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Posts tagged ‘New York’

# 15 PETER KOOL, Stekene (Belgium) Street Photographer

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Leica Liker is honored to have Peter Kool, a Stekene (Belgium) Street Photographer as our #15 guest.

When I first saw Peter’s photographs, I chuckled over their whimsy and often, comical nature. When you look at his images, it’s clear he champions the street photography vernacular of the humorously absurd.

Peter’s surrealistic images make us look at ourselves with a wink of the eye. He has an acute ability to capture life in a split second and simplifying it to a playfully awkward moment. When you study the photos, you see a deceptively simple scene. But it takes a seasoned eye and a wicked sense of humor to be able to dig out these moments.

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What I love most is Peter’s modest approach to life. In his world, there is no such thing as the mundane, boring, or insignificant. In his world, every moment, no matter how miniscule it is, is worth laughing and sharing. “Life is good” in the true meaning of the phrase.

And to top off the delight in life Peter presents us, his name is simply cooler than Kool.

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Here is my interview with PETER KOOL:

Nick Name: I don’t use a nick name.
Currently living in: Stekene in Belgium.
Motto: Respecting, relativizing, enjoying.
Street Photographer since: 1980, with a break between 1990 and 2005

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Profession/Job: Retired steelworker.
Websites: and
Organizations or Group: I am a member of the “EasyFit” gym, if that counts.

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Favorite Street Camera & Lens: Canon 5D Mark II with the 17-40mm zoom.
Back-up Street Camera & Lens: None at the moment, but I will probably purchase the Fuji X-Pro 1 soon.
Favorite photography gadget: That would be the blower. Handy when the chicken soup is too hot.

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Favorite street food: Sometimes I yield to the temptation of a burger with fries.
Do you listen to music while shooting? I only listen to music in my car.
Favorite music when shooting and/or editing Photos: I like silence when editing.
Favorite photo software: Photoshop.

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3 Favorite Master Photographers: Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau, Winogrand, etc.
3 Favorite Contemporary Photographers: Nick Turpin, Nils Jorgensen, Carl de Keyzer, etc.
Which 3 photographers’ prints do you own? I don’t own any prints, but I have several books.

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Color or Black and White? That’s a tough one. Depends on the photo. Sometimes it’s clear which to use, but often I can’t make up my mind. I don’t want to do only Color or only B&W.

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Shoot Film or Digital ?  I prefer digital. I used to develop the films and photos in my darkroom, but that’s a very time-consuming process, not to speak of the retouch afterwards. Maybe negative has more soul, but I think when you work on the contrast, darks and lights you can put soul into digital too.

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If Film, what type of negative? I used to shoot with Kodak Tri-X and Plus-X.

Is there a special time of the day you like to shoot or is any time good? Any time is good, but a low sun is nice.

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How do you define street photography? I think the collective “in-Public” has a good definition. You can read it here. But I don’t think it’s important to discuss whether a photo is street or not.

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Why did you choose Street Photography and not another form of photography or stamp collecting?  Nature made me a father so I started taking pictures of my children. In doing so, I got the bug and went to the art academy where I discovered the street photography of the well known’s, but also other forms of photography. I don’t want to do only street. To make a good portrait for example is also a challenge. Collecting stamps is not very creative, it’s better to use them for love letters.

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What motivates you to photograph the streets? It’s that urge to be creative I think. And in my case it happens to be photography. My only mission is to make an image that the eye likes.

Is Street Photography an obsession? About obsession the dictionary says, “to be pursued by a thought or an idea”. So yes in that case it’s an obsession, I think of it a lot. I don’t think it’s a sick obsession…yet. My wife can still live with it.

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Are you a lone shooter or do you like shooting with friends or a group? I like to hunt alone, it’s better for the concentration.

Are you an invisible photographer or visible? Sometimes I fantasize that I can make myself invisible for the photos that I could make and perhaps steal some money back from the banks… No, I think with a camera one is more visible than without. People are very quick to notice the slightest attention you give them.

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Favorite street photography city: That would be Antwerp, but only because it’s nearby. In the late seventies I was in New York. I would like to go there again in the future. It’s a fantastic city and the people too (most of them).

What inspires your photography? Other photographers and films. The long play Chaplin films for example.

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Is there a philosophy, concept or aesthetic behind your compositions that you apply to your photos? A subtle move, glance or emotion often makes a great photo, but hard to catch. I also look for balance, humor and elegance.

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What do you look for in a good photograph by others?I have seen wonderful photos with lousy compositions, so no rules for me. If the eye likes it, then it’s okay.

How do you go about shooting a street photograph?I wander around and wait for an impulse. Sometimes I have several but it also happens I can’t make a single shot all day. I also look for events that take place.

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Could you please describe the process – what was going on in your mind when you first started to think to take the following two images all the way until you pressed the shutter release? I noticed the man with the black eye and saw the girl crossing the street, I wanted her in the picture too. When I thought it was the right moment I rushed forward to surprise the gentleman to avoid him turning around or cover his face; he gave me a bit of a strawberry with mustard smile.The girl rubbing her eye at that moment was a nice present.

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As opposed to the previous picture, this was an ongoing situation. I just walked in to it. I noticed the two caps and took some time to make the composition. I wanted to hide the reflected guy with the cap behind the bald guy and that was not difficult because he was huge, I was relieved they didn’t hear my Canon go off.

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How would you describe your style? How has your style changed over the years? I don’t know. A little old-schoolish perhaps? If you see change it’s probably the change of time. I don’t think my style has changed. But I try to avoid pigeons now. Hahaha.

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There seems to be a difference between your black and white and color photos. The black and white seems to capture moments that are personal and intimate. The color images seem to include irony, satire. Are you conscious of that difference? If so, why the difference? I always process a color and b&w version of a photo, look at them next to each other and then decide which one to publish. It not only depends on the photo but also the mood I’m in, as I often change my mind. But you’re right about the intimate photos: For instance, I like to shoot black and white for portraits. Color disturbs the expression. Then again I’ve seen beautiful portraits in color too….. it’s complicated.

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How do you choose your shots when you edit? What tells you that the shot is good?
A very good shot you recognize instantly I think. I look at the rest and then look again, delete some and get some back from the bin, look at them again and put them back in the bin and so on.

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Best 3 tips for shooting the streets: Be concentrated and alert. React on your feeling and don’t hang your camera on your shoulder.

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Best single advice on how to improve your work: Use the force.

Best single advice on how to edit your work: That’s pure technical, so that you can learn. I can recommend “RAW” a book by Johan W. Elzenga but I think it’s only published in Dutch. It’s a very small book with only the things you need for improving your photo: that is – working on the lights, darks and contrast with raw files.

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Best single advice for someone who wants to get into street photography: Don’t think the more expensive the camera the better the photos. You can make great chicken soup in a cheap pot.

What’s the best moment in your street photography career? The ride in a New York police car around Manhattan.

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What’s the worst moment in your street photography career? In 1979, I had just started photographing. I went to New York with my wife and children. At the end of 42nd street, gospel singers where doing their thing and just around the corner was a row of shoe polishers. I took a picture and in no time there was a bunch of guys around me asking for money and pulling my camera. Another New Yorker just came standing beside me and they suddenly slunk off. Someone must have called the police, because a few minutes later we were in a police car riding around Manhattan searching for the muggers, having a nice chat with two friendly policemen.

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What projects are you working on? I have no projects, but maybe a good idea to do something on a single theme. I’m thinking about it.

Where do you want to be in 5 years with regard to street photography? Just hope to be healthy enough to keep on doing it.

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Are there exhibitions planned in the future? No exhibitions. I rather spend my money on a journey. To New York for example, and take a look again at 42nd street.

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

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

This is Peter’s self portrait.

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# 14 FRANK JACKSON, Los Angeles Street Photographer

Leica Liker is honored to have Frank Jackson, a Los Angeles Street Photographer as our #14 guest. Also Leica Liker’s fourth published photographer!

Many of you might know of Frank Jackson already but to those who don’t, he lives and breathes by light. His work first caught my eye when I was roaming the internet for black and white photographs. Then a photographer friend of mine told me about a black and white workshop that was being taught through Samy’s Camera education academy here in Los Angeles. I took the class and walked out of it having learnt not to be afraid of light but rather to embrace it. I always found photography somewhat intimidating because everything seemed so technical. Frank made it user friendly by showing how even a home lamp can be used to make amazing photographs. It’s all about how you view light. Maybe because he taught himself everything. Whatever it is, he had the “midas” teaching touch. He was a total inspiration. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the great photos I could make. You can read my review of the class I took last year here.

“Sometimes I happen to pictures and sometimes pictures happen to me. We sort of flow between each other like people who dance together for a long time.” – Frank Jackson

When you look at Frank’s  images, they exude a kind of moodiness, that only an eye for light and a feel for story telling can bring together. For instance, the image below taken on the ferry passing Lady Liberty in New York. On the surface, a simple photo of people thinking while taking the ferry. But the mood and atmosphere bring out a story – one of a rather somber reflection on what it means to be free by all those in the photograph and by us the viewer. That freedom is actually a fleeting thing. Not one to be taken for granted.  I could go deeper and talk about the African Americans and the struggle they had to be “free at last”. Or the woman and all the women who still fight for “equality”.  Despite much progress, this image tell us much has yet to be done.

We’ve seen in our series of inspirational interviews with many photographers who have all captured decisive moments. Frank’s images however, are framed to tell a good story. A street portrait of a person not only tell of what a life has experienced, or a thought at the moment, but also what the person is thinking of into the future. Some of Frank’s street scenes capture not so much contrasts, the  humor of the moment, or the juxtaposition of life and environment but in my humble opinion, a whole depth of society much in the tradition of some of the masters of street photography.

Frank’s photographs offer a completeness to an experience of both the tangible (story) and the intangible (feeling, mood).

Here is my interview with FRANK JACKSON:

Nickname: To my immediate family I’m known as Jack because I’m the 3rd Frank Jackson in the family.
Currently living in:  Los Angeles
Motto: It’s funny, in my life not to have one is a good thing…Do what you say you’re going to do. Don’t tell everyone what you’re going do. Just do it. Then there’s no excuse if it doesn’t get done.

Street/Photographer since:  I’m a photographer and I shoot the streets. I’ve been shooting a long time.
Profession/Job: Professional photographer.
Websites: http://www.fotographz.com

Organizations or Groups: None. Every time I’ve been in one, if there is great harmony going on then eventually someone comes in for whatever reason and knock the balance off the group. Somehow, it always happens that way. There are people in the world who can always pull a photograph out of nowhere and some people in a group get pissed at it. The highest compliment I can pay someone is: I envy you.

I don’t get caught up in competition. You see it you snap it and have to have the expertise to get the shot. I tend not to belong to a group now. There’s nothing wrong with it. I believe in forward thinking organizations, showing love for photography and keeping illusion out of it.

After college, you worked at IBM. How did you decide you wanted to be a photographer after working there? How were you able to make the transition? I fell in love with photography first. When you get a camera, the first thing you do is to shoot what see out there. So when I got my first camera, a Asahi Pentax with 50mm Takamara lens and a zoom lens, I knew for sure photography would be part of my life forever. My 2nd camera was an Olympus OM1, with a 50mm lens that I bought. I used it for my first photographic job out of college. Then a used Hasselblad, with 80 mm lens landed in my lap and it wasn’t hot, so I got to keep it. It had a waist level finder and worked like a rangefinder. It was beautiful.

Actually, working at IBM repairing their equipment, helped finance my love for photography and all the gear.  I made so much money and bought everything. I was a total gear head.

If you keep shooting enough, eventually someone sees your work and they hire you. That’s what happened to me while I was still working at IBM. Naturally, I became a corporate photographer.

How did you decide to teach? I hate the word teach. When a schoolteacher must impart knowledge, it’s to have people pass tests. When you help someone learn something you feel they know it when they prove they learned it I like to keep it simple and find out why people are there in my workshops or private lessons. And if they take a class from me it’s because they are there to become better at what they do.  I want you to learn one thing: to open the door to learn other things. Forget about why I do it. Just do it.

Favorite Street Camera & Lens:  Rangefinder first- get a good one and learn to look through that view finder window. You can see outside and inside the lines. Afterwards you start to see like that. Leica makes the simplest and the best. But if you have a cheap plastic camera, and get the shot you want, more power to you. My first 35mm range finder was the Leica M5. What a great camera.

Now I own a Nikon D800 and Leica M6 (one of a kind- custom rebuilt for me, basically M6, with old style M3 dials) with 50mm lens and my logo on the leather.  Like I said earlier, I was once a gear head. But I gave that up. I am no longer a camera collector.

I want to say, people generally equate pictures with the camera used and not the person. I don’t want to know what camera shot the photo. Some of the best images in world were taken with many non-legendary cameras. Marketing lionized the cameras afterwards. It’s the boutique syndrome. For instance, Rolex makes the best watches. You can say that about Leica or Nikon, etc. They all have their niche. The bottom line: the best camera is only as good as the people who make them ready for use. Like buying a custom made gun. If you can’t shoot with it then you’re not going to eat. Simple as that.

BTW, my cameras don’t look beat up. They always look new when I use them. It’s all about taking care of them, treating them with respect.

Back-up Street Camera & Lens: Panasonic GX1 4/3rds with prime 20mm f1.7 equivalent to 40mm in full frame. Gives film quality files that are amazing to see. People can’t dispute that it wasn’t a film camera.  My Sony Nex7 is another choice, but you can only shoot one at a time.

What was your first Leica and why? I got my first Leica before I moved to Los Angeles and took on the IBM job. I saw the Leica M5, the first rangefinder when I sent my Hasselblad in for repair. I looked at it and it was nice. So I asked how much for the Hasselblad. The camera guy said $100 + Hasselblad. Well it didn’t help to have a body. I also needed a lens. I put money down on the 90mm Summicron. What’s cool about the M5 is that you look through a window with a focusing patch. I got a normal lens 1-2 years later.

Which Leica do you love and recommend? I would love to own a Leica MP. It’s really the M6 with a changed plate. I love the look of it.
Favorite photography gadget:  I use LED lights from the video department for still work. You can dim and have daylight balance.
Favorite street food: Asian teriyaki, chicken yakitori, Vietnamese or Chinese stir-fry chicken – doesn’t weigh you down.

Do you listen to music while shooting? NO music. I pay attention. I don’t know how anyone can do that on the street. I need my ears to help me see.
Favorite music when shooting and/or editing Photos:  I listen to jazz especially ‘round midnight’ vibe. I edit or process my best work between 11:30pm to 4-5:00am in the darkroom-digital for film. Nothing to distract you.
Favorite photo software: Lightroom 4 and Nik Silver Efex Pro and Photoshop

3 Favorite Master Photographers: Andre Kertész, Jan Saudek, and Brassai.

Kertész: Because some one told me that my work is similar to his. He kept it simple and didn’t care what people said. Don’t care what people say – they may not like it but doesn’t mean it’s not good. You can critique the quality of presentation and the correct category But that’s really it.

Brassai: Because that was pure. He was partying with people with a pocket Kodak pocket camera using 120mm film. He got the café scenes. Amazing work- he shot color and I was lucky enough to see an exhibition in Montpellier.

3 Favorite Contemporary Photographers: Albert Watson, Gordon Parks (did a photo of him and spent two afternoons with him), Howard Bingham (he was able to get Mohammed Ali to feel comfortable- he is not pretentious). I got to shoot Ali- They did a beautiful exhibit of him with a Hasselblad. I have it on film. I have to get it scanned. It’s of Ali walking in front of Binghams’ exhibit. I got to sit with him after he got Parkinsons and he was still the joker.

Which 3 photographers’ prints do you own? I only own a Melvin Sokolsky  – 8 x 11 color print. I want to float him in mid-air.
Color or Black & White?  Both. Cameras don’t know the difference. B & W taught me to be very good with color. B & W is about feeling more than you see it. If you do color right, you’ll see it and feel it.

Shoot Film or Digital?  Both.
If Film, what type of negative?  Tmax 400 exposed it at 200 and I process it myself. Other is B & W is Ilford SP2 exposed at 200 and print conventionally at lab.

Is there a special time of the day you like to shoot or is any time good? Light happens all the time. But I like anytime before 11:00am or after 2:30pm so you have to be ready. For overhead light like noon, you have to get exposure dead on.

How do you define street photography? Well, most anything shot outside in some kind of city. I guess you can get street landscape of wider shot farther back. It’s the way you look at it. Street photography is about isolation- there may be a lot of things going on but shooting one thing- an accent, or person, is very urban. Should have a street nearby. I mean, really.

Why did you choose Street Photography and not another form of photography or stamp collecting? I will speak of photography in general. Street is just one aspect.Photography picked me and I accepted it. I didn’t fight against it. My learning experience got me to a point where I am comfortable to be able to control every detail or shoot the street with just a camera and what you choose to point it at.

Street photography is the most honest thing you can do. It’s illusion free. I live that life. It’s right there.

What motivates you to photograph the streets? I like watching people. People fascinate me. The wonderful exciting and boring things they do every day never ceases to amaze me. It’s about what people don’t notice.

Is Street Photography an obsession? When I was young I practiced every day- it was  love.  Now it’s like a love, I don’t have to take a picture every day. But I’m ready all the time.

Are you a lone shooter or do you like shooting with friends or a group? If I go out with friends to shoot, then only friends who are interested in photography. It’s like hunting in a group- someone wants to get something you share the goal.  You don’t scare away the prey. No 2 people see the same. Very often you don’t even notice what the other sees.

Are you an invisible or visible photographer? Don’t date anyone crazier than you are. You can apply this to shooting the streets. The clothes you wear shouldn’t stand out or be brighter. I try to look like the people I want to shoot. I am often approached by people speaking in their language because they think I am from there. You need to know where you’re not going and not where you’re going. You should listen to them when they say an area is not safe.

Favorite street photography city: New York or San Francisco in USA;  Amsterdam; Paris Barcelona; Florence; etc..

What inspires your photography? The light.

Is there a philosophy, concept or aesthetic behind your compositions that you apply to your photos? I learned photography by getting consistent exposure. Consistency is everything. I believe in not having anything in a picture that is a highlight that is so blown out that takes your eye away from it. Make sure there are small details. You  should not be able to tell a digital or film shot.

Don’t rely on post processing software where you should have done in-camera. Stop relying on luck and learn what you’re doing. All happy mistakes aren’t happy. I also don’t show everything I shoot. Any print that has HCB’s name on it is because it passed a tough editing process. Something about those images that touches you, which you cannot explain. You just like it.

Another thing. I always allow for spontaneity. Perfection is not perfect. It doesn’t allow for spontaneity. I always travel with my espresso cup and take pictures of it everywhere. The bump of the table by a waiter pushed the cup off center and it made it a better photograph. It’s how it is in life.

Finally, I always try to center myself. I look for balance in a world that spins around me.

How do you compose a shot?  I’ll see something and if it makes me stop, I’ll pull my camera out without considering it and I’ll shoot it. It might be because I like the way the light falls. Most importantly, I decide later if I still like it. I never say I wish I took that picture.

What do you look for in a good photograph by others? It stops me. It goes wow and look at that! I don’t wonder why it’s a great shot. I don’t know who took it. It’s not about them getting lucky. It’s that they knew what they were doing. Definiton of expertise: You’re consistently lucky way too often.

How do you go about shooting a street photograph? I look for the light. It’s more about light quality on the subject than what it is about. Sometimes it’s an odd situation and it happens to be a visual definition of an odd situation. Hopefully you are fast enough to get it.

I love photography and take pictures of everything. The best pictures come from when people forget you have the camera. Stop being obnoxious, they’ll get use to you and pretty soon people go back to being themselves. HCB use to wait in some areas in a city and study how people behave. Then he works it until they behave that certain way. If people are aware of the camera the shots are not the same.

How do you choose your shots when you edit? What tells you that the shot is good? I get the same feeling when I saw it before I took it. I see it gets stronger when I convert it to B & W. I see in B & W first. I learned color in analogue, so I understand temperature, etc.. I know my color.

Photography is telling a story. People tell me I am a very good editor. I learnt to not show too much. It’s about enough and in little bits. I like smaller presentations. Not big books that are grand extravaganzas. With small books you can look at them and hold it in your hand. You look at small e-books faster and more often than large books. The plan is to get it done and make it available for people to see it.

What’s the biggest mistake that all photography students make? How can they correct it? (Frank added this question.) They cut corners- they are usually happy with the pictures they have taken right away. Some don’t take the time to know their camera and they fumble their way. To correct it- take the time to shoot a lot of pictures. For example, my shot of the skateboarder: I shot the same spot and got several types of light.  You need to put in the time.

You want to take pictures that others are not taking. Think outside what others are taking. Shoot what others are not shooting. Go back in time and look at photography examples and not just from peers. Go back and find out the origins of photography. The digital world is here and not going anywhere. It’s the same argument painters had of cameras. Oscar Barnack made a camera with movie film – it was never done before. That was the beginning of the compact 35mm camera. Ever since then, cameras kept getting smaller Kodak came out with the easiest camera in the world- a camera with film already in it. After you shot your pictures, you took it back to the drugstore for processessing. That was the, Instamatic. Then came the Aps camera- with cassette loaded film. Now we have Apps for iPad and iPhones. It’s all because someone was thinking to go where others have not gone before. That’s how you have to approach your photography.

Best 3 tips for shooting the streets: Don’t take too much equipment. Don’t take every lens you own. Take one body and lens; get comfy; dress like everyone else; blend in. Go to a place and sit still and watch.

Best single advice on how to improve your work: If you’re not shooting film, you need to look at analogue print pictures at a gallery or at a photo store or wherever you can see real prints. Then try to understand how they look. Because a lot of work I see in lots of websites look too perfect but their highlights are blown out with no information.  If you expose correctly – there should be detail. God is in the details.

Best single advice on how to edit your work: Photography is about story telling. Editing is how you tell the story. If you can’t figure out what the story is in the photograph(s) then make one up. Doesn’t matter, because it’s all about a story.

I think you can start by looking at a series. You may show 10 of a series but you shot several hundred pictures to get there. The best picture wins. You place 10 images in the monitor at a time. You mark up the one that captures your eye. You build your images by placing them against each other. They either stand on their own or if they work in a series, the image should compliment the one before or the one after it. They all have to fit together. Don’t cancel out a picture until you’re finished with the series. Just in case.

On the other hand, I can’t say any photograph is a bad picture. Technically I can tear anything apart- it depends on your expertise.

Best single advice for someone who wants to get into street photography: Get a camera and go outside and find a place where things are happening all around you. Find a place where there are lots of people. Keep your eyes open. Don’t look at the back of your camera. You’ll miss the picture. And don’t delete or throw your photos away period. Look at them later.

What’s the best moment in your street photography career? Being able to carry a camera and take a picture of something.
What’s the worst moment in your street photography career? When I can’t.

What projects are you working on? I’ve been working on my book projects for 20 years. But with today’s technology, I have complete control of it for the first time. I have a large appreciation in layout design and typography; writing with fountain pens; the shape of type can affect how you see something. You can adjust ink levels on the type. The letters are not pure black and have grey percentage options. For instance, my book THE CUP: The title is 18% grey and 50% black ink. I was able to adjust the space between the letters.  I just love that I can do all this by myself and not have to rely on others. So realizing my books is what I am working on.

Where do you want to be in 5 years with regard to street photography? Where ever my feet are and as long as I am happy. It’s not where you are physically – it’s where you are mentally. Keep yourself balanced and no matter where you are, you will be fine.

Are there exhibitions planned in the future? Don’t talk about things you can’t make happen.

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

Frank has several books out. You can buy them from

“The Cup”


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

This is Frank’s self portrait.

# 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.

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