Monday, May 2, 2016

On million eyez

Last week I went to Israel to give a couple of slide-show presentations at the Jaffa International Photo Festival. A festival, I'd whole- heartedly recommend to anyone who loves photography. 

I was also there to be filmed for some site-specific content videos for million eyez. I got to work with an amazing cinematographer by the name of Roee Keren. Eventually when you see the videos on our site and when you think of these as good videos. Remember there was a great camera man behind the camera, an amazing producer/ director, and a great support staff behind this endeavor. Mine just happened to have been the easiest job: Being in front of the camera. 

Anyway, back to the festival.  While there, I had the opportunity of meeting some very talented photographers such as Mugur Varzariu. A Romanian photographer, a very- successful former strategic marketing and brand management consultant who gave it all up to tell the story of the Roma people. A task he first accomplished by using his words and later by successfully adding his camera to the story-telling process.

Varzariu, who by his own reckoning acknowledges to have never had any formal training in photography, has been known to work upwards of 18 hours a day for days on end while covering a story. He said, "I might not know much about photography but because of my work ethic, I'm sure I could bury many photographers in a mountain of images." And then he added, "I only click the shutter when the moment moves me." A statement that becomes  obvious to anyone looking at his work. 

I was lucky enough too to sit through a slide- show presentation by Antonyn Kratochvil, one of the original founders of VII photo agency. His very powerful and entertaining collection of images was full of celebrity one- on- one portraits. All of these done in his own very unique follow-no-rules-but- very- successful kind of way. This irreverent virtuoso of the camera peppered his presentation with a string of funny and intimate anecdotes of the time shared with his subjects.  

Being the chief photographer has all of a sudden turned me into a tech guy involved with a start up?? I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks after all.  The good news is that at its core, I'm still doing the same thing: being a  passionate photographer who loves what he does. I never thought, I'd get the chance to be part of a project designed to completely change the way photos are published on the internet.  

The best way to describe million eyez is to imagine a content platform that brings photographers and writers together. A platform that allows for the photographer's images to be published in the venues of their own choosing.  And very importantly: a platform where the photographer gets to keep the copyright of their images. 

Right now, we photographers, have pretty much been left behind. Once we release an image into the ether of the Internet; we usually don't know where it'll end up or how it'll be used and within what context. 

Million eyez is all about giving back to the photographers the control over their images. It is about helping the photographers leverage their exposure where it matters the most: at the heart of the story, in the main arenas and where things are being discussed.  

Million eyez is the platform, I wish I had 20 or so years ago when I was getting started. It is an all- ready- and- easy- to- use platform where photographers can get their work published based upon the merit or quality of their images. And not based upon what awards you have won, or how long you have been in the industry. If you are good, your images will be published and in the outlets where you want your work to be published. 

Among my duties is that of helping the creators of million eyez make the whole photographer experience not only worthwhile. But to make sure photographers are given back control of their work, something we have lost as the industry has evolved. 

Part of what I'm doing with million eyez is sharing the expertise I've acquired from being a photojournalist for over two decades.

During this past visit, I was filmed while explaining my thinking process as I photographed a scene or event. These situations varied from something as simple as shooting a street scene or interacting with people or covering an event or activity. On the latter, I got to photograph a horse show at a 2,000- year old hippodrome in the historic port city of Caesaria less than hour north of Tel Aviv. 

I am eagerly looking to the horizon and thanking my stars for being lucky enough to be part of million eyez as we help shift the current paradigm on how photos are being published on the internet. 

For now, check out some of the images I made as well some behind-the-scenes photos sent to me by a couple of camera- totting great characters I met while in Caesaria. As well as some from my million eyez colleague, Carmit Hirsch, who was the director, producer and all- around in- house genius. 

And here are some random images made of everyday activities:

All these images are all about making the best of any situation when it comes to photographing a place and its people. Not having the golden light or the perfect moment should never be an excuse not  to press that shutter. You can always rely on good composition and interesting angles to carry the day until that perfect moment happens in front of your lens. In the meantime don't forget the maxim I live by when I have a camera in hand:  "Keep shooting, keep moving, keep adjusting"

Tech stuff: Cameras: 2 Nikon D4 and my iPhone 6/ Lenses:17-35mm 2.8 zoom and a 70- 200mm 2.8 telephoto zoom/ ISO; 64- 1200/ WB: Sunny, Cloudy and Auto/ File quality: JPG FINE + RAW

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Lucky and Thankful Photojournalist

I just stumbled upon an interview In the Photographer’s Studio: Essdras M Suarez, I had three years ago when I was still with the Boston Globe. And it’s lead to do some soul searching of my current situation.

Spoiler alert: The gist of this piece is: I'm a lucky, lucky guy who is very happy and very grateful.

In this interview, I talk about being frustrated about newspapers not covering the big stories anymore. This being the result of a changing industry caught in an economic downward spiral. More newsroom jobs are being eliminated regularly and the leaders in the industry are constantly trying to figure out a way to re-invent the newspaper business. Like the recent memo written by Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory: “It’s time to re-think everything we do.”

I truly hope my former industry finds a way to survive these trying times.

However by reading news like this one, I can’t help but to feel at ease with my decision back in 2014 to take a buy out to leave I job I truly loved as a staff photographer for the Boston Globe. After leaving the Globe I had been in the newspaper business for about two decades. First with the now defunct Rocky Mountain News and then with the Boston Globe.

But I saw the writing on the wall years before, around 2008, and immediately started planning to eventually make a change when the time was right and when all the chips would be in place. I instinctually knew that I needed to adapt if I wanted to survive what was to come. Now I can't help but to be thankful for having taking what seemed back then as the uncertain step of leaving a "sure" thing.

Leaving my job was something I don’t believe I could’ve done if it were not for the support of my wife, Sara Suarez, of 25 years.  She, who is blessedly wise and the possessor of keen foresight. She, who believed in me from my early professional beginnings when I myself didn't know what I had to offer to the world. She, who knew before I did that I could indeed accomplish whatever I’d set out to do, Even before I had an inkling of the depths of my own abilities, she’s always been there believing in me. Love you mi Amor.  

With my Cuba: A Photographic Journey program photo workshops program through Road Scholar, I've already accomplished one of my goals: That of helping other "photojournos" teach photo workshops, thus, helping them share their vast experience and to spread their knowledge as well as offering them a possible new way of making a living. The number of colleagues I'll be able to help keeps growing.  The plans for expanding into other photo-workshops destinations is already well on its way.  

My goal of helping other photographers achieve their full potential, and that of helping new photographic talent be discovered is slowly but surely taking shape through millioneyez, a collaborative platform between bloggers and photographers.

A couple of years back, I was lucky enough to be introduced to the founders of this Israel- based world-changing startup. As their chief photographer, I’m helping them re- shape the format of how photos are being used to tell a story. We are helping create new venues where photographers can showcase their work where the issues are being discussed. We are creating and fostering new publishing outlets where undiscovered photographic talent can be introduced to the world in a way where their rights as visual artists is respected and honored.

Alas, I find myself today in the privileged position to be able to say: If today were my last day on earth I’d be okay with that.

Thanks for all the blessings and may we be granted the wisdom, sense of appreciation and humility to continue to grow and expand as human beings.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

NYC Street Photography Workshop for Westchester Photographic Society

A couple of weeks back I had the pleasure of giving a slideshow presentation and then to teach the following day a Street- Photography workshop in NYC.  The Big Apple being as big as it is, you need to plan at least a general area where to conduct such workshop. I chose a favorite area of mine  The Highline Park. The last time I was there it only went as far as 24th St. To my surprise it now goes all the way to the 30s. And even though, I was eager to see the areas I had not seen yet; we had so many things to photograph in the span of four hours, we never quite made it pass 22nd or 24th.

It's always a two-way street when it comes to being a teacher. If you watch your students carefully enough, you as the teacher gets to learn as much as the students. More than once on that day I was shown an image that made me feel I wished I would've been the one who made that shot. Its amazing how people can be standing shoulder to shoulder and still be able to come up with such different versions of the same situation. Especially after you start pointing out to them what to look for.

Here are some of my pics from that day and I also included one from Tarrytown Train station up North near Westchester where we were staying.

Oops, almost forgot: TECH STUFF: Two Nikon Camera bodies D4 and D3s. Two lenses: 70-200mm 2.8 AF ED and an old 24mm. 28 silver ring Nikkor. (I demolished my to-go wide angle zoom 17- 35mm 2.8 recently; thus, the throwback lens). ISO 64- 800. WB: Cloudy and Sunny settings MODE: JPG ( I know, I know you must think me a heathen but unless I'm on a commercial assignment I still prefer jpgs since this is the fastest way one can shoot. It doesn't bog down the buffering unless its an extreme situation. And as I've said it before: When you've ruined as many hundreds of thousands of images as I have you eventually get pretty good and not making that many mistakes)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

On trying to achieve "Fly on the Wall" status

I came across an article on a group in FB called Ethical Photojournalism. It talks about VICE magazine sending a couple of photographers to cover Appalachia. One lives in Appalachia and calls his style of photography autobiographical. The other photographer is Magnum's Bruce Gilden, who's been quoted as saying during an interview, "you need to be sneaky to get the shot..."  I personally don't agree with this approach. I'd like to think I'm more along the lines of: Treat thy neighbor as yourself. 

One way or another, this got me thinking about what I was taught in journalism school about aiming to become the proverbial Fly on the Wall when it came to documentary photography.  However,  as much as we'd like to think that we are achieving this maxim of photojournalism, the truth is we all carry within us our own built-in prejudices and preconceived notions.

When we do manage to straight-out document a scene and or a subject without affecting the outcome these instances turn out to be the exceptions and not the rule. That is not to say it never happens but alas is rare when a photographer can continuously achieve such purity of documentary photography. 

It is my belief, It is during spot news situations when we are reacting reflexively and “shooting from the hip”  where we are are most likely to find our purest documentary style.

I'm including an example of mine below where I wasn't thinking but reacting instead. This was covering the ousting of Haiti's president Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2004. A couple of other journalists and I, were running towards Cite de Soleil where we'd heard shots fired. I veered away from my group distracted by some commotion on a side street.

I ended up stumbling upon civilians trying to help a soldier who'd been shot in the foot. They were trying to carry him to safety while a soldier in the back guarded their escape. Had I been thinking more clearly I'd have move my camera a fraction of an inch higher and I'd have gotten the full image of the soldier returning fire in the background. But alas, I wasn't thinking, I was reacting. 

Point and case of reactive shooting is that of Boston Globe’s John Tlumacki’s image of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing and the fallen runner and the three police officers. After publication his editors looked at the time line between the first bomb going off and the moment when he shot this image and only seconds had passed between both actions. Now THAT is pure documentary.

But even at this highest level of pure documentary photography, Tlumacki’s considerable acumen of experiences as a professional photographer still played a role on how he shot this image. Maybe not at any conscious level but all those years of shooting played a role on how he shot that image the way he so superbly shot it on that day and on that moment.

But when covering extreme situations such as wars and disasters become our norm, then the human brain tends to adapt to help us cope with such realities. It is at this point where once more our own perspectives, opinions and points of view end up affecting our photography.  

So now lets extrapolate. If our brains can adapt so we can get used to covering horrible situations, then imagine what happens when we are given an assignment before hand.

The moment we find ourselves having the time to figure out "the how" of covering a story or subject, that is the moment where our own personalities and life experiences start getting involved in our decision-making processes when it comes to making photos.
We do not live outside of the laws that rule our universe. We were all first sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, sister, etc, before we became photographers. There is no escaping our humanity.

After all we are all humans. And as such, we are nothing but extremely complex apparatuses made up of millions of inter-acting parts unique-to-the individual and held together or “sparked” to life by – call it what you may- a spirit, a soul, or an energy force.

But one way or another all of these variables will end up playing a role in the way we do all things. This includes photography. Therefore it can not be considered a great leap of deductive reasoning to think our experiences and personalities will at the end affect the outcome of our images. Thus by just being there and observing we are affecting the outcome of a situation.

If not, what do you think our personal style of photography truly is? Why do you think someone with the personality of Bruce Gilden creates images like the ones he made in Appalachia?

On a lighter note: If you want further proof of our capability of producing built-in biased photos, then take a look at this: