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. Yeah, I'm an old fart.
+ That was when newspapers were black-and-white and Tri-X film 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, I've worked for newspapers in seven states including one of the smallest in New Mexico and one of the largest in New York City. I've photographed U.S. presidents, high school, college and pro sports, famous musicians, boring politicians, the rich and famous and the poor and not-so-famous. I much prefer 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 three coffee-table sized photography books with two 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 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 great imaginations, need to be experts in natural and artificial lighting, need to know their own capabilities and limitations of their equipment and then nail the shot in the camera and get the hell out. (Didn't Ringo sing It Don't Come Easy?)
+ Documentary photographers need to have a sense of humor, an outgoing personality and need to know a little bit about a lot of different 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 idea that composition is more important than color and I'm still shooting that way: High contrast, bold images with strong lines, just like in the black and white days of Tri-X.
+ You probably guessed, but I'm not much of a warm-and-fuzzy person so, not surprisingly,   I don't create those kind of images. You'll never see me shooting a baby in a pea-pod suit or doing an all-in-white family portrait on the beach. I stay far away from fantasy-land.
The End.
+ Decades ago, Bernard Hoffman gave me great advice when he said Everybody thinks photography is about equipment and 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.
+ 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 with smartphones out there faking their own lives.
+ Cameras are tools, but here's the disconnect: I was shooting a musician 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.
+ Today, I am one of only 331 million expert photographers in the U.S.A. - see YouTube for confirmation on this. I speak to high school, college and local photo clubs and offer advice to people who don't listen, don't care and are too stupid to ask the right questions.

+ So, George Bernard Shaw was definitely correct, Bernard Hoffman was probably correct and Ringo... well, he's Ringo Starr and he gets to sing whatever the hell he wants to sing. Now, I'm the grumpy old guy but, thanks to Adobe, there is no place to hide the rum.
Famous Quotes...
and my take on them.

+ “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Absolutely and this is true for any career including accountants, plumbers, lawyers, roofers and doctors. But 90% of what photographers call success is actually luck.
+ 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?)   I always say if your pictures aren't good enough, you're not experienced enough.”
+ “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” - Ansel Adams.
“Yup. 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, but many people think it is. But this is America and there are no laws against photography - only trespassing. So, stay off private land, unless invited, and you can shoot anything you see - no matter what the signs say.
Of course, there are many legal, ethical and common sense caveats that come into play - I could discuss this endlessly - but if you're really interested, talk to a lawyer.  Just don't trespass and never allow anyone to confiscate or erase your cards absent a court order and you should be good.”
+ “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. (Google it.) Of the 500 men, only 35 emerged from the jungle to be rescued and later - much later - Bernie said to me: 'There was no risk, I had my press card!'”
+ “Never believe anything you see on the internet.” - Abraham Lincoln.
“Social media is a complete disaster: Everybody is now an expert on everything. Online, the good guys can't keep the bad guys out and offline, people read stuff they don't like and call it is fake news. The internet was supposed to pull everyone together instead it's pulled everyone apart.”
+ “My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.” - Diane Arbus.
“Yeah, me too.”
+ “Don’t pack up your camera until you’ve left the location.” - Joe McNally.
“I've met Joe and 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 it.”
+ “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 guy who made Bobbi and Nick Ercoline, of Pine Bush, famous when he photographed them hugging under a blanket at Woodstock in '69. He's also correct: Twitter isn't real. Facebook isn't real. Put the smartphone down. Grab your camera. Go outside. (And no, smartphones aren't cameras.)”
+ “It’s not the camera but who’s behind the camera.” - Anonymous
“'Nuff said.”
+ “I believe in equality for everyone - except reporters and photographers.” - Mahatma Gandhi.
“A sense of humor is always appreciated, however, the war is over and the accountants won and most photogs never realized there was a war going on. Quality lost, cheap won.”

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

Back to Top