Diana & Lomo surprises

By | photography

To many people nowadays who have discovered the enchanting possibilities of film photography with what is essentially a plastic “toy” camera, the following will come as a surprise. What they think is a sympathetic hype and reaction to all the perfection and manipulability brought on by the sweep of digital imaging and high-tech camera’s, has started in the mid-1960’s at Ohio University in the photography classes and has never been away since!

In those days it was the Diana, a basically all-plastic toy camera from Hong Kong, which came in cases of 144 at a price of little more than a dollar a piece… a nice handout for educational purposes. The blur, flares, wrong exposures, light leaks and scores of unexpected effects were so exciting to the young and rebellious art students already used to the near-perfection of the materials of the day. I myself for instance used Kodak Tri-X with my Leica’s and Nikons (still do, what more can you wish for, actually…). The Diana grew more and more popular, and many (also very serious) photographers used one at some time as a sort of underground activity. I have shortly played around with a toy camera that took a fast sequence of 4 shots, but after some time the plastic lenses came out, if I remember well.

There were competitions and photobooks of exclusively Diana photographs; “Iowa” by Nancy Rexroth ©1977, distr. by Light Impressions, New York, is a remarkable book I bought in those days. Beautifully done, and the subject (childhood dreams) wonderfully fits the imagery that the Diana camera delivers. There have been other plastic camera’s since, like the Lomo of today, and there is another generation of photographers, fed up with the predictability of the “perfect” camera that “thinks for you” and instantly delivers the sharpest picture possible, without nasty surprises. Point is, however, lots of people love surprises. There’s a kick to be found in the unexpected, and sometimes you’ll find a gem…

2 quotes: Winogrand compared to Frank & importance

By | photography, street photography

“Although profoundly influenced by Frank, Winogrand’s work is informed by a more analytical and systematic intelligence than that of his predecessor; this intelligence has allowed Winogrand to deal successfully with experience more complex, subtle and philosophically unresolved -more mysterious- than that described in Frank’s work”

“[ … ]  most issues of importance can not be photographed.”

John Szarkowski, preface from “Mirrors and Windows, American Photography since 1960” © 1978 MoMa New York.

Bill Brandt: description and story-telling

By | photography

“Throughout his career, Brandt used photographs to tell stories, and London in the Thirties is a collection of three stories.” The well-known photobook by Bill Brandt from which I cite, contains 96 photographs, showing in 3 chapters his pictures of a vanishing class society in what was later to become the “A day in the life of…” -style. His observations of both high and low class Londoners are individually strong images of iconic value, which in their combination tell the story of a society holding on to old values and traditions which are bound to change. The photographs describe, their juxtapositions tell a story…

quote: © Mark Haworth-Booth, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: introduction to Bill Brandt: London in the Thirties” (Pantheon Books, New York 1984)

love and desire

By | photography, street photography

When William A. Ewing, the author of the the photobook “Love and Desire” (Chronicle Books / Thames and Hudson 1999, and a number of editions in various languages) asked me if he could use one of my house parties pictures, he wanted to know, did I perhaps have more photographs that could be grouped under this heading. O, sure, was my instantaneous reaction. Come to think of it, in fact most of my photography is about love and desire; especially when you think of it in the widest sense, apart from the purely physical or erotic connotations. Photography may well be seen as an act of love and desire; the love of life itself in all of its manifestations and sudden beauty, the desire to experience and partake, to observe and understand, to capture and share and maybe even own some of it.

This is what I also realized when I recently looked once again at some books by Garry Winogrand. To me he remains the greatest observer of life’s miracles at street level, but who elevated photography far above the business of making a buck or making an impression. His maniacal search for images of life going on all around him (he left a third of a million pictures at the time of his death) could only be stopped by his untimely passing away, and even his closest friends could only guess what he was striving for in the images that he had taken during his latest years, once they looked in bewilderment at the proofed and printed results from the bagloads of undeveloped films they found at his house. If you could call him an addict, he wasn’t addicted to photography, but to experiencing and getting to grips with life where he discovered it: on the very streets of his own life.

collecting: photobooks or real prints after all?

By | photography, street photography

Original prints by well-known photographers have become very expensive. Many collectors have moved to collecting photography books instead, rather than looking for less famous names and photographers whose work is still available and sometimes just as interesting. Martin Parr’s publication The Photobook about what he considers to be the most important  photobooks did the rest. Personally I don’t care which photobooks are hot or not, I know what I like and I will buy the occasional book that I love (and if you read my blog or visit my website www.tomstappers.com  you won’t be surprised that it’s mostly black and white photography, of which a big part is street photography, and no digital). I prefer the original print, there’s nothing to beat it, and one of my own signed 30/40 silvergelatin prints for instance, is still cheaper than some of these collectable photobooks, so ….