May 27, 2011

I Spent the Day Photographing with Sam Abell, Jay Maisel and Hundreds of Hallmark Students

What a day! A dream photography workshop!

Sign of the Times
Now, well, er, um, I was not actually physically present with all these photographers, but their spirits were with me.

Harbor Wharf
Along with industry legend Jay Maisel, National Geographic photographer Sam Abell regularly speaks at Hallmark Institute of Photography, where I teach.  During a recent talk Abell delighted in stories detailing his approach of first framing a scene, and then waiting patiently for wonderful events to unfold that add life, complexity and depth to the final image.

"Old Ironsides" Needs Additional Protection in the New World

I imagined Abell's soothing voice in my head, narrating with mounting interest the layers of meaning and metaphor that emerged as I worked towards this picture of the USS Constitution in Boston, Massachusetts.  The vessel is nicknamed "Old Ironsides," as attacker's cannonballs used to bounce off the ship's wooden hull.

A fence mounted on the pontoons protects this oldest commissioned warship in the U.S. Navy from attacks by sea.  I photographed workers posting signs on the fence: U.S. Navy Restricted Area - Use Of Force Authorized

Shadowy terrorists with plastic explosives replacing known foes with cannonballs makes for a world far different from George Washington's, who ordered the ship's construction.
Each morning at 8:00 a blank cannon round is fired, followed by raising Old Glory as The Star-Spangled Banner plays.  This salute ritual commenced in 1798 and recently came under fire as nearby condo owners complained about the noise.

Rush Hour

Leaving the Navy Yard, on my way to the North End, Boston's Italian neighborhood, I stopped to photograph a contemporary ritual:  morning bumper to bumper traffic flowing over the Zakim bridge into Boston.  Like Harbor Wharf above, this is an in-camera multiple exposure.

Thinking like a photojournalist, I wanted to capture the diesel coating on this school bus.  I followed it through the streets,  jumping out of my car at stoplights to shoot.

Light, Color, Gesture

The situation evoked Jay Maisel speaking about seeing an ephemeral scene and the "terror" of trying to catch the light, subject matter and moment, before it melts away forever.   My resulting image was more art than journalism.  Maisel's recipe for creating a memorable photograph: Light, Color and Gesture.  (Gesture does not have to be human.  It can be a light that is on, for example.)

il Tricolore

The bus led me into the heart of the North End and a free parking space.  Into my fifth year of teaching, I have graded hundreds of assignments and carried out numerous critiques.  Teaching is a good method for improving your own photography.

This is why I say that my students accompanied me on this day of shooting, as echoes of my comments on their work swirled in my consciousness:  fill the frame with storytelling details, avoid bright areas in the corners, be in charge of where you want your viewer's eye to go, learn the rules so you can consciously break them, work each subject thoroughly, get close...

With my students, I try to simultaneously nurture their raw creative fire while pointing them in a intentional, commercial direction.

Mangia - Mangia

My stock photography editor at Photolibrary, Phyllis Giarnese "joined" the crowd on today's photographic outing as well.  Giarnese manages to simultaneously nurture my fine art eye while encouraging me to shoot in a more commercially viable manner.  Add human narrative to your solitary visions.

I hope that she will be interested in marketing these three North End vignettes.

Behind the statue of Paul Revere, the North Church peeks out from the mist.

Tweet if by Land, and Facebook if by Sea
He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

From Paul Revere's Ride
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Texting No. 2
I am fascinated and concerned by the ubiquity of hand-held mobile screens.  Note the iPadus Americanus with Paul Revere and these Harvard University seniors waiting for a shuttle bus.

Inside Outside

My day ended with a superb ice cream cone from J.P. Licks:  Coffee Oreo and Chocolate M&M.

And this post ends with a big thanks to Sam, Jay, Phyllis and all my students.