How Did I Get Into Photography?

Portrait of BeckermanIt’s a long story. I have worked as a screenplay writer, taxi-cab driver, bus-boy, can-carrier in a movie lab, custom color lab printer, programmer, and lighting director on feature films (the entire list of jobs is too depressing to list).

After working in the film world for ten years, and spending another decade as a programmer in the corporate world – I was propelled one day – or compelled – to try and make a living at photography.

Part of what propelled me back into photography (after my programming stint) was the realization that a properly mounted and framed photograph was a finished product; and that there was a good chance that I would get more satisfaction from this bit of art then weeks or years of managing programmers or compromising on movie scripts. The photograph existed whether anyone liked it or not. Whether anyone saw it. No matter. It existed. It was complete. Photographs don’t need a committee of producers or vice-presidents to give their approval.

In the beginning, I was very happy to simply show my work to friends. I was afraid to try and make a living at it. I was afraid that I would wind up broke (nothing new for me); and I was afraid that the happiness I got from photography would be ruined if I had to depend on it to eat. I made one vow: if I began to take photographs simply because they could be sold, I wouldn’t continue with photography as a business. I have yet to break that vow.

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A New York Photographer is Born

I was born and raised in the Bronx; had my first darkroom when I was fifteen. Introduced to photography at a community center. At the time of this writing, I am 65 years old. (2017 revised)

I have only done black and white photography [and color in the digital age], trying to capture those little ordinary moments of city life that are extraordinary without either denigrating or glorifying people. I still shoot carefully composed shots on a tripod once in awhile.

There are some large format and medium format photographs on the site, taken at a time when I was still developing my craft, studying the Ansel Adams Zone System technique, and learning how to print. I went through a year with digital cameras but returned to film and then, about 10 years ago returned to digital photography.

I was shooting with a Canon 40D with fast prime lenses; and I became interested in digital infrared photography and had a Canon 450D modified so that it is only sensitive to infrared light. I also had a flash modified so that it only emits infrared light. This technique goes back to the great photographers like Weegee (though in those days it was bulky cameras and infrared flash bulbs.)  See example: 42nd Street Dawn

Where did you study black and white photography?

I didn’t attend any photography school or work under the tutorship of any established photographers. What I know has been learned through trial and error. I did spend two years at NYU Graduate School of Film and Television where I learned a great deal about lighting techniques from a fine Hungarian cameraman, Other than that, I am self taught.

I don’t believe that you need to go to school to learn photography. It is more important to have something interesting to say about life, or if not interesting funny. When people ask me about where to study photography, I tell them to study literature or music instead.

Who or what inspires you?

I believe in the 90% perspiration, 10% inspiration motto. Or as one of the Westons said, ‘most of photography is drudgery’. There are, brief flashes of inspiration. When I began doing a lot of street photography, I was inspired by ‘A Vanished World’ by Roman Vishniac, and practically anything by Andre Kertesz. I really don’t know much about the contemporary photographic world. As I walk around the city, inspiration is not a problem, it is everywhere. The only problem I have is turning it off.

What Equipment and film do you use?

Photographers often want to know this. I have taken great pictures with a $90 Canonet (had one of the sharpest lenses I ever owned) and lousy pictures with more expensive equipment. Whether you are shooting with the latest digital camera, or a pinhole camera, it’s the mind and heart behind the camera that matters. As I edit this (2017) I’m using a Lumix GH3 with two prime lenses.

Thank You All

I would like to thank all the visitors to this site who have written to me to say how these straight-forward black and white photos have moved them. And the customers and collectors who have made this dream a reality for 20 years.

Sincerely,

P.S. When I first began selling fine art photography on the web (1999) – the web was not seen as a suitable venue for serious photographers. But after doing a few shows in New York, I decided that I could offer a much wider selection of prints at more sizes through what was then a new media.

I don’t do gallery shows lately because it would mean that the prints would need to be sold for much higher prices, and I would have to sell them at the same prices on this web site. The few gallery shows I did in 1999 were successful, but from the start, I decided I would rather sell more prints at lower prices, than a few prints at higher prices.

In other words, my real satisfaction is knowing that these prints are affordable, and the quality is just as good as anything you will find in a New York gallery at 10 times the cost. Oh, and one more thing if you’ve read this far – I have gotten more personal satisfaction from seeing my prints on a living room walls, then anything I ever did when I made much more money in the corporate world or sold a couple of high-priced prints at New York galleries.