People of the Past – More Black and White
Most of the images that I post to my website or this blog seem to be without human presence. I don’t photograph people a lot and I admire very much photographers that shoot people a lot and do it well. It’s not as easy as one might think. Good people pictures usually require a connection between the subject and the photographer. My good friend, Frank Dimeo, is a wedding photographer extraordinaire and a great photojournalist. Frank knows how to shoot people. He knows how to bring out something from inside, how to communicate with them, how to get them to be their best for the camera. This is a real talent. It’s what made such people as Annie Liebowitz, and Arnold Newman, and Richard Avedon, and the like such stars in the photography world.
But I have shot people. A great many people. And occasionally quite successfully. I shot people more often in my earlier years as a photographer. And in going back over my black and whites as I have been digitizing old negatives, I’ve come across a number of people pictures that I had lost touch with. I said in my last post that I preferred to do my street photography when the streets were less populated, but that is not always the case.
A camera often makes you feel different when you carry it on the street. Assuming you aren’t in an area where you might feel threatened carrying a two thousand dollar piece of equipment around your neck, a camera can be a great tool for getting close to strangers. Some people feel you are intruding when you aim a camera at them, some don’t. Some like the attention. Some find you to be a curiosity. Some ignore you and allow you to become invisible. A camera often gives you an unstated license to go where you please, to approach almost anyone. I’ve seldom had people become irritated when taking their picture. Most take it as a compliment of sorts, that you find them interesting enough to make them the subject of your art.
Then there are those instances when people expect to be the subject of photographs, like weddings or large gatherings, parades, and sports events. These kinds of opportunities are the perfect place for candid pictures of people being themselves. Weddings in particular afford a festive crowd of people who’s inhibitions are down and who seem to revel in being the subject of any photograph.
When I lived in Atlanta, the Shriners held an annual parade on West Peachtree Street and such an event brings out the best in grown men who belong to clubs and organizations. There is a need for all of us, I suppose, to occasionally dress in costume and march in front of throngs of people. You’re never to old to play dress-up.
The 70’s were a time of hippies and free love and drugs and war protests and rock concerts. I missed Woodstock unfortunately, was too caught up being a responsible young married guy and trying to keep from being drafted. But music was everywhere and Atlanta was a big city with it’s share of concerts in the park and music venues of all types.
I made a trip one Sunday morning to the fairgrounds in Atlanta where “The Great Southeastern Fair” was hosted every year. The whole carnival atmosphere is one that has always intrigued me. It seems like such a hard and lonely life for the carnival people. I met a man who worked at the fair and photographed him there. He was a moving hand and, I thought, a truck driver as well as a food vendor when the fair was open. I guess a lot of the carnies wear multiple hats. It wasn’t until I got back to the darkroom and printed this image that I realized the man had an artificial leg, the pale white shin showing above his sock and the knee hinge visible through his pant leg.
I’ve always loved the farmer’s market or the local street market as a place for candid people photography. Boston’s Haymarket was such a place and was always teeming with ethnicity and interesting faces. The bustle and crowds make it easy for a photographer to capture faces of common people whose stories could fill one’s imagination.
But aside from candid photography or weddings or parades and fairs, I have also shot portraits and studio images of people. I worked in an area of Atlanta known as Buckhead in 1973 and had my haircut at a local salon there by a young woman. Susanne was about 19 and worked as a model when she could and cut hair the rest of the time. She worked with one particular fashion photographer in Atlanta and appeared on the cover of Atlanta magazine a couple of times. Young models, like young photographers are always looking for new portfolio material so with that mutual desire in mind, she and I did a couple of shoots together. Susanne was very natural in front of the camera so she made it easy.
I had a friend named Gene who wanted to be a fashion photographer. Gene knew many of the young models around Atlanta and introduced me to Melinda. Melinda did a lot of catalog work, but had been offered a job with Wilhelmina in New York as a hand model. She was looking for portfolio pictures that showed off her hands, so another great studio opportunity for us both.
Gene agreed to stand in for me when I needed an additional prop for Melinda’s hands. Sometimes it’s far easier to be in front of the camera than behind it.
I had the great privilege to work for a week as an assistant to Eliot Porter at Anderson Ranch Art Center in Snowmass, Colorado one summer. Eliot had always been one of my idols and the finest example of the kind of landscape photographer I wanted to be. I subsequently traveled to New Mexico on a couple of occasions to visit him and there took a portrait of him and his wife, Aline, that is among my most treasured portraits.
Our encounters with people when behind the camera can be anonymous or can have an intimate connection. Regardless, they all touch our lives. They all have a story. They are all there at that moment in time, frozen by the camera and held forever. We are richer for knowing them. And they live on through our images.
All images are Copyright © George Cannon, all rights reserved.