Hello Friends and Family,

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Photographing People, Part I

Wow! Another incredible week at the Santa Fe Workshops. Am I repeating myself? I guess so but it is true. Each class that I have taken there has been of such high standards that I cannot praise them enough — and this week with John Weiss was no exception. In fact, they were of such quality that I really could not rate one above the others — although I must confess that John pushed me, photographically and artistically, to highs that I did not know I could achieve. As a result, I have so many good photos to share that I will show half this week and the rest next week.

Monday morning, we began with John’s critiques of the photos that we brought to class. It was instructive to understand what John is looking for in photos because it is somewhat difficult to articulate — feelings and impressions more than things that can be measured scientifically — but we all began to understand as he picked out what he considered our best photos then gently offering suggestions on improving the others.

After lunch, we were paired off and we shot each other. I was so lucky to be paired with Andi (pronounced “AHN-dee”) as my first partner — he is so photogenic. You will notice that this is not a please-say-“cheese” type portrait but rather an attempt to get at the essence of Andi, revealing his heart and soul through his eyes.

Note that all our photos this week were hand-held (no tripod) with natural light. This one was taken just outside our classroom in an exterior breezeway which provided interesting light and a little breeze — just perfect to blow Andi’s hair across his face, adding an interesting touch to an interesting face.

And to be sure, Andi is truly a very interesting individual and a superbly talented photographer. I really enjoyed spending time with him this week sharing conversation and photos.

Tuesday morning we began with critiques of our work from the preceding day — a pattern that we would repeat every day. It was invaluable in honing our understanding of what John was looking for in a great photograph. Incidentally, I was blown away with the quality of the photographs that my classmates took all week long. Everybody did a fantastic job.

Tuesday afternoon we went to the Plaza in Santa Fe and had to approach perfect strangers and ask them if we could take their picture. Some of my peers were so terrified of this assignment that they were literally shaking with fear. I did a bit of this last year so I did not feel too much discomfort and was rewarded with this wonderful Arkansas cowboy (below). Just for fun, I tried it in both color and B&W. John loved the transition between the two and even used it for the Friday night slide show. It is quite interesting that the same photograph can have different impact on the view simply based on color versus black & white. To me, the guy on the left seems a bit more mellow with a touch of melancholy — while the guy on the right seems harder and perhaps a bit angry.

I also found this 2-year-old kid who was big for his age. His mom agreed to let me take his photo and he was fantastic. Admittedly he is cute but notice how he engaged the camera — peering into the lens, almost revealing everything he is thinking (of course, what do 2-year-olds thing about?).

I also encountered these two young women from Taiwan who were working in a Santa Fe Hotel for the summer. At first they were a bit shy but I continued to work with them and they began to warm up. They were obviously good friends — and finally, I got them to put their heads together and voilà, that’s a photograph!

I also found this fellow who appeared to be homeless. He was engaging despite his poverty and his blindness in one eye. I really tried to capture his humanity and dignity which he maintained without regard to what life had thrown his way. He was so gracious and did not even ask for anything in return. When I was working on his photo that evening, I tried changing it to B&W — and wow — that captured this guy and his plight. I went looking for him on Friday afternoon and planned to buy him dinner — but he was not there. Maybe on a future trip.

Wednesday afternoon, we went to Las Vegas. Not the one in Nevada, the one in New Mexico — about an hour’s drive north of Santa Fe. The objective was primarily street photography — selecting an interesting location, perhaps a storefront or some graphic pattern — then waiting for someone to wonder by and snap, you captured a special scene or moment. Also, we could revert to what we practiced on Tuesday, portrait photography.

Well, I have to tell you that this Las Vegas is nothing like the other Las Vegas. Since the Wal-Mart was built outside of the town, the downtown area is dying. I really tied to find some interesting spots — found a couple — but then no one would walk by — it was rather dead. And on the rare occasion when someone did walk by, they were not visually exciting or I failed to capture them at just the right moment. Frustrating!

But eventually I did find this guy just sitting on a bench along the main street. He seemed to be rather down and out but he was quite willing to let me take his photograph. And I was so glad that he did. Look at that face. You can see his life experience in his face. And he was so nice — he did ask me for some change to go buy coffee — which I gladly gave to him.

So I continued to try and find that street photograph when all of a sudden — as I was looking at a tattoo parlor storefront that I thought had possibilities — this kid came bopping along his way down the sidewalk. Without thinking, I pointed the camera and shot a quick sequence of photos. This was the best of the set.

In case the message did not come through, I have to tell you that street photography is very difficult. You can conceptualize a great shot but be unable to execute. Other times it is serendipity — it's there — better get it quickly — and hope your camera settings were at least close.

To be continued next week.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com