Alex Coghe just posted an interview he did with me yesterday and it came out quite nice! If you want to read it you can check it out here at his website, which happens to be full of other interviews. Alex has several other great interviews on his site (and one not so good one) so be sure and check them out! Thanks Alex!
Unscrambling The Monochrome Egg
By Patrick Clarke – see his Blog HERE
When Leica announced “Henri”, the M9 Monocrom on May 10th, it caused a lot of fervor on blogs and photography websites. The all black camera, named after the legendary black and white Leica photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was devoid of almost all Leica markings and seemed niche even for the niche camera maker.
First, it was a monochrome only sensor. Leica had worked with True Sense Imaging (what used to be Kodak’s Sensor division) and took the KAF-18500 color sensor found in the M9 and made a black and white version. Secondly, it caused a lot of talk not only because it was black and white only, but at $8,000, it cost MORE than an M9 that could shoot color and have its shots converted to black and white in software!
Does it really cost more to create a black and white sensor, or is Leica just artificially creating a price point for such a unique Leica camera? And why would we want a black and white only sensor anyway?
As a black and white film shooter, I’ve looked at digital cameras as hindrance to getting to my final monochrome image. Even the best DSLR doesn’t have the dynamic range and clarity of a good black and white film, and there is a lot of time spent editing color photos to make them look like film. And since I spend my work days in front of a computer, the last thing I want to do is edit color photos in Aperture all night.
If you’ve seen the test shots from the Leica Monocrom, (more here) you can see that this camera shoots digital that looks more and more like film. It has grain instead of noise. The idea of a black and white only digital camera, to me, is a great thing if I can get shots that are the best things I like about film, with the advantages of digital. But I don’t have $8,000 to spend on such a thing and I don’t think Leica will send me a camera to play with anytime soon. So, I guess anyone like me is out of luck if they wanted to play in the black and white only digital land.
Luckily Leica isn’t the only maker of black and white only cameras today.
That company is LDP, LLC, and it’s website MaxMax.com. They have been converting cameras to black and white and other spectrums for some years now. You see, all camera sensors are black and white at their base. It’s a lot like film at this point, but to “see” color, manufacturers add microlenses, CFA “color filters” in a Bayer pattern that software takes and makes a color image and an Optical Low-Pass Filter to get rid of inherent aliasing and moire problems with the Bayer pattern. The black and white sensor gets stacked like a sandwich to make pictures. Yes, pictures that we black and white lovers spend hours converting back to black and white.
I got the opportunity to chat with the President of LDP, Dan Llewellyn and ask him a few questions about what they do to convert cameras back to their black and white roots. Read on.
When did you decide to try to convert a digital camera to black and white?
I had been thinking about it for over 10 years. About 4 years ago, we started doing experiments. It took about 2 years before we started having some good success. We have a box of broken sensors and went through lots of prototype custom machines.
Why did you do it?
To get a higher resolution picture. A color sensor typically has 1 red, 2 green and 1 blue sensor for every 4 pixels. This means if you take a black and white test chart and illuminate with a pure blue LED light only 25% of the cameras will see the chart. 75% will see black.
Another reason is that the sensor’s microlenses and Color Filter Array (CFA), block most of the UV light. A UV-Only monochrome camera can see 6 x better than the same camera with the microlenses and CFA. A Visible-Only monochrome camera gains about 1/2 stop from a stock camera. An 715nm IR-Only monochrome camera has about the same sensitivity as a 715nm IR-Only color camera.
Wow. If you are an IR shooter it certainly is quite the gain, and a half a stop is nothing to sneeze at. There is an often argued notion that a piece of 100 ISO Kodak T-Max black and white film has 2300 lines of resolution in it. A consumer level Canon T2i has around 2500 lines of resolution in it’s color form, but lacks the sharpness of film. Do you know how a converted camera compares to traditional black and white film?
I haven’t tried a test versus film. Interesting idea, but I haven’t shot with film for quite a while!
I know you do other conversions, like Infrared and “Hot Rod” as well as Black and White, so, what do you do to convert a camera?
IR UV-VIS-IR and HR conversions are much, much easier. To convert B&W, you have to remove the sensor coverglass and the CFA. Neither operation is trivial! The biggest issue with converting any camera is doing a clean conversion. There are shops out there that consist of a guy converting a camera to IR-Only on his kitchen table. But to do it well with really clean glass takes special equipment and techniques.
As far as monochrome conversions, we are the only shop that we know of that can do it. I once talked to a guy that runs the largest camera repair business in the USA with over 1,000 technicians about the monochrome conversions. He said they tried and came to the conclusion that a monochrome conversion was impossible. I found some discussions many years ago from some experimenters that used some hot toxic solvents, but, they never showed more than a small sample of their conversion and seemed to have given up.
Wow. So, no small task. Why not just do what Leica did and buy a black and white sensor and put it in the camera?
It’s not an option. If the manufacturers wanted to make a B&W camera, they could easily do so. Kodak made a B&W DLSR at one point. The problem is that the B&W market is small and the manufacturers want to sell large volumes. Texas Instruments makes a Digital Light Projection chip for video projectors. The normal visible chip costs $65. They also make a special version that has a UV transparent window that costs $2,000. The problem is that to make the UV chip requires shutting down the line for a small run. Leica is better suited to make a B&W camera because they are a small volume manufacturer, but, even then, their costs are probably quite high to make the B&W chip.
Is there anything that makes the purpose-built Leica sensor better than a converted one?
The Leica is going to be a more perfect camera since it was made to be monochrome. Typical conversions can have small traces of CFA left typically around the edges or other minor stuff that can be an issue for the pixel peeper types, though not an issue for practical shooting.
The cost of the Leica is often debated. Since it’s a “simpler” sensor, shouldn’t it cost less?
The cost of the Leica monochrome camera probably reflects their cost to make a very limited run of sensors. For the manufacturer, it is easier to make a monochrome camera that a color camera since all they have to do is not add the CFA during the manufacturing process. The problem is that to make the limited run and market the camera costs a bunch of money. We start with a color sensor and have to work backwards removing about 7 microns off the surface of the sensor without killing it in the process which is a bit like unscrambling an egg. For them, they just don’t need to crack the egg.
Since they are Leica and Henri Cartier-Bresson was such an influential photographer, I can see why they would create such a camera. Do you think Nikon, Canon or Sony will do the same?
For any monochrome or other specialized camera, the biggest problem is that it is specialized. The market is not that big, so even if you figure out the technical side, you still have to find the sales. For the big guys like Sony, Olympus, Nikon and Canon, the sales numbers for niche cameras will kill the line. For a little shop like us, we can find customers, but, keep in mind that we convert cameras to IR-Only 590nm, 630nm, 660nm, 715nm and 830nm; to High Resolution (no OLPF), UV-Only, monochrome, UV-VIS-IR, vegetation stress and more. And cameras are only one part of what we do which includes specialized cameras filters, phosphors, lights and inks.
Let’s get back to your conversions. What you do sounds very complex and time consuming. How long does it typically take to convert a sensor to monochrome?
That depends on the camera model and how well it goes. It is not uncommon to kill a sensor and have to start from scratch with a new sensor, though we are getting better with each conversion. Some sensors are harder to work with than others. We usually budget at least a day of work at this point though it can sometimes take a few days.
What is the most difficult part of the process?
Aside from the monochrome conversions, the hardest part is getting the glass that goes in the camera really clean. You can’t use optical wipes, swabs and solutions for the really small particles. Small dust is bound to the glass by electrostatic force. On really small particles, the electrostatic forces are incredibly strong. When you look at the glass under a microscope, the dust looks like the it is held by a magnet. Any time you touch the glass with anything, you leave something behind. To get the glass clean to an atomic level, you need special equipment and things like a clean room. That’s why the guy doing the conversion on the kitchen table cannot possibly do a clean conversion. In addition to that, you need to understand how the glass you put in the camera can change the focal plane of the camera not to mention how to take the camera apart.
That brings up a good point. There are a lot of “Dirty Sensor” cleaning kits out there, what’s your advice for people?
We tell our customers to never touch the glass unless absolutely necessary. Any time you touch the glass, something will be left behind. Hopefully, it is less than what you removed by touching it, but we have seen customers destroy their ICF/AA (the glass in front of the sensor) by trying to clean every spec of dust that can only be seen by shooting a white field at F22 and inspecting the picture in Photoshop. If the dust isn’t causing a problem for normal pictures, don’t create a problem for yourself by touching the sensor. Aside from ignoring the dust, the first type of cleaning should be using clean, compressed air cans being very careful not to tip the can too much. If you tip the can too far, you can get the can liquid squirting out the tip which will leave a residue that is even harder to get removed.
What about other types of cleaning?
The clean room swabs are our 2nd choice, but this always leaves little bits of the swab on the sensor. Liquid cleaning is the last option because this has the potential to cause big problems. When you have a solvent on the sensor, that solvent is never 100% pure. That means that when it evaporates, something will be left on the sensor. We have tested lab grade 9.99999% solvents (known as 5 nines), and even that leaves a visible line where it evaporates last.
That’s amazing, and scary at the same time. I don’t think I want to open up my camera any more. While you are doing a conversion, is there anything else you do to check on how it’s going or potentially change on the sensor?
We can also do things like measure the camera’s spectral response and quantum efficiency which helps us understand exactly how the camera’s sensor sees various light frequencies so that we can design some very specific products.
Does the size of the sensor have any effect on how long or complex the conversion is?
The bigger sensors have more surface area so they take more work. Some cameras are really complex to take apart. When we take some cameras apart, you end up with over a 100 small parts on the workbench. Other cameras are more straightforward.
As of this writing, you only sell converted Canon’s in monochrome. Are there plans for other camera’s like Nikon, or Sony?
We have converted Nikon cameras to black and white, but the biggest issue with them is removing the sensor cover glass which is epoxied to the sensor without damaging the sensor. While we have converted the Nikon cameras successfully, we still have a high enough failure rate that we aren’t ready to release them for sale. We have had inquiries to convert Sony and 4/3 cameras. We will eventually try some other brands, but, for some brands, the manufacturers won’t sell the sensors we need for R&D, so we have to buy older cameras to salvage the sensors.
Ha-ha. Well, if you ever want to try a Sony DSLR conversion, I have an A100 that would love to be converted! I love the idea of a true black and white digital camera and the Leica Monocrom intrigues me that it is on the market. Do you think we’ll see more mainstream monochrome cameras?
Most people would just as soon convert to black and white in Photoshop rather than having a dedicated monochrome camera. Not many understand the difference between a monochrome camera versus converted a color picture to monochrome in post. A limited range of hardcore black and white photographers and scientists understand the advantage of a monochrome camera, but I don’t think it will ever be mainstream.
That is very true. I’ve seen a lot of conversations on this subject and either people don’t understand the reason for a black and white image at all, or they don’t understand, nor care about why a true monochrome camera would be better for black and white.
What amazes me about what MaxMax does, is that for around $1,900, you can get a Canon T2i that will shoot better than a higher end Canon that shoots color, and if you look at the examples, with the removal of the Bayer Array, the sensor has “grain” and looks more like film than any converted color images.
I see guys throw down the same amount for a lens, so the idea of a dedicated black and white shooter isn’t out of the realm of reason for a lot of monochrome lovers. If I was a Canon shooter, I would have one of these cameras, but since I’ve invested in Sony/Minolta, I just can’t justify a whole new system just for monochrome digital shooting, but it’s oh-so tempting for sure.
You can visit their website and read more about the black and white conversion and what it does, view sample photos and even download some RAW versions to play with yourself. I highly suggest you do. Check out their cameras for sale here, and let them know you heard about it on this blog!
I’d like to thank Dan for taking the time to answer my questions, and shedding some light on something that black and white film photographers take for granted.
Above: James Napier and Shelby
Steve Huff/Shelby Lee Adams interview – August 2010
Today I would like to bring you an all new Featured Photographer interview! This interview is with Shelby Lee Adams, a photographer who is most known for his Appalachian Portraits featuring the families who live in the mountains of Kentucky. He is also a Photography Guggenheim Fellow for 2010-2011 and I am honored to feature him on my website.
While some see his work as controversial, I see it as important documentary work that not only shows the skill of Shelby as a photographer and his passion for the art, but it also shows us a slice of life that many of us do not even know exists. I am a big fan of his work and it is my pleasure to bring this interview to you today. After reading the interview, be sure to visit Shelby’s website/blog that features more of his work. Please note that Shelby does not spend much time on a computer and is always traveling. Therefore, he will most likely not respond to any questions in the comments.
Steve: Hi Shelby! First I want to say a big THANK YOU for agreeing to do this interview with me. I am a big fan of your work and I feel connected to it mainly because my Father was born and raised in the mountains of Kentucky where many of your photos were taken. When I was young we would visit the mountains and I always felt a sense of peace with it. The people were always friendly, always happy and seemed to enjoy their life even though it was much different than the life i was living in the big city of Chicago. Your photos take me back to those times and the stories you include with these photos really show me that not much has changed up in those mountains over the past 30 years and I find your portraits to be exceptional! So with that said, let’s get started!
How old were you when you first found an interest in photography, and what were your subjects when you first started out?
Shelby: Being an only child I received a lot more encouragement perhaps, I was drawing and painting at age five, studying art books that my mother and grandmother provided, working with oil paints and canvas before age 10. I was actually born in the town of Hazard, Kentucky and raised in an adjoining county called Letcher. I won the only art award in my high school class in 1968, not very competitive then. We did not have photography. After a year of floundering in college, I was accepted and attended the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1969. As a painting major, upon taking my first photography class in my second year of art school, I was 19 years old; I practically changed my major immediately to photography. My first photographic subject’s were my mother’s parents, my grandpa and grandma Banks and my maiden aunt Glade who was my childhood nanny. They owned a huge farm in a hollow called Johnson’s Fork in Eastern Kentucky where I was raised and they were all born. There was livestock and wild animals, farmland and mountains, creeks and ponds; all kinds of natural space for a child to play and grow up on, observe, draw and paint and later photograph.
On a deeper level, from the ages of 9 – 12 years old my grandma suffered from an eye disease that caused her to go totally blind within that 4-year period. We were very close. She encouraged my drawing and painting and it was “because of her” struggle that I committed myself to the visual arts. From that early childhood experience, I developed a strong belief in the visual arts as a transforming tool to help heal and uplift ones spirits, to inspire others too live a fuller life, no matter how difficult the situation. For me art and photography are a committed discipline and field of study.
ABOVE: Self-Portrait with Grandma, 1974
Steve: What was the first picture you took that you were really proud of?
Shelby: Probably “Self-Portrait with Grandma,” 1974
Steve: When did you start photographing for your Appalachian project and how did you approach the families to let them know you wanted to photograph them?
Shelby: In 1974 I started using a view camera. I grew up in the “War on Poverty” era when Appalachia was in the news daily. My community had been photographed and filmed a lot by the media, some people felt shamed by this exposure. Mountain people were generally suspicious of the media and photography, including myself. My first attempts with photography were with a 35MM camera as a student, one spring I took a 4×5 view camera and boxes of Polaroid’s home to KY to photograph with, folks responded openly, not guarded, they liked seeing and getting to keep instant Polaroid’s right away. Their enthusiasm was amazing to me. This changed my approach to photography in 1974 and was the beginning of my serious work, a more formal approach, but more appropriate for my culture. I always ask people to make photographs with me showing them the Polaroid’s as we make pictures and then I always bring back photographs to give and share with my families before making new pictures. Sometimes it is a full year between visits, but this is a very important responsibility, to return with pictures, to affirm what you are doing and then continue. In my high school days my uncle, “Doc Adams,” took me around with him making house calls, driving into the heads of the hollers. These experiences happened before I was interested in photography. He taught me a lot about mountain people, they loved and respected him and this world and its people immediately fascinated me. My uncle “Doc Adams” opened a door for me that would last a lifetime.
Above: Napier Brother’s with puppies
Steve: For the black and white portraits, what equipment did you use for the older photos, and do you still use that same equipment today?
Shelby: I started with a 4×5 Calumet student camera and soon advanced to a 5×7 Deardorff Field camera with a 4×5 reducing back. Later in the 80’s as my work became more complex, using more lighting equipment and various lenses, I purchased a more flexible Linhof bi-system view camera with a rear reflex viewer. With the reflex viewer I no longer needed a black viewing cloth that is common to view cameras and with this viewer you are not separated from your subjects visually. This is important in getting people comfortable and having good communications. I still use the Linhof today but have had other custom modifications made to this camera. For 35MM, I have always worked with Nikon’s and have always used Kodak Kodachrome 35MM film for my color work. Always documenting my sessions photographing and I have always made snap shots for my friends and subjects. Later changing to digital color when Kodachrome was no longer manufactured. My 4×5 black and white work has always been my standard forte for exhibitions and publications and most popular with my subjects. The film I used for most of my career I saw demonstrated by Bruce Davidson in a workshop in Ohio in the 70’s. He used Tri-X Pan Professional film packs. This was a 16-exposure 4×5 film pack that could be changed in daylight. The negatives are on a thin film base and delicate, the quality it produces is wonderful, but this film has to be printed through a glass negative carrier and handled carefully. All my negatives have been manually processed. When Kodak announced discontinuing this film pack in the 90’s I bought a freezer full and used until just recently. Now even 4×5 film holders are rare and discontinued, but I have a good supply and Ilford today makes a good 4×5 film and Fuji makes an excellent instant 4×5 print film. Further, now also working with CF memory cards, who would have “thunk it”?
Steve: One of your images that really sticks in my head is the one titled “The Hog Killing” – Is there a story behind this image?
Above: The Hog Killing, Spring 1990
Shelby: When the Hog killing was made I was Head of the photography program at Salem State College in Massachusetts, then living in Salem, Mass. I always call and keep in touch with my friends in Kentucky throughout the year. During Christmas of 89 I had started talking to my friends about making a hog-killing photograph. My friend a preacher Wayne Riddle suggested the Napier Family as a good family to work with in making this photograph. He said, “They kill hogs the old timey’ way.” We both knew them and I had been photographing and visiting them for at least 5 years then. It should be noted that I have been photographing seriously in this area spending 2 to 3 months each year, some years trips made shorter, but for at least 6 weeks each time, ongoing for now 36 years. Everyone knows me in the community.
The idea and concept for this picture and many of my photographs comes from my Appalachian childhood memories. I write and sketch in my notebooks throughout the winter, when an idea comes and really excites me I call my friends and we discuss. Sometimes my Kentucky friends call me with their ideas. I consider this a collaborative relationship; some photographs materialize this way, from our sharing stories and discussing what is happening currently in the hollers. An important concern is to make pictures of people who have lived this life. Each person in “The Hog Killing,” photograph of that spring in 1990 had multiple experiences from childhood and throughout their lives of hog killings as a part of their natural life and means to survive. John Napier the man seated in the front of photo reminded us, we should hang the hog from a tripod wood frame like he had always done and his son’s volunteered and constructed this tripod frame, something they had done many times. For those not familiar with this ritual, a hog killing is usually an all day affair that utilizes every part of the animal in preparing months of food for a large family, other domesticated animals and the making of bi-products like soap. This photograph actually illustrates the middle of the process when the meat is cleaned, washed and ready to be cut into sections, to make pork chops and ribs; even the head in the pan is saved to be prepared for cooking later. Harry Crews has written an excellent book about the ritual of hog killings called, “A Childhood, The Biography of a Place”.
My early personal experience with this ritual was from my grandpa’s farm in Letcher County. From my childhood memories, this was the most exciting day of the year, up before daylight, making fires, boiling water, the crack of the gun shot, the smells, watching the men work so fast cutting the meat, hearing the sounds the knives made, scalding the hair off the animal and watching water and blood mix and the steam rise, all fascinating. Eating fresh made cracklings later was rewarding and delicious. The woman made soap from the fat, prepared hams and souse while preserving yet other meats. Everything was utilized in some manner. Mountain people consider this a joyous occasion and it is often a community event. If ill will had sprang up between neighbors during the year, on this day-the giving of meat to that neighbor renewed friendships and made solidarity. All of us in this group shared these same life experiences around hog killings.
Even in 1990 in Beehive, Kentucky we discussed the fact that this ritual was changing and disappearing from our culture. So everyone was excited about this day, to have me photograph something that we consider important and disappearing from our culture. This was the mindset before and during the making of the photograph, I volunteered to buy a hog, if someone could get it delivered to the Napier farm in Beehive.
In the mean time I had Spring break coming up at my college job in Massachusetts and I asked two students to join me for the week. We brought two video cameras for the students to film the event. When we arrived and settled in we ask Wayne to find a hog and bring it to the Napier’s. He priced a hog at $150.00 and I gave Wayne the money. He was to bring the animal in his pick up truck on a specified day. We all agreed that the meat would be equally divided between the Riddle and Napier families after the photo shoot. This would provide both families with meat for their homes for probably three months.
The day of the hog killing I was lucky, weather was cool and slightly overcast. I had chosen a 90MM Schneider lens to fit my 4×5 camera. I chose to use a Comet 2400-watt sec. pack for a flash lighting source to mix with the daylight. We set up two light stands with each holding a light with a silver umbrella; each light was powered with 1200 watts of light. I made a few Polaroid’s and light adjustments and we shot film immediately while I engaged everyone to look toward the camera. The entire shoot did not take 20 minutes. I remember the F-stop was F32, my usual aperture setting. The shutter speed and daylight reading was probably exposed at 1/60th or 1/125th of a second, with daylight being the dominant light source. We made 4 exposures on 4×5 film then doing one final Polaroid check print. This method of working I call previsualizing the image, working toward the goal of constructing the composition you have in your mind and making it happen. It can be quite chaotic working in this manner, watching some things just happen naturally and directing other elements together simultuiously. The photograph is always better or worse than you expect and always some surprising element is recorded that you did not plan or even see.
The public’s response to this photograph has been varied. Some see this picture as a valuable contribution to documenting this culture that is changing. Other’s say it is the vision of myself solely. Some say this is a staged photograph, implying that something is not real or false. I call my work formally posed with my subject’s full corporation, seeing and sharing Polaroid’s through out the process, affirm this. I have established long term relationships with these people who do trust me. The final result is of no surprise to any involved, the picture is what everyone worked together to make. Throughout the history of photography portraiture has been mostly formally posed using view cameras. The difference in my work is I’m taking the studio equipment on location to make the pictures in more specific environments, not just where the light is good, where my subjects are more comfortable and intimate, working with lenses and lighting tools that reflect my own esthetic sensitivity and vision and very importantly seeking out only authentic cultural representation from my subjects, something outsiders working here may not always understand. The plentifully history of the media here again is 35MM photojournalism working where the editing, cropping of photos and accompanying words are decided by a committee removed, not necessarily concerned about the people photographed, but more their message.
My pictures are sometimes recreations of events and yet still part of the people’s real lives lived today. It is my belief that ones memories and thoughts held inside contribute greatly to the making of engaging portraits. Nothing is staged or added to, out of context. In making “The Hog Killing’’ for example, I asked Jerry Napier [second in from right] to remove his Michel Jackson cap for the picture. He did so then he placed it back, saying “This feel more natural with my cap on.” That’s the way I took the picture. Today, cultural representation is a mix of the old and new generations in Appalachia, as in most other cultures. You cannot simulate too much one way or another or then it does become a staged picture. Then viewers raise the question of what should be represented from a culture? Some Appalachian’s are offended by this picture and there is a lot of shame within my culture, caused by media misrepresentations and stereotyping over the last 60 years. In part, my intentions are to help right that misunderstanding and those photographs and show what was real for the Napier’s of Beehive, Kentucky, my memories of my own and grandfather’s life, the Riddle Family, among other’s. Not to portray these people as some Hollywood movie set with props and dressed up actors is important. It is a thin line to perceive the difference sometimes, especially if you are on the outside of a culture. The media itself conditions us all to view things in a certain way and we are affected either unconsciously or consciously. I’ve always said my work was done as an insider, subjective, as a native artist searching his native roots with his subjects as his collaborators. How you view the work depends much upon your own life experiences.
At this writing in 2010, three of the six people in “The Hog Killing” photo are now deceased. Berthie and John Napier are both gone, [the elder couple in the center of photo]. This photograph represents for me a part of their cultural lifestyle authentically with one son in the background wearing a Michel Jackson cap. James another son [left] also recently deceased, I valued as one of my closest friends, as do many people who knew him. All people represented here told me they feel true to themselves and are happy with the out come of the picture produced that is very important to me. How the viewer processes images is independent of the photographer and his subjects. Yet, from years of sharing my work I now think even the viewer is more a part, serious photographs mirror back more connection than we think if we allow engagement. At exhibitions, over the years I’ve had people come up to me to express their gratitude to me for the making of this photograph. With tears in their eyes sometimes, because this photograph would deeply resonate within them-recalling their own childhood experiences from for example: Eastern Europe, The Czech Republic, Spain or Brazil and they would be so passionate to share these memories with me. More importantly viewers tell me this picture opens doors for them to share this experience with their own children, something they may not have been able to articulate before. From my experience and feedback I’ve received, “The Hog Killing” has become a catalyst for other cultures with similar background experience. Because this photograph opens up a map to common familiarity shared by many cultures universally. This is the reward of making what I call a primal photograph. Many cultures feel their problems are unique to their situations and their specific holler’s, I’ve learned we all have similar conditions and attributes. If we could openly share more with each other and be less defensive – we would all benefit more abundantly.
Above: Fog Lift
All photographs and text copyrighted – © 2010 Shelby Lee Adams, if editing and changing format or text, please contact and consult author/photographer.
Environmental Portraiture, 1 week workshop, International Center of Photography, NYC, Approximate time – Mid August 2011 [annually], Ph. 212-857-0001 www.icp.org
Environmental Portraiture, 1 week class, New space Center for Photography, Portland, Oregon, Dates: July 25th – 29th, 2011
Ph. 503-963-1935 www.newspacephoto.org
Look for part two to this interview in the coming months. Thank you Shelby!
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MARCH/APRIL FEATURED PHOTOGRPHER
Lara Rossignol – piewacketblog.com
It’s March 1st and as promised I am back with another photographer interview! I stumbled upon Lara’s website/blog a few weeks ago and have been visiting it ever since. I really was drawn to her style, use of light, color, and even her blog design. I soon found out that she is a successful commercial photographer and when I dug deeper into her website I was very impressed with what I saw. In other words, it inspired me! I soon contacted her to see if she would be interested in doing an interview and she accepted!
Hi Lara! Thank you for accepting my invitation for you to be a Featured Photographer on my site. I am a HUGE fan of your work and blog and find your photography to be some of the most beautiful work I have seen in recent times. Tell us a little about you and your work.
I have been working for over 20 years and shot primarily fashion and celebrity portraits while living in NY. I moved to Atlanta a few years ago and have expanded to include food, lifestyle and kids. Also more “real” people portraits. A smaller market allows more diversity. I still shoot a lot of editorial but also much more advertising.
When did you first become interested in photography?
In high school. My Mom gave me a little hawkeye instamatic she won in bridge game. The summer before my senior year, I asked if I could trade a trip to Hawaii she was planning to bring me on for a 35mm camera. She agreed.
How did you get started in commercial photography? You have an impressive list of clients!
The man that owned the lab I was using suggested I check out Art Center College of Design. I was starting to noticed photo credits by a woman photographer in Rolling Stone, Annie Leibovitz of course. I thought, I would like to take pictures of Harrison Ford and Matt Dillion. So I applied and got into Art Center. In my 8th term I met with an art director who sent me to see a rep and she signed me. I started getting work before I actually got my diploma.
I also am in love with your portrait work. What is your favorite camera to use for your portrait sessions?
I have a regular 5D (as apposed to the Mark II) and usually use a 50 L series lens. I am not a big equipment collector, I work very simply, you can always rent it, if you need something special for an assignment. I really loved the M9 for portraits, I think this is what that camera was meant for, it is on my wish list now.
What is your favorite thing to photograph?
If you had asked me this question a few years ago, I would have said people but lately I have really enjoyed shooting food, travel & still lives as well. In the end I am really just a portrait photographer … sometimes I take a portrait of a cupcake, sometimes a country singer, sometimes a dress on a model, sometimes an old pool hall…there are all just a kind of portrait to me.
One thing I like about your photos is the color. When you shoot digitally, do you use photoshop or filters to enhance the images?
Yes, I play with the color in post, sometimes a lot sometimes a little. It just depends. I will use filters, color correction and gradient maps to get the effect I want. I work with Lightroom to process my images then photoshop (CS4) to retouch and adjust the color or convert to b/w.
Did you go to school for photography or are you self taught?
As I mentioned above, I went to ACCD. I will add that if your looking at schools, make sure they have a full commercial program with instructors that have actually worked as photographers. A master degree means very little if you have no real world experience. Creatives do not ask to see a diploma they want to see your work, period. At Art Center my best teachers were working commercial photographers, art directors and stylists.
However, nothing beats real world experience, school is a great opportunity to learn the technical side and to create. Learning the business side comes from doing or assisting others. I admit I made a lot of mistakes early on which I might have avoided had I watched someone else make them instead.
What inspired you to start your blog? I think it is AWESOME!
Thanks. I have followed a lot of blogs, but very few photo blogs because I found most not all that interesting. Just more of what was on their site. So I decided I wanted to do something different, kind of my own magazine about the things I like. It has been a lot more work than I realized but it is fun and has really challenged me creatively.
Since we are on the topic of your blog, I noticed you have been testing the Leica M9 recently. What do you think of it, and how would you compare it to the film Leicas?
My experience with Leicas is a little limited, I only shot with a film Leica once and that was many years ago and then I had a the original Leica digilux, which was my first digital of any consequence. I think the M9 is am amazing camera, I loved it’s simplicity and compact form. I shot a lot over the two weeks I had it and my favorite results were with the portraits and a beauty shoot I did which I will post Monday. If I could afford to, I would buy this camera tomorrow.
What is your favorite Leica lens?
I only got to test it out with a Summilux-M 50 so, I have no comparison. I would love to try a wide angle, something I could try shooting food with. For me, it really is mostly about the glass and just based on the one I tried, I was pretty impressed.
What would be your advice for all of those reading this who would like to get into commercial photography?
Photography is not just an art, it is a science and you must learn the science so you can create the art. Assuming you have the technical training, be clear about who you are and what markets you want to pursue. A good website is essential and so is a good printed portfolio. Though most people book me through my site, I still get requests for a book and this is usually for final client meetings.
It is also about good marketing and persistence. While talent is helpful, I have seen many a talented photographer fail, while a less talented but marketing savvy one succeed. It is also a business and learning this aspect, even if you have an agent is very important. Selina Maitreya has written some good books on this and a great blog every photographer should read is A Photo Editor, tons of good info there.
In your years as a photographer, is there any one image or session that was more memorable than the others? If so, why?
This is like being asked to choose a favorite child, too hard! Shooting for Max Factor and Vogue were definite highlights in my fashion career. While shooting Gary Oldman and Liv Tyler were favorite portrait sessions. I felt a strong connection with both of them while shooting, which does not always happen and the results were prolific. Honestly, I just feel lucky to do what I love for a living.
Lara, I thank you so much for this interview and want to say once again that I LOVE your work. It’s inspiring and beautiful!
To see more of Lara’s beautiful work, as well as some great images she shot while testing the Leica M9, visit her blog HERE at http://www.piewacketblog.com and you can also visit her professional site HERE.
JANUARY/FEBRUARY FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHER
For 2010 I will have a new “Featured Photographer” interview bi-monthly where I will interview talented photographers and display their work on this website. I am kicking it all off with 18 year old Megan Baker who happens to shoot with a Leica M8!
Megan Baker is an 18 year old photographer living in Chicago, IL. I first found out about her photography through facebook and soon realized that she not only shoots with a Leica M8, but she has shot in some of the same locations as me during her outings and road trips to find abandoned buildings. Amazing! After seeing her images I was floored by the haunting beauty of them and realized that I better get an interview with her now before she is crazy famous :) She not only searches out and shoots old abandoned buildings in rural towns but she also photographs musicians. Her work is beautiful, soulful, and is full of emotion. True Art.
Hi Megan! I am thrilled to have you as the first featured photographer on my website. I have to say that when I saw your images I was hooked instantly. After you contacted me on facebook we realized that you have shot in some of the same places that I have and you shoot with a Leica M8! How old were you when you really got into photography, and what were your usual subjects?
I am glad to be your first featured photographer! I was around 3 or 4. My usual subjects were probably my toys, then I moved onto my pets. I usually dressed them in human clothing (against their will.)
What attracted you to the Leica M8? How long have you had it? Which lenses do you use and do you enjoy shooting a rangefinder camera?
I was getting tired of all the new DSLRs coming out that were all “This is so easy!” “It’ll do everything for you!” Where is the fun in that? They’re marketed to soccer moms. They’re made out of plastic… I was tired of it, I didn’t want to shoot with something like that. So I did some research on Leica, and I’m a big fan of history and preservation. Leica is timeless. The M8 is beautiful. It’s really hard to describe, but when I shoot with it, I’m not just holding a plastic thing that will be obsolete in a few years, snapping photos for me. I have a real camera, it just feels different. The other day I was riding around looking for shots with my mom, and she asked me why I couldn’t have an SLR (since it would be easier to zoom and everything like that) and I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was basically that when I shot with my old Nikon, a picture was a picture. Just a picture. With Leica, it’s different. There is soul… I can feel the grass blowing across the Midwestern field. It’s alive in my photos. There’s a whole other dynamic that the M8 has, that maybe not everyone can tell when they aren’t looking close enough… I think a good example of this is my ‘Stoutenborough’ photo.
I’ve had my M8 for a little over 2 years now. I was just thinking about that the other day, time goes by fast. I only have a summicron 50 mm now but I’m getting the summicron 35 mm soon. I’ve shot with the 28 mm f/2 a bit too.
I love shooting with a rangefinder camera. I’m more aware of my surroundings, more focused, and really paying attention to what I’m doing.
Yes, that Stoutenborough photo has that M8 magic but it also shows the skill of the photographer! Also, I am in love with the 50 Summicron right now. Great choice in lens! I love that you shoot these old abandoned buildings and rural scenes. What got you started doing that? I thought I was the only nut traveling to these tiny towns looking for these oddball locations!
Well, when I was about 14, I got kicked out of school. Some people told me that telling the story would probably alienate a Christian audience of whatever but what the hell? I’m an artist. I can say whatever I want, hah. I was in a small conservative Christian school and I didn’t agree with the things they were teaching. It was the kind of teaching that wasn’t about love or caring for people, it was, that person is this, so they’re pretty much less than human. I wasn’t afraid to say it wasn’t right. So they got rid of me.
I was a straight A student, almost always on honor roll, and I’d been going there for 7 years, since the year it opened. These people were like my family. It broke me up inside… I didn’t really have anyone else in my life. So in a way, I felt abandoned. I came across these buildings and something clicked. It was therapeutic in a way.
I have had some scary experiences while shooting locations out in these small towns. Do you have any fun stories to share?
Haha… I’m going to tell the one that just happened to me last weekend, or technically the weekend before last. I was in a town called Elisabethtown on the Ohio River. It was so strange, a total time warp, and even thought it was in Illinois, everyone there had the thickest southern accents I’ve ever heard. We stayed at the oldest hotel in Illinois and were the only ones there (not even the people who worked there were there) amazing weather… amazing spot. I recommend it. I’ve never heard so many birds or seen so many stars… anyway, we went to this diner for lunch and this conversation went down…
Waitress: Is that your camera? (referring to the M8)
Waitress: How old are you?
Me: I’m 18.
Waitress: Oh I thought you were like 12 or 13.
My mom would have never bought me a camera like that when I was your age.
My mom: She bought it herself.
Waitress: When I was 18 I had better things to do.
Then she walked off.
The next day the owner of the hotel made us breakfast and told us that some people there are very unwelcome to other people who aren’t from there.
I love the look of your photos. I assume you use photoshop to achieve your desired effects. How long does it take you to work on one photo, and how did you learn photoshop so well?
It is photoshop, and the time depends. Some are really easy. This one I’m working on now, it only took about an hour or two, but there’s still some tweaking. There’s some that take almost 10 hours. I used to work nonstop usually through the night and go to bed at 6 am, but now I normally take breathers and wait and see how it looks to me in a few weeks, so the time really varies. I actually don’t think I’ve learned photoshop well. I know how to do certain things, which was all just trial and error, I prefer to learn that way.
Your photo of the empty building in Kentucky is one of my favorites and your processing is amazing with this image. How did you spot this building and what made you realize it would make a good photo?
Thanks! It is one of my favorites as well. I was on a road trip down the Mississippi River to New Orleans and had just left this crappy motel in the middle of no where, it was still pretty early, about 7 am I think… Not actually at night. We were driving through this old little town and we’d actually driven past it before at night, but we were totally lost and freaking out and had just done a giant circle for about an hour in the total boonies in Kentucky. We bunked down at the only motel for about 3 hours and the next day went through the town again. I spotted the building and what really caught me was inside. Beautiful vines and colors, and it was a very floggy day, so that stuff really stood out to me. Although the area around it wasn’t too great (I am normally pulled into scenes where the whole photo intrigues you, not just the subject.) The building was too cool to pass up.
Many purists argue that photoshop is the devil and should never be used. What would you say to that?
I don’t get that at all. It is essentially no different than the darkroom. I think people have the wrong idea of photoshop. Oh it’s all filters and pressing buttons and it does everything for you. That’s not the case, at least not with me. I hand tweak all my shots similar to what one would do in a darkroom. A lot of people ask me, “so are these photoshopped?” like it’s a bad thing. Yeah, they definitely are photoshopped, and I’m unapologetic.
Your photos of the musicians are really full of emotion and feeling. How did you get started with it?
I was a big fan of Gavin DeGraw back when I was 12, and I went to a lot of shows and took pictures. Then I did the same with people they played with, and through the years I got to meet a lot of great people to photograph. I’m very lucky now to have found a band that I can tour with and that are supportive of my work, and I am a big fan of their music, so it’s all around awesome to work with them. I feel like the people I photograph want me around, and are comfortable having me around. They can be themselves and I photograph that. The shots are honest.
What is your favorite photo that you have ever taken, and why?
That is a really tough one… I don’t think I could answer that. I have a few favorites. Mainly, the first ones I’d taken in each series. They started something important for me. Also the ones where the buildings have now been destroyed.
Have you ever presented your images in a gallery? If so, are you interested in doing more of it?
I actually just took down a show in the West Loop today (well, yesterday, as it’s 2:30 in the morning.) I am definitely interested in doing more of it. I’d love to get in some more Chicago showings… some other cities… I’d like to expand into Canada and then even further, maybe Germany.
I think you are crazy talented for being 18 years old. Is photography something you plan in pursuing as a career? If so, what type of photography most interests you?
Thank you. I definitely already consider it a career, although a modest one compared to some others. I don’t know if one certain type interests me the most. I alternate between music and fine art. Some days I’m like, “man I love this. I love taking pictures of these bands. I feel like I should really concentrate on this.” And somedays I feel the opposite… loving doing fine art, no pressure, working for myself. I love them both.
What is the coolest thing that has happened with your photography so far?
Going on tour I think. May of 2009 was a crazy, crazy time for me. I was 17… moving from a small town to the big city, having never been away from my home for more than a week. I moved here alone, barely knowing anyone. And about a week later, I grabbed a cab to O’Hare and flew out to Pittsburgh to meet with the band (Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers) to tour and shoot shots for their then upcoming record. I’d never even flown by myself, and barely flew at all since I’d been deathly afraid of it. It kind of amazes me, that I managed to do all that. It’s definitely an adventure. I’m enjoying it a lot. I can’t wait for what’s to come.
Thank you Megan for sharing your awesome photos and taking the time to answer these questions! I wish you all the success in the world!
Thank you! Honestly, I don’t know if anyone would do anything without people showing interest and support in what they do, so thank you, it means a lot.
You can see more of Megan’s work at her website! Just click on over to www.mbakerphotography.com to check it out!