The Beginning.
+ I'm a Warwick, N.Y. - based photojournalist with 48 years of experience, most recently as Director of Photography at the Times Herald-Record and currently writer and photographer of the 845LIFE column which appears every Monday in the TH-R.
+ Long ago and far away, I trained under LIFE Magazine photographer Bernard Hoffman and began my newspaper career in 1972, shooting 6-7 assignments a day, souping prints in a crappy darkroom while eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Yup, I'm a Boomer.
+ That was when newspapers were black-and-white and Tri-X was king. The other press photographers were grumpy old men who smoked too much, hid bottles of rum in the darkroom and grudgingly gave up secrets. I listened, learned and tried not to inhale.
+ Since then my full-time career has been creating photographs for newspapers and magazines in seven different states including one of the smallest in New Mexico and one of the largest in New York City. I've shot U.S. presidents, high school, college and pro sports, famous musicians, boring politicians, the rich and famous and the poor and not-so-famous. 
+ If it matters to you, my work has won hundreds of awards, has been published around the world and can be seen every week in the TH-R and every other month in Orange Magazine. I've published four coffee-table sized photography books with one more ready to drop.
The Middle.
+ Once I thought I knew everything about photography when I was 30... and 40... and 50... and it turns out I didn't and I still don't.  Which is probably why George Bernard Shaw once wrote “youth is wasted on the young or something to that effect.
+ Because with photography, knowledge is cumulative and software offers few shortcuts.  Photographers need to have great imaginations, need to be experts in natural and artificial lighting, need to know their own capabilities and limitations of their equipment and then need to nail the shot and get the hell out. (Didn't Ringo sing It Don't Come Easy?)
+ Documentary photojournalists need to have a great sense of humor, a vibrant personality and need to know a little bit about a lot of things because at times the job requires melting away and at other times it requires keeping the subject engaged through the lost art of conversation. Software, you may have noticed, doesn't help with any of that stuff.
+ Every photographer has their own style, so when I transitioned from film to digital in 2001, I kept the plan that composition is more important than color and I'm still shooting that way: High-contrast, bold images with strong shapes and lines like in the black and white days.
+ Decades ago, Bernard Hoffman gave me great advice when he said Everybody thinks photography is about equipment - it's not. When you point a camera at someone it might as well be a gun - they freeze. Good photographers make the subject forget about that gun and bad photographers don't. It's about having a personality, not having equipment.
The End.
+ Great photographs smack you right in the face and change your perception of the world. They capture emotion and take you to places you've never been. Which is exactly why selfies are so awful - they reveal nothing. There is an entire generation preening and playing pretend in front of their smartphones, essentially faking their own lives.

+ So, George Bernard Shaw was definitely correct, Bernard Hoffman was probably correct and Ringo... well, he's Ringo and he gets to sing whatever the hell he wants to sing.
+ You see, cameras are just tools - like a hammer - and proper usage requires experience. But here's the disconnect: I was shooting a violinist and when she saw my shots she said: Those are amazing, you must have a great camera and me, completely annoyed, replied You make fantastic music, so you must have a great violin.
+ There are so many unqualified, inexperienced, pretend photographers scamming brides and grooms out of their money that it's criminal - or it should be. Disruption in the industry? The only thing that got disrupted were acceptable wedding pictures. Lens flare, anyone?

+ Moral of the story: 1) It's not the camera, it's who is behind the camera. 2) Personality and experience trump software. 3) Watching a bunch of online videos and then pretending to be an expert is not cool - in any field. 4) The internet isn't the problem - it's the users who are the real problem. 5) You will always know more next week than you know this week.

Yup, I'm a boomer.
Famous Quotes
and my wise-ass response...


+ “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” - Henri Cartier-Bresson.
True, but this applies to every job including singers, lawyers, actors and doctors. At first you suck at whatever it is you're attempting. That's OK, experience matters. It's why we have colleges and trade schools.”
+ If your pictures aren’t good enough you’re not close enough.” - Robert Capa.
“Robert Capa was considered to be the world's greatest war photographer but he was killed in 1954 when he stepped on a land mine. (So, maybe he got too close?)   In reality, if your pictures aren't good enough, you're not experienced enough.”
+ “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” - Ansel Adams.
“The most important thing a photographer carries is a brain.”
+ “When I have a camera in my hand, I know no fear.” - Alfred Eisenstaedt.
Photography is not a crime, although many people think it is. But this is America and there are no laws against photography, only trespassing. Stay off private land and you can shoot anything you see, no matter what the bad-ass signs might say. That includes humans, bridges, prisons, houses and automobile license plates and you don't need signed consent forms for editorial usage, only commercial usage.
Of course, there are many legal, ethical and common sense caveats that come into play here - this is my favorite topic - so, if you're still interested, consult your lawyer. (A real lawyer, not an internet lawyer.) Just don't trespass and never allow anyone to erase or confiscate your cards, absent a court order, and you should be good. Keep in mind that what you actually DO with those images is a separate issue.”
+ “The eye should learn to listen before it looks.” - Robert Frank.
The image should be in your brain before it appears in your viewfinder.”
+ “The painter constructs, the photographer discloses.” - Susan Sontag.
“My mentor, Bernard Hoffman, was dropped behind enemy lines in World War II and spent 8 weeks with Merrill's Marauder's on assignment for LIFE Magazine. Of the 500 men, only 35 emerged from the jungle to be rescued and later - decades later - Bernie said to me: 'There was no risk, I had my press card!”
+ Ever notice how everyone thinks they're a photographer - until they are forced to use manual mode.
“Right?”
+ “Never believe anything you see on the internet.” - Abraham Lincoln.
Did you know there were over 6,000 data breaches in 2019? The internet, which once offered such promise, was supposed to pull everyone together but instead did the opposite. That's because the good guys couldn't keep the bad guys out and social media is an absolute first-class, Grade-A, stink bomb of a disaster.”

+ “My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.” - Diane Arbus.
“Yeah, me too.”
+ “Photography is a love affair with life.” - Burk Uzzle.
“Great guy, funny name. Burk was the youngest staff photographer in the history of LIFE Magazine. He's the shooter who made Bobbi and Nick Ercoline, of Pine Bush, famous when he photographed them hugging under a blanket at Woodstock in '69. You know, they're still together all these years later. He's also correct: Social media isn't real. Go outside. Worst case scenario? A bear kills you.”
+ “Don’t pack up your camera until you’ve left the location.” - Joe McNally.
“Joe was the last staff photographer in LIFE Magazine's history. He's a tremendous guy with an amazing memory and this is just rock-solid advice and I can't tell you how many times I've forgotten to follow it.”
+ “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” – Ansel Adams.
“That's from the greatest landscape photographer in history. Twelve. TWELVE!
+ “I believe in equality for everyone - except reporters and photographers.” - Mahatma Gandhi.
“Who knew Gandhi had a sense of humor? But the war is over, accountants won and most folks never realized there was a war going on. Quality lost, cheap won.”
+ “Life is too important to be taken seriously.” - Oscar Wilde.
“Amen, brother. Amen. You know what they say: Bad decisions make good stories.”

+ + + + +
Copyright: John DeSanto, 1971-2020



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