple of the seawall.

“Oh man, I’ve seen that shot a thousand times.”
“Couple on seawall.”
“There has to be something else.”

I look right, left, up, down…nothing.

“I don’t care if I’ve seen it a hundred times…I want it.”
“I’m too far away, and there aren’t many people around, as soon as I move they are going to see me.”
“As soon as they see me it will be over and this entire idea will turn to crap.”
“Shut up you idiot and start shooting.”
“I know they are going to see me as soon as I move.”
“Will it help I’m wearing green?”

I move closer.
Taking a look at the light I move to f/2 at about a 15th of a second.

“Okay, I know I can handhold that, but anything slower will be a crap shoot.”
“And anyway, as soon as I take ten steps they are going to see me and it will ruin the moment.”
“Nothing to see here people, I’m a tree, I’m just a tree, a fleshy tree on a sea of concrete.”
“Holy crap, they haven’t seen me yet.”

I move closer.

Heart beating faster, thumb flicking nervously on wind lever.

I shoot another frame.

“Okay that was out of focus, I know it.”
“I was too surprised they didn’t see me or look at me yet and I blew it.”
“Calm down stupid, it’s just a picture of people on the seawall.”

“Nothing to see here people, I’m just a guy weaving around.”
“Thank God for cellphones, they are mesmerized.”

I move even closer.

“I’m right on top of them.”
“I like the city in the background,I want them slightly off center, and I need a gap between his head the buildings.”
“Holy crap, I’m right on top of them and they STILL haven’t looked at me.”
“What if they get pissed?”
“Why would they get pissed.”
“Can I out run that guy?”
“Probably not.”
‘”That’s okay, he won’t get pissed.”
“Why would he get pissed?”
“I think my shoe is coming untied.”

“HOLY CRAP THEY STILL HAVEN’T SEEN ME AND I’M LIKE FIVE FEET AWAY.”

I shoot two more frames, quickly, the second at an 8th of a second. I know I’m on the edge of sharpness but who cares.

“They see me.”
“I blew it.”
“Wait, the light is really nice and I can see catch lights in his eye.”
“I think it might work even if he was looking at me.”
“He doesn’t look pissed.”
“Should I bust out my Spanish on them?”
“I should probably just leave them alone.”
“I wonder if I’m going to have fish again for dinner?”
“My shoe is coming untied.”
“Why is it always my left shoe that comes untied?”
“Is it the way I tied it or is there something wrong with my foot.”
“I wonder how many rolls I shot today.”
“They look happy.”
“Should I shoot another frame?”
“No, I don’t want to intrude anymore, and now from this distance.”
“The moment is gone.”
“I think I got something here.”
“I feel good about this.”
“I think I feel good about this.”
“Fish sounds good for dinner.”
“Man it’s hot.”
“I think that was good.”
“I can’t believe I got that close and they didn’t see until the very end.”
“I should keep shooting, even in this light.”
“You idiot, you should have shot this with the 50mm.”

Panama Noir

So I talk a lot about finding our vision or our style, and sometimes I get the feeling there are lots of blank stares out there when I mention this stuff. I see dark rooms, dimly lit with green, glowing screens and people asking, “What is this guy talking about?”
Well, I thought it a good time to show a few pictures that might shed more light on what I’m talking about. As many of you know, I recently spent some time in Panama. My primary goal in Panama was not photographic, but being a photographer I still wanted to make as many good images as possible. Pictures would be a compliment to what I was doing. I actually looked forward to this, thinking I could make a different kind of picture than I normally do. I reserved the new style picture for my color, which I’ll show a little of in the coming days. But being primarily a documentary photographer, a black and white documentary photographer, I’m most accustomed to just walking with my camera. Walking and looking. Looking and walking. All the while THINKING in black and white. This is key folks. I’m not shooting color and thinking black and white.


Now Panama is a colorful place, and I didn’t find it a particularly dark or depressing place either, but my VISION of Panama was different. I immediately recognized that, like many other places, Panama has many personalities. I knew I would develop a theme, in black and white, that reflected one reality and the color would be another. I think the key here is that these dark images, what I’m calling the noir, could be viewed in many different ways, but what I was doing was trying to visualize this place, from this perspective BEFORE I made the images.


A few years ago I was able to view some of Ansel Adam’s straight work prints. I was also then able to compare them to the final prints, and I have to say, I was blown away. Ansel could visualize that final image, and print, as you stood there in the field. And with no chimping and trying again and again. He just saw the scene and saw what we wanted from the scene. In essence I was trying to do the same thing. I had a vision of the place around me and the my translation was a dark one, so I looked and built a series of images that reflected this specific vision. Now here is the important part. I don’t think this is something you do AFTER you return. And I REALLY don’t think this is something you do on the computer or in the darkroom. Sure, that is part of it, but I think you have to learn to see, and make as close to that vision as possible while you are in the field. I see so many people shooting willy nilly, just blasting away from every angle in every light with no apparent vision in mind. Personally, I think this is why we see so much work that looks the same. So when I ask things like, “Do you know who you are with a camera in your hand?” this is what I’m talking about. I don’t believe anyone learns or becomes a better photographer by standing and shooting willy nilly then standing and reviewing the images in camera. I see people doing this all the time and I think it is total BS. Figure out what you want, how you want it and then go get it. Are you going to order something off the visual menu or stuff your face at the visual buffet?

These things don’t happen by chance really. They can but not that often, at least not for me. The idea of being able to enter a new place, visually sum in it up and then produce a specific body of work takes time and practice. And it doesn’t always work. Believe me, I’ve done this and missed, flailed, fallen, ruined or botched more than my share of images. In fact my ratio is WAY in the negative range. I’ve made far more terrible images than good ones.
So in a one week trip, I’m not looking to break records, make a definitive statement or even come close to really understanding a place, a people, etc. If you are thinking that way, let me be the first to tell you, “It doesn’t work that way.” It terms of what I shot, how much. I shot 20 rolls of 35, a total of 720 presses of the beloved shutter. I would imagine the film shooters out there saying, “Nice.” And I would imagine the digital shooters saying, “That’s it?” Yep, that’s it. Again, I’ve done this long enough to know what I want and what I’m looking for. When I’m shooting a certain theme I need a certain set of ingredients. Sure I’m looking for moments along the way, accidents along the way, I’m experimenting, taking chances, wasting film, etc, but my focus is on that theme and searching for sets of ingredients that materialize and then vaporize in a VERY short amount of time.

So whether you are shooting a wedding, a portrait, a commercial job, etc, I think knowing your style, or vision is one of the fundamental aspects of being a photographer. Oddly enough, in the age of the “instant” photographer, I think this is one of the key things getting LOST in the shuffle to sell, promote, get work, etc. I spent YEARS learning photography before I really began to assess what direction I wanted to go. That means years studying light and composition. Sure, I was working at a paper while doing this, but my images were, for the most part, not worth looking at. But all these years later, after many trials and tribulations, when I go out with my camera I find it very rewarding to feel like I know what I’m doing and I feel like I know what I’m looking for.
So next time you are out working try making a theme of like minded images. Then do it again. And again. Ask yourself what is it about this place? What am I trying to say?