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Posts tagged ‘J.H. Lartigue’

# 11 JAN MEISSNER, New York Photographer

Leica Liker is honored to have Jan Meissner, a New York Photographer with ‘street’ sense as our #11 guest. Also Leica Liker’s first WOMAN photographer!

paint·er·ly [peyn-ter-lee] adjective
Fine Arts . characterized by qualities of color, stroke, or texture perceived as distinctive to the art of painting, especially the rendering of forms and images in terms of color or tonal relations rather than of contour or line. –

Etymology of the word ‘photography’:
From the Greek words phos (“light”), and graphis (“stylus”, “paintbrush”) or graphí, together meaning “drawing or painting with light” –

If there was anyone who’s work exemplifies the etymological meaning of the word “photography”, then it’s Jan’s. I think you will agree, her photographs are simply painterly. They’re contemporary homages to early Renaissance paintings and frescoes albeit with the aid of a very modern, mechanical and electronic instrument rather than brushes, oils and tincture.

After conversing at length with Jan, we found we had a mutual love for early Renaissance painters like Piero della Francesca and Domenico Ghirlandaio, whose iconic images adorn museums and churches throughout Italy. Those images draw you in with amazing detail of light, form, color and perspective.

When you look at Jan’s photos, they are very often simple flat-on images. Much like many early Renaissance paintings. Yet each person or facade or object is lovingly painted with light or shadow. As a result, her colors are rich, full of texture, making you want to take it all in. Jan terms it the special balance between ‘luminosity’ and ‘density’.

However, there is a great difference between Jan’s inspiration from early Renaissance art and her ‘photographic paintings’. While the old masters often worked with allegory and metaphors, Jan’s work is about capturing a slice of life. It’s like comparing traditional writing that has a beginning, middle and end to alternative modern writing where you start from any chapter and not necessarily from the beginning. She emphasizes the ‘slice of life’ by the way many of her subjects are framed. People and animals often purposefully sit at the edge of the frame or are cut in action, as if to say, they are part of a continuum of life.

For a moment in time, Jan gives us, the voyeur, the ‘feeling’ of intimate interaction with her subjects, engaged in being themselves – being human. But true to the meaning of voyeur, Jan stands far enough away so that we can’t touch it. As if she is protecting her subjects from too much intrusion. Her goal is to show the many small wonders of life but does not offer it up for consumption.

Jan is modest too. She claims she is not a visual artist of any kind. Perhaps it’s because she’s from the small Texas town of Placedo Junction. Or perhaps it’s because the important people in her life are painters and sculptors, who had formal training in light, form and composition. Or perhaps it’s because she was trained as a writer where her tools were words instead of brushes and paints. But her ‘photographic paintings’ clearly prove otherwise.

While starting in the confines of traditional street photography, Jan has since branched out into the world of fine art. Like a true artist, her complex and multiple exposure work push far beyond the specific boundaries of street photography by establishing new interpretations and new ideas of what it means to shoot the street.

Remember the Polaroid? Well, I live in Los Angeles, where our museums are filled with works of influential California contemporary artists. David Hockney (a British painter who lived here in his formidable years), comes to mind. He took what was a specific format of a single framed print (83mm × 108mm with the image itself smaller as it is surrounded by a white border) and created a new way to look at photography through his artistic eyes. He created collages out of hundreds of Polaroid images thereby breaking the traditional way of looking at a single Polaroid.

Jan is treading a similar path of experimentation and trying to redefine what it means to shoot and present her view of the streets. And for a fraction of a second, Jan’s images give us distinctly unique, beautiful and treasured views of what it’s like to be human moment to moment.

Here’s my interview with JAN MEISSNER:

Nick Name: No, no nickname.
Currently living in: Downtown Manhattan
Motto: Harry Callahan admired the photographs of Ansel Adams but since there were no mountains in Michigan he decided he would have to look very hard at the ground beneath his feet. This is not so much a motto as a description of my approach to photography.

Shooting the Streets since: 2006
Profession/Job: Photographer. Writer. I’ve held many jobs through the years—publishing world, art world, restaurant world—but none of them have been much more than mechanisms for survival.
Organizations or Group: No organizations and no groups.

How did you decide you wanted to be a photographer after being a writer? It was not really a decision so much as an accumulation of events, something akin to the confluence of events in life that I look for in my photographs. The camera seemed to catch the world in a more immediate way than my words did—that immediacy was powerful and exciting to me after the years of using the much slower medium of language.

Favorite Street Camera & Lens: Canon 5D Mark III with a 24 to 105 lens
Back-up Street Camera & Lens: I carry as little as possible so no second body but I often carry more than one lens.
Favorite photography gadget: No, no gadgets.

Favorite street food: I rarely stop to eat while shooting.
Do you listen to music while shooting? No. Music would impose itself on the very thing that I am surrounded by. I think of those moments in film when a crescendo of threatening chords in a piece of music intensifies the dread the audience feels, and, yet, if the notes of a light and comic score were played, the scene would have a very different effect on those watching. I, as the photographer, must be an audience for the streets and the streets have their own music. I sometimes have the odd and fleeting sensation that those sounds, that music, will be in the photograph itself. No, it won’t, but if I am in fact a street photographer, it is because for me the street is an organism, an entity, a metaphor for life made visible in a heaving scattering way that comes with its own sound track.

Favorite music when shooting and/or editing photos: After many years of living with a husband and son who could not let a moment go by without music being played, now that I live alone, I am happiest in the silence, the distant sound of the streets lending a kind of familiarity and companionship as I work.

Favorite photo software: Aperture and Photoshop

3 Favorite Master Photographers: I am not only new to photography as a practitioner but also as a devotee. Six years ago I began to look at the world through the eyes of photographers as well as through the eyes of painters and writers. Brassai and Lartigue and Atget and Henri Cartier Bresson were the first whose work came into focus, and, therefore, I name them as favorites, but they simply reside at the top of a long and changing list.

3 Favorite Contemporary Photographers: This is a bit like playing the game of word association—what first comes to mind is simply what first comes to mind. But there may be deeper and much more interesting answers to give and when I name Harry Gruyaert and Tyler Hicks and Phillip-Lorca diCorcia I must then add Alex Webb and when I add Alex Webb I must then add Bruce Davidson and Josef Koudelka and Elliot Erwitt, and, so, on it goes.

Which 3 photographers’ prints do you own? Unfortunately, none, but if I could own one, it would be Henri Cartier Bresson’s Barge Family, Bougival 1956. It exemplifies for me the very best of his decisive moments, and, even though I do not think of myself as so much looking for the decisive moment as looking for the decisive confluence of time and space, I love these people and I love Henri Cartier Bresson for sealing their lives, at that moment, into a capsule. My own life has been made richer for being able to witness that moment as being part of the continuum of human experience. Sentiment without sentimentality.

Color or Black and White? Color—always.
Shoot Film or Digital? Long ago, in the days of Antonioni’s Blow Up, I shared a Nikormat with the man I eventually married but that camera was a temporary attraction and he became a painter and I became a writer.

Is there a special time of the day you like to shoot or is any time good? I’ve come to know my neighborhoods—when and where the shadows fall or don’t fall—so I tend to shoot according to which side of the street I’m most interested in and when I expect that side to be dark or sunny. This is a partial attempt at an answer—my reasons are never quite the same for going out, but I do go out everyday, and, mostly, in the middle of the day when the streets are at their busiest.

How do you define “street” photography? I know that many street photographers have specific rules. A friend in New Zealand attended a seminar and was told never, ever, to crop—that cropping is a sacrilege. This is a kind of fundamentalism that does not interest me. It seems a fanaticism based on an arbitrary ideology. What I want from a photograph is to feel the touch, the very air of that place in which it was taken. However one arrives at that feeling is fine with me. Elliot Erwitt uses an air horn to get a dog or a person to turn in his direction. In a way that is like cropping. It is altering the moment in a way that works for him. I am not a confrontational photographer. I try to be the shadow on the wall. People are so often lost within themselves on these city streets and I try to catch them without their mask—human beings caught in the stillness of being human beings. There are often people at the edges of my photographs—life does in fact exist beyond the frame. For me, street photography is not about creating an alternative universe but the photographer is as much the maker of the scene as those within the frame.

Building a photograph is what every photographer does–we frame–we deal with focus and aperture and shutter speed and ISO. We deal with elements like tone and depth of field that carry emotional weight, elements, or tools, that change the emotional weight of a photograph. I use color as an emotional tool. Some photographers use black and white as an emotional tool. But, tell me, what could be more “fake” than the abstractions that black and white create. Black and white is simply a tool, as color is a tool, as framing is a tool but the aim is always to cause a single photograph to capture the emotional weight of ordinary life. I build many, but not all, of my photographs and to a great degree I believe that the decades I spent as a writer have set me up for this. The additions and subtractions that I make to a photograph always exist within moments of one another. For me, they belong together within their frame just as much as any one solitary unmanipulated image belongs within its own frame. Street photographers shoot the world, life, incidents and accidents in all their variations. But for me, no categories exist. There is no need to separate or define or fear the encroachment of any one way of working on any other way of working.

Why did you choose “Street” Photography and not another form of photography or stamp collecting? I was a short story writer. I began a novel that absorbed me for ten years, and at the end of those ten years I felt a bit lost. A friend gave me a small point-and-shoot camera to photograph the kitten he had also given me. Other friends were amused by the photographs I took. My friend began to urge me to use a larger camera, to go outside, to look at the world through a lens, and I have to say that when I did, finally, I experienced one of those moments of epiphany that cause one never to look back.

What motivates you to photograph the streets? The possibilities of confluence—the endless confluence of time and space—object and event—architecture, shape, form, color, faces, limbs, long winter coats, wind-blown hair, shadows, clumps of humanity shaping and reshaping themselves. The possibilities for surprise are endless in this city. There is a whirling quality to the streets, kaleidoscopic, and if I turn the lens to take in time as well as space I get that bounded space in which the endless parade of humanity can be framed. From the beginning I was never so much searching for the decisive moment as the decisive clump, the parts that came to be a whole.

Is shooting the “streets” an obsession? Perhaps it has become so. I was born and raised in the flatlands of South Texas, a place of little color, a place of vast and stretching emptinesses, few people, grazing cattle, low rows of cotton, wooden windmills and tilting oil rigs outlined against an ever present skyline, a skyline enclosing those long straight asphalt roads that served as pathways through a heat and dryness that vied with solitude for the thing that most oppressed those who made their lives and livings there.

But now I live in Tribeca and have done so since the seventies—my neighborhood is downtown Manhattan—Soho, Chinatown, the Lower East Side, Chelsea and the Meat Packing District—neighborhoods that hold a life so rich in all its vagaries that I find in them an unending source of fascinations. And this is exoticism enough for me. Perhaps I will tire of them and need the strangeness of some foreign place, but, for now, I need no mountains.

Are you a lone shooter or do you like shooting with friends or a group? Always alone. I’ve tried shooting alongside another photographer but somehow the magnetic quality that I feel pulling me to an image is weakened. Also, I do like to remain as invisible as possible. It is crucial to my way of shooting.
Favorite “street” photography city: New York.

What inspires your photography? I’ve spent so much time in museums—looking at walls holding worlds within frames, worlds composed in the same way that life composes itself on the street, and that is what I look for—perfect compositions of parts that make the kind of solid mass I believe we most naturally sort out and create for ourselves when we use our eyes, when we see, when we feel with our eyes. We frame, create an edge, and, therefore, we change the relationship of everything that exists within those boundaries the edge itself creates.

Your photographs have a very painterly quality. Is there a philosophy, concept or aesthetic behind your compositions that you apply to your photos?
Perhaps not so much a philosophy or concept as an aesthetic. The fact that I did not study photography left a kind of open pathway for what I had absorbed in looking at the works of painters like Piero della Francesca and Giorgione and Titian. There is a special combination of luminosity and density in these paintings—light coupled with a darkness that holds a presence, a darkness that is not flat, a darkness that conjures up space, an infinite space shot through by light. My eyes were trained on oil and fresco and the LCD screen has become my canvas. I will adjust the aperture and shutter speed to find that balance I am after. Form, for me, can sometimes stand for content.

And, in terms of content, I have to say that I am not looking for the amusing moment or the outrageous moment simply because I believe that, for me, such loaded images disturb the quiet balance that resides within the power of ordinary life. I do very much enjoy these amusing moments in the work of others but they are not what I am after. There is a man in Soho who walks the streets wearing a life-size ram’s head as a mask. Many photographers photograph him. I have photographed him myself as well but I find that I cannot use these photographs.

What do you look for in a good photograph by others and by yourself?
Photography can be art and art is the very thing that tells us what it means to be human, that connects us to the future as well as to the past, that makes us one with those we’ve never met and never will meet but that we understand with that same momentary flash of recognition that the photographer understood. When I see that family on that barge I recognize a moment of beauty in which a narrative is told without words—the residue of human life laid bare.

How do you go about shooting a street photograph? I have no training as a photographer. I plunged into this medium head first and have had to create workarounds that are perhaps flawed but that seem to be effective for me. After awhile I think one reaches a point when the photographs begin to compose themselves, when a moment of almost unconscious knowing takes over, a kind of muscle knowing that does the framing, a knowing that is built on all the failed as well as all the successful photographs that came before.

How do you go about composing a shot? The process begins long before I press the shutter and goes on after I download the file. I compose on the street, but, for me, there is also the further composition that goes on in the darkroom of photoshop, where the manipulation of the rawness of raw images takes place. Perhaps I build these photographs in the same way that I once built short stories—bit by bit—one bit affecting another bit so that other changes must be made to accommodate the new whole.

You started shooting traditional street photography where every shot is completely unposed with no alteration. Many of the images shown here are just that. But with some images, it seems you have been experimenting with multiple exposures as well as multiple layering. Is this true? If so, then what part of the image is unposed and what part is manipulated? Can you explain briefly what you do to create the image? Can you define manipulation that is beyond the standard push and pull dodge and burn or light and contrast touches?

Yes, I have begun to manipulate some of these images much more than others. Last December I was feeling dissatisfied with the work and wanted more than I was getting by using straight shots and the tools of photoshop that had, until that time, allowed me to manipulate not just their color, not just their luminosity, but also their very spacial reality, somewhat in the same way that Weegee would burn out backgrounds in order to bring forward the startled faces of the crowd. I was interested in creating layers of space by using light and shadow, layers of space that were reminiscent of the actual three dimensional world that held these figures I was shooting.

I am not a photojournalist, not a documentarian, not what some might call a “street photographer,” even though I shoot my own version of these three ways of looking at the world. Nothing in my photographs is ever posed. No one is ever asked to turn their head or change their stance. The figures in these photographs are unaware of me. I am simply watching. And very often, what I see, as I watch, are groups of moments, an accumulation of “decisive” moments that remain too separate from one another to contain the complexity of the very thing I saw, that remain too separate to come together in a single narrative and narrative is always what I am looking for. As I have said, I am not interested in the incident or the anecdote. The place and how it holds the figures that pass through it create a momentary universe that I must manipulate if I am to achieve the emotional narrative I have been witness to. The three girls running in front of a yellow alley wall were too far apart to come together in one frame and so I took one from her frame, created a mask, and placed her in exactly the same position she was in–inside the other’s frame. Their momentum and their rush to reach the playground on 6th avenue was only capturable if they were together–one girl alone would simply be one girl alone. The rush of their desire was only visible in the unity of their race toward pleasure. That race, that rush, that unity, was what I wanted to communicate. And, so, the final photograph was created from a series of closely linked moments.

What made you step out of the typical street photography world and into the fine art world? I see no separation between those worlds. For me, there is something so glorious and so powerful about the notion of photography itself–the practice of photography–that I am loathe to divide it into categories. It seems demeaning to chop up this powerful way of seeing the world, to turn it into artificial categories that confuse the potential power of photography itself. I hope that this entire interview suggests my feelings of distrust about hyphenated categories.

After shooting a normal street photograph, what is it about the image that prompts you to decide to add additional layers or manipulate it? A strong photograph for me is always a complete world. Composition is crucial and the frame is the most powerful element of any composition. I rarely, if ever, crop. I frame in the camera. The edge shapes the photograph in an emotional as well as in a physical way. But then I will very often manipulate what is actually inside that frame. Yes, I dodge and burn and intensify colors, since I do use color as an emotional tool, but I don’t know how to create multiple exposures–I don’t overlay one exposure on another. Rather I take elements from one frame and place them in another. The Boy Under the Bridge, with which you begin this interview, was taken in a moment, a split second. On the other hand, another boy, the one with which you end the interview, this boy on a skateboard was moved from his own frame one Saturday afternoon when the mayor of New York had closed the streets and the absence of cars brought crowds of riders and skaters and lingerers out onto this one small patch of ground where a falling skateboarder hit the asphalt and I pressed the shutter, and, for me, this photograph is no less real than the other.

How do you choose your shots when you edit? What tells you that the shot is good? It’s not easy to say but I do look for a kind of harmonious balance between luminosity and density, the two qualities I mentioned earlier. That balance is the first thing I see—but I look as well for a balance between stillness and motion in the people who inhabit that place and that moment in time—people moving toward destinations that we cannot see for reasons that we cannot know. That momentary slice can be filled with the mystery of an invisible narrative, and illusive narratives are, for me, more potent than those made visible by specificity.

Best 3 tips for shooting the streets: Patience coupled with impatience—desire and hunger coupled with a kind of quiet inner abstinence—the ability to wait at the same time that you are pushing forward—greed coupled with self-discipline. I am not a quick get-in-and-get-out photographer. I will sometimes spend an hour in one spot, or, not. It depends on what is happening around me. As always, as everyone says, wear comfortable shoes!

Best single advice on how to improve your work: Look at an image without preconception and try to see what you have captured—try to keep what you want that image to be from affecting what it actually is.
Best single advice on how to edit your work: Ruthlessly.
Best single advice for someone who wants to get into street photography: Shoot. Someone said, I can’t remember who, that the best camera is the one you always have with you.

What’s the best moment in your street photography career? Harry Gruyaert has described that moment when a woman in Morocco turned away from him in order not to be photographed and revealed the miracle of a swaddled child hanging on her back. I’ve never had that miraculous moment but look forward to its arrival.

What’s the worst moment in your street photography career? I don’t really think I’ve had one.

What projects are you working on? It’s been a brutally hot summer in New York and I’ve begun taking time out from the street to photograph at the aquarium, the zoo, the cool rooms of a museum, a day or so spent indoors with my cat and a collection of Indian saris— ‘still-lifes’ in a way—but I’ve come to believe that anything can be street photography if street photography is simply made of photographs taken with the immediacy the streets offers no matter where they are taken.

At the same time, there is always the ongoing project that I have come to call Down Along the Island—photographs of these neighborhoods that are tightly bounded grids of cobblestone streets and cast iron buildings, places where time is compressed in a way that has come to define the very thing that I want the photographs themselves to be.

Where do you want to be in 5 years with regard to street photography? I couldn’t say.

Are there exhibitions planned in the future? There are plans for a show in Arles, France next July. This summer I showed eighteen large photographs in a gallery in Dunkerque, France and, also this summer, I showed one photograph at a gallery in New York in a show called 31 Women in Photography. Seeing both a single photograph and a large group of photographs together made me realize that multiple images not so much complete one another as extend parameters, help to describe one another and to explain one another as well as the very eye that made them.

Leica Liker thanks Jan for sharing her experience and inspirational advice with us. We look forward to checking in on her in the future.

You can check out Jan’s gear in “Liker Bags’n Gear” here.

We also want to thank Richard Bram for introducing Jan to us.

This is Jan’s self-portrait, taken at arms length in the late summer sun.

# 10 RICHARD BRAM, New York Street Photographer

Leica Liker is honored to have Richard Bram, a New York Street Photographer as our #10 guest. Also Leica Liker’s third published photographer!

If you don’t already know, Richard is one of the first members of in-Public, the first non-commercial street photography collective established in 2000. And as such, he and his group have helped educate and bring recognition to a photographic art form that is currently enjoying a growing popularity and renaissance. They have forged a path for all of us who want to learn and improve our own vision by establishing high standards with their own work as well as pro-offering the works of masters.

Richard’s work quintessentially defines the ‘decisive moment’, with a dry sense of irony and sarcasm. While many street photographers can capture a funny juxtaposed moment garnering a quick belly laugh, Richard’s images draws you in for a long sustained chuckle that is often thought provoking.

You can’t just scan through Richard’s images. You have to look at them, study them. Like a fine wine, you have to air it, swish it around and then drink it in order to experience its full breath. The juxtapositions are a mixture of simple and complex all at once.

I think the simplest one is the man at the bank deposit and automat (see below). At first glance, a balanced photograph of an interesting conservatively dressed man standing in front of the automat. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Upon closer look, two signs read “Money In” and “Money Out”. Think about it. We don’t see his face- he’s anonymous. But we know he is older by the way he is dressed, like the typical high-rise office worker- a kind of uniform complete with umbrella and valise. It looks routine: Like he’s been doing this all his life. He makes money every day in his job, deposits it and then withdraws it. Not too different than the automat machines themselves. Like a hamster, going through his motions. It’s his cycle of life. I can continue to ruminate and extrapolate, but you get my point.

Every photograph Richard makes appear simple yet they tell you a deeper story about who we are as humans and how we live in our society. It takes a great deal of life experience to recognize what he terms as the “odd moments” of life. And Richard has had his share of life’s ups and downs: from struggling to survive, to being a successful commercial photographer. You can tell he’s been through it all with gravitas. The result? Those “odd moments” give us an endearing look into ourselves and sets a very high bar of what the ‘decisive moment’ can be.

Here’s my interview with RICHARD BRAM:

Nickname: Photobram on the web, none in real life.
Currently living in:  The Financial District of New York City
Motto: “ALWAYS have a camera.” This is not a motto: it’s a Commandment.

Street Photographer since: the mid-1980’s
Profession/Job: Independent Photographer, bookkeeper, secretary, accountant, receptionist, mail-clerk, errand boy, darkroom tech, janitor, and cat-box cleaner.
Organizations or Groups: since 2001.

How did you decide you wanted to be a photographer after studying business management and working in US corporations? How were you able to make the transition? Growing up, I was a standard hobby photographer. I realized I wasn’t cut out for the business world: I was on dole for a while, then I got a job as a salesman in children’s wear and moved to Kentucky. When this came to an end when I was 32 years old, I simply lost my head. Armed with ignorance and courage I declared myself to be a photographer. While I had talent, I didn’t know much about photography and certainly didn’t have the craft. I made lots of basic mistakes and pretty much starved for 2-3 years. There were times when I had to decide between eating and buying photo paper and had to buy the paper so I could eat next week.

A few lucky breaks came my way; the biggest was to become one of the photographers of the Kentucky Derby Festival.  There were 70 events associated with it and every corporation in the region was involved. After the Festival, they knew me when I called to solicit work. Most of them had regular photographers but they called me when the others were busy. Within a couple of years I had a regular clientele. When you’re no. 2 for enough people you’re always busy and eventually I became no. 1 for many of them. After several years of shooting countless events and headshots, you lose the spontaneity you once had when you started. I started to see uncomfortable moments that occurred around the events I was being paid to shoot.  Those moments were far more interesting and the oddity of those situations had a much longer life span than the commercial work.

You’ll never make money as a street photographer, but what’s is important to me is what I do for myself. A few months ago I saw Bruce Gilden shooting portraits for a commercial job. We all have to eat.

Favorite Street Camera & Lens: Whatever I have with me; usually but not exclusively, a Leica M9 with a 35mm f2 lens. Occasionally I use a 24mm f2.8 as well, and once in a great while a 50mm f2.

Back-up Street Camera & Lens: When I feel like shooting black & white, it will be a Leica M6 or my old brassy M3 with a very old 35mm f2 lens with a yellow contrast filter on it.

Why do you use a Leica and nothing else?  When I began, I used a Nikon F2. It was solid and rugged with a very loud and distinct shutter clack. I was doing a lot of work with the Orchestra and a friend told me I needed to get a Leica because it’s quiet. In early 1988 I found a used Leica M3 and still use it (see above). It’s light, comfortable, reliable, small, inconspicuous and nearly silent.

I do now use a Nikon D700 for my professional work, but several other cameras for personal shooting, depending on my mood. I’ll go out with a Rolleiflex TLR, Olympus XA, Canon G12, Zeiss Super Ikonta 6×4.5 from 1936 or old Russian Horizont panoramic. It just depends on my whim.

Favorite photography gadget: “Gadgets? We don’t need no filthy gadgets!” Sometimes I do carry a hand-held Sekonic L-308 Flashmate light meter. Keep it simple.

Favorite street food: In New York, street dogs. They’re on nearly every corner.

Do you listen to music while shooting? Never. If you’re groovin’ to your tunes, you are not paying attention to the street. You will miss aural clues to a potential picture. All your senses need to be wide open, not stopped up, all antennas to full gain. Keep the music for when you’re done shooting; you’ll enjoy both all the more.

Favorite music when shooting and/or editing Photos:  OK, when editing, I’ll listen to all sorts of music from pre-1960’s jazz to serious chamber music to Tom Waits. (I’m just not a hip-hop guy – too old for it, I guess.)

Favorite photo software: Photoshop CS4, Lightroom 4 and VueScan to run the Nikon film scanner. (Curses upon the complacent Nikon for not updating their software!)  Lightroom handles the general work and first level of processing and sorting, then Photoshop does the fine work when I need to get into it. I use the corrections sparingly. I am pretty much a straight photographer, using the software much in the same way that I work in the darkroom, adjusting general light levels and a bit of burning and dodging but not deeply altering or shifting the image.

3 Favorite Master Photographers: What? Only three? OK, if I have to, let’s try this: In chronological order, André Kertész, who discovered a new world; Henri Cartier-Bresson, for whom that world was named; and Garry Winogrand, who left the world behind and went to the Moon.

3 Favorite Contemporary Photographers: What? Only three? Now this is an impossible question – there are so many whose work I admire.  But let’s try these, in no particular order: Richard Kalvar, a wry and sharp Magnum photographer living in Paris. Many of his pictures are funny in some ways, but there is something very serious in them as well. Christobal Hara: he has the same surreal quality of early Koudelka, only he works in color and in Spain, which becomes an even more strange place through his lens. Third is a ‘collective’ photographer: my colleagues at We all compete with each other in a respectful way, keeping ourselves sharp, critiquing and improving our own and each other’s work.

Which 3 photographers’ prints do you own? What? Only three? Among others, J. H. Lartigue, Grand Prix de I`A.C.F., 1912, Luis Gonzales Palma, Nascimiento, 2004, and for my birthday last May, Orville Robertson gave me the beautiful gift of Whitney Museum, 2002.

Color or Black & White? Yes. I refuse to be pinned down and I like both – it’s like drawing and painting. I have always shot color in my commercial work since the very beginning. Originally it was black & white that was new. But shooting color intensively in my personal work is relatively new for me, and in many ways I am still coming to grips with it. There are a lot more variables to deal with in color, and a lot more ways in which a photograph will not work. Then again, the photograph can be about color itself, or even a particular color which is fun and challenging. This leads to the next question,

Shoot Film or Digital? Yes.I shoot all my color digitally now. I’ve always printed my own work and one of the frustrations I had was not being able to print my own color. Now that inkjet printers have improved to such high levels, I can sit at my desk in the light and make big beautiful color prints to the same standard that I make my black and white prints in the darkroom. I still shoot all of my black & white on film as I prefer the way it records monochrome tones versus converting an image from a color original.

If Film, what type of negative? By this time, 95% of my work is on Kodak TMax 400. I’ve used TMax films since they were introduced in 1988. I’ve occasionally used the 100 and 3200 too, but always come back to 400. Of course, I’ve shot Tri-X, Agfa, Ilford, and Neopan too but I pretty much stick with TMax. I know what it will do, how it reacts to all sorts of light and just as importantly what it won’t do. For me it is all about eliminating as many variables as possible.

Is there a special time of the day you like to shoot or is any time good? As I said, I always have a camera and there are always photographs. However at certain times of day the light might bounce around the narrow grid of Manhattan or along Oxford or Regent Streets in London, and that’s always fun too. Generally, though I do avoid the very middle of the day. It is just a bit too harsh for me. However, bad weather can make great photographs.

How do you define street photography? Well, it has to be an un-posed moment, not set up, something that happens spontaneously that gives you the urge to throw a rectangle around it. Usually it has people in it and usually outside but neither is a necessity. It’s hard to define. I know it when I see it, but don’t know what I see.

Nick Turpin said it really well:  A good street photo shows something that people wouldn’t have seen even if they had been there.

Why did you choose Street Photography and not another form of photography or stamp collecting? In my case one could say that Street Photography chose me. I began in public relations and event work. I began paying attention to the interesting or uncomfortable little moments that would take place while I was shooting an event for a corporate sponsor. I would take these photos as well, though not show them to the client. From this grew my interest in the un-posed, un-scripted moments that are the heart of good Street Photography. And what do you have against stamps?

What motivates you to photograph the streets? The challenge and delight of seeing something strange appear in real life, in real time and throwing a rectangle around it. You don’t have to set things up: there is enough ambient weirdness in reality.

Is Street Photography an obsession? Yes. I think it has to be to a certain point, because the hit rate of success to failure is so low. If you’re not obsessed, you’ll move on to something much more controllable with a greater chance of success, say, poker maybe.

Are you a lone shooter or do you like shooting with friends or a group? Alone. I can’t shoot in a pack or a group and get anything worthwhile. Again, it’s the concentration thing. If I’m wandering around with other people, I’m not paying full attention to what’s happening around me. That said, In London I’d occasionally go out with David Gibson, Matt Stuart and Nick Turpin and shoot Oxford Street on a nice afternoon, but we would separate and work different areas, mostly keeping away from each other until the light went. We would meet up afterwards, adjourn to a pub and compare notes over a pint or a meal.

Are you an invisible or visible photographer? When I’m out, I try not to wear bright colored clothing or funny hats. I’m just another middle-aged guy out there. When you’re travelling you’re obviously not from there and people will look at you knowing that. You can be obvious but when you sit down they start to ignore you.  Your subjects are people – you have to be a human being. I am not putting up a situation about someone that they are not doing to themselves. I am not putting a caption that would be particularly nasty. Any caption would be a raw description.

Favorite street photography city: Split answer: London and New York, because I live in both places. Big cities make shooting easier because there are more people, but anywhere is good if you’ve got a camera and it’s ready. My friend and In-Public colleague Blake Andrews gets great photographs in the suburbs of Eugene, Oregon. There are pictures everywhere if your eyes are open.

What inspires your photography? Other great photographers, visits to art museums to look at old masters, a shaft of reflected light on the street that makes someone glow as they walk through it.

Is there a philosophy, concept or aesthetic behind your compositions that you apply to your photos? If there is any philosophy or concept, it’s unconscious most of the time. It has become internalized because I’ve been doing it for a long time. I think my sense of composition comes from college studies of classical art and art history. I still spend a lot of time in museums looking at masters and major paintings. Those guys know everything there is to know about light, composition, and story telling. I would stare at them for a long while to understand where the light comes from. I don’t paint; I take pictures pulled out of reality. Henri Cartier-Bresson and André Kertész were both steeped in the arts.

As for composition, I have to be conscious of it in choosing a picture which means you are torn between composition and strong action. It doesn’t have to be formal: For example, a fraction of an arm on one side should be balanced with something in the frame. When you look at Winogrand doing photographic compositions, at first they seem random but there is a balance and formality. Look at Joel Sternfeld’s slow motion street photography. There’s still strong composition even though it may not seem like it because it is spontaneous, from real life.

You love music and collaborate with musicians and composers. Do you bring any of that into your street photography? Music is about rhythm and connecting with your senses. Indirectly, music is good for your brain and keeps your ears open, your brain stimulated and helps keep you awake and alert. An appreciation of all the arts is good as long as it doesn’t deafen you. The stuff that is intellectually challenging will stimulate more. I have no scientific facts to back it up, but it’s something I believe in.

I listen to everything. I grew up with 60’s and 70’s rock and roll, checked out of 80’s glam rock and love classical music, opera and ballet. When I met Peter Sheppard Skaerved, a world-renowned violinist, in England, we began working together with his vast circle of musicians and composers. I still do classical music work and have gone to many countries with him shooting. It’s all done with the Leica because it’s quiet.

How do you go about shooting a street photograph? I walk out my door with a camera and open my eyes and mind to the world around me.

How do you compose a shot?  If I have time I will throw my eye to the edges of the frame and move around a bit – it’s spontaneous, very fast. Afterwards when you review the images, you analyze what didn’t work or what you missed or cut off. You have to analyze your mistakes. I’m always clipping this and that.  You have to make a conscious effort not to when you’re out shooting.

What do you look for in a good photograph by others? That it show me something that I haven’t seen before; that it have more than one thing happening in it; that it have more than one layer of meaning; that it asks me a question. I am dead tired of endless telephoto shots of faces looking into the lens. Yawn.

How do you choose your shots when you edit? What tells you that the shot is good? I sit back and look at my contact sheets, or the take in Lightroom. I ask myself: is it special? Does it draw me in to want to know more? Is there a visual joke? (though I am not doing many of these now) I take a red pencil and circle ones that have promise. Sometimes I ask myself why I took the picture. Very often there’s nothing worth looking at but not taking it is always much worse. Because you don’t take it, you’ll regret it way more than taking it and missing it. And if its’ worth taking once it’s worth taking twice.  If you’re lucky, you can get 2 or 3 frames.

Best 3 tips for shooting the streets: Get outside, push the shutter button often, and as was said about Lee Friedlander, be “like a one-eyed cat.”

Best single advice on how to improve your work: Go to the library and go to the 779 section. It’s where the photography books are. Look through them, as many as you possibly can even if it takes weeks. Decide which ones you like and think about why you like them. If the photographer talks about her or his own photos, pay attention. Look at work that you don’t like too, and try and figure out not only why you don’t like it, but why other people do. It may still not be to your taste, but you’ll be thinking about photographs and what makes them work. Take a lot of photographs and throw most of them away.

Best single advice on how to edit your work. Editing is one of the hardest tasks of all, in many ways more difficult than taking the pictures in the first place. Becoming a fierce editor of your own work is tough: You must not be easily satisfied, and generic ‘attaboys’ and ‘great captures’ will not really be useful. Find some one or two people whose own work and taste you respect and let them look at them too. They will not be emotionally involved with any particular picture and will therefore give you a more measured analysis. They should also be good enough friends to tell you when a picture that you love is crap.

There are very few ambiguous photos. They either work or don’t. There are no maybes.

Don’t keep bad work; it will come back to haunt you. I rarely show anyone ‘B’ pictures. I only show ‘A’ pictures.

Oops – that was three ‘Best single advice.’

Best single advice for someone who wants to get into street photography: Don’t. But if you just can’t help it, don’t be easily satisfied: most of your photographs aren’t going to work. That’s the way it is – street photography is a heartbreak.

What’s the best moment in your street photography career? I haven’t had it yet.

What’s the worst moment in your street photography career? Every time I go through a contact sheet or a digital take and realize that there’s nothing there.

How has belonging to a collective helped your photography? Why would you belong to one? Huge- it’s been crucial to furthering my photography. The recognition is very helpful. iN-PUBLiC was the first Street Photography collective out there. It became the basis from which everything grew. You meet like-minded people whom you trust to get feed back. You want to emulate someone who is the very best. For me, negative feedback is more important than getting kudos. It’s a killer to edit your own work, actually impossible. We have a private message board where we can get feedback from each other, people we admire and respect.

What projects are you working on? Sorting lots of pictures into themes for potential book projects, and throwing away bad photographs. I’ve begun to sort through my archive, and taking a fresh look at early pictures. For a Street Reverb Magazine article last year , I found and used some photographs that I’d taken in 1986 that had never been off a contact sheet, unseen since I took them.

Where do you want to be in 5 years with regard to street photography? More organized, with a book or two in publication; that and still alive.

Are there exhibitions planned in the future? As I write this, here in New York one of my pictures is at the Museum of the City of New York as part of the “London Street Photography 1850-2010” exhibition; there are 5 photos in the International Center of Photography’s “Occupy!” show on Governor’s Island until 30 September, and from 7 September 2012, I will be participating in an exhibition in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the University of Louisville’s Photographic Archives. For my part, I will be showing three pictures in response to Garry Winogrand photographs in their permanent collection.

Leica Liker thanks Richard for sharing his experience and inspirational advice with us. We look forward to checking in on him in the future.

Richard has a book out. You can buy it here: Street Photography by Richard Bram.

You can check out Richard’s gear in “Liker Bags’n Gear” here.

Richard decided to change the format (one time exception by Leica Liker only because he’s a Leica man :-)). This is a photo of him by John Maloof.

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