Please welcome Week 23 Artist, nonac. who was guest curated by Desolate Places (formerly known as Duff Suds). On Flickr.
1) You are from Pittsburgh, how do you feel that the urban setting influences your vision - especially portraits?
I was born in Pittsburgh and after college moved out West to Colorado, then it was out to California for a short stint and a few other places in between, but in the end I found myself back where I started, the City of Pittsburgh, the place that is definitely my "home". Living and shooting in the city has influenced me greatly and I believe it has provided me with that essential diverse atmosphere to develop within, it has also provided a landscape that is never the same, ever-changing, so to speak. My particular vision is to never be devoid of diversity and always reflect that in the serious work I produce as a photographer. I strive to find the unique, the subject matter that I've never approached before with the camera. Pittsburgh, as well as every other metropolitan environment I have either lived in or visited has provided a never-ending bounty of subjects to document with the camera. That is incredibly important to me as I tend to favor portraiture as my genre of choice with the camera. The city is always alive and always changing, growing, altering its own makeup and design, I feel that is why I have grown to love documenting its fabric, the people who call it home, with my camera.
2) What are you thinking and feeling when you're talking to some of these people you've photographed?
I rarely have a predestined approach when shooting street portraiture, I must rely on spontaneity to decides the path and course of action I take with the camera. Unless I am working on a commissioned project or gallery exhibition I let my eyes to the walking and my mind to the talking. I am quite an inquisitive person by nature, I love meeting new people no matter the place and time so I am usually concerned with finding out why a particular person struck me enough to stop dead in my tracks, walk up to them hold out my hand and introduce myself and eventually my camera.
I want to express my own deep, personal feelings about how important it is to meet someone new each day. To enrich my own life by beginning a new friendship, albeit brief in most cases, and do what just comes naturally...the art of conversation. It's my belief that we would all be better off if we just took the time to say "hello" to one another. That sometimes completely freaks out people, it seems that people don't want to be bothered in any fashion, they'd rather go about their day and business without never really taking the time to say "hello" as they pass by a complete stranger. Me, well, I can't just walk by and ignore someone. I feel compelled to spread an ounce of kindness to just about everyone I meet. I feel it's important to my survival as a person. I simply cannot grow as a human being unless I interact and listen.
3) You seem to be very close to some of your subjects, referencing them by name and shooting portraits on different occasions as you come across them - how does "knowing them" effect the way you depict them and have you ever become too close with any of your subjects?
I have become great friends with a handful of people who merely started out as subjects for my lens. Some I have been documenting for 6-7-8 years now. Simply "knowing them" has greatly affected the way I depict these folks, almost to the point to where I share a great sense of intimacy with these people and I have been able to express that through a passing moment that only I have seen and felt compelled to capture and share. I believe "knowing them" has allowed me to capture these intimate moments with great ease and sensitivity but never to the point where I feel hampered or distracted by our friendships. These people simply feel comfortable with me entering their lives now and snapping the shutter. That has been incredibly important to me. I want my subjects to know they can trust me. I will not violate their trust nor portray them in any fashion that would violate that trust they have extended to me.
We share secrets, we've begun to know each others habits, interests, birthdays, routines...it's made me a well-wounded social documentarian in my honest opinion mainly because I have developed feelings and concerns for this small pool of subjects who trust me in the way they do. When they hurt, I hurt, When they smile, I smile. I want to express those moments whenever possible.
4) What do you want people to learn about the people you photograph?
That we are all common celebrities and have a place on this earth together. That we cannot exist without each other, that what happens to another could easily happen to each one of us. That no one single person is above another, that we are all here for a reason no matter the color of our skin, the language we speak, the places we live and call home or the jobs/vocations we have chosen as our life's work. I want people to learn that there is something unique in each of us and even though we may not acknowledge that certain something every day it's out there, willing to be noticed and appreciated. I want people to know that it's critical to "find the good in everyone".
5) Out of the photos we've chosen here, which portrait means the most to you and why? Is there another you wish we had chosen?
Why..., well, I was having a conversation that day with Claudelle on a street in downtown Pittsburgh on a day when I was going through quite a rough patch personally. Claudelle saw me walking down the opposite side of the street, walked over to me and asked me, "What's wrong, baby, why do you look like you just lost your best friend?" What happened, Craig?". He took the time to recognize that I was not feeling my best, that something was troubling me and approached me about it. I explained my pain, he paused for a moment and began to provide sage advice on what I could and should do to combat the problems and issues I was facing. It was at that moment that I felt compelled to snap the shutter, it's my nature to do so. I remember that moment, his advice till this day and it helped me immensely to get through the funk I was in. I want to remember that small act of kindness for as long as I can. The portrait provides that memory for me.
6) Some of the photos in your stream are politically charged. What can you tell us about your portrait of the US Marine?
I try, so hard, to remain objective when I shoot but it's the one flaw I have and just can't shake. That fact does shine through, sometimes, when I provide a bit of commentary with the images I snap and share.
The U.S. Marine I met and documented a few years ago really amped up the strong feelings I have against the wars and conflicts that we, the United States, are involved with now. I am a pacifist, I am not ashamed to say that either and I will debate my point of view with anyone who logically wants to do so. But at the same time that one Marine reminded me of the great sacrifices people make in the lives and how important those sacrifices are in the fabric of all our lives. I respect those who chose to serve in the military, I wish for their safe return home each day, but at the same time I am greatly conflicted because of my personal belief that war is not necessary and can be avoided if we only take the time to try to do so.
When I met that Marine and chatted with him for 30 minutes or so about his choices, about his pending deployment to Iraq and about the reasons why he gave his time to protecting our great country I better understood better the choices we all have to make in life and why we make them. Life simply isn't all about being selfish all the time, caring only for oneself and our livelihood. Sometimes there is great worth and importance to making decisions that aren't the easiest to understand or accept.
7) In the same vein of thinking, what can you tell us about your portrait of the Vietnam Vet? How do you feel when you come across former soldiers on the streets? Do you see a brighter future for today's returning vets?
Charles was quite an intense person. Someone that felt forgotten, thrown away, discarded. Not only because he was black and poor now, but 30 years ago he felt the same way when he came back from Vietnam. He felt betrayed by the same people who sent him off to possibly die for reasons he never understood nor had explained to him. He felt as if he was merely disposable then, and now.
I feel a great sense of gratitude when I meet a veteran, I feel humbled. I realize that I need to sacrifice more in my life for things that are for the greater good and the betterment of society as a whole, as these men and women have done. Those who served in the armed services did so for complete strangers, a country made up of people they'd never meet.
IMHO I can't honestly answer your questions about the pending future of those vets returning home today from conflicts around the globe. I am deeply saddened when I hear stories about deteriorating hospital conditions and care, about conflicts with pay and bonuses owed...When I read of the obscene ignorance towards the rising suicide rates among veterans and about the additional time each has been forced to serve even after tours of duty have ended because of mishaps in military planning by our leaders in Washington...I can only hope that each and every soldier, person, returning from war receives every possible avenue of assistance and compensation available to them. They deserve every bit of it.
8) If you could photograph one person, living or dead, who would it be?
My grandfather. He was the reason I fell in love with photography. He gave me my first camera. he taught me how to shoot. He also had a great love of people, something he passed on to me in one way or another. I know I took his photograph once or twice when he was alive, regrettably I cannot find any photos I took of him.
9) Show us your favorite photograph on Flickr.
Not easy to answer, but I will point out on image I find to be indelible and iconic that I spied recently on Flickr...
by Jill. Coleman
It's simply so well captured, so intense and emotional, so intimate and unforgettable.
I will also add one image not on Flickr, one that is from one photographer I find to truly be an inspiration with the camera in in my own life's purpose.
Mary Ellen Mark's iconic image, "The Damn Family in their car". It's the look and expression on everybody's face in the frame, it gives great emotion to the photograph. The image conveys what i love about street portraiture/social documentary photography; intimacy. I believe you can feel and understand the trust between Mary Ellen Mark and the family in the car.
I had the opportunity to meet Mary Ellen Mark in person and speak with her for some time (right in front of a print of this image) a few years back. That one photo, that experience of being in the presence of a truly gifted photographer and person truly moved me and continues to shape me as a person and as a photographer.
the image can be seen here: www.airarchive.com/
10) What is your main piece of equipment for capturing these portraits?
I tend to carry only one camera, and one lens with me as I photograph. That tends to be a Canon 20D or 5D and the very inexpensive and incredibly dynamic Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens. I do carry a few other primes Canon L lenses with me from time to time but no flashes, no soft boxes or any other gear; no hocus pocus. I want to keep it simple. I don't want to overwhelm nor intimate a subject with a ton of gear, I want to appear as i am, a simple man with a simple purpose. I have been shooting a ton of street portraits lately for a book and two gallery exhibitions next year with a 50 year old Yashica C and a Kowa Six MM medium format cameras. Shooting with those require a tripod generally, a light meter, a backpack full of film and other gadgets, which I don't mind carrying. I want to make sure I have the gear I need to capture the portrait I desire. But I like the simplicity that shooting w/ a dslr provides. I can head out with one camera body, one lens and be successful and content with what I shot.