Ben Folds

"Bearded Selfie 2015" ©Ben Folds

“Bearded Selfie 2015” ©Ben Folds

The more you know about Ben Folds the more you understand that he is driven to create. A successful pop musician with his band The Ben Folds Five, an accomplished solo artist with his category bending release So There, and an insightful judge on the television program The Sing Off. No matter what the medium, Ben is going to explore the possibilities. The creative process for Folds is a continuum, not a series of categories.

I emailed Ben and asked if he wouldn’t mind answering a few questions on another of his many talents, photography.

Q: Are there any photographers or artists that have influenced the way you make or think about images.

BF: I love the photography of the mid 20th Century. I just like the approach, the tone.  It’s like the whole art form and it’s business, in journalism and in fine art, became incredibly well oiled.  Especially, for me, the black and white photography. Eugene Smith is a great example.  And some of it is due to his bold printing. Bill Brandt is a favorite, completely different type of photographer. Everyone loves Cartier-Bresson and Elliott Erwitt of course, and of course the humor and wit combined with an often heartbreaking story appeals to me, as that’s what I aspire to musically.

Q: You print many of your images yourself. What does printing bring to your creative process?

BF: Printing is a huge part of it. Imagining what you’ll be holding in your hand as you make an exposure is big for me.  It doesn’t have to be for everyone. I also like the process of getting it to paper.  I spent a lot of time in a dark room over the years and that informs the way that I print digitally, and what I ask for when for instance Digital Silver Imaging works with me. I like staying in the parameters of basic contrast/exposure adjustments with some dodging and burning.  There are so many amazing images to be made in the moment, that creating something that didn’t happen, via photoshop and cloning… not interesting to me.

"Smokers Adelaide" ©Ben Folds

“Smokers Adelaide” ©Ben Folds

Q: I understand that you shoot with both Leica M3 film cameras and a digital M Monochrom. How, if at all, does film vs. digital influence how you work?

BF: It’s nice to have an idea of what happens when light is touching the sensor or a piece of film.  And to know the difference. The look of what you’ve shot depends on knowing something about these things.

I know that I like overexposing Tri-X and under developing it for certain scenes.  I know what that will mean.  With the Monochrom, you can under expose and it’s amazing how much shadow detail you can dig out.  Then knowing how to get the feel I want with curves or with Silver Efex works for me.  It’s mostly again, about shooting, knowing that I can get what I see in the print.  Everyone knows the frustration of pointing a camera at something that’s beautiful to them and it just doesn’t look right in the end. You see one thing and it turns out the camera, by default, did not agree.  I feel the same about analog recording – as long as I know what I want to hear on the other end, I have a method of getting there with different tools. All that said, film makes me happiest.  So does tape.  Mainly because I don’t overindulge in analog. I go for a take, or a shot without feeling I should bracket on either side.

Q: Do you always carry a camera with you?

BF: No. Because when I’ve got my camera I’m obsessed with that and don’t live normally.  I’m always seeing things as if I might photograph them, and there’s something fun about that. But when I venture out with the camera I turn into a little bit of an absent citizen, off in the clouds.

Shot by Ben with his M Monochrom the night before this interview. ©Ben Folds

Shot by Ben with his M Monochrom the night before this interview. ©Ben Folds

Q: I’m trying not be “master of the obvious,” but you’ve excelled as a musician, a performer, composer, a photographer, and a television personality, is there some other creative medium that calls to you that we just don’t know about?

BF: I’m currently writing a book. It’s all sort of the same thing in a way. Just different techniques.  Framing, for instance. Writing is all about framing, as is songwriting and photography. What you leave inside the magical dimensions and what lies outside, either conspicuously absent or ignored.  It’s the kind of stuff that can drive you crazy!

"Bonnaroo-2008" ©Ben Folds

“Bonnaroo-2008” ©Ben Folds

Q: I find the images you make from the stage looking out at the audience fascinating. What happens to the dynamic when you are the focus of attention and you point a camera out at a large group?

BF: Then you get a photo of people paying attention to you, which is obvious, but if you think about it, most of photographing people is about being invisible to an extent.  So my shots from stage, or of press photographers pointing their cameras at me have a different effect.  Really, I guess not many people spend most of their lives on a stage, so seeing that relationship is probably unique.

"Me n Elvis" ©Ben Folds

“Me n Elvis” ©Ben Folds

Q: You make lots of great portraits and self portraits. If you could photograph anyone, who would you have sit in front of your camera?

BF: Ha. Anyone really.  I’m okay with portraits if there’s a reason and if someone is giving me time. I can make it comfortable after a while and I consider it a great opportunity. I don’t dig fake light, mostly because I never learned it, so when the time is right for light and I have an excuse to photograph, it’s fun. Otherwise, because my gig normally is being in FRONT of a camera, I’m not sure I’m good at candid photos. I scare the scene no matter how much tip toeing I do. In fact, it’s probably my timidity and shyness that causes me problems there.  Funny for a performer to say…

 

To see more of Ben’s images, buy a print, or find out more about his music visit his web site.

Mitchell Hartman

©Mitchell hartman

©Mitchell Hartman

It happened in Brooklyn. My company, Digital Silver Imaging, and Leica partnered to host a container at Photoville. My job was to hang out, collect names of potential customers, and answer questions.

I enjoy these events. You get a chance to talk to people of all different stripes. I was speaking with a friendly fellow about the usual photo topics when the conversation turned to printing. The photographer I was speaking with knew of my company and said that he printed his own photos, but he liked to print on newsprint.

“Okay…why newsprint,” I asked.

This was my introduction to Mitchell Hartman, a talented photographer who’s images tell a hundred stories of New York and the New Yorkers that ride the subway.

Elliot Erwitt said it best, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

Every Mitchell Hartman photograph tells a story, a story about the banality of our existence, the joy of an unexpected smile, beauty, and alienation. The narrative that unfolds maybe all the viewers creation but all are compelling.

©Mitchell Hartman

©Mitchell Hartman

Here is what Mitchell had to say about his photographs:

Q: Your series “Passengers” is all shot in and around the New York City Subway. The light in those images is so emotive, so dramatic, the exact opposite of what the actual “in-color” visual experience is like. Can you tell us what goes on in “the mind’s eye” of Mitchell Hartman when you are in the subway?

MH: That’s actually an amusing question as I have no control over the light source as it’s mostly provided by the subway system. What I do add in “post” is control contrast (micro-contrast) and do “burn and dodge” to add drama to the image. This is done with Silver Efex Pro mostly, where I can control where I place lights and darks with their “Upoint” system.

Q: Your website is http://www.embrace-the-grain.com/, I think that’s a tip off. Your images are so wonderfully grainy, what is it about grain that is important to your vision and your images?

MH: I am shooting NYC, to me,  and in this instance people in the subway,  is about monochromatics, line and tone. The grain, is sometimes created by the high ISO,   I am shooting at ( mostly around 6400-12800),  creates the gritty feeling I think emphasis NYC.  Some of the “grain” is generated by a software that a friend custom made for me that puts different grain values in different light levels. I can actually put small amounts of grain in the highlight for instance, over what I put into the midtones. I can also adjust the size and quality of that grain, making it look like it was shot with film developed in Acufine or D76 or even Tetnal developers. This takes the image way from the “digital” feel you get when shooting with Digital Cameras.

static1.squarespace

©Mitchell Hartman

Q: Shooting on a subway car has got to be difficult. How do you go about photographing people in such close quarters?

MH: After 9-11 some people were more guarded about being photographed for obvious reasons. But as more and more tourist came to NYC to visit, the people that live here got more used to being in photographs. It’s not as difficult as one thinks to photograph people in NYC. What makes shooting in the subway difficult is making the picture interesting, it has to be more than just people sitting in the train.

Q: Let’s talk cameras, what do you carry with you?

MH: Right now I carry a Leica M246, Monochrom. BTW this series was shot with a lot of different cameras, starting with an M9 to a small Sony RX100 as I explored what would work best with the limitations I have to deal with, like lighting. I try and work at f5.6 -f8 to get some depth of field, and at a shutter speed of at least 1/125-1/160th to help stop the action. So my ISO is usually in the 6400 range. Of course that all changes with the train come out of the tunnel into the sunlight.

©Mitchell Hartman

©Mitchell Hartman

Q: You made three “zines,” of some of your images printed on newsprint, what was your motivation for creating the “zines”?

MH: The zines were a way for people that wanted to collect my work at an affordable price and unique way. They were created and printed by hand to store-bought picture sized (4×6) and were signed and editioned to only 30 editions. I printed them on Newsprint as I originally wanted the entire series printed on Newsprint as a conceptual idea of being in the subway and reading a newspaper. I eventually went to print my larger prints on a more archival Japanese paper that emulated newsprint with tone and thickness.

To see more of Mitchell Hartman’s work, or to purchase a photograph, follow this link.

All images in this post © Mitchell Hartman

Collecting Photography, an interview with Toby Jurovics

Toby-jurovicsToby Jurovics is the Joslyn Art Museum’s Chief Curator and Holland Curator of American Western Art. An expert in nineteenth and twentieth century American landscape photography, he has organized over fifty exhibitions and is the author of Framing the West: The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O’Sullivan, which accompanied the first major retrospective of the photographer’s work in almost three decades. Jurovics has also been a curator of photography at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Princeton University Art Museum.  

Toby Jurovics was kind enough to share his thoughts on collecting photography while on a trip to Denver. I joined Toby outside the Denver Art Museum where we had a cup of coffee and talked collecting, developing photographic careers, and photography in general.

Q: What advise do you give photo collectors interested in starting a collection?

Jurovics: I usually start with two pieces of advice. First, do your research. The more you know about artists and the market, the more intelligent your purchases will be. The internet is helpful, but books and exhibition catalogues are a better place to start. You may want to look into a particular period or movement, a specific artist, or just find a good general history to give you a foundation. Doing the research may sound tedious, but it will make you a better collector. 

The second thing I advocate is to think about collecting thematically. Your choice might be a particular photographer and their circle, or a genre such as seascapes or environmental portraiture, or a particular period, like social documentary photographs of the 1960s and 1970s. but when making a new acquisition, ask yourself if you are simply adding to the number of prints you own, or building a coherent collection. Do the photographs in your collection talk to each other, and do they seem to create some kind of dialogue as a group? A collection that reflects some insight is ultimately more valuable and interesting than a random group of photographs.

Q: What if the collector doesn’t have the budget for an Edward Weston, how does an amateur collector determine if an emerging photographer’s work is worth collecting?

Jurovics:  Well, most of us don’t have the pocket change for a Weston, so that solves one problem. But this is a tough question. We are in the middle of a shift in the medium that is as challenging as we have seen in a century. With the advent of digital printing and image processing – and the sheer number of images being made – there is more risk. You have to develop a sense of history and your own eye to help determine what might be of lasting value. A good place to start is always the gallery or dealer that represents an artist you are interested in considering. They should be able to answer those questions for you; if they can’t give you a good answer, think twice about your purchase.

Timothy O'Sullivan

Timothy O’Sullivan

Q: What if the photographer is not represented by a gallery?

Jurovics: Have a look at their resume – have they shown at good museums? Is their work in any notable public or private collections? Has the artist received any major awards such as a Guggenheim? These are all good indicators of the value of the work. I also think that it is just fine to buy a photograph that you simply love. If you feel the price is reasonable why not purchase it? I collect some myself, and I have work from artists with international reputations, friends, and some photos that I just happen to like but might not ever find their way into a museum collection. 

Q: You mentioned a “reasonable price,” but how does the collector determine what is reasonable?

Jurovics: For established artists there is plenty of published data. A good online source is www.artnet.com, which tracks auction prices on the secondary (resale) market, although keep in mind that there is always a difference between an auction price and a gallery price. Is it a vintage print, typically considered to be made within 5 or 10 years of the negative date? How many prints were made, and do you know the edition size? Is it a silver gelatin print? Is it an inkjet print that was made decades later than the original negative? All of these factors influence price.

Q: Do you ever buy work by emerging artists/photographers?

Jurovics: Absolutely. On several occasions, I have purchased work by photographers right out of graduate school or still completing an MFA program. If I see work that shows a knowledge of the medium, that fits into an important historical perspective while saying something unique or compelling, then I have no hesitation to acquire work by an emerging artist.  

Q: Are portfolio reviews a good way for photographers to break into the rarefied world of fine art photography?

Jurovics: Portfolio reviews are a good way to get your work seen, but I have very mixed feelings about the “for-profit” review world – organizations that are charging artists to have people look at their work. I have participated in a number of portfolio reviews for the Society for Photographic Education and other groups, and have included work I have first encountered there in exhibitions or made acquisitions. For students, I would recommend attending as many of the SPE events as you can, and shy away from portfolio reviews that charge large fees. I think it’s a curator’s duty to attend reviews and nurture new talent – portfolio reviews shouldn’t be a moneymaker for the entity hosting them.

Q: Final question, we just walked through the Robert Adams exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. Is there a lesson that the collector of photography or the aspiring fine art photographer can take away from Adams’ work?

Jurovics:  Well, Adams’ photographs are everything photography isn’t these days: small, intimate, and black and white. They are also elegant, lyrical, informed, and most importantly, passionate. It is impossible to come away from that exhibition and without knowing what he loves, what breaks his heart, and why he makes photographs. I fear it is part of a visual language that will be lost over the coming decades, so I suppose what I would say is turn off your computer and your phone for an hour and pick up one of his books – it’s as good a place to start as any. 

Note: I interviewed Toby Jurovics in 2012 with the intention of posting it on another site. That posting never materialized, and this information is too useful to leave unpublished.

Børge Indergaard

 

Frozen Lake, Trondheim Norway - © Børge Indergaard

Frozen Lake, Trondheim Norway – © Børge Indergaard

“Photography is more than a hobby for me – it’s a part of my life, a lifestyle, something I really enjoy doing, and a way to express myself and my creativity.”
Børge Indergaard

I came across Børge’s photo blog, “Observations,” when I started this site. I was looking for camera reviews and quickly became frustrated by the cookie cutter approach employed by most reviewers. I found Børge’s site and his yearlong review of the M Monochrom, and I thought how brilliant. I was even more impressed that he used only the M Monochrom and one lens exclusively.

I could go on about “Observations” but your time is better spent exploring the blog site. I have posted a link to Børge’s site below.

Børge was kind enough to provide some images for this post and answer a few questions.

Q: For the readers who have not visited your blog, how would you describe your approach to Photography?

BI: My approach to photography is quite simple. I try to keep things as simple as possible. I basically use one camera and one focal length and try to stick with that, as it makes me focus better. Photography is a passion for me, and not something I do as work. If it starts feeling like work, I will normally take some time off and let the camera rest. I want to enjoy photography, and I enjoy the process of taking photographs the most. Editing and post-processing is something that I do not enjoy as much, which is also why I rarely publish photographs, and also why my quick-selection in Lightroom always is filled up with hundreds of photographs that are waiting to be edited and processed.

Juliet's Wall, ©Borge-Indergaard

Juliet’s Wall – © Børge Indergaard

Q: I like the quotes from artists that you often include on your posts. Is there an artist/photographer that has inspired you, or some one you would like to emulate?

BI: Thank you. I like the quotes myself, as they inspire me, and the reason I post them is that I hope they will inspire others as well. There are many photographers that inspire me, but I don’t have one photographer in specific who inspires me more than others.

One ©Borge Indergaard

One  – © Børge Indergaard

Q: I have noticed a quality of light in your photographs that is very particular. Do you think that being from Norway, living so far North, has influenced your photography?

BI: I haven’t thought about this myself, but that might be. The light changes a lot from winter to summer time here. It’s quite a dramatic change having daylight from between 4am to midnight in the summer, to having daylight from 10am to 3pm in the winter. I find that the change will cause me to look for and go for a different mood in my images, depending on what time of year it is.

Q: You spent a year shooting exclusively with the Leica M Monochrom and a 50mm lens. Now that you have a little distance from that experience, how did it influence your photography?

BI: The year that I spent with a MM and a 50mm lens is the year that I personally felt that I have learned the most in photography. I still only use a 50mm lens (although I have two lenses, both of them are 50mm), but I currently use a Leica M240. I miss the Monochrom a lot, but I can not own both an M240 and MM for my limited use. Processing the M240 files takes a lot more time, but I can get about the same results from it that I got from the MM – Except at very high ISO (which I rarely found myself using, even in the dark). The best thing about the MM for me was the fact that the files are very simple to work with: No color corrections to worry about, no aberrations to worry about when shooting wide-open, and the files are extremely flexible and can be pushed in any direction and still retain a natural look.

To visit Børge Indergaard’s site follow this link.  indergaard.net

Craig Semetko “Unposed and Unseen”

©Craig Semetko

©Craig Semetko

Leica Camera invited 10 photographers from around the world to participate in an extraordinary event. These photographers would be paired with their artistic “fathers” and asked to shoot a series of images with that person in mind. Craig Semetko’s creative progenitor was Elliott Erwitt and with Erwitt’s influence to inspire him Semetko set off for India in the summer of 2013.

 “India is a street photographer’s dream. The people are extraordinarily welcoming—they do not mind having their pictures taken, in fact, they usually welcome it…”

©Craig Semetko

©Craig Semetko

Craig Semetko is one of the best street photographers practicing the craft today. Craig was gracious enough to allow us to use three of his images from his India trip in this post. These photographs along with many others are included in an exhibition currently showing through 5/25/14 at the Leica Gallery in Los Angeles.

This body of work is also now available as a limited edition book, “India Unposed.” Sure to be a collector’s item, you can find the book by visiting the link below.

India Unposed – Book
Leica Gallery Los Angeles
Craig Semetko’s Web Site

 

©Craig Semetko

©Craig Semetko

 

 

Rob Lemmon on the Hard Work of Photography

©Rob Lemmon

©Robert Lemmon

Rarely does the digital din of online photography web sites, blogs and forums provide a satisfactory explanation of where a photograph comes from. How a photographer came to make a series of photographs can be as important as his or her technical knowledge.

Rob Lemmon is in many ways a typical Leica M Monochrom everyman. He is not a professional, not trained as a photographer, and does not make a living in a photographic trade. Rob is exceptional in the fact that he has a passion for the art of photography and pursues that passion in a thoughtful and dedicated fashion. In this interview we talk to Rob about his journey to make that “rare, great photograph.”

 

Interview

Q: Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way first. When did you start using a rangefinder camera and how long have you been using the M Monochrom?

RL: I’ve used a rangefinder camera (Leica M9) since July 2011 after taking a street photography workshop entitled “Unposed” with Craig Semetko and Quinton Gordon. At the workshop most participants used rangefinder cameras. I spent some time after the workshop researching cameras and finally decided to invest in the M9.

I was converting most of my M9 images to black and white, that is when I began to think seriously about investing in an M Monochrome. After  shooting with an M Monochrom at a Leica M Workshop in July 2013 I decided to make the M Monochrom my primary camera body.

©Rob Lemmon

©Robert Lemmon

Q: Generally what do you carry with you when you are photographing?

RL: I keep it simple, the M Monochrom with a 50mm Summicron M lens and a back-up battery. Other times I will take my camera bag with my 35mm Summarit M lens and the M9.

 Q: We connected through Adam Marelli. Adam is a terrific photographer and a generous teacher, what influence has he had on your photography?

 RL: I participated in a workshop that Quinton Gordon does for Leica – “The Truth About Photography.” During the review, Quinton liked one of my images taken with a 50mm and said that Henri Cartier-Bresson always shot with this lens when he shot for himself. After the workshop I researched Cartier-Bresson and found several articles that Adam had written.

As I read his articles, I realized we shared many of the same ideas. Basically that to be a good photographer, let alone a great photographer, you have to understand art and the influence of the Masters. That is; what makes a work great, the use of light, contrast, design, and composition. I don’t have an art background but I understand what Adam means about the importance of art in photography. My images have always had good composition and design, however, as I read more of Adam’s articles, I began to think about exactly what I was trying to capture. I knew at some point I had to meet Adam and work with him.

Adam’s workshop in Verona and Venice provided the opportunity to work with him directly and offered an excuse for my wife and I to travel for an extended period of time. In his review of my images that I had taken prior to the workshop, he quickly noted that many of my images share the sensibilities of Cartier-Bresson as well as the painter Edward Hopper. As we talked, he gave me more examples of their work but also identified other areas in which I needed to put more focus. Adam asked that I send him some of my images as our travels continued after the workshop. His critiques of my images led to the Violin Maker series. Adam’s own photography has also influenced me, especially his series on the Japanese craftsmen. Adam’s influence has been subtle, direct and sometimes hard to define.

Q: It appears as if you often shoot in low light situations. What is it about that imagery that appeals to you?

The sample of images that I sent you of the luthier were the ones that I really liked and to me demonstrated the extraordinary ability of the M Monochrom to shoot in those circumstances. I think what appeals to me is the atmosphere, the mood, the evocative contrast of light and dark. I have made images taken in bright light, they have definition of detail, but to me they just don’t have the same appeal as the low light images. You used the term ‘chiaroscuro lighting’ with respect to the luthier series of images. I also believe that my looking at paintings of the Masters on visits to the galleries of Europe and North America has had an important influence on my photography.

©Robert Lemmon

©Robert Lemmon

Q: Your images of the Paris Violin Maker are very intimate, how did you find the luthier and establish that kind of rapport?

RL: One of Adam Marelli’s comments was that I needed to “Keep creeping forward with people…. find reasons to get more engaged with them.” In Paris the luthier’s workshop was very close to my apartment and I would walk past his shop almost every day… I was simply intrigued. I followed Adam’s advice and finally rang his buzzer. The luthier opened the door and in my poor French I explained that I would like to photograph him as he worked. In his equally poor English he agreed.

He went to work on a violin repairing the strings, etcetera and I simply photographed him. Neither of us spoke. He concentrated on what he was doing and I concentrated on shooting. I shot for about a half hour and at the end asked if I could come back another day. Three days later I stopped late in the afternoon, he let me in and went back to work and I shoot for another hour until he said, “Voila, we are done.”  I thanked him, we exchanged business cards, I packed up, he locked the door, got on his bicycle and cycled down the Quai de la Tournelle.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the lighting in the Paris Violin Maker series?

RL: The luthier’s workshop was quite small, his workbench was at the back of the shop and in a corner. The only light was his workbench light that is visible in some of the images.  There may have been a small ceiling light but it was of limited value. The workbench light was quite strong and directed downward to provide the light he needed. It is this light that provided the ‘chiaroscuro lighting’ for the images.

 Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received about making photographs? 

RL: There are probably two things – Adam Marelli’s advice was, “be more engaged, get closer to the subject.” The second came from Quinton Gordon’s workshop and is one of his “Truths about Photography” that is – “Photography is hard work and a really great photograph is rare.”

Rob-Lemmon-1002356

 

Charles A. Meyer

©Charles A. Meyer 2014

©Charles A. Meyer 2014

A camera is much like a musical instrument; each one is simply a tool, but when matched with the right artist, something more happens. Leica has been kind enough to loan us one of their M Monochrom cameras from time to time, so we can have the privilege of putting it in the hands of that “right artist.”

Charles A. Meyer is a critically acclaimed fine art photographer and filmmaker. A look at his portfolio places him in the respected circle of fine art black & white documentary photographers. Many know Charles from his years of teaching photography at Boston College. The students that came out of his classes were excellent technicians, but also creative and inspired with a love of photography. I can say this with some authority, as I have known a good number of his students.

Charles took the Leica M Monochrom out on a cold, clear day to Revere Beach, Massachusetts. I caught up with Charles a few months later to get his impressions. [Keep Reading…]