I am a non-fiction narrative photographer, specializing in single-frame stories. My subjects are mostly* humans and other creatures, captured in their natural states. My ongoing theme is relationships. What I seek are the telling moments when relationships of subject, object, and setting reveal themselves.
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I’ve been doing this since I was a young teenager in the mid 1970s, so I’ve got a practiced aesthetic, philosophy, and method.
I work a style with purposeful limits. In short: I draw on mid-20th century photojournalism for my visual signature; I depict un-posed moments; tell a visual story; and present it in simple black-and-white.
I treat my subjects as clients. It’s a Golden Rule sort of thing, in which I attempt to portray people—especially strangers—in a manner that they themselves would recognize, and not feel misinterpreted or misrepresented by my photographs. Consequently, there’s a warmth that flows through my work, which is almost devoid of cynicism and sarcasm.
Aesthetically, my challenge then is to avoid the saccharine, sappy, and trite, and to keep my humanist values intelligent, poetic, and sophisticated; then, in the end, make that which is “good” also deep and subtle.
My philosophy and aesthetic are intertwined with, and depend on, a method. For me, it is all about composition and timing. The composition sets the context, the timing catches the moment.
I shoot horizontally, with a wide-angle lens, up-close, and in black-and-white.
I’m big on horizontal framing. I believe in the horizontal frame because it mimics cinematography, which mimics eyesight, which is, in turn, oriented to the horizon itself. A horizon within a rectangle readily accommodates the placement of the subject and other compositional elements within the frame—foreground, mid-range, and background—which are often crucial to telling visual stories.
Similarly, my optical relationship to the world is almost always through a wide-angle lens. The wide-angle lens presents the horizontal frame in a way that resembles our eyesight: we see wide. And, when shot at a “conversational distance,” the wide-angle lens puts oneself and the viewer within the scene. By getting right in there, I am engaged with the scene—serving as an unseen secondary party to the action, lending to the “personal reportage” quality of my images.
Mindful of foreground, mid-range, and background—and in using a wide-angle lens—in turn, I shoot with ample depth-of-field. I am not of the fashion in shooting shallow, with lots of isolating focal blur. Instead, I generally feel that a subject’s setting is very important to the narrative. I’m interested in details: subject, object, setting.
Finally, timing is where the story is told.
Every scene and every subject has its own rhythm. I key into the rhythm, sympathetically, often unconsciously, and look for clues and cues. No posing. As the moment approaches, I ride the rhythm to the up-beat, to the apex moment, and …
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Then, because it is a sympathetic rhythm that I am engaged with, the image itself has an almost automatic empathy built in. We—me as the photographer, you as the viewer—have just participated in a little dance with the subject, often no greater than the eye contact exchanged with a stranger in the flow of a busy sidewalk. And when you make that eye contact you are almost invariably in a momentary state of empathy. That is what I am recording with my camera.
On the visual side, I present almost only in black-and-white. Black-and-white delivers the composition and timing of telling moments best for me. Color elements within a frame can complicate the visual narrative, making the eye stray from the actual subject-object relationship to, say, the yellow shirt in the background. And … I just love black-and-white. It suits me—on multiple levels—so I embrace it as a key element of my style.
Lastly: I want one single shot to tell the story. I edit pictures sets down to the one moment that tells the best story of the scene. And I give it a title. That is the story: one picture with a crafted title. The title is almost as important as the photo, because the title confers closure to the work. The title also acts a verbal frame. It is the one area where I regularly overlap my writing with my photography, because I need that title to be, when possible, a small poem of very few words. I don’t want my titles to be obvious or trite or an amateur’s joke. It needs to inform the image and expand its meaning. Then, the single image, titled and presented as a stand-alone entity, thereby becomes a work of art.
By bringing the images down to stand-alone pieces, it frees me from presenting them in time/place/subject groupings. Instead, when I present a “collection of images,” my preferred method of selecting is through verbal themes that can be poetically interpreted, e.g.: Selected Reading, Now Performing, Field Trips, Assisted Living, Under Cover. My overarching theme is, of course, Relationships.
Given my mid-20th-century aesthetic and philosophical models, my pictures naturally have an old-fashioned quality. However, I am not engaging in historical reenactment with my photography. I’m not trying to time travel. I am seeking to create classic images of universal, eternal human character.
Through it all, after four-and-a-half decades of reporting visual stories, I’ve amassed something of a unified view of the humanity.
* AND I ALSO TAKE PICTURES THAT FEATURE NO PEOPLE AT ALL!
With my 2023 book “Discoveries,” I have revealed another side to my photography. Though my forte is journalistic “telling moments” of humans and other characters, I have also long made a point of photographing what I call “scenes & things”—situations and settings that don’t feature people or creatures. These are landscape and/or architectural depictions of settings and/or details.
What I find interesting is that the aesthetic, philosophy, and technique from my “people” photography carries over almost seamlessly to my “scenes & things” photography. There a little bit more mental presence and technical care in such picture-taking compared my signature “journalistic” photos. Nevertheless, the same photographer is picking the situations, making the compositions, and taking the shots. And, in turn, my “scenes & things” photography has a kinship to my people photography in terms of philosophy and aesthetics … and technique. Such pictures tend to come in quick, spontaneous moments, as a scene, setting, or subject reveals itself while I’m present. Occasionally, I make such shots on a tripod, with some deliberate care; but mostly such shots are hand-held, with only a slowed deliberation from my usual > click < … > click < … > click < tempo.
Yet, my “scenes & things” photography tends to follow my usual philosophy and aesthetic toward “truthful,” un- (or minimally-) manipulated presentation of the subject in a single-frame narrative. I try to be fair to the subject, even when the situation is humorous. And I don’t overdo it when the situation is beautiful (such as dramatically pumping the tonal levels). Instead, as with my people photography, I try to allow the subject, situation, and moment to speak for itself—with the help of well-composed, well-timed, intelligent photography.
I attended San Francisco State University for a bachelor’s degree in creative writing (1982) and a master’s degree in American history (1988). As a photographer, I got what I felt I needed through four years in the photography program at Alhambra High School in Martinez, California (1974-1978). Beyond that, I am self-trained and self-directed.