The fork

I have Kertész on the brain.  I bought a used copy of “Andre Kertesz: Sixty Years of Photography” this weekend at Arcana books and I must have looked through it 20 times already.  It’s in my bedroom, atop of a chest of drawers very close to the bed.  I keep grabbing it right before I go to sleep.  It’s a used hardcover originally published in 1978.  The pages feel old on my fingertips but the pages are still glossy.  There’s an inscription in the cover to some unknown person on some unknown birthday in 1986.  It’s a first edition.   

This book really speaks to me.  Volumes.  It’s my first book of his and for the life of me I can’t figure out why I didn’t buy it earlier.  His images are so much more impactful in print–his contrasts make so much more sense on paper than on a screen and his compositions are even more finite and absolute when framed in hard glossy white boarders.  It’s a joy.  It’s an absolute joy.  Incidentally I find his use of longer lenses topical considering how I’ve been feeling with the 50mm as of late.  I’m sure he would have thought it funny to hear anyone referring to 50 as long but that’s neither here nor there.

What draws me to his work is his perfect geometric composition forged in a delicate dance between physical matter and light.  He’s infinitely aware of the everything in his scene–directions of his shadows, reflectivity of metal, softness of a bounce… he’s always in complete and utter control of what will be black and what will be white, leaving nothing to chance.  Everything is intentional.  I can feel his feet moving and winding around his scene, finding the perfect space to render his perfect compositions and contrasts.  His street scenes feel like paintings to me sometimes, especially some of the winter scenes– the ones he shot from above on a longer lens.  The whole frame compresses into this tapestry of white tones punctuated by hard black strokes from trees and roads.  It’s so graphic it could have been illustrated.  

And you can find that same tonal perfection (albeit the opposite way around) in his still-lifes, like “The fork,” for which my image is named.   It’s a simple image that we all have taken…


I love this description from “The melancholy life of the amazing André Kertész” by Noel Bourcier:

This photograph was shown at the ‘Salon de l’Escalier’ (Paris, 1928) and at ‘Film und Foto’ (Stuttgart, 1929) and was used in an 
advertisement for the silversmiths Bruckman-Bestecke. The purity of the 
composition matches the function of the object – the fork is not depicted merely as a formally beautiful object, but also retains its qualities as a utensil. With 
this vivid description of the spirit of an object, Kertész fulfilled an important artistic goal.

It was the original photographic incarnation of the expression form and function.  Which brings me to my image.  When I shot it, I was hot and miserable and not even remotely interested in making an interesting image.  My mind was purely focused on staying safely wrapped in the cool shadow of the pop-up tent I was hiding in and as close as I could be to the fans–our saving grace on this freakishly hot fall day.   I was supervising a commercial shoot and for some reason we were having record highs.  Anyway, I looked down, pissy and hot and miserable and saw this frame plain as day.  Like Kertész I try to always have a camera on me, so I framed up, shuffled my feet a little to get what I was after and made my version of “The fork.” 

HC-B once said of Kertész, “Each time Andre Kertész’s shutter clicks, I feel his heart beating.”  After I took made my image, some of the crew looked at me a bit strange and asked why I was taking pictures of the ground.  I just pointed and the shadows.  I have no idea if they got it or not, but I can tell you that when I hear my camera’s shutter click, I know my heart is beating.  

Shot on my Leica M7, amber filter, 35mm Summicron on Tri-X pushed to 800 at the Icon.          

Shadows and legs

I made this image on a Sunday a while back.  AM and I had just picked up the girls in Century City and were headed to the Farmer’s Market in Beverly Hills for some fresh produce and then to the library so Ester could take-out a few books.  The library, police station, city hall and courthouse in Beverly Hills are all connected and part of this strange, deco inspired compound that sits right on the edge of Santa Monica Blvd, subdividing the shopping mecca of Rodeo and it’s associated side streets from the residential areas.  I’ve heard that the folks of BH were more than just a little inspired by the city hall in Pasadena which has got to be one of the most picturesque government buildings I have ever seen.  In fact it’s long overdo for a visit and shooting session.  Elliot loves to take the gold line so I guess I know what I’m doing next weekend.  

But I digress, after the famers market we cut through the parking lot and over to the library where the sun was shinning down through these open partitions in the corridor casting deep, lovely shadows all over the place.  The rest of the fam went inside while I stayed for a moment to take it in.  I loved how the shadows and light cut through the corridor, bifurcating the entire frame with concentric perfection.  All that was missing were my subjects.  Then I saw a pair of legs pop-out from seemingly nowhere, a few meters away towards the middle of the corridor.  I fumbled with my camera for only a second but as soon as I had it up to my eye the legs were gone, tucked behind a pillar.  So I waited.  

And waited and waited.  A woman came out the front door, rolling a large metal cart in front of her but still the legs didn’t reappear.  The woman passed where the legs had popped-out, made a straight line for the book drop, opened a compartment in the wall and started loading the cart with books but still no legs.  I was so focused on finding the legs that I didn’t notice a man exiting the library until he had blocked my view of the corridor.  I knew I was going to miss those damn legs.  I knew they were going to pop out again while this guy was blocking my view.  But they didn’t.  

The woman loading the cart must have loaded everything there was to load as she was now heading back towards me.  She passed the departing man and they didn’t share a glance.  I decided this was my image–the cart lady and her books in shadow with the man framed in a sunbeam, so I raised the camera, framed and clicked.  A few weeks later when the negatives had been processed and I was standing at the big light table at the Icon checking the negs with a loupe, I noticed something that made me smile.  There in my frame, off to the side were those damn legs.   

Shot on my Leica M7 using a 35 Summicron with an amber filter on Kodak Tri-X, pushed +1 at the Icon. 


Metroreflex and other nearest misses

Here’s another batch of images that were all about to hit the edit room floor.  They span the course of the last few years with the earliest being in September of 2015 and the the latest being last month.  The reason I decided to save these from editorial purgatory was that I finally sat down and painstakingly read through Andre D. Wagner’s first monograph, “Here for the Ride.”  

The book chronicles people as they commute on the New York transit system as seen through the eyes of a fellow commuter.  The initial run was 750 copies and I stayed up all night to get my hands on number 23.  All of the images originate on black and white film which is perfect.  He does all of his own processing/printing and I think I read somewhere that he’s shooting up to 10 rolls a day, 7 days a week which has to make him one of the most prolific film-based photographers our there.  I’m really on fire if I shoot 4 rolls of 35 in a single day.  I can’t imagine shooting 10 and then processing all of that material.  It’s mind blowing.   

Beyond the technical aspects of the work and process the images themselves are incredible–these beautiful little dramas unfolding on the train.  There’s a richness and a humanity to his subjects that is real and candid and lovely.  He connects you to his fellow commuters in a way that conveys a certain intimacy–as if you’ve been invited to look behind the curtain of their life and everything is laid bare.  The work is bar-none some of the best street and doco work out there, partially because it’s so current but also because it feels so timeless.  

With that in mind here’s my micro-tribute to one of the most interesting and dynamic photographers out there today.  Mr. Wagner, I severely doubt you’ll ever read this but on the off chance that you do, well done sir.  You’re an inspiration and I really can’t wait to see what you do next.  

All images shot on my Leica M7 at 35mm on Kodak Tri-X pushed to 800 at the Icon.   

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