+ I'm a Warwick, N.Y. - based photographer, writer and speaker 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 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, college, pro and high school 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 in production.
+ 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. Photojournalists 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 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 to the idea that composition was far more important than the colors and I'm still shooting that way: High contrast, bold images with strong lines, just like in the days of Tri-X.
+ You probably guessed, but I'm not much of a warm-and-fuzzy person so, not surprisingly, I don't produce those kind of photographs. You'll never see me shooting a kid in a pea-pod suit or doing an all-in-white family portrait on the beach. (I stay far away from fantasy-land.)
+ 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. Great 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 photos of people smiling directly at the camera are so awful - because they reveal nothing.
+ 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 330 million expert photographers in the country - 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, because of digital, there is no place to hide the rum.