Color Blind

The people who work with me have pointed out that I’m color blind. Fortunately I can tell my greens from reds, so I’m allowed to drive, but apparently I can’t really see the color blue particularly well. This became particularly obvious after that long, angry weekend I previously described. I invited everyone back into the studio and with great pride showed my team The Grey Room, a new set that I had destroyed and then re-sanctified with buckets of grey paint.

Or, as my team pointed out to me… BLUE paint.  I’ll take their word, I guess…

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I just found this wonderful two-part article called the The Crayolafication of the World that explores the naming of colors, how we got there, and how it has affected our perception. The author explores how different cultures have come about naming colors. It is not as analogous as you’d expect it to be. A lot of cultures don’t make a distinction between blue and green, for instance.

How many colors can you name? I can probably get to fifteen, but that begins reaching into purely descriptive terms. (Rust? Eggplant? Egg yolk? Those might describe East German hair colors for older ladies…)

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Part Two of the article gets into the slightly more scientific aspects of color recognition. Children take comparatively long to acquire a nomenclature for the various colors. I can’t recall whether that was the case… It seemed my three sons figured out colors very early, but one thing that I will remember forever was a particular bonding experience with my first son. I’m not sure whether it was simply because I had more time for him than others that weekend, or whether we’re wired to communicate a certain way – we’re both highly communicative… to a fault!  But at that time he was walking around pointing at things and saying “Elmo”, possibly one of his first words. Well, I sussed out that he was only pointing at red objects, and Elmo is a red furry Sesame Street monster… and we just spent the rest of the time walking around the house pointing out Elmo-colored things and saying the word “red.”

The point is that language has a lot to do with perception, because language becomes definition. I am completely bilingual (German and English) and can bullshit my way through a number of other languages. To anyone who speaks more than one language, you realize that straight translation is impossible, that all words are loaded with historic and cultural values, and that they have a distinct etymology. This means that people have different experiences because they don’t just get filtered through a personal matrix of reference points, but that there are distinct cultural aspects that define our experiences.

And maybe that’s why I see the set as grey, and my Berlin teams sees it as blue. People here seem to have more words for grey than eskimos have for snow… which is less than I thought.

Whaddaya call that?

I’m stumped. I’m not sure how to describe my own photography. My assistant Thomas Schäfer has begun a new project, and I seem to have inspired the guy… he built a set, rented a lot of furniture, and worked with actors to create some highly narrative images. We were talking about this style today, and even though I can think of plenty of photographers who inspire me, who have gone before me, or who I consider contemporaries… I wish I could find a quick phrase to sum up this style.

The great masters of this are Gregory Crewdson and David LeChapelle, but there are guys like Erwin Olaf and Eugenio Recuenco who are doing technically inspiring work.

Maybe it’s a good thing that there isn’t a phrase yet. On some level, it’s a very deliberate process, much more like painting than it is photography. Every item gets carefully placed, and is vested with some meaning… why put a pomegranate there? Why aren’t they looking at each other? Should the light be coming from slightly below the main character? What I do isn’t simply taking a picture, it’s making an image. And that is very distinct and specific way to stage a shot.

…here’s another teaser from my new series, tentatively entitled the Dark Project. Obviously a lot of Caravaggio, but also some Füssli in the mix.

EDIT:  I’m just going with “Narrative Photography” for now. It’s kinda what I do …

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Worst Case Scenario

I don’t know anymore when I began using the phrase Worst Case Scenario. If I had to guess it would have been in the late 1980s, when I was selling syndicated television and advertisement in New York. Everyone wanted to be Gordon Gecko, but at least in TV we had real swagger. Or so I thought, going to work in a suit with suspenders every day, while humping it to the Fordham University dark room at night to finish my degree.

I have a lot of other phrases. Some come and go, a few change their meaning, while there will be those that somehow define me.

I laid awake tonight next to my four-year old, waiting for him to drift off to sleep. I was wondering what it would be like if phrases were people. How cool would it be if you could take Worst Case Scenario out on the town for the weekend? A nice French dinner, or some Korean chicken shack in Kreuzberg. Just driving around and hitting a few museums. Do you think Worst Case Scenario would come bearing gifts? Hopefully she’d take me into a hotel room and fuck me like crazy till I couldn’t walk properly. Her tight little body grinding down on me until the neighbors complained… Or maybe we’d just drive through town endlessly listening to Trentemøller. Who knows…

Goodness, I can only imagine a visit from “It is what it is.”

Or “End of Line”.

Selecting images

I hate selecting images. Years ago, when I shot film, I had to be a lot more deliberate about the images I captured because I would run out of film very quickly. But digital photography allows me to shoot for hours without a pause.

Recently I shot three very talented dancers. When I work with dancers for the first time whom I don’t know well it is hard for me to anticipate their moves, or to know their routines. Subsequently I shoot a lot, and this time I ended up with 1,400 frames from one full day of shooting. Ouch.

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I usually wait a few days after shooting before I look at the images I’ve captured. Honestly? I find image selection a battlefield of self-doubt and loathing. All I see is what I did wrong, what I missed, what should have been obvious. The problem is when I shoot I switch into full creative mode, and the technical part of my brain goes out for a long drive to the countryside. I once shot for twenty minutes only to realize I had not focused the camera. Fortunately I could just reshoot because the set and models where still in place. Another time I shot for a while without noticing that my fill-flash wasn’t firing… which led to a much more dramatic lighting. Those were the lucky moments. More often than not I found myself sitting in front of my computer, seriously wondering whom I’m fooling. A real photographer would not make the kind of mistakes I made that day… My self-esteem is not a reliable travel partner on the best of days, but editing time is usually when I get to be completely on my own… no confidence or pride anywhere in sight.

A great musician spends a lot of time listening to all kinds of music, and a good writer reads a lot. So as a photographer, I look at other people’s images all day long. But of course, I am seeing another photographer’s twenty best images that were created in the course of a year or more… But when I look at my pile of raw data, initially I see nothing but shit.

It passes. I usually (though not always) end up with images that work. Over the years I’ve gotten better, and technically more proficient. I trust my gear and my basic skills, and half the time when I shoot I’m just directing the model, and making sure the feet are in the frame. But I still wonder why I didn’t notice the lamp right behind the model, why I didn’t just move a little higher, or why the damn foot is out of the frame after all!