For decades I made no effort to make money from photography. Instead, I took a deeper interest in the work itself. I found in photography the most cathartic and creative activity. For a long time I was hindered by extreme budget limitations that restricted my ability to execute good lighting and scenes. Today I'm doing a little better.
Ironically, I was able to afford professional gear just shortly after my working talent had attained a critical momentum. Today I have the skill to deliver images having nuance and visual power. I also have the professional gear that I need and a respectable budget to invest in the future. But I value what I have learned a thousand times more than my equipment. Becoming a good photographer was instinctive for me. But yet it took decades before I developed a distinct and reliable creative process.
My earliest exposure to photography came in 1957 when I was six years old. I lived with some strangers for a few years and was able to observe what happens from inside a darkroom where someone processed and printed their own pictures. This experience was not the seed. The breakup of my parents a year earlier gave me an intense love for pictures. I not only treasured pictures of my mother from France. But I was also fascinated by pictures in publications.
The first camera that I ever owned was a Kodak Instamatic that my mother bought for me when I was about thirteen, around 1965. The first great picture that I shot was posed for me by the first lady, Ladybird Johnson, in a hotel elevator. That precious picture perished a long time ago. My second camera was a folding Polaroid, one of the original models.
In 1971, my photographer friend Bob Blanton used to loan me his SLR camera. I was 18 and living along High Street near Ohio State University in Columbus. I immediately began shooting neighborhood people who improvised as models. But I did not even have the money for film. In 1974, I took a college course in photography near Denver. And I took up photography as an occasional hobby in the coming years, while living in Boulder, Colorado.
It was not until 1987 that I began to take my hobby seriously. That was the year I shot some good close-ups of rock stars David Bowie and Bono Vox, each signing autographs among fans. I bought my first SLR camera a few months later. It was a fifty dollar Asahi Pentax. And from then on, I became prolific. I went around shooting anything that moved. Years later I actually became quite good at it.
My hobby took a big step forward by 1993. That's when I got my first good SLR film camera, the Canon A2E. Within the next few years I shot countless celebrities at events and performances. Most memorably, I shot many close-ups of Pope John Paul II. In one shot he was having a liesurly stroll in the rain with President Clinton under the wing of an Alitalia jetliner. In another shot, the pope was so close that he touched my left hand as I shot him with my right, capturing his smile among a crowd of kids at World Youth Day. I also shot a few other world presidents, including French President Jacque Chirac in casual conversation. But most of my famous subjects were performers, either in performance or posing on a sidewalk. These included Leon Redbone, Carlos Alomar, Iggy Pop, Elvira, The Cranberries and many others. I used to shoot a lot of touring bands back then. All told, I shot at least seven thousand 35mm pictures.
The Digital Revolution
In May, 2004, I bought my first digital SLR, the 6 megapixel, 35mm Canon Digital Rebel. I chose the Digital Rebel because it uses my Canon EF lenses that I had been using with my Canon A2E since 1993. The Rebel allowed me to go hog wild, shooting thousands of great pictures per month. By then I also had some studio lighting gear. And I joined a photography club where models and expertise were openly shared. The club was a mix of amateurs and professionals. We shared a professional studio.
In early, 2005, I bought my first reasonably professional digital camera, an eight megapixel Canon 20D digital SLR and a matching 580EX dedicated flash and off-camera cable. The cable allows for more creative usage of the flash, especially when shooting models or live entertainment. Like most 8 megapixel digital SLR cameras, the Canon 20D enables me to shoot with proficiency at a busy pace. It is professional in every aspect excpt that the sensor "footprint" is not precisely 35mm. But that is merely a minor statistic since the camera produces what I see very well.
Digital Darkroom Skills
Professional quality digital photography requires serious image enhancement skills. A typical digital image can use at least a few minutes of professional processing. Some images can use hours of manipulation even if they are near perfect to begin with. I have been working in Photoshop since about 1992. Today, I spend more time in Photoshop than I do behind the camera. That should be true of most professional photographers. For most good photographers, the real work is in the darkroom or the so-called "digital darkroom." Photographers usually do their own digital processing because it allows a depth of creative control.
We have arrived at a time when digital photography is superior to film in many respects. But film is still viable and I intend to use both. The difference between standard professional cameras and top of the line pro cameras is the ability to create dramatic photographs with better proficiency if you already have the prerequisite talent. The same is true of studio lighting.
Learning to See
Financing the Dream
Today, after many years of struggle, I can afford just about any camera on the market. I'm looking at the high end for 35mm digital photography in the range of 16 megapixels. But I would prefer to wait until the high end is bumped up to a slightly higher resolution. And I will continue to offer film photography for those who want it.
I may put medium format fine photography on my agenda within the next couple years. I could buy the ultra-expensive 39 megapixel Hasselblad which sells for the price of a good new car. But I've decided it's best to make such an investment at a later time when secondary models bring new technical improvements at a possibly lower price. The super-high end also calls for an investment in a top of the line graphics workstation such as the Apple Mac Pro with RAID hard drives. In the meantime, my Canon 20D camera is a mighty good workhorse with abundant technical quality.
It's a Blessing to Love Photography