Category: Masters of Photography
Josef Koudelka | Spain

The maximum, that is what has always interested me.

– Josef Koudelka

SEVILLE, Spain—Holy Week, 1977 © Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

SEVILLE, Spain—Holy Week, 1977 © Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

ANDALUSIA, Spain—Holy Week, 1975 © Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

ANDALUSIA, Spain—Holy Week, 1975 © Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Granada, Andalucia, SPAIN © 1971 Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Granada, Andalucia, SPAIN © 1971 Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos


Hiroshi Watanabe | Rikishi (2005)

My expenses are almost as high as my photography income and I have so little left at the end even when I am lucky. So, maybe I am not qualified to answer this question. Then why am I doing photography? I think it is a combination of passion and stupidity. For me, photography is intellectual, …artistic, and curiosity fulfilling. I love making photographs.

– Hiroshi Watanabe

Touki, Rikishi series © Hiroshi Watanabe, 2005

Touki, Rikishi series © Hiroshi Watanabe, 2005

I am not sure if I am successful professional photographer. If “successful professional” means I can live a good, somewhat luxurious, life by the profession, then I am certainly not.

– Hiroshi Watanabe

Fukujumaru, Rikishi series © Hiroshi Watanabe, 2005

Fukujumaru, Rikishi series © Hiroshi Watanabe, 2005

I make every effort to be a faithful visual recorder of the world around me, a world in flux that, at very least in my mind, deserves preservation, and that I constantly seek to expand.
I strive for both calculation and discovery in my work, studying my subjects in preparation, while at the same keeping my mind open for the surprises. The pure enjoyment of this process drives and inspires me. Mostly, I seek to capture people, traditions, and locales that first and foremost are of personal interest, while other times I seek pure beauty.
I always go to places with some kind of expectation and I come back with a lot more, with images I never expected.

– Hiroshi Watanabe

Kumanosato, Rikishi series © Hiroshi Watanabe, 2005

Kumanosato, Rikishi series © Hiroshi Watanabe, 2005

I believe there’s a thread that connects all of my work — my personal vision of the world as a whole. I make every effort to be a faithful visual recorder of the world around me, a world in flux that, at very least in my mind, deserves preservation.

– Hiroshi Watanabe

Ichinoya, Rikishi series © Hiroshi Watanabe, 2005

Ichinoya, Rikishi series © Hiroshi Watanabe, 2005

My father bought me a Minolta 35mm SRL and that was my first camera. I had no prior interest in photography. I played a lot and enjoyed the four years of college life, but somehow I became serious about photography as I studied it. When I graduated, I found a job in the US which happened to be a production company specializing in making commercials for Japan. I thought I would work for the company for a year or two and look for a photography job meanwhile. But one photographer whom I met suggested that I stayed on with the job. He said advertising and filming had much potential while photography had no future. At that time, I was starting a family and I had the responsibility. So, I stayed on with the job and a four years later I started my own production company. After I ran the business for 15 years, one morning, I woke up and all the sudden I decided to become a photographer again. I don’t know why but I had decided. I traveled and built up a portfolio between commercial jobs for 5 years and after that I closed down the business and became a full time photographer. It’s been 10 years since then and I am still a photographer.

– Hiroshi Watanabe

Asakubo, Rikishi series © Hiroshi Watanabe, 2005

Asakubo, Rikishi series © Hiroshi Watanabe, 2005

I try to find something that I don’t understand. That’s what drives me.

– Hiroshi Watanabe

Rikishi 3, Rikishi series © Hiroshi Watanabe, 2005

Rikishi 3, Rikishi series © Hiroshi Watanabe, 2005

My photographs reflect both genuine interest in my subject as well as a respect for the element of serendipity.
I wish for my images to distill scenes ranging from the ephemeral to the eternal, from the esoteric to the symbolic. A current that underlies my work is the concept of preservation.

– Hiroshi Watanabe

To view more of this series and the work of the master Hiroshi Watanabe, click here.


Bruce Davidson | East 100th Street

What’s great about looking at your work is the emotion comes back. The emotion comes back. The rhythm of what you were photographing comes back. It’s almost like a musical score. You can see where I may have quit too soon, or stayed too long. Or was bored and took a lot of pictures of nothing because I wanted to put film through the camera. All kinds of things are working when you’re looking at the contact sheet.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

Not everyone wants his picture taken. I began to photograph a man collecting junk in a yard. He saves the metal and sells it. He wouldn’t let me photograph him. I found out why. He was receiving welfare and he thought that if I took a picture of him collecting junk to sell, he might have his welfare taken from him.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

That often what makes a good picture is almost subliminal. It could be a look on a face or a detail on a piece of clothing. You just have to go with the flow sometimes. When I was a kid, I played baseball and you heard the sound the bat made when it really connected with the ball; you knew you had a great hit. It’s the same with photography: sometimes you hear that click of the shutter and you know you’ve caught something really special.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

An old man said to me one day, ‘Oh, I don’t want a picture like that. I want to get dressed up and I want to put a Bible in my hand. That’s how I want my picture taken. I’ll tell you when I want my picture taken, when I’m feeling good.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

I came to 100th Street with a large format camera on a tripod. I wanted depth and detail and I wanted to meet the people eye to eye. I wanted the photograph to happen without intruding. The children called me the “picture man.” They said take my picture. I took their picture. I took photographs of them, they took my photographs. Can I have another picture? I gave them another picture. Can you make a couple of more prints? I gave them a couple of more prints. They received their pictures and I received mine. I saw my pictures hanging all over the place. Sometimes when I photographed a family of a person again, I had to take down my own pictures.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

The problem is that, you’ve got to stay around for a while; you’ve got to earn your dues. Poverty is kind of sexy, poverty is photographic, it’s what photographers look for. In the case of East 100th street, I had an entrée, the picture librarian at magnum photos, Sam Holmes, had a cousin who was a white minister living and raising his children in Spanish Harlem, so I was introduced to him. But he said he couldn’t give me permission to take pictures here, you have to appear in front of the citizens committee and they will either say yes or no. So I did, I presented myself and they said, “we have photographers coming through here all the time because we’re poor, and that’s very photogenic to them but they come and they go and we never see the pictures and we never see anything change.” I said I work a little differently, I work eye-to-eye, I have a large-format camera where I need quiet and things to settle down and I need to be there because I have this heavy camera and a tripod and a strobe, and I will give prints to people. They said they would try me out and I said, if you can find a family of ten, I’ll photograph them as an example of my work, and I did. It took three weeks because I’d arrive on a Sunday but there would only be eight. I had to come a couple of times before they really got all their family together. So that was really the beginning where I was really in the picture myself, with the cable release on the camera and the eye to eye relationship, and I would bring back prints and give the prints to the people. That took two years; it sustained me for two years. And that’s basically how I work; I just keep going back and back.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

Then there’s the man who runs the luncheonette. He let me take his picture once, but I made it too dark and he never let me take his picture again. I know you’re prejudiced, he said, because you made it too dark. You make all the people here look too dark. When you make pictures look light, then I’ll put your pictures on the walls. But I know he likes me. He lets me use the bathroom in his luncheonette. He doesn’t let anyone do that.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

Despite my fantasies of being a hunter stalking a wild animal, I was still afraid. It was hard for me to approach even a little old lady. There’s a barrier between people riding the subway – eyes are averted, a wall is set up. To break through this painful tension I had to act quickly on impulse, for if I hesitated, my subject might get off at the next station and be lost forever.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

Quite a few kids on the block are interested in photography. I lent a boy who had been helping me a camera and my developing tank. I gave him some film and I’m teaching him things. The kids and the people who take photographs don’t photograph the slums. They photograph their friends. You know, this boy kissing that girl.. All sorts of things all sorts of possibilities, without sentimality. They photograph the life they know, not its horrors.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

I’m not trying to glorify the ghetto. In many ways, it’s a horrible place, full of scars and pain. It taught me how much I ‘d taken for granted. I’m not wealthy by any means, but by contrast I am. I have hot water. I don’t have ten children to support. My life, my work is full of possibilities. I can in some ways affect my destiny.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

Arnold Newman once told me that to photograph someone, they have to feel equal to you. And that’s true. Sometimes, a magazine you’re on assignment for is so prestigious that it allows you to be at a level where you’re not just someone coming over to take pictures.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

In ’52, when I was in college at R.I.T. photography school, that’s when I first saw a Cartier-Bresson photograph. It was with one of the two girls in our class, Joan. I was courting her a little bit and we were sitting in a girl’s dorm and she had brought out “The Decisive Moment.” I laughed. She was pointing out the pictures that really moved her and said that Cartier-Bresson was her true love. So I went out and I bought a little Leica, a used Leica, and started to imitate his images in some way. What I did was photograph the Lighthouse Mission, which was all drunks. They gave them a sermon and a bologna sandwich and a cup of coffee. And when they left, they’d pull out the bottle again. But those pictures, were a little Cartier-Bressonish.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

Each day I would appear on the block with my 4×5 view camera and a bag containing film holders, accessories, and a powerful strobe. The presence of a large format camera on a tripod, with its bellows and back focusing cloth, gave sense of dignity to the act of taking pictures. I didn’t want to be the unobserved observer. I wanted to be with my subjects face to face and for them to collaborate in making the picture. I wanted the images to have a depth, tonality, and level of detail that could convey the mood of lives poised in a moment of time. During the two years I photographed East 100th Street, NASA was sending probes into pouter space, to the moon and to Mars. Instead, I wanted to see into the inner space of the city and to focus sharply on people here on earth.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

There was a boy who helped me a lot. He carried my camera bag around. He knew who might want to attack me and steal my camera. He knew many of the people who let me into their homes to photograph them. I relied on him. He made me feel safe.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

We were living in Hartsdale and we took that train. At one point, it skims the South Bronx and you can see into — you get glimpses of life inside those rooms. That drew me to 100th Street.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

What if trying to do, what I would like to do is to keep my life in balance. I walk the streets with my handheld camera, interact with people, discover, question, know, understand- and then I come back into my darkroom and make impressions of what i experienced during the day.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

I didn’t play the art world at all. I didn’t even play the fashion world. I could have easily become an incredible fashion photographer. I threw it aside because I felt a calling. It seemed real to me. And I think I learned that from Cartier-Bresson. He didn’t do any perfume ads. There was also the Magnum climate. There were serious photographers there: Ernst Haas, Elliott Erwitt.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

My true love is silver gelatin. My history in photography, which spans over fifty years, it is all basically silver gelatin. In my imagination there’s nothing more beautiful than a beautifully printed 11×14 print on good paper. Now the paper quality is diminished but we find a way of making it almost as good as it could have been with a lot of silver.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson


Josef Koudelka | Italy

If I am dissatisfied, it’s simply because good photos are few and far between. A good photo is a miracle.

– Josef Koudelka

TRAPANI, SICILY, Italy—Holy Week, 1996 © Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

TRAPANI, SICILY, Italy—Holy Week, 1996 © Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos


PALERMO, SICILY, Italy—Easter religious celebrations, 1993 © Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

PALERMO, SICILY, Italy—Easter religious celebrations, 1993 © Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos


Arthur C. Clarke | The HAL – IBM Myth

And I’ve been trying for years to stamp out the legend that the word, that the letters HAL was derived from IBM by one letter displacement. And of course HAL actually stands for Heuristic Algorithmic, H. A. L. But that’s a myth that I can’t quite stamp out. I think that IBM are quite proud of it so I’ve given up the attempt.

– Arthur C. Clarke, the IBM story is “utter nonsense.”

Sir Arthur C. Clark, Chelsea Hotel, New York, 1973. Copyright @ Peter Angelo Simon.

Sir Arthur C. Clark, Chelsea Hotel, New York, 1973. Copyright @ Peter Angelo Simon.


Louis CK | Leica Shooting, USO Tour
Shot by Louis CK on his Leica MP

Shot by Louis CK on his Leica MP

The gunners reached out into the open air and leveled their guns with a great slot and click sound. They trained them on the ground. I felt my hands tense up. I realized, for the first time, that both my hands were wrapped tightly around my Leica. Oh my god, my Leica! I have the greatest camera in the world in my fucking hands and I’m in the middle of this shit right here.

In that moment, ALL FEAR was gone. I was right where I wanted to be in the whole world. I reached into my pocket, which was difficult with the armor, and took out my light meter. I got readings out the window, inside, the floor under my feet. I did quick averages of the readings in my head. Now all my thoughts were of film. “Okay I’m at about 5.6 outside if I’m at 250 which is a good speed from a moving helicopter. If I want to get stuff outside, I’ll squeeze the fstop down to about 8. If I want inside the bird I’ll open to 2.8, 4 if I want a bit of both.” I set all these functions on the camera and started firing away. The helicopter leaned forward and we tore off across Baghdad.

– Louis CK


Louis CK | Leica MP

Do not know why he took down the rundown of his gear on his old blog, but I only recently found out that the tremendous Louis CK is a Leica shooter. Hope he doesn’t mind me repurposing his post and an article excerpt, but it is fantastic. He’s not just a Leica fetishist like some well-known celebs, but a real film nerd.

Seriously. His stock just rises and rises.

I take a lot of pictures. I am very, very into photography and I was certainly going to take this opportunity to take some. I’m going to show you all the equipment I brought with me. I’m not showing off here. I’m not rich. I just spend all my money on cameras. It’s important to me. I am sharing it with you because to me it’s part of the story.

Louis CK's Leica MP 35mm, 50mm Summilux

Louis CK’s Leica MP 35mm, 50mm Summilux

This is the main dude. A film camera. A range-finder. I only really shoot film, though I do use a digital camera just to record moments, to take snapshots. This Leica is handmade in Germany. It is encased in painted brass and has all mechanical parts. It has no automatic settings. There is a light meter but the battery was dead when I brought it on this trip so I shot the entire trip manually with a hand light meter. The Leica MP is made exactly the same way Leica made Rangefinders in the 60s. It’s not even an SLR. you have to line up images in the rangefinder and hope for the best.

The main reason to use a Leica is the lenses. Leica lenses are hand ground and they just do amazing things with images applied to film. I really love shooting film because there are an infinite ammount of combinations aof types of film (black and white, color, fast, slow, grainy, fine, high contrast, low), ways of exposing the film (pushing, pulling, over-exposing) and lenses to use. Small adjustments to the exposure, like changing the apeture, make dramatic differences from one picture to the next. Shooting without an in-camera light meter forces you to really look at the light you are shooting with, to notice when it changes and to think about what each apeture means and how it will effect your picture. Having prime lenses means you work with one focal length at a time and think and learn about the different characteristics and strengths of each lens and instead of zooming in and out you use your legs and body to frame the photo, which makes you do it more carefully. Comparing this to most digital photography, where you just sort of pump the lens back and forth till you get the framing you want, and snap, letting the camera decide how to expose it. Even with manual and more proffesional digital cameras, the sensors of these cameras are what they are. Theyr’e very limited and you can use photoshop later but it just ain’t the same. Not in my opinion. It’s just my opinion so save your long comments in defense of digital photography. Or don’t. I don’t care.

As I just mentioned, I only use prime lenses, meaning the lens has one size, fixed. It doesn’t zoom. If you want another focal length, you have to change the lens. I brought three lenses with me. The one on the camera is a 50mm Sumilux. It opens to f1.4 which makes it very good for low light and takes incredible daylight pictures when wide open, because of the extremely low depth of field, meaning only the object you focus on is in focus,the enviroment around it is not and the way a Leica Lens treats that area is part of what makes them great.

The other two lenses were an old 90mm lens and a new 35mm aspherical lens. Aspherical means it’s not roundish and so you can take a wide angle picture without getting a distorted rounded image.

Louis CK's Leica 90mm and 35mm lenses

Louis CK’s Leica 90mm and 35mm lenses

This is the light meter I brought, very basic..

Seconic light meter

Louis CK's light meter

Louis CK’s light meter

The last thing I want to say is that Leica cameras are stupid expensive. even really old ones. But you don’t need one to take film pictures. You can get an amazingly good Nikon SLR, (I reccomend the FM2) and good Nikon lenses for very cheap.

– Louis CK


Mary Ellen Mark | What She Taught Me

Mary Ellen Mark passed away last week. She was absolutely one of a kind.

If you have not already, I urge you to go read the many articles and tributes pouring in from writers and artists and her peers.

Her love of teaching has sadly been ignored by the media. It was this personal touch with many of us that made her rise above the ranks of legendary photographers into a legendary mentor, affecting and changing an entire generation of photographers and artists.

The lessons I learned in the short time I spent with her, one travel workshop and one weekend workshop, have stuck with me and I am remember her words clearly like a bell. I can clearly see her influence on me in my proof sheets. She gave me so much in such a short time. I deeply regret not taking more advantage of her openness and giving nature.

I honestly do not know of anyone that could possibly fill the empty space that she left in the world.

Here are the links to her Oaxaca Workshop that provide an extensive breakdown of my experience with her:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

And here is the crux of what she taught me, the lessons and goals I have each time I bring the camera up to my eye.

What I learned from Mary Ellen Mark and Think of Every Time I Shoot

These were the points from her quick appraisal of my initial portfolio review to start the workshop:

  • My portraits are stronger
  • I have too much noise in my street work
  • I am losing the graphic elements and strongly designed frames of my portraits in my street work
  • I need to add a 28mm to my suite of gear (I only shoot with a 35mm on the streets)

As she was going through my photos and making her selects, I had some of my own revelations:

  • My street photos have become very literal, very straightforward
  • I record and capture now more than I create, especially on the street
  • My portraits reflect me controlling a situation and creating and the result is very different
  • Because my candid street shooting has been my priority, I have been solely focused with the ability to get close to people and fire off that shot, in focus and properly exposed. In other words, speed and closeness have trumped other values
  • I have lost the lyrical, weird, quirky aesthetic to my work, qualities that I used to have years ago
  • There is a surreal, disconcerting to many of Mary Ellen’s images that I have always loved. I have never been a very strong surrealist and it is time to incorporate this quality into my work if I can

Mary Ellen’s Tasks for Me

The charge I received from Mary Ellen was simple and was repeated almost daily to me:

  • Stop being safe
  • Put my lens in different places
  • Be bold
  • Be conscious of everything in the frame
  • Reduce the background noise
  • Compose with strong graphic elements
  • Take risks

I will do my best to honor her by doing great and meaningful work, to not suffer fools, to keep pushing in everything, and to keep shooting film.

Thank you, Mary Ellen. It was a blessing to spend time with you.

Mary Ellen Mark taking me to task during a morning proof sheet review

Mary Ellen Mark taking me to task during a morning proof sheet review


Interview on Inside The Phoenix

It was a great pleasure to sit down with the architect and cultural curator Warren Wade Andersen late last year and chat with him about my life and work.

Many of the questions I continually field are in this interview. It was a great time and as much as I hate to hear the sound of my own voice, there’s a lot of good content in here:

Inside The Phoenix interview.

Inside The Phoenix Interview

Inside The Phoenix Interview