Jay Maisel Day 3 & 4 – It’s a blur

Reference internal to the frame

Reference external to the frame

Day 3 & 4 jumble together in my mind as I have almost no notes in my notebook. We are in a rhythm: shoot, edit, talk, eat, shoot, talk, eat… sleep.

I remember the Nikon reps showing up on Wednesday morning with the new D4 and D800 and several lenses. The gear will be on loan for the class through the end of the week. Being a Canon shooter, I busy myself preparing my images but keep an ear out for something interesting. Jay, like the others, is clearly looking for the keys to deciding between the two. I hadn’t realized that the D800, with its 36 mega-pixels, was actually the cheaper of the two cameras. By the end of the week, however, for all those who tried these two cameras the D4 was clearly the winner for the type of photography we were doing. Learning more about these cameras gave me more perspective on the Canon line. I currently shoot with the Canon 5dmkII – 21 mega-pixels, 3 frames-per-second. Given Jay’s style of bracketing, 3 fps is a bit too slow, so I can appreciate the shot-gun shutter of the D3s (Jay’s current camera) and the D4. I think about the new Canon 5DmkIII with its 6-fps and think again that it is probably in my future.

On Wednesday we had an extended period to shoot –  from lunch through to 6pm – and on Thursday our usual couple of hours. Each day we turn in 5 images for critique. They must have been taken the previous afternoon or in the morning. I’m still a bit disoriented about on which day we critiqued which images. It wasn’t until Tuesday morning that we had our first critique of the images we brought from home. I don’t remember having two critiques in one day, but somewhere we must have doubled up to get through the whole week.

The rules of critique – Jay does not speak unless others do. If no one talks about your image, and you want some feedback, you better start. He used the critiques to reinforce all the things he had been telling us. I can no longer remember the specific images, it was more about a general progression. Are there things in the frame that are not contributing? No, frame them out? Is there something interesting going on? No, wait for the trigger? Lessons on gesture over graphic and the “Catch-22”. Catch-22 is when there is an interesting scene so captivating the interest of the people involved that they never notice the photographer. We also pay close attention to images that receive a “verbal”. That is an image that extracts a immediate verbal reaction from the class as soon as it is shown. We talk about images that make reference to things within the frame and to things outside the frame.

The black matboard cropping tools  get a lot of attention. We are continually asked – what is this part of the image doing for your image? Often Jay will reverse the crop and remind us to look at the part of the image we would be framing out to determining if it was interesting. Usually it was some blob of gray or streak of white. We sometimes made it a little too easy for him to make his point.

Around Wednesday, philosophy begins to give way to brevity – “There’s not a f-ing thing sharp in this picture?”, “Doesn’t this piece bother you?”, and “Why did you include this text?” (Jay doesn’t like text in his image unless it is absolutely part of the story).

Wednesday night will go to the SoHo Photo Gallery monthly Salon and then head to City Hall for dinner. Jay whispers around the table, “get the tuna, get the tuna”. The restaurant had a run on tuna steaks that night.

Jay Maisel Day 2 – Failure is an option

Double Bass

In May, I took a 5-day workshop with Jay Maisel in New York City. Jay made his career as an eminent commercial photography, but now shoots only for himself. The week is designed to open the doors for you to take yourself on a journey as an artist and photographer. Here are my thoughts on Day 2

Day 2 was hard. It was raining. My mind was processing the ideas from Day 1 and all the people I had met. I was in a strange city. The short-acting adrenaline of Day 1 had worn off and I was tired.

Before leaving LA, I was looking forward to the rain we would get in New York. I wanted to get some “rain shots”. We don’t get much rain in LA and this would be novel and exciting. As was the routine, we were sent out shooting after lunch. Out again onto the unfamiliar streets of New York. The open hearted New York life I experience on a sunny spring day on Day 1 had turned to a rushing mad dash of umbrellas. I tried for my “rain shots, but seemingly all I got was wet.

Perhaps I was in the wrong part of town? Perhaps I wasn’t good enough? Perhaps, I was not open? Perhaps I was not considering failure as part of this experience.

From the beginning, Jay stresses that failure is an option. While we are behind our cameras, we are not business professionals. We are not doctors, lawyers, or accountants. When Jay admonishes, “This is not brain surgery” he does not mean to imply that it is not difficult, he means to imply that, no one will die.

As we grow older, we are expected to become masters in our professional life. We become conditioned that failure is not an option. It is stressed that as a result of our failures people will die, go to jail, get fired, loose money, or be subjected to a myriad of other forms of misery and consequence. As good school children, we are taught to learn from our mistakes in order that we do not make these mistakes again. We become more cautious and take less risk.

Jay’s message about failure is different. Failure is part of the practice and part of the journey. You should continue to fail. If you do not continue to fail you are not continuing to be curious. Failure is the result of taking chances and taking chances results in photography that moves people. Failure can also leads to serendipitous results. “There is nothing f-ing sharp in this image!” could lead to “There are no rules in photography”.

It is difficult to put our egos and professional pride aside and take the chances it takes to come home with a card full of failures. But fail we must. Keep taking chances and keep failing. “It is not brain surgery, no one will die”.


Jay Maisel Retrospective – Day 2: Go Out Open

Jay has a way of letting you know when he is telling you something of importance – he keeps repeating it. “Tomorrow I want you up with the sun.” “I don’t want to see you bright-eyed tomorrow.” “Hey Jamie (his assistant), what time is sun rise tomorrow?“. This was the repartee at dinner on Monday night, and besides, we needed 5 images to turn in on Tuesday. We also heard “Doors open at 8:30 – not 8:20, not 8:25 – 8:30“. Kind and gracious, but absolutely not to be fooled with, this was his way of making sure that we were not reliant on him, that we stayed out shooting for a good period of time.

I wake up at 5:45 am (2:45 am Pacific time) to walk the streets of China Town and Little Italy. I have no idea where I am, where I am going, or what I will find. This too, is part of Jay’s plan: Go out open. Jay knows that not every day, every outing, will you find a jackpot, but his philosophy is that you plan what to photograph, and don’t find it, you will get nothing. You must go out looking for interesting things – he uses Light, Color, and Gesture to define interesting. Look  and keep looking. When you find something – wait for the trigger. Work the scene or situation. Then go out open again.

I went out open and returned with an series of images of this Chinese woman sorting the returnable bottles and cans that she had collected that morning. Look at her hands and gestures. Ultimately I decided to focus just on her hands.

Judging a Book By Its Cover – Street Photography, more than just a surprised face

Judging A Book By Its Cover
Judging A Book By Its Cover by I Nancy, on Flickr

I have recently made a bunch of new street photographer acquaintances and, therefore, have been looking at a new set of images and styles and reading about their different approaches and ideas on various forums and blogs. As I look through their  work, I am impressed by their vision and images. I notice those images that take me to a new place versus those that just pull me along on the street with them. I am reminded of something that I feel strongly about for my own street photography. That the best street photography, across all of its various styles and approaches, is more than just a surprised (bored, angry, funny, ugly, old, beautiful) face. In my street photography I want a full story, a deep story. I look for a story complete with body language and environment to create depth. I want my images to be more than just an odd person or visual pun.

In this image, my traveler is doing a most obvious thing –  sitting in a waiting room opening a book. The obvious can be described with nouns and verbs – book, open, man, waiting room. But look harder and you see a more colorful story that need adjectives and adverbs to descrbe. You see that his belongings are in neither a backpack, suitcase nor duffelbag, but in a brown paper shopping bag. The bag is worn and used, not crisp and new. He is not yet reading his book, but preparing to read his book; evaluating the cover, his hand guiding him across the words. He is older and has come in from outside with jacket and hat; a hat that has seen some wear and makes a clear statement of utility over style, function over form. And although he is alone, he is not completely alone. A man behind him, barely seen, talks on a cell phone, visualized in this image from the point of view of my traveler – just audible, but not much.

Upstairs, Downstairs

Upstairs, Downstairs
Upstairs, Downstairs by I Nancy, on Flickr

When I saw this situation, I was reminded of one Alfred Steiglitz’s famous photograph The Steerage. Steiglitz, in his photograph,  perfectly juxtaposes Jewish men in full morning prayer on the lower, steerage, deck of a ship against the more casual crowds in bowlers and straw hats above.

In this scene, I was able to use the lights and hand railings in the bottom part of the image to draw the viewer all the way through and into the scene. With the woman rushing up the ramp set back as well. The upstairs scene needed to take care of itself, as I was concentrated on the woman below and her positioning against to get her lit within the tunnel. I like the man on the left, his face full visible between the bars, and I think he brings a sense of order and meaning to the top image.

The image is divided by  the dramatically stylized art-deco STATION sign that is so characteristic of Los Angeles Union Station. Travelers familiar with Union Station will recognize this sign immediately.

Angry in Pink – A Portrait

Angry in Pink
Barricaded by suitcases and posture – Angry in Pink by I Nancy, on Flickr

Yesterday I went out to see what treasures awaited for me and my camera at Los Angeles Union Station – a mighty art-deco icon and still in use as the primary train station in Los Angeles. In comparison to the grandiose caverns of the stations I’ve visited to in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York, Union Station is small but full of both character and characters. This day I found my best subjects in the main waiting room, upstairs at the train tracks, and at a local eatery – Philippe’s.

The main waiting room is large and rectangular with a main walkway down the middle and large frosted glass windows on both sides, architecturally a mixture of Spanish Mission and Art-Deco Modern. The seats are square wood and leather, ample and comfortable, so different from modern airport waiting rooms. There are always plenty of travelers that seem to have hours to wait, which I’ve not quite figured this out as this is the western most terminus for the United States. They must be using Union Station as a hub to go east after arriving from somewhere from the north or south.

From a technical perspective, the lighting in the station is dim, but interesting. The two sides of glass provide good directional lighting from either side and for normal use there is hardly need for additional lighting (though I’ve never been there at night). For my day of photography cranked my ISO to 1600 at f/4 or larger and work from there. I was looking specifically for portraits so mostly donned my 70-200 f/4 on a full-frame Canon 5dMkII. Stealth photography, you might quip. But I’m sure I would not have been able to capture these expressions with a shorter lens, and expressions was my objective.

I looking for interesting faces with interesting clothing, to tell a story, today I present “Angry in Pink”.