Freud and Photography

This isn’t “just” a Photo of my cat Sitting next to my TV. Freud would say its an X-Ray of My Psyche

One of the more interesting places I’ve visited is the psychoanalytic office of Sigmund Freud at 19 Berggasse in Vienna, interesting for me, at least, because it was one of the few places in Vienna I found interesting (nothing against Vienna; just personal preference. Vienna is just a little too clean and orderly for my tastes. I much prefer more down at the heels – e.g. Marseilles, Naples, Detroit). What immediately struck me were the photos that hung on the walls. Freud clearly had a thing for photography. A connoisseur of art, Freud adorned his walls with both photos and paintings and covered his shelves with various cultural knick-knacks. It’s important to remember that Freud’s psychoanalytic theories took shape and matured during the early years of photography, and, as I suspected while visiting his office, photography formed more than a casual influence on his thought.

Jean-Martin Charcot, an important mentor of Freud, used photography to record and study seizures and hysterical expressions and postures. Likewise, G.-B. Duchenne, neurologist and electrophysiologist who worked with Charcot, sought to understand neuropsychiatric patients via photographs of their faces and body postures. Freud owned the 1876 French edition of Duchenne’s Human Physiognomy, where Duchenne had published his studies. Duchenne’s photographs profoundly shaped Freud’s thinking;  Freud repeatedly used the metaphor of photography—the photographic negative, in particular— as a means to illustrate his theory of the unconscious.

Mary Bergstein, Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, suggests that “photography penetrated the cognitive style of Freud and his contemporaries,” and “documentary photography—of art and archaeology, but also of medicine, science, and ethnography—influenced the formation of Freudian psychoanalysis.” For Freud, the fragmentary and evocative nature of photography mirrored how human memory works; the mind’s eye, both conscious and subconscious, mimics the photographic lens.

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A Deliberate Double Exposure: My 12 y/o Attempt at Profundity, circa 1970. God only Knows what Freud Would Make of It

A more interesting issue, apart from Freud’s use of photography as metaphor, is his understanding of the ontology of the photograph i.e. what is a photograph? In Freud’s era, photographs were viewed as transparent windows revealing objective truth but at the same time were thought to be subjective and dreamlike. A photo of a ruined temple, while depicting a specific place, also conjured loss, oblivion, the highly emotional reminders of the passage of time.  This produced a lot of really bad, pretentious photography (google “Alfred Stieglitz” for further details).

For Freud, far from simply producing a transparent image of reality, photographs manifested what cultural theorist Walter Benjamin called the “optical unconscious,” a term Benjamin coined to denote the visual depiction of unseen, the terrain of the imaginary. Benjamin’s concept raises the issue of the photographer’s unconscious communication. The ruined temple photo, for example, while conjuring loss, oblivion, time passing or whatever for the viewer, Freud saw also as giving entry into the coded language of the photographer’s psyche. Photography captures scenes that pass too quickly, too remotely, or too obscurely for the subject to consciously perceive. However, Freud would say that our unconscious – which is the real seat where our personal truth is found – takes in everything. The camera pictures phenomena that the photographer has unconsciously registered but not consciously processed.

Think of your unconscious as the curator of your photography. There are no accidents in photography. According to Freud, everything we present in our photos has been screened and found compelling by our unconscious psyche. Every one of your photos is your optical unconscious made visible, demonstrating the reach and complexity of your unconscious perception and, properly analyzed, gives access to the hidden psychological realities that animate you, including the style and structure of your perception, and the more nebulous regions of your psyche.

Baudelaire’s Eyes and What They Tell us About Photographic Truth

Charles Pierre Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) was a French poet, essayist, art critic, and translator of Edgar Allan Poe. He’s best known for Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), an extended Modernist prose poem about where one might find beauty in modern, rapidly industrializing mid-19th-Century Paris. Baudelaire influenced a whole generation of Fench poets including Paul VerlaineArthur Rimbaud, and Stéphane Mallarmé, among others, and also 20th-Century artists as diverse as 60’s rock star Jim Morrison and Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa. He coined the term “modernité” to designate the fleeting, ephemeral experience of urban life and claimed that the primary responsibility of modern art was to capture and, in so doing, transform that experience.

While Baudelaire lay on his deathbed, dying of syphilis, his mother found two photographs of him he had secreted in his overcoat; apparently, he’d been keeping the two photos on his person, a hidden, guilty pleasure of some sort.  In one (that’s it above), he stares aggressively at the camera as if trying to directly meet the unmediated gaze of the ultimate viewer of the photo. Frankly, he looks pissed off, as if the camera itself were his enemy, something put between him and viewer, something that obscured the potential of a meaningful relationship between him and the person who’d view him as the subject of the photo. 

Baudelaire had been interested in photography since the 1850s. French photographer Nadar, (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (1820 – 1910),  was one of Baudelaire’s closest friends until Baudelaire’s death in 1867 (Nadar wrote Baudelaire’s obituary in Le Figaro). Nadar remains one of the great early photo-portraitists, his portraits held by many of the great national photography collections. 

In spite of his interest in photography and his friendship with Nadar, Baudelaire never much liked photography as a means of getting at anything subjectively truthful.  He thought the camera’s lens “a dictatorship of opinion,” a device that made an end-run around the active self-questioning required of a viewing subject. Photography could not, according to Baudelaire, encroach upon “the domain of the impalpable and the imaginary”; it was competent only as a means to document objective facts.

According to Baudelaire, only with an “embodied vision”, actively interrogating what one looked at, could you possibly gain any sense of mastery over the perceived object, and such active interrogation only became possible when the subject of one’s gaze could gaze back. Real subjective visual truth came only when there could be a reciprocal interaction of the viewer and the subject.  Rather than the one-sided transaction implicit in much of Western visual art – painting or photography – Baudelaire’s idea of a truthful visual representation would be a “forest of symbols” that looked back at you “with familiar eyes.” Using this criterion, photographic portraiture was, at best, caricature.

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In secular Western culture, where science and rationality are presumed to give us insight into what is “true,”  we are used to seeing the material world through the lens of science, where subjects are turned into objects and placed in categories. Photography aides that process by its ability to document objective facts, and Baudelaire saw that as a legitimate use of photography. For Baudelaire, the problem came with photography’s attempt to capture the subjective. It can’t, because it can’t look back. There’s no real interaction between the viewing subject and photographic subject. Relationship, that which underlies subjectivity, is impossible in the one-sided encounter offered by a photograph. The image will always be distorted.

Compare what happens when you look at a photograph of a woman, how you look at it, with the way you look at that same woman encountered in the flesh, on the street; how you do so determines whether or not you let her look back.  “Truth” is found in the reciprocal gaze, between subject and object, between the man and woman walking past each other in the street.

Baudelaire would say that modern man suffers from a distorted visual culture created by the ubiquity of photographic images.  Given the extent to which photography has been normalized and now embedded in our societal consciousness, it has led us away from the truth. It has distorted our ability to understand others. It gives us only a superficial caricature, a false representation of other people, visual images of persona as opposed to the person themselves. Capitalist consumerism uses its distortions to make us want things, playing on our imagination because the image can’t interact with us.  We see other people in this “post-truth” world, where photographed people are real only to the extent they conform to our imaginations. The image world it gives us is of strangers-as-passersby who never make eye contact. It’s hard to see, really see, someone else in this world of images, surrounded by people who are all doing the same.

Leica: “You’re a Hunter!….err, Maybe Not”

True Story: The word “Leica” is currently banned on Chinese internet searches, thanks to the Leica promotional video above, which is a shame, as Chinese plutocrats will henceforth find it difficult if not impossible to purchase Thorsten von Overgaard elephant skin bags for their Lenny Kravitz War Correspondent Leicas. The video in question depicts brave Leica toting photojournalists, who they refer to as “hunters”, confronting malevolent powers in far-flung dark-skinned war zones. Buy that M10 with 35mm Summilux, Leica is saying, and you can be a hunter too, a man of moral in addition to aesthetic integrity, heir to this noble tradition, even if you’re just taking photos for the wonderful bokeh.

The promotional video starts with the year and location of the student-led protests displayed prominently: Beijing 1989. The last shot of the video shows a photojournalist raising his Leica R6 and a reflection of the anonymous “Tank Man” in his Leitz telephoto lens. The actual photo was taken by Stuart Franklin of Magnum and came to be one of the most famous photos of the 20th century***.

There’s only one problem: The current Chinese government doesn’t particularly like being reminded of Tiananmen Square and their role in massacring their own citizens, and have blocked all internet searches referencing the word “Leica” until further notice i.e. until Leica AG makes this video disappear and comes groveling for forgiveness.

Leica AG, which has a large presence in China through a partnership with Huawei building lenses for its smartphones,  has gone into full existential panic mode and is now claiming that the video was not “officially sanctioned” in spite of the Leica Red Dot logo plastered over the film’s ending. According to Emily Anderson, spokesperson for Leica, “Leica Camera AG must distance itself from the content shown in the video and regrets any misunderstandings or false conclusions that may have been drawn”, the “false conclusions” apparently being that Leica AG would actually let a moral principle prevail over making money (as opposed to cynically manipulating such a suggestion to sell things) and would have any real allegiance to anything other than its bottom line. Well done, Leica.

Postscript: In the time it took me to draft this post, Leica has taken down the video. So much for being a hunter. It’s hard not having a good chuckle at this, the discrepancy between the idealized image Leica AG hawks and the more cynical reality behind the facade being hilariously obvious (ironically because Leica themselves initiated the entire debacle by creating an ad insinuating they possessed admirable ethics and you could too if you just bought one of their cameras). And never mind that, as pointed out by Leicaphilia reader Lee Rust, the iconic “tankman” photo was taken with a Nikon. Think of Leica AG as the gang who couldn’t shoot straight.

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*** Mr. Franklin, a Magnum photographer on assignment to Time magazine, was shooting from the rooftop with Charlie Cole, a reporter for Actuel in France:I woke up in the Beijing Hotel to find Changan Avenue occupied by a line of students facing a line of soldiers and a column of tanks. I was hunched down on a balcony on the fifth floor (I think). Three others were also on the balcony: Charlie Cole, a reporter for Actuel in France and one from Vanity Fair. I tried to photograph the whole series of events, but like any photographer working in film, I was always fearful of running out on frame 36. At some point, shots were fired and the tanks carried on down the road toward us, leaving Tiananmen Square behind, until blocked by a lone protester. I photographed the protester. He carried two shopping bags and remonstrated with the driver of the tank in an act of defiance. He then disappeared into the crowd after being led away from the tank by two bystanders. The remainder of the day was spent trying to gain access to hospitals to determine how many had died or were wounded. In the two hospitals I could get access to, I found young Chinese — probably students — being treated on the floor of hospital corridors. It was mysterious that there were no dead. I understood later that the majority of the fatalities were taken to children’s hospitals in the city to avoid media attention. Chinese officials worked very hard obscure evidence of the massacre. The film was smuggled out in a packet of tea by a French student and delivered to the Magnum office in Paris.”

 

Believing is Seeing

Edinburgh, May 1, 2015

” What we see is not independent of our beliefs. Photographs provide evidence but no shortcut to reality. It is often said that seeing is believing. But we do not form our beliefs on the basis of what we see; rather, what we see is often determined by our beliefs. Believing is seeing, not the other way around.”

-Errol Morris, Believing is Seeing: On the Mysteries of Photography

A couple of years ago my wife and I found ourselves in Edinburgh for a day, traveling between some place or other. For those of you who’ve never been, it’s a really nice town to spend a few days – lot’s of history, good free museums, active and interesting culinary scene, great street life. We were also lucky enough to be there on May Day when Edinburgh celebrates Beltain, the Celtic neo-pagan holiday commemorating the beginning of Summer, the celebration consisting of naked people dancing around fires on Calton Hill overlooking downtown Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is also a great place for “street photography.” Given its latitude and the oblique angle of the sun, you get nice bright light contrasted with deep black lengthened shadows, which makes for the types of visual contrasts good street photographers exploit. And it’s a town of shoppers, for me at least, the perfect setting for interesting and thought-provoking visuals. Princes Street – a half-mile of upscale retail shops running east/west – being as target-rich an environment as I’ve ever experienced. So, of course, the day I was there I walked around snapping photos while the wife shopped for a kilt for her son (yup). The photos I’ve used to illustrate this post were all taken during an afternoon walking Prince Street.

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 “Street” Photography

Above is a “street photo.” I took it that day in Edinburgh. It’s an uninteresting photo. It says nothing, connotes nothing, implies nothing. It’s just a guy on a street, a throw away shot that doesn’t work on any level. But, hey, it’s properly exposed, it’s in focus, the tonality is nice, it’s framed competently (but what’s up with the big black empty space on the left?) and it’s a guy on a street. Bingo, I’m a “street photographer.” Too many “street photographers” seem to think that’s enough to qualify. If you have any questions, go here and look at what people post on public forums dedicated to showcasing “street photography.” 90% of the photos posted are no better than what I’ve posted above, many even worse. Why? They say nothing. They’re just people walking down the street. Ask the photographer ‘what’s the point’ and in all likelihood, he’ll reply with a blank stare – ‘what do you mean, what’s the point?’

Which gets me to my point. Street photos – any photo for that matter – need to say something. How do you do that? You have something to say. You must have a belief – an idea wishing to be made manifest – before you photograph, and the resulting photos should convey that idea, both individually and as a collective. Garry Winogrand’s 1960’s work, wonky and off-kilter though it was, was the result of a unified vision that worked both individually and collectively, the collective giving context to the individual, the individual stating its own visual truth.

Good “street photography” captures a fleeting moment that stands for something larger. The people and things pictured aren’t just people and things; rather, they suggest something more, some question to be answered or puzzle to solve. What is shown suggests something not shown, hints at it, implies it. It aspires to a  reality truer and deeper than anything immediately at hand, something more intense and deeper than the ordinariness of the routine life pictured – what the Greeks called anagnorisis – when the mundane surface is stripped away and the essence is revealed.

 

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Below are a number of photos I took that day in Edinburgh. I think they’re all good examples of street photography that works. They have a theme that runs through them, something I’m suggesting to you. They’re interesting visually and, and, if you’re paying close attention,  intellectually. They work both individually and collectively as a series. They have a point of view, something that I’m attempting to communicate to you the viewer. We may differ on what that point is, but the photos themselves admit of something more than their topical subjects, and they add something to each other when they’re viewed as a group. Really, that’s all you need to produce decent work. Just have something to say.

Bruce Gilden Has Balls

“I’m known for taking pictures very close, and the older I get, the closer I get” – Bruce Gilden

Bruce Gilden is an American “street photographer.”  He is best known for his in-your-face flash photos of people walking the streets of New York City.  Although he did attend some evening classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York, he’s pretty much self-taught. He has had various books of his work published, has received the European Publishers Award for Photography and is a Guggenheim Fellow. He joined Magnum in 1998. Think about that: he’s a guy who bought a camera, taught himself the craft, and ends up a member of Magnum and a Guggenheim Fellow. It wasn’t about his contacts, or his educational credentials, or the camera he used; it was because he developed his own unique vision.

Up until the digital age, he shot in B&W. Recently, Leica gave him a Leica S and he’s been shooting in color since. He’s currently working on a project he calls “Faces”, extreme color close-ups using flash (some of them are illustrating his interview below). While you might consider these photos exploitative of the subjects (and they may be) and ugly and perverse, they’re powerful correctives to the airbrushed faux reality of most visual culture.

I like Gilden. It takes a lot of balls to walk up to someone on the street and push a flash camera in their face. Does it take some special photographic talent? No. But that’s not the point. It takes a certain unified vision. The point is Gilden has created an aesthetic unique to him and hasn’t much deviated from it in 50 years. As such, he’s created a large, coherent body of work. I’ve heard people criticize his work, claiming it gimmicky and artless, something any 8th grader would be capable of. Could your kid have taken these pictures? Yes. But your kid didn’t, and Gilden did, just like it would have been within your kid’s skill set to have painted Jackson Pollock’s Alchemy, 1947. Your kid didn’t, because your kid would have never considered the aesthetic potential inherent in the medium. The genius of Pollock -and Gilden- is having seen the aesthetic others missed.

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Imagine this Guy Pointing this in Your Face on a NYC Street

This is an interview of Gilden on the occasion of a retrospective of his work exhibited at the International Center of Photography in New York.

ISP  You’ve been described as combative, confrontational, as a genius, as “one of the best street photographers currently alive.” How do you feel about these characterizations?

BG  A characterization is just like anything else. Some of it may be true, some of it may be false. Look, people don’t know me. I’m basically shy. And I guess you could say I do what I have to do. But I’m pretty good at reading situations. In other words, when you work close with a flash with someone, I have a pretty good bedside manner. If you’re comfortable doing something, run with it. When you’re uncomfortable or doing it for the wrong reasons, then you encounter problems, because people get a sense of your uneasiness. And if people feel you are doing it for commercial purposes, saying, “oh I have to get that lady with the short hair because I’m selling that picture,” it’s completely different than doing it for artistic reasons, for something that’s in your guts and in your soul. So what I do is always in my soul. I don’t take many pictures. Last year I didn’t even work that often because I decided I was really not going to shoot much more in New York City. So all my shooting has been going on outside my hometown of New York. I mean, if someone wanted me to shoot here, if I got a commission here in the city, I could do it. But now I’m starting to go elsewhere around America and see what’s there. The only problem is in America, there’s nobody on the street. I’ve been doing a lot of formal portraits in color.

ISP  How do you feel working in color?

BG  It’s quite an easy and smooth transition. If you know how to form a picture, you know how to form a picture. It doesn’t matter if it’s in black-and-white or color. I just got back a little over a month ago from the Milwaukee state fair, and I think I did some of the best work I’ve ever done.  It’s almost all formal portraits.  When I say formal portraits I mean, when I see people at the fair or in Milwaukee I ask them, “can I take a picture of your face?” And I take a picture. So there’s no studio paper. When I say formal, it means I’m asking the person I want to photograph.

ISP  They’re preparing for the shot.

BG  No, they’re just average people—my kind of people—people I’m interested in. And we take a picture, but I have an idea how I want it to look, to work. They’re very strong. So that’s what I’ve been doing the last year, year and a half.  But I’m also doing other things, too. My style might be aggressive, but I always believed in life that the people who stand back are suspect. In life, if you’re going to do something, let the people know you’re doing it. What I mean by that is you have to be somewhat—I won’t use the word “sneaky”—but… if people know you’re taking a picture and it’s supposed to be candid, you won’t get the picture many times. So you have to be smart and shrewd. But I don’t like people who stand half a block away and take a picture, because I find that sneaky.

ISP  You’re talking about the “shooting from afar” strategy.

BG  Yeah, to me that’s sneaky because you know most people—I take pictures very close—they don’t even realize I’m photographing them many times. But I approach them well. If you’re at ease, you’ll be surprised how other people many times will be put as ease by your demeanor, unless you get the wrong person, which… it happens.

ISP  Do you find that happening more now with the change in camera culture and sensitivity to pictures? With the ubiquity of cameras on the street today, the use of images has changed. As such, the response to photographers may be changing. Particularly with the rise of so-called “creep porn,” women especially might become much more aware of and concerned about being candidly photographed by men they don’t know. There are also rising anxieties about terrorism and reconnaissance, surveillance, and even pedophilia that permeate the street. Has this made your subjects more hostile? Are people really more guarded against street photographers? Do you have to work harder to capture an authentic candid picture of someone?

BG  It doesn’t change anything for me. I think it has to do with culture itself, and where you work. For example in a rich area like Kensington in London where I worked a lot, you can feel the British class system, so there’s a difference: if you’re rich and cultured, you have almost divine right, and when a plebian comes over to you and takes your picture without asking, more people will get upset than it would happen in a “bad” area. When working in a “bad” area, if you get the wrong people, it has nothing to do with the camera culture. It has to do with culture—period—which I think is more important. The rich, people in Britain, the posh and snotty, they think they own the world, ok, but if you go in a bad area, and if you don’t know how to deal with the people there or you don’t know how to feel them out or joke with them, you’ll have a problem because you’ll get that kind of response: “You’re a stranger you come in my fuckin territory and you take a picture of me!” Some people are good at dealing with that, some aren’t. You carry it in your body language.  Again, if you’re comfortable, it will be fine. I used to be a pretty good athlete, so my body language is not stiff, it’s fluid, and if you go at somebody with a fluid body motion, there’s much less chance of a problem. Then I don’t think it matters if a guy is with a woman that he’s not supposed to be with or if he had a bad day, and it doesn’t matter if you’re ten or two feet away.

It’s true though that our culture is becoming ruder, and it has nothing to do with cameras. When you walk in the streets of New York or some other large city, people are always on their cell phones. If you collide with someone on the sidewalk, even though they probably walked into you because they’re not paying attention, they’ll turn around and tell you to go fuck yourself. To go back to your question, I don’t feel that way, because I believe that if you look for that problem, you’re going to bring the problem to yourself. It’s like going into a bad area and saying,  “uh-oh, the guy’s going to pull a gun on me after I take a picture.” You can’t think like that otherwise you’ll never take a picture. I think that what I’m doing is fine. I’m not hurting anybody. And I’m doing it from my guts. I always feel that the people I photograph are my friends, even though I don’t know them. And they’re also symbols for what I see. It’s not like that person is that person. He or she reminds me of something else. It’s like being in a little movie.

ISP  In speaking about films, you’ve mentioned that working with the moving image might be hard for you because you find raising money for projects to be difficult. You’ve also found this to be the case with your photography. How much has it helped you working with Magnum? You joined them in 1998. I think we can all imagine what a highpoint that was.

BG  It helps in one way, and it doesn’t help in another way. Magnum helped me to get editorial work, which I had never really done before. But then with all this time spent at doing editorial here and there, I didn’t pursue the art market as much as I should have. Fortunately, I have been working on the Postcards from America project (I travelled to Milwaukee as part of it). Postcards is an ongoing collaborative project in which a loose group of photographers chooses a site that intrigues them and gathers there to play like a visual band. Postcards is a project on its own, but for me, as for many of the photographers involved, it’s also an experimental creative space, and it has enabled me to do very good work recently. In fact, without Postcards from America, I may not have started color. I participated in the first episode where the whole group of photographers stayed in one place.  By “group” I mean ten or eleven photographers. We stayed in Rochester. And we had to have 100 pictures in two weeks.

ISP  This was the project last year at about this time when you were with ten other Magnum photographers covering the decline of Rochester, NY in the wake of the partial halt in production at Eastman Kodak, which has its headquarters there.

BG  Yeah, and I realized—wait a second— I can’t do 100 pictures in two weeks, especially when there’s no one on the street in Rochester! That’s why I started to do the portraits. So in a way it’s good because we’re all competitive and I compete with myself: when other people are working in the same area, you don’t want to look like a schmuck and have no pictures (he laughs). It’s challenging. I borrowed a Leica M9 from Leica and I started to do digital for the first time. I did a little digital in Haiti to photograph the houses the year before because I wanted them in color at night. In Rochester I did a lot of digital work because you’re able to see what your photographs look like right away. This gave me confidence to get to that mark—to that hundred mark. I’m not saying all 100 photographs are good, but it gave me confidence. It was encouraging because you had to get a hundred pictures in a place that you wouldn’t choose to shoot. With all of that combined, I also did black-and-white, and I think the strongest pictures from that take are formal portraits in black-and-white. Doing both color and black-and-white was good,

because there was also a guy who was developing our film. We’d shoot it on Monday, and we’d get it on Tuesday. We could see what we were doing as we’d go along. And then the next place we went to was Miami, where I started to use the Leica S camera, which is the mid-size that I’ve been using since. And everything’s been in color and digital.

ISP  And what an interesting departure from the black-and-white candid work that you’ve become so famous for doing.

BG  When you’ve been doing something for so many years, it’s always nice to have a change. When I did Foreclosures, no one thought I’d do houses.

ISP  Yes, your new book, Foreclosures, is devoid of people. It’s a shocking change in subject matter.

BG  I think change is important. How many years can you do the same thing? Look, you never get a perfect picture. But also as you get older things change. My form of photography is very athletic, and I can still do it ok, that’s not a problem. Of course, you can’t bend as low, and you’re not as fast. That’s the concession to age. On the other side, on the positive side, you have more experience. So you know how to get what you want. It’s sort of a balancing act.

The transition has been quite interesting because I’ve worked in Bogotá, I’ve worked in London, I’ve worked in Miami twice, I’ve worked in Milwaukee, I just got back from the Big E Festival in Massachusetts, I’m going to the state fair in Mississippi this month coming up.  It’s exciting for me because I’d never worked in color.  And I’m doing these intense color photographs of people—my kind of people, people who interest me. I have nice conversations with them. And I don’t like asking people to take photographs, because I’m basically shy and it’s very tiring. But I’m quite good at it. If someone wants to say, “No,” they’re going to say, “No.” But I enjoy it in a certain crazy way. And if you see the pictures, I’d be surprised if you didn’t like them. They are strong.

I can tell you when something’s good of mine; I can tell you when it’s not good. We all care about our work, but I think I’m pretty clear and open. In other words, if I didn’t do well, I can admit it. Not everything that has my signature on it is a wonderful picture.

ISP  So there is also a modest side to Bruce Gilden?

BG  No, no, look: I worked hard, and I stuck with it. I’m proud of where I am, because I didn’t have a silver spoon in my mouth where I started. I had no inclination to take pictures. I’m not a technician. Having said that, I know what to do to correct things in the field. I’m not ignorant technically. I’m more interested in the person. But the form has to be correct. A good picture for me is well-framed with a strong emotional content. My pictures aren’t loose—my good pictures. Like today, you see a lot of people, and their form isn’t very good. They’re just concerned about getting the image—what they want in the image, that person, or that emotion or something. But the image isn’t formed well. To me that’s not good enough.

ISP  Do you think that’s largely a product of digital photography? Some have complained of laziness in framing since the rise of the easily erasable digital image.

BG  It’s not just digital. It also may be a product of not learning your craft in a certain way. For example, when I started photography I knew nothing. I didn’t even know when you look in the finder that’s what you supposedly got. But I looked at tons of books and magazines. And I knew what I liked and I knew what I didn’t like. So if I saw a picture I liked, I would see how it was taken, try to find out from the perspective what lens was used. And then you go out and you say, “Oh, that photographer put a person in the front here. That’s pretty good.” So, you use that, but eventually—hopefully—you become yourself. For example, when I started, I was compared to Weegee, Arbus, all these other people. Now I’m just myself, because I take my kind of pictures.

ISP  Now other people are compared to you. I’ve seen time and again in print mentions of your name as a point of comparison for someone else’s work.

BG  I feel good about that. But everybody has to find their own way eventually. And some are strong enough to do it, and others aren’t. I’m appreciative of that, and it’s funny to read it, but it takes time. Eventually some of those photographers will be referenced as their own. If I’m a step beyond, sometimes someone’s going to be a step beyond me. It’s just the nature of the beast. Records, like in baseball, are made to be broken. If someone’s still shooting in my vein without improving in twenty years, they’re doing something wrong.

ISP  You’re saying they have to develop their own eyes. This is something you spend time cultivating in your students. Can you talk to us a bit about Bruce Gilden the teacher? You travel the world for exhibitions, for photography festivals, like the upcoming Miami Street Photography Festival in early December where you will be featured. And you often offer these mentorship opportunities and intensive workshops that are very well-attended.

BG  In the workshops, I’m very blunt and honest. And I’ve devised a little system, which I won’t talk about in detail, but it’s quite simple. People who come to the class, some of them, their pictures aren’t very good.  And it’s not because of their style: I’m smart enough to see when someone has talent, and I don’t expect them to be little Gildens. I think the most important thing that I can tell them is to photograph something that you’re interested in, and to be yourself. Don’t listen to what anybody says unless you’re smart enough to realize that someone is telling you something that’s constructive—not destructive, because some people don’t want to see other people get ahead.

If someone has strength, I’ll give them assignments that will lead either in a direction to make their pictures stronger or in a direction that they haven’t been shooting. So it opens them up to something else that can help them get where they’re going, that I think they’re a little weak or they’re not paying attention to. If someone isn’t generally doing very good work, I started giving them assignments in my workshop two or three years ago that are usually basic portrait assignments. And I show them how much better their pictures are after they’ve done these portraits, which helps build their confidence. Some of them don’t continue doing portraits, and they don’t have to.

I’m very critical. If someone is good, they’ll know they’re good (he laughs) when they’re finished with my class. I also try not to be overly critical to people who just started photography and also the people who aren’t full-time photographers. If you are new, it’s a bit different than if you’ve been photographing 20 years. I always ask people, “Do you think your pictures are good?” I find that when people come into a workshop thinking they’re really good, they usually aren’t. Then we have to straighten them out. When I ask my students upfront, I get a sense of what needs to be challenged to help them improve. Look, I’m not a god, but I think I’m quite visual.  It’s ingrained in my soul. I give a lot of myself. By the end of a workshop, I’m quite exhausted, because I’m open. You can take what I say and think it’s wonderful; or, you might think it’s crap. At least I’m honest. I’m not trying to knock you down just to knock you down. If you do good work, you’ll know it once you’re finished with my workshop.

There’s one guy in my class who has become a very good friend of mine. He’s a bright guy. People looked at his work and said, “Wow! He’s taking pictures like you!” He started to use flash and color. And the pictures are really good. But they’re not mine; they’re his. You can tell when someone’s imitative and when someone’s doing it because that’s who they are. I don’t have a thin skin about that. I think he’s talented.  And he doesn’t even do photographs! Now he’s doing more of them. But before he was only taking pictures four times a year! Certain people have the spark, other people don’t. You have to deal with that. But if someone does something good, I tell them how good they are and how good the pictures are. We get into a dialogue. I think I’m pretty good at teaching, but I wouldn’t want to do it too often. I’m not going to be doing too many more workshops.

ISP  You do have one coming up in December 2nd – 6th in conjunction with the Miami Street Photography Festival.

BG  Yes, in Miami, which will allow me to return to these communities I’ve been photographing down there.  This started with the Postcards from America. But I may not be able to continue shooting when I’m in Miami this time, because with the Leica S I have to have an assistant to hold the light for me. It’s very tough. The camera’s heavy. And to get the person the way I want, I couldn’t hold the light at the same time. It’s too much unless I was maybe Hercules. And I’m not.

ISP  Is it difficult for you to not have the flash in your hand, to rely on somebody else for the flash?

BG  No because we discuss how it has to be done. The difficult thing is if they do the light wrong. Portraits aren’t as difficult as candid street photographs. In the candid street photograph, no matter how much control you have, if you’re combining things in the image, anything can go wrong. The person in the background who you wanted to look left is looking right, for example. But still my portrait assistant in Milwaukee said, “Hey look at this portrait you took!” It’s, I think, about the best one I took on that trip. He said, “Look at the other five pictures that we took till we got to this one. Anyone who says shooting portraits is easy is wrong!” because in the other five pictures… the pictures are terrible. And then I finally got what I wanted. You have to be able to recognize that. You also have to pick how close you want to get. My pictures are close. And it’s not like you can pick anybody. I walked all day around the state fair, and maybe I shot ten people in eight hours. It’s also about them agreeing to have their pictures taken and you deciding how you want their attitudes. Do you want their eyes more open? Do you want them to look directly at the camera? It’s not as simple as it looks. Still when you come from a candid street photography background, it is more simple because you’re working with just the face. It’s different than when you’re working with ten people in a photograph or with someone who doesn’t know you’re taking the picture.

ISP  With candid street photos, you often surprise your subjects. That shock of being randomly photographed can cause different reactions in your subjects, particularly when you use a hand-held flash. But in your new work, you don’t have to contend with not knowing how the sitter will react when you take the shot. People who realize they’re being photographed get an opportunity to prepare themselves mentally for the picture.

BG  Yeah, but with portraits, people sometimes get too self-conscious. I don’t like smiley pictures. When people realize they’re being photographed, they have all sorts of different reactions. Some are funny. One lady I photographed in London—in Essex, actually—who’s portrait will be in the forthcoming London book, her daughter said, “Mommy, do it! Let him take your picture!” Her daughter was probably in her twenties.  The lady got up, and she was so terrified of the camera her eyes bulged out of her head. I didn’t say a word, and she looked more and more intensely. Her daughter tried to put her at ease, but the lady was so stiff!  And it actually made for a very interesting picture. So there are a lot of factors involved.

ISP  You talk about your subjects as your “characters,” and whether it’s candid street photography or portraiture, there’s a truth of expression—an apparent unguardedness—to the people you choose and the ways you choose to frame them emotionally. This quality is lacking in the more prepared experiences that you’re talking about, like the smiley pictures. It seems to me that you have an aesthetic of sincerity. That honesty is of very high value to you artistically.

BG  My honesty, my bluntness, probably comes from my past and my relations with my father—everything I found out (that he was a gangster) and how I found out (in that his tire store, the young Gilden realized suddenly, was devoid of tires). I had a tough emotional childhood.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I see that most people didn’t have my upbringing. At the end of the day, someone could look back at that kind of childhood and say, if they’re not strong, “Look what they took from me, my father and mother, emotionally.”

But they made me what I am, so I guess they gave me strength that I’d never realized until I was older I had. I was always a little different in that I had a lot of energy and was very athletic. I guess I was a little bit wild, but in a controlled sense. There was a lot inside that couldn’t get out.

Photography kept me alive in many ways. So I have that to put into pictures that I think a lot of other people don’t have. I think that gives my pictures strength. If someone else shoots in the same style, but they don’t have a certain background or a certain way that they related to their background, I think they’re not going to do the same kind of picture. That doesn’t mean that they’re not going to do a great picture. It’s just that I do my kind of picture.  And other people do their kind of pictures.

Take street photography: it’s always been the stepchild in the artistic world of photography. But it’s probably the hardest type of pictures to do. That doesn’t mean a street photograph is a good picture and another one isn’t. It depends on how you do it. I’ve seen a lot of bad street photography, just like I’ve seen a lot of bad photography. There’re people that are good, and there’re people that aren’t as good. There was one kid I saw who was very good, and I have a feeling that he has very good potential to be really, really good. You just feel it. He wasn’t in my workshop. He was this young guy who, when I judged the Oskar Barnack Award, he got the Newcomer Prize—a Polish guy, Piotr Zbierski. I think that Zbierski has a talent that can’t be taught. He has it in his soul. The pictures of course are a little dark, they were black-and-white.  I mean, dark in what he photographed, almost like a fairytale.

ISP  Like a Grimm’s fairy tale?

BG  Yeah, and they’re good! Most people don’t have it. He had it, and he was very young, 23 or 24. But I don’t know how he got to it.

ISP  You mention his work is dark. Your work, too, can be dark in that you often focus on what people describe as “the dark side” of people. Your photographs gravitate towards extreme and criminal subcultures.  You’ve been quoted as saying you like “bad guys” in reference to your continual return to this subject matter.

BG  My father was a tough guy, so the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

ISP  And while you are drawn to this character, you don’t romanticize it. Gangster culture, the Yakuza, the Russian mob, gangsters in the UK and Australia: you don’t romanticize them in the way that you shoot them whereas a lot of portrayals of gangster have this sheen of cool.

BG  Yeah, because they didn’t grow up with it. I learned a certain type of respect, that you don’t ask questions. I often get along with people in that culture because I know never to ask a question. I don’t want to know, because if you know, you could be responsible for putting someone else at risk. And it makes sense to me because that’s how I grew up. Look, to me, (gangsters are) just like anybody else. In some cases they can be better because at least you know who they are and what they are. So other people, like for example a corrupt policeman or a priest who’s a pedophile, you go to them for security and then they violate that. I won’t call the gangster a “bad guy,” I’ll call him a “tough guy.” Look, people take what they can; they’re not going to take liberties with tough guys, because they’re tough. And they will take it with someone else. But the thing is, I look at tough guys and see that they’re human beings. And I like them, I generally like them.  When I was in Australia with Mick Gatto, I had a great time! He was such a gentleman and a wonderful guy.  Sometimes I have admiration for tough guys—some of them. But I’ve met some I don’t like also. Those who abuse their tough-guy-ness, who try to test you, you have to stay away from them. It’s like the regular population: some people are good, some people aren’t. And they do what they do.

ISP  I see this aspect of your work not only as an engagement with your father, but also something that coheres with this critique of the economic system that I think your work mounts. Crime and criminals disrupt business-as-usual. And it seems like your work, in the most obvious way with Foreclosures, but also in your traditional street photography, poses real challenges to the way we see people as a culture, which is largely a function of economics. Your work looks where others don’t. Last year, as you’ve mentioned, at about this time you were covering the decline of Rochester, NY after Eastman Kodak cut 50,000 jobs. You’ve been

working on Foreclosures since 2008, documenting the fallout of the subprime mortgage lending crisis. You have been criticized for your use of surprise close-up flash photography in the city streets. You focus on people you describe as “the left behind” in your work. There is a truth, as we’ve mentioned, in this work often lacking in the prepared appearances of those who are ready to be photographed. That truth in itself seems to make a statement about the lack of sincerity in the visual world of ubiquitous advertising. To me, this is major source of connection in your work. Do you think your work has a central focus of economic critique?

BG  I like people who tell the truth. I hate politicians.

ISP  You recently photographed Anthony Weiner.

BG  I photographed all of them—all the New York City mayoral candidates for the New York Times Magazine—and I liked all of them on a one-to-one basis. Some more than others. But they’re politicians.

But to return to the question you raise, I can’t talk as much about Foreclosures as I could have before, because when I was preparing for it I read about 20-25 books. But that was a few years ago. It was legalized thievery, what the government did (the subprime mortgage lending crisis and its aftermath). They repealed the Glass-Steagall Act. There were no regulations on a trillion dollar industry. And there was this fantasy that everybody should own a home. It was disgusting. So no matter what I or any other people can do, we can’t come up to the heights of that. Then we bail out the banks with taxpayer money. And then you read that this quarter Chase Manhattan made outlandish profits. I mean, come on now!  Please! I’m not a fool. They say, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” I come to the topic from that perspective. And like I said, the people I photograph are my friends.

I have always identified with the underdog. I’m not coming to this like some art director who plays in the street, then goes on to do something else. I come from the street. I’ve always been in the street. It’s something that attracts me. I didn’t have your average upbringing. My father didn’t exactly model good behavior or offer moral guidance. I had nothing to live up to and nothing I wanted to be. I didn’t have to go into my father’s business, which I used to drive a scrap metal truck for. But I didn’t have this background like I’m John Lewis, III or something. I was loose that way. I always felt that I was an underdog, an outsider. For me, you also have a certain freedom when you’re left behind in that way, because you’re not enchained or imprisoned. But I don’t have to make up a whole intellectual dialogue about what I do. I do what I feel to do… when I have the money to do it. And I’m pleased with that, with what I do. And if you’re comfortable you have a chance of doing it well.

And I also always identify with poorer people. But I’m not a bleeding-heart liberal, the kind that say, “Oh, I think she had a very bad upbringing, and that’s why she knifed you in the back.” No one’s going to knife me in the back if I can help it. I had a tough upbringing, and I survived. So I expect you to be able to survive.

I’m a realist. As a realist, you know the world’s a terrible place for many people. I don’t think it’s getting any better. The have-nots are going to be getting further and further behind. So many people are left behind by our political and economic system. And that’s the project of my Guggenheim: The Left Behind. When I was in Russia, I went 70km outside of Ykaterinaburg and I wondered, “What do these people do?” We live in New York City. If you don’t travel to see these things about the world, you may not know that people in certain countries and places are really left behind. And it’s getting worse. It’s not getting better. It’s a terrible thing.  I feel better that I’m 66 and not 25. I feel bad for my daughter. Look at the ozone! Look at what’s happening with the weather now! And who’s doing it? So many people, and all just for money.

ISP  I recently read a quotation from environmentalist Derrick Jensen that said basically that if

aliens came to Earth, systematically deforested the planet, killed 90% of life in the sea, we’d declare war on them.  But for some reason when corporations do that for profit, it’s generally accepted.

BG  Yeah, that’s a great statement! There are people who are helping the planet, people who are advancing medical research, people who are doing things that are helping humanity.  And I find… well, I’m not big on the non-profit groups, though. I spent a lot of time in Haiti. And the one I really like is Médecins sans frontières. Most of the others just know how to waste money.

ISP  I’m interested to hear what you think about the Occupy movement.

BG  Occupy Wall Street? I went down to lower Manhattan for the protests, and I think you had the wrong people for the right job, at least here in New York. Half the people down there were high on drugs, running around, and playing flutes. They looked like they’d just rubbed their chests on the ground for the last three weeks and didn’t take a bath. It’s not that I’m against that either, it’s just that it was starting to go somewhere. I met a great lady in Las Vegas who runs it out there. She’s great. The Occupy movement elsewhere has been more successful. And I agree with them and with the premise. But the Manhattan protests were a mess. The problem is that a lot of the people in the tents and stuff are people who are… losers, for fault of a better term. They seem more interested in hanging out than getting things done. If you want real economic reform, you have to defeat these guys at their own game.

I believe in Machiavellian theory. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Take that rebel who’s fighting against the government, put him in power, and he’s going to become the very thing he was once fighting against.  When you get millions of dollars in front of you, how many people aren’t going to take it? I do prefer people who are—even if I don’t like their politics—who say what they’re going to do, even if I can’t stand it, like Bush (W.). I couldn’t stand him, but at least he said he would do this, and he did it. I don’t like Obama.

ISP  In that you feel he’s insincere where you found Bush to be more genuine.

BG  I feel like he’s full of shit. Look, he said he cares about the middle class and lower class. But even progressives don’t like him. Harry Belafonte can’t stand him either. And he’s always been a progressive who supported MLK, the Civil Rights Movement, all progressive agendas. He hates Obama. And I do too, because the guy walks with the swagger of someone who knows the street, which he doesn’t. He says one thing but does another in policy, too. He said we’re not going to dig for oil in America; we are. We’re going to get out of Afghanistan; and, we’re still there. In the foreclosure crisis, which I can talk about a little because of the research I did for my new book, he decided to keep Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary and Ben Bernake as Federal Reserve Chairman, who were responsible for repealing the Glass-Steagall Act (an act that had imposed financial regulation in the US, and that, once repealed, contributed to the economic crisis and its resulting financial devastation). And Geithner, whether he worked on Wall Street or not, has been working for Wall Street all along. He’s part of the reason that everything went so bad for the world economy! So if you want change, you’ve got other people to put in charge of the economy. He could have pulled in Volcker, who’s a smart, good guy in that field. No, I don’t like that guy (Obama). I can’t look at him. You know, I have my opinions. Those others guys are terrible, too. But he’s no different. He wouldn’t have gotten to be President if he hadn’t been pushed by somebody. I think he made backroom deals.

ISP  Do you have any suggestions on how to get money out of politics?

BG  Well, maybe you can’t. But to me the decision to keep Bernake and Geithner really sticks, because they were complicit in the whole financial collapse around the subprime mortgage lending crisis. So it makes no sense to ask them to be responsible for changing the problems of the economic system when they had a hand in creating those very problems themselves. How do you justify keeping people who support all that Clinton and Bush (W.) did? This all started with Clinton saying that everybody should own a home. But everybody should own a home who can afford it. Anyway, let’s get back to the subject.

ISP  It is in a sense very much the subject of Foreclosures.

BG  I’ll talk about my cat (he laughs). I have three cats! They’re very nice. Three Russian Blues. They’re sweet as sugar. They calm me. I pet them all the time, I talk to them. They’re my friends. Why don’t we move to the next question.

ISP  After the discussion we’ve just had, this may be a jarring transition. But what do you think is the future for street photography? Here we have been talking about imminent environmental or financial collapse, so it seems like a strange question now.

BG  I don’t think like that. I see what’s in front of me. I think the scary thing, not only for street photography but for the world, is that everybody’s becoming the same. The cities are more homogenous now, the shops.  If you go, god knows where, you see a Starbucks. People wear the same clothes. The world is smaller. They all listen to the same music. People more and more are losing their individuality. And I think ultimately in a hundred, 200, 300 years, everybody’s going to look the same and be the same and maybe act the same.  I’m stretching that now to make a point. Whereas I look for the differences, there’re people who look for the similarities. So it makes sense that there would be a change in what pictures look like. But I don’t know.

In 1888, Kodak first made it possible for a lot of people to take pictures. Now we have the digital age and the iPhone. Everybody’s taking pictures. Maybe more people are taking them now than then, but Kodak made it affordable then. Almost everybody can take pictures now. So it must have been quite cataclysmic when that first happened. The common man could all of a sudden take pictures. You didn’t have to pay to go to a studio photographer to take a portrait.

ISP  But now the camera phones that you mention make choices for you. They make visual choices for you.

BG  I haven’t seen that myself, but I’d heard that. And it follows along what I was saying: there’s going to be less and less individuality. If you look at the movies now, so many movies are about the effects; whereas, years ago, all the movies I liked were about relationships, emotion, love. If you listen to the music from years ago, doowop and so on, it’s about boy meets girl, boy loves girl, girl drops boy, boy drops girl. It was human! We are becoming less and less human. And one thing I don’t like: we’ve become so politically correct that people are afraid to do anything because—gasp!—it’s not the right thing to be seen to do. Yet they’ll do worse things, and they’ll be accepting of worse things.

So, to answer your question, I don’t know. But I think street photography will go on until there’s no more street. It depends what you mean by street photography, too. I said to a magazine once that in street photography you could smell the street, feel the dirt by looking at the picture. You’re seeing less and less work like that. Look at most photography today, and even if it’s good, you still can’t tell who took the picture. The average picture could have been taken by 500 people; whereas, years ago, if you saw a Cartier-Bresson, you knew it was a Cartier-Bresson. You see a Winogrand, you know it’s a Winogrand. You see an Arbus, you know it’s Arbus. A Weegee’s a Weegee. The best usually have a recognizable style, a personality.

Also, a lot of street photography is confrontational, unflinching. But people don’t always like to be turned upside down. To be confronted. To think, to feel. It’s more challenging to the viewer,

some people don’t like that. But I feel it’s important as an artist to show work that challenges. If we don’t show something just because it’s difficult subject matter, who’s going to know its there? If things need changing but they aren’t shown, they’ll never be changed. I’m not saying you’re going to make a difference anyway. Look at all the war photographers, and still we have war.

ISP  What’s next for Bruce Gilden?

BG  I’m working on my Guggenheim project, The Left Behind. I got a commission in the Midlands in the UK to do a similar project. A photopoche book, one of those pocket-sized books from France, comes out this November. The London book is out this November, too. It was commissioned by the Archive of Modern Conflict and is formally titled A Complete Examination of Middlesex. But ultimately, what’s going on in my life now and in the future is my family. My daughter Nina just turned 21 and is graduating from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston this year. My wife, Sophie, speaks better English than I do even though she’s French. She was a journalist for Libération in Paris and a radio host on France Inter. I have a good wife, I can’t complain. She’s intelligent, elegant, attractive. And we love each other. Twenty-two years. Some would say it’s impossible to stay with me 22 years, but she did it!

Jason Momoa Has a Leica

I have no idea who Jason Momoa is, but he sure likes his Leicas.  Apparently he’s famous and he’s buddies with Lenny Kravitz.

A Day in Paris

Paris, August 17, 2017

Has photography become too easy? I’m thinking it might have. The question, I guess, is, even if it has, why would that matter?

I’ve illustrated this post with photos I’d taken on one day, August 17, 2017, a day I spent chaperoning a first time visitor to Paris. The day started bright and clear, with increasing cloudiness as the morning progressed and, by afternoon, threatening rain.

I hadn’t even thought to take a camera with me. The day was just to be a day seeing the usual sights. Of course, I had my iPhone with me, and during the day, as much as habit as anything intentional, I took a few photos of things that interested me. Some were shot using filters – I presume I just chose a random filter for the hell of it – and others were post-processed in Snapseed on my phone.

Now, I’m not claiming any of these to be portfolio quality, but in reviewing them, I’m amazed at the quality and diversity of output I got with a simple camera phone and some free apps, all in a day’s walk around town. We used to expend a lot of time and energy and creative angst to get similar results back in the film era, weeks and months of hard labor both on the street and in the darkroom….and the results were indicative of a photographer possessed of technical competence and creative mastery. Back in the film era, the results below would have been the product of innumerable creative decisions about cameras and formats and films and developing and printing processes. Now, it’s indicative of a guy with some apps on his camera phone.

So, I’m not sure what argument I should be making…is this a good thing or a bad thing?

 

The State of Film Production 2019

Interesting presentation by the CEO of ADOX at the Finnish film fair in Helsinki, March 15, 2019, addressing the current state of film production. ADOX is one of the few remaining manufacturers committed to film production. We should be supporting them.

ADOX is the brand name the German company, Fotowerke Dr. C Schleussner GmbH of Frankfurt am Main, the world’s first photographic materials manufacturer, founded in 1860. The current rights to the ADOX name were obtained in 2003 by Fotoimpex of Berlin, Germany, a company founded in 1992 to import photographic films and papers from former eastern Europe. Fotoimpex established the ADOX Fotowerke GmbH film factory in Berlin to convert and package their films, papers and chemicals using machinery acquired from the closed AGFA (Leverkusen, Germany) and Forte Photochemical Industry (Hungary) photographic plants.

The currently constituted ADOX company has resurrected former ADOX films and AGFA films, paper and chemicals including the entire Agfa B&W chemistry line with the help of its former employees and it now holds the trademark for Rodinal film developer.  Chemistry is currently produced by Calbe Chemicals, formerly a part of Agfa (OrWo).

In 2010 ADOX test- produced a slightly improved version of the original AGFA APX 400 as ADOX Pan and started full production of ADOX CHS II (100 ISO, equivalent to Efke KB 100), a black and white film using modern coating, which eventually took priority over attempts to re-introduce Agfa APX 400. In February 2015 ADOX purchased the  Ilford Imaging, Switzerland (Ciba Geigy) machine E, medium scale coating line at Marly, Switzerland to coat photographic film and paper. ADOX CHS (II) was coated by ADOX in Marly from 2018. ADOX are also (2017-19) doubling the size of the film factory in Germany to add a small coating line using a former AGFA machine as well as space for small scale chemical production and film materials storage.

ADOX Products

Films:

  • CMS 20 II ISO 20 An Agfa-Gevaert ortho microfilm converted by ADOX offering very high resolution, needing a special developer for contrast control. Format: 135, 120 [Editor’s Note: CMS 20 is an incredible film for large prints – high resolution with super fine grain.]
  • CHS II 100 ISO The original ADOX R/KB21 film (Efke KB100 to 2012) classic 1950s ortho-panchromatic B&W print film. Introduced 2013 as a modern coating, but sold out by 2016. Due to Adox acquiring own coating line, it was not re-introduced until 2018, initially as sheet film. Format: 135, 120, Sheet film.
  • Silvermax 100 ISO panchromatic B&W print film (Similar to the original Agfa APX 100). Coated at Inoviscoat. Format: 135
  • SCALA 160 ISO panchromatic B&W reversal film (Same as Silvermax) Format:135
  • HR-50 50 ISO Super-panchromatic ultra-fine grain – Agfa-Gevaert Aviphot 80 modified to enhance usability. May also be used as an infra-red film with suitable filtration. Introduced in 2018. Format: 135
  • IR-HR PRO 50 ISO 80. Super-panchromatic fine grain film – Agfa-Gevaert Aviphot 80 as HR-50 without modification. Initial trial batch introduced 2018. Format: 135

Photographic Paper:

  • MCC 110. Fibre based paper ( the Old Agfa Multicontrast Classic) emulsion made using original Agfa machinery.
  • MCP 310. Premium Resin Coated photo paper with outstanding image quality ( Agfa Multicontrast Classic) emulsion made using original Agfa machinery.
  • Fine Print Variotone. A newly developed warm tone paper made in cooperation with Harman Technology and Wolfgang Moersch
  • Lupex. A slow speed contact fiber paper made with a silver chloride emulsion and replaces Kodak Azo or Fomalux.

Inkjet Photographic Paper:

  • Art Baryta. Pure uncoated baryta base for coating with liquid emulsions
  • Fibre Baryta. Inkjet paper using fiber-base from analog photo paper manufacturing (100% alpha-cellulose with a barium-sulfate coating) and is coated with an inkjet receiving layer plus a backside coating to minimize curling behavior.
  • Fibre Monojet. An inkjet media optimized for the reproduction of black and white images.

Film Developers:

  • RODINAL Liquid concentrate developer dating from 1891 and produced according to Agfa Leverkusen’s latest Rodinal formula from 2004
  • ATOMAL 49. Powder-based Universal ultra-fine-grain developer for all types of B/W materials with good speed utilization and high compensating factor. (Development of Agfa Atomal with currently available chemistry)
  • FX 39 II. Geoffry Crawleys FX-39 was a development of Willi Beutler’s formula for Neofin Red.
  • Silvermax Developer. Specially formulated to increase tonal range in the Silvermax 21 film, formulated by SPUR

Paper Developers:

  • ADOTOL NE. Liquid concentrate Neutral black working paper developer. Former Agfa developer
  • NEUTOL WA. Liquid concentrate warm tone paper developer. Former Agfa developer
  • MCC Developer. Liquid concentrate fine art developer For Multigrade Papers for neutral-black image tones. Former Agfa developer
  • NEUTOL ECO. Liquid concentrate without hydroquinone based on ascorbic acid.
  • ADOTOL KONSTANT Powder developer, which produces a neutral black image tone
  • RA-4 Kit Liquid concentrate color paper developer kit

Other Chemicals:

  • ADOSTOP ECO (2018) Liquid concentrate 100% citric acid based odorless stop bath.
  • Acetic Acid 60% Acetic acid liquid concentrate for stop baths.
  • ADOFIX Plus Liquid concentrate, high capacity express-fixer with a maximum capacity for black and white photo papers (RC and fiber), films and photographic plates.
  • ADOFLO Highly liquid concentrated wetting agent
  • ADOSTAB Liquid concentrate, image stabilizer, and wetting agent.
  • SELENTONER Selenium toner for black and white photo materials (films or paper)

Joel Meyerowitz

Meyerowitz rocking his Leica

Editor’s Note:  Joel Meyerowitz is an American street photographer in the mold of Winogrand, Friedlander etc. He photographed in color during a time when there was significant resistance to color photography as an art form. In the 1970s, he taught photography at Cooper Union in New York City. He’s probably more well known in France than he is in the States. I’m not much of a fan, finding his work uninspired and lacking much of a coherent overall vision, his idea of an interesting subject usually just a little too gimmicky for me. You may differ. (Directly below are two examples of what I consider photographs that don’t say much of anything but rely on a visual gimmick for whatever interest they possess.)

This is an interview Meyerowitz gave to Geraldine Chouard of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie on the occasion of “Joel Meyerowitz. A Retrospective” at the Maison in 2013. 


Géraldine Chouard: Thank you, Joel Meyerowitz, for granting us this interview on the occasion of the exhibition of your work in Paris at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. The first picture of the exhibit, of a woman diving into the water, literally makes the visitor take the plunge into flux (cloud of bubbles) and color (swimming-pool blue); it’s almost as if we get splashed watching it. Why did you choose to exhibit this picture upside down?

Joel Meyerowitz: I was making an installation video in Florida and was working in an under water viewing room watching the divers. I saw the divers enter the water, pull the oxygen down with them and then, while they rose, the bubbles stayed behind and coalesced into an almost atomic cloud-like form which slowly rose and dissipated. Suddenly I had a flash of insight; the bubbles were oxygen, the Element Air, and they couldn’t stay in the Element Water. Of course this is a simple truth, but in that instant, for whatever reasons, I had a glimpse of an entirely new body of work in which I would try to photograph the “Phenomena of each of the Elements.” Then when I saw the contact sheet with these images it simply seemed natural to me to want to invert them—in a sense the divers underwater are without the orientation of the horizon line, and gravity is less under water than on land, so I allowed myself the liberty of letting the photograph tell me which way it needed to be seen.

GC: When I was visiting the exhibit at the MEP, a French man said: “C’est vraiment super américain.” Do you feel “super American”?

JM: I don’t really know what he means when he says that. I am a New Yorker, and often New Yorkers feel somewhat closer to Europe than to the heartland of America. If that means anything then perhaps that makes me slightly less American.

GC: How do you feel about having become the (or one of the) iconic contemporary American photographer(s), at least in France?

JM: I have long been well received in Europe and especially in France. Probably because early in the 70s when color came on the scene, my work, along with Stephen Shore’s, was shown here so my sense is that I was seen to be one of the ‘New Color’ photographers.

GC: Since you are in Paris, I have to ask you this question. You are probably aware that “Le Baiser,” by Doisneau, staged on the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville in 1950, resulted in dozens of couples claiming that they were the couple appearing on the picture. Has this been the case with your 1965 “Kiss Me Stupid” shot, in NYC?

JM: No, never. After all this is an innocent moment, perhaps on New Year’s Eve and no one considers it anything extraordinary.

GC: In the 1960s and 70s, you really contributed to making color photography accepted in the art world. Was the choice to include in this exhibit, side by side, both black and white pictures and color pictures of this period, taken just a few seconds apart, a way of pointing out this pivotal point in your career?

JM: Jean-Luc Monterosso saw this series from the mid-60’s and felt that this was the “missing link” in American photography and he said to me that he always wondered how color seemed to be something new but yet he couldn’t see how it developed intellectually and at that precise moment in time. This series was my contribution to the argument for color. Since I began with color in 1962 I always believed in its power, but there was so much resistance to it then that I had to always push for its place in the medium, and make the argument, and then I decided to use two cameras side by side when possible to judge for myself how color worked.

GC: Is your interest in the “ordinary” related to a sort of democratic ideal? As Andy Warhol famously said, everyone would have “15 minutes of fame.” Are you giving people their one frame of fame?

JM: No, that has nothing to do with the way I work with, or feel about people. These brief recognitions I have of a moment when the world seems to have a peculiar order for me, are the only reason I have for making the photograph. It has nothing to do with the people in it and everything to do with my being conscious for a brief moment.

GC: The energetic dimension in your photography is striking, whether it’s scenes of the cityat the beach, or taken from a car. The result is often a sense of celebration. Has photography made you an optimist?

JM: I must have been born an optimist because ever since childhood I have wandered the world saying oh and ah and gasping with surprise and delight at whatever it is that startles me into consciousness. I also feel that every time I press the shutter release I am in effect saying YES to life! So with that basic understanding as my guide to the world everything that pulses with life, whether it is the complexity of street life or space and scale along the water’s edge, or witnessing a revelatory moment at 100 kilometers an hour, all of these ‘glimpses’ fill me with a rush of pleasure, pleasure at being alive! Pleasure at being capable of ‘seeing’ what is revealing itself. Pleasure knowing that photography has given me a voice and language to say something about what it is that moves me.

GC: Was your recent work on “Ground Zero” intended to create an archive of the city, your city? I find it reminiscent of the FSA photographers’ mission to document the whole country during the Depression.

JM: When I began that work it was simply that I wanted to be helpful, useful in some way to my wounded city. Those impulses were not supported by the Mayor or other city officials, so I had to act on my own sense of what was necessary and right for that period. I took it on my own to try and make the historical archive which would one day be indispensable since all photography was banned from the site by the Mayor. But you are right to sense the FSA as a background method although I was a single presence rather than a team—and it should be noted that I wrote a proposal to the Mayor outlining an FSA-like team approach for this history. However, I found myself alone in there for 9 months and have always felt that a great deal was lost to history because I could not be everywhere at once.

GC: Your attention to the elemental has always informed your photography (as reflected in the titles of some of your albums, such as Cape LightAt the Water’s EdgeBay/ Sky) but it seems to have taken a more “elementary” turn, with pictures of just water, air, earth, and fire. What provoked this new interest and what are you seeking to show through this new approach?

JM: In 2008 I was scheduled to show some large prints of work I had never shown before from the series “Between the Dog and the Wolf” (“Entre chien et loup”). These photographs of pools by the sea at dusk had been on my mind, and periodically added to for over thirty years, and with the upcoming exhibition, I felt the urge to make an installation video about divers to accompany the pool photographs. For that, I went to Florida where there was an Olympic practice pool where I planned to make the video. The filming progressed easily enough as there were a number of divers practicing and I could watch their process over and over again. And then it happened, as it so often does in photography; what you think you came for is not what you are actually seeing. What I saw, from inside the underwater room I was in, was that after each diver entered the water they brought in their wake an enormous surge of air that enfolded them and through which they passed leaving the cloud of bubbles behind. At first, it was just bubbles rising and disappearing and then, after about the tenth dive, I realized that I was really interested in the phenomena of those bubbles. They were air and they were inside another element, water, in which, although oxygen makes up part of water, they cannot remain. I had one of those heart-skips-a-beat moments of recognition of a new body of work.

The Elements—Water, Air, Fire, Earth—each have part of the other in them but yet are separate entities. It was revelatory. And so simple! I’ll admit, I was stunned and wide-eyed by the thought: The Elements and the phenomena of the elements! I saw in a flash of instinct that I had been working with these forces forever, or so it seemed, but always within the conventions of Renaissance perspective space, that illusion of deep space that a photograph always conveys. But here, underwater in that stifling room, everything out there was seen as a flat field of overall color. My mind raced to the thought that it might be possible to make photographs of each of the phenomena, very large photographs, in which there was only the phenomena itself—no horizon line to demarcate between air and water, sky and earth, nothing but the thing itself. Isn’t that what I was always trying to do? Get to the essence of things so that I could feel the authenticity of the thing itself? In that brief moment, I was determined to explore how to do this and to consider what I would have to give up to see this idea freshly, and even wondered why this revelation was presenting itself to me at that moment. Perhaps it’s my age? Haven’t we seen in the history of Art older artists suddenly contemplating the four seasons, or the classic skull on the table painting, so perhaps it is what comes to an artist if you live long enough and keep working out your observations and ideas and then, suddenly, a big one appears where you are asked to pare down the work to the essential questions, in this case, that of how to photograph the basic forces of our planet without beautifying them or resorting to imagery that has been overworked already. That is where I am now.

GC: Your retrospective monograph, Taking my Time, will be coming out in June 2013. Could you please comment on this rich title? Does it mean that with your 50 years of innovative practice, you took a part in the history of photography? How is this “time-taking” compatible with the urgency of the act of photographing itself?

JM: As I reflected on the fifty years of work and the various questions and forms that arose during that time, I saw that I was never in a rush to get anywhere quickly, but that in fact I often let the work build slowly and in a sense to teach me what it was that I was really interested in. These clues are often buried in one’s daily actions out on the street where of course, ironically, one has to be extremely fast. Then, later, the joy of reading contact sheets or rolls of slides was for me a revelation describing myself to me through the appearance of images which showed how and what instinct was actually driving the agenda for me, and my responsibility was to engage with these glimpses of my inner life and turn towards them. So that process was the germ, once I recognized it, of the title “Taking My Time.”

GC: You’ve said in the past: “I photograph to see what I’m interested in.” Have you found out?

JM: What I have discovered, and truly photography is a process of self-discovery, is that I am a happy boy, even at my age of 75 now. The world keeps offering its bounties to me, but only if I pay attention to what is all around me, so the act of paying attention daily completes the circle of pleasure. And time is too short now not to make every day as pleasurable as I can. And within this cycle of seeing/pleasure/knowing, comes the same old surprise: can it BE that THIS familiar thing, or THAT remembered moment, has presented itself to me, yet again, in a new form, and so my INTEREST is aroused once more, and the camera rises to my eye and we blink together for that instant, and then it’s gone.