At my best, when I am shooting B&W, my images are all about light and the way it interacts with the world. I will often shoot the source light itself, the sun or a bank of windows, all blown out and creating an area of dead space.
With film also, metering when shooting the source light is tricky because the range of exposure stops within the image is large. I tend to point the Lecia at the area that will have the proper exposure for the figure in the light, such as the floor, and then reframe. Another great metering tip with the Leica in tricky situations is to take a reading off of your hand when in the same light as the subject, the hand being the greatest gray card.
In this instance, shooting these two standing in front of an installation at MOCA, I metered the room and opened up three stops. I neither wanted the bodies completely silhouetted in black nor the light source completely blown out. I got exactly what I wanted which is a half and half mixture of luck and experience.
Shot with a Leica M6 TTL, 35mm summicron, and Kodak Tri-X 400.
September 22, 2009 through January 3, 2010, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will be hosting the exhibit, Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans. Organized by the National Gallery of Art, the exhibit has traveled from DC to San Francisco, ending in New York. The new exhibit and book are a celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Americans, one of the most influential single series of photographs ever published. The exhibit will feature all 83 photos from the book that were made on his cross-country road trip from 1955-56.
On Friday, October 9th, Robert Frank will be appearing in conversation with the curators and organizers of this presentation at the Met. Do not miss this, as Frank does not make many public appearances these days. Purchase tickets here. I already have mine and am sure it will sell out soon.
Whether you attend or not, purchase the book right now. The expanded hardcover features 83 pages of contact sheets which are a treasure unto themselves (the softcover is an abridged version and does not offer all of the contact sheets.) I have had the book for two weeks and have barely made a dent in it because of the richness offered and the lessons to be learned. The Americans and Robert Frank’s body of work were already inestimable contributions and as familiar as I am with those 83 images, I am stunned by how little I understood the skill and remarkable taste Frank had in his choices, the sequencing of the images, cropping and yes, even grant writing (the original letters are included.)
It is truly an eye-opening experience into how complete his talents are and how the mix of of them achieved a perfect balance with The Americans.
The one thing I will share is the tiniest snippet of a lesson I am absorbing. The shot of the elevator girl in Miami Beach has always been a favorite of mine. Below is an excerpt from the contact sheet with that image on it. You can see Frank working the situation and the idea over 14 frames.
Cartier-Bresson once said of contact sheets:
My contact sheets may be compared to the way you drive a nail in a plank. First you give several light taps to build up a rhythm and align the nail with the wood. Then, much more quickly, and with as few strokes as possible, you hit the nail forcefully on the head and drive it in.
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