Excerpt It's from Not About the F Stop:
This is one of the few times I’ve consciously repeated myself. I had been sent to do a photograph in a coal mine. What sticks in my mind is that we worked around down in the mines for a photograph and the pickings were slim. If you’ve ever been in a mine, you know what I mean.
In any case, we finally found a rock face in which they were inserting sticks of dynamite. There were wires and technical paraphernalia all over the place. It was chaotic and bizarre. I loved it.
When I did commercial work, I always worked with an assistant and I carried strobes with me. I told the assistant to set up the strobes so we would have raking light on the surface. That’s what I wanted.
While he was doing that, I was picking through my lenses to figure out which one to use. At this point, I have to tell you we had descended about a mile deep and then walked about three-quarters of a mile from the elevator into one of the fingers of the mine.
I picked the lens I wanted. The miners told me, “Be quick. We got to blast this in 20 minutes to stay on schedule.” My assistant, who had set up the stands for the strobe lights, walked over to me in said in a faint whisper, “I’m sorry, but I forgot the strobe head.”
I turned to the client and said “On second thought, strobe lighting is going to destroy the quality of this shot, I’m going to shoot it without lights.” Then I told my assistant to pack it up.
As we left the shoot and headed toward the next possible shot, we came back to the elevator and the assistant whispered again, “Since you can’t use the strobes, can I just leave it here? We’ll pick it up later.”
I smiled with what must’ve been an evil smile and said “I don’t want to embarrass you by letting the client know you f*¢%ed up. Just carry it with you the rest of the day.”
We couldn’t find much worth shooting. I was looking at the miners with their lights built into their helmets and thought, “Thank God! I’ve got an idea.” I said to the client, “I need four guys for the shot I want to do. I also need one of your machines to go back and forth to raise as much dust as possible.”
Once we raised the dust, I put two miners behind the other two. They backlit the front guys by lighting up the dust, and silhouetted the two in front, who also had their headlamps on, and that was the picture. I bracketed the hell out of it. It took all of two minutes, we coughed our way out and that was the shot they used as a cover.
Several years later, a different mine, different client. This guy wants a picture of “machine 3926.” This is a mine where you can’t use lights at all and machine 3926 is about 60 feet of shiny steel alternating with pitch darkness.
I took one look and said, “No f*¢%ing way am I going to waste my time with that.” “I saw your last annual report and whoever did shoot it was a genius because he got a beautiful shot of it and there’s no point in doing it again, but worse.”
I said, “Don’t worry, I’m going to give you a better shot. I need four guys with headlamps,” etc. He answers, “But there will be no equipment.”
I tell him, “Look, you’ll love it and you’ll look great for doing it.”
I shot it, and the brass loved it. It won all kinds of awards, they used it for the cover,
and he came out smelling like a rose.
And, to tell the truth, I have no idea in which of the two mines I shot this.
From the Favorites collection
What constitutes a favorite is that after seeing it every day for years, it doesn’t lose its power.
I know some photographers who are always quite delighted with everything they do. I wish I was like that, but I find a great many of my images lose their power or at least my interest at some later date. Either I’m not interested in the subject anymore or I’m just no longer impressed with the image.
Arthur Meyerson, a very good Houston, Texas, photographer, is a buddy of mine. At one point he offered me his studio for an exhibit of my images for FotoFest in Houston. This was an exhibit of 85 images. Another friend of mine, Gary Winter, was doing a video on me. He’s one of these guys who doesn’t intrude when he’s shooting—a real “fly on the wall” type—so when he asks a question, it’s a rare occurrence.
“So, Jay,” he said, “What’s the reason you picked these particular 85 pictures for this show?”
“They’re my favorites.”
“I was hoping for something a little more insightful and articulate, ” he replied.
I thought about it and realized after looking at one particular image what was behind my choices. I explained that when I shot “Man with Headband,” I was anxious, even terrified because I knew all the things that could go wrong. It was like a litany: “Please don’t let the light change,” Please don’t let somebody walk in front of him,” “Please don’t let him turn around.” I realized at that point that each and every picture in the show was a variation of this. A moment charged with all the things that move me, and the fear of losing it. The apprehension, the near certainty that something or someone, if not myself, was going to compromise the image.
There is an emotional seesaw on perceiving what you think is a great image. It moves between glee and trepidation. The more excited I am, the better the image, the more naked emotion I feel, the more exhilaration there is, the more it is counterbalanced by the certainty that something is going to f*¢% this up.
This anxiety never happens with pictures that are less compelling or less emotional. It never happens with pictures that are intellectually motivated or studies, or with pictures that are about information, history, or pure documentation.
These favorites have stood the test of time, even though they’re mine they still work for me, and I do love them.
Paper & Printing
Epson Ultra Premium Luster (13x19)
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