#60 Meet Kris Sanford, Artist and Educator of Young Photographers...

Her art explores intimate relationships, specifically queer desire, through the use of appropriated images, video, and text.

Kris Sanford, “Susan” 2000/2015 Portraits

Kris Sanford, “Susan” 2000/2015 Portraits

Kris Sanford, “Nathan” 2000/2015 Portraits

Kris Sanford, “Nathan” 2000/2015 Portraits

Kris Sanford grew up in southeast Michigan. She received a BFA in photography from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and an MFA in photography from Arizona State University.

Kris has exhibited her work nationally and internationally, including group exhibitions in Amsterdam, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, London, Miami, and New York. She was named a finalist for the 2018 Dorthea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Other recent awards include the Fellowship 17 International Award from Silver Eye Center for Photography and the Visual Studies Workshop Residency Award through Critical Mass 2016. She was included in the GETXOPHOTO 2016 photography festival in Getxo, Spain and had a solo exhibition at Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon in 2017. Her photographs have been featured in Fraction Magazine, Light Leaked, and Slate. She is represented by Catherine Couturier Gallery in Houston, Texas and Tilt Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Kris Sanford, “Folding Chairs” 2011 from the series “Through the Lens of Desire”

Kris Sanford, “Folding Chairs” 2011 from the series “Through the Lens of Desire”


Kris Sanford, from the series “Cropped” (2011)

Kris Sanford, from the series “Cropped” (2011)


(c)  VICTORIA CRAYHON . Untitled Holland MI

(c) VICTORIA CRAYHON. Untitled Holland MI

#59 Meet Doug Menuez, "Fearless Genius" Photojournalist

“Art is anything you can get away with.”

Marshall McLuhan (and Andy Warhol)

Who is Doug Menuez?

Documentary photographer and director Doug Menuez once stood at the North Pole, crossed the Sahara, had tea with Stalin's daughter and held a chunk of Einstein's brain. Quitting his blues band in 1981, he began his career freelancing for Time, LIFE, Newsweek, Fortune, USA Today, the New York Times Magazine and many other publications. He covered the AIDS crisis, homelessness in America, politics, five Super Bowls and the Olympics. His portrait assignments included Presidents Bush, Sr. and Clinton, Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Lenny Kravitz, Mother Teresa, Jane Goodall and Hugh Jackman. His award-winning advertising campaigns and corporate projects for global brands include Chevrolet, FedEx, Nikon, GE, Chevron, HP, Coca Cola, Emirates Airlines, Charles Schwab and Microsoft.

His fourth book, “Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985-2000,” by Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books, became a #1 bestseller on Amazon’s photo book list and was published in the US, Japan, the UK, South Korea and China. Over 100 million people worldwide have seen the project through the book, exhibits, viral press and talks. A fine art exhibition of rare images of Silicon Valley’s greatest innovators, including Steve Jobs, as they changed our world continues to travel. His extensive archive of over one million images was acquired by Stanford University Libraries in 2004. Doug divides his time between the Hudson Valley and NYC.

Doug Menuez, “Steve Jobs Returning from an Employee Picnic. Santa Cruz Highway, California” (1987)

Doug Menuez, “Steve Jobs Returning from an Employee Picnic. Santa Cruz Highway, California” (1987)

Doug Menuez. “Steve Jobs Explaining Ten Year Technology. Development Cycles. Sonoma, California” (1986)

Doug Menuez. “Steve Jobs Explaining Ten Year Technology. Development Cycles. Sonoma, California” (1986)

Doug Menuez, “Steve Jobs Rallies the Troops” (1986)

Doug Menuez, “Steve Jobs Rallies the Troops” (1986)

Doug Menuez, “Steve Jobs Considers a Response. Palo Alto, California” (1986)

Doug Menuez, “Steve Jobs Considers a Response. Palo Alto, California” (1986)

Doug Menuez, “The Founders of Adobe Systems Preparing to Release Photoshop. Mountain View, California” (1988)

Doug Menuez, “The Founders of Adobe Systems Preparing to Release Photoshop. Mountain View, California” (1988)

“We’re primates—we look for eyes, expression and emotion in the human face. The face is how we connect with people.” — Doug Menuez


Doug Menuez, “Hacienda de San José del Refugio Amatitan” (2001),   from his book  “   Heaven, Earth, Tequilla   ”

Doug Menuez, “Hacienda de San José del Refugio Amatitan” (2001), from his bookHeaven, Earth, Tequilla

Elliott Erwitt, “California Kiss, Santa Monica, CA” (1955)

Elliott Erwitt, “California Kiss, Santa Monica, CA” (1955)

Rubin “Elliott Erwitt” (2011)

Rubin “Elliott Erwitt” (2011)

Menuez has balanced the commercial and the art in photography. “The main point remains that during the entire history of photography there has been a constant debate about it being art or not. Avedon merged art and commerce, as did Steichen decades before him as he fought this battle. Today the result is people are making editions of 1 to create the one of a kind object. Young collectors don’t give a shit, but there are still [only] about 100 serious fine art photo collectors in the US.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-23 at 2.26.56 PM.png

The Concerned Photographer (on Amazon)

W. Eugene Smith, master of the photo story. Not ashamed of moving people, or sandwiching negatives… but he made a clear point that he was an artist.

It was the truth as he saw it.

Smith, “Welsh Minors, Wales” (1950)  A0825

Smith, “Welsh Minors, Wales” (1950)


Smith, “Walk to Paradise Garden” (1946)  A0824

Smith, “Walk to Paradise Garden” (1946)


A nice story about W. Eugene Smith and his photo “Walk to Paradise Garden”


Here’s an example of vignetting (from It’s a strange effect, oddly hard to notice when done well. It also can be applied heavily and look odd.

Here’s an example of vignetting (from It’s a strange effect, oddly hard to notice when done well. It also can be applied heavily and look odd.

Rubin “Fleet Week” (2011)

Rubin “Fleet Week” (2011)

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Vignetting is a form of cropping, but using the darkening function around the edges to narrow the viewers view, almost like looking down a tube at the photo. Here’s a more subtle version of vignetting, where the entire image (except the two men) has been burned in, with the lower area of the street and the upper left, both pushed even more, to make the subjects draw your eye a little better.

“The best camera is the one you have with you.”

Chase Jarvis (Visionary photographer, director, and social artist)

The Leica M.  A precision tool. Without a lens it’s somewhere between $5-8K. I’ve seen side-by-side comparisons of Leica photos and iPhone photos, and in many cases the images are comparable (which is amazing); but the Leica is still a precision optical device and there’s more to a great shot than the resolution of the output.

The Leica M. A precision tool. Without a lens it’s somewhere between $5-8K. I’ve seen side-by-side comparisons of Leica photos and iPhone photos, and in many cases the images are comparable (which is amazing); but the Leica is still a precision optical device and there’s more to a great shot than the resolution of the output.

Dorthea Lange, “Migrant Mother” (1936)

Dorthea Lange, “Migrant Mother” (1936)

Such a classic, and sensitive, image from Lange. Oh, and less widely known in that she retouched the photo to remove some stuff in the lower right. Like Adams, photographers weren’t so sensitive about using a pencil or needle to clean up negatives.

Dorthea Lange, “Migrant Mother” (1936) — and other shots from that shoot.

Dorthea Lange, “Migrant Mother” (1936) — and other shots from that shoot.


Rubin:                      Hey Suzanne.

Suzanne:                  Hey, Rubin. How are you?

Rubin:                        I'm great. I'm really excited to introduce you to a kind of a great photographer friend of mine, Doug Menuez. This is Suzanne. Suzanne. Doug. Good morning. Hi, how are you?

Menuez:                   Good to see you too, Michael. Thank you.

Rubin:                        It's great to see you. Um, I wanted to just introduce you a little bit to our audience. Um, you are an unbelievable photo journalist and, um, yeah, and I think the thing I wanted to say most, uh, you're known for covering the sort of the birth and explosion of Silicon Valley starting in the 80s. Um, and I want to say as a collector of photography, there are certain classic photos in civilization. You know, Margaret Burke White's pictures of Gandhi or you know, Cartier Bresson shooting Martin Luther King's rally. And I swear your pictures of the creation, uh, with Steve Jobs are among those pictures. They are going to be part of the, the history of photography forever. And it's just wonderful to know you and like, I'm kind of little, a little emotional, a fan going right now.

Menuez:                   We have to end this interview right now. We compose myself, you know, listen, I'm grateful, so grateful because we all want to reach our audience. You know, you work hard to make these images that connect with people, saw him. I'm hugely flattered and I'm really moved by that. Beautiful. Thank you. Compliment. And I mean obviously, um, I try to stay humble because whenever I don't, then God crushes me like a bug on the windscreen. But that was a pretty good compliment. Thanks Mike.

Rubin:                        Nice. Well you are an amazing photo journalist and um, but one of the things, I mean I think people can tune into some of your great talks about fearless genius or about some of your new work, but our audience, our target, our audience, our consumers. There are just people with iPhones. And so a lot of what I want to talk to you about it just your relationship to photography, you know, and, and how you feel about it. And I suppose the first thing I'd, I'd just like to ask you is, um, well actually so many things you've resist calling yourself an artist. I've noticed like you, you say you're a visual storyteller. What is that?

Menuez:                   Uh, I went back to artists today on Instagram,

Rubin:                        Graham.

Menuez:                   I mean, who isnt conflicted in the visual and creative world, right? You know, this is a therapy issue, but no, I mean since I was 10 years old, I want it to be an artist. I was studying painting and we'd go to the Museum of modern art and look at Matisse and Picasso. And then I discovered photography. My father gave me a camera and also the concern photographer, the beautiful book with the Magnet Starvis when I was 12 so I knew that was my, my medium and I embrace it. And I think in photography as I was growing up, it wasn't considered art. You know, and I went to art school and it was always suspect and the big issue was really came down to collect your valuation because you could make multiple prints. It wasn't the object. So I internalized this conflict in the world.

Menuez:                   I mean, when I was around 10 or 11 Avedon's print of Princess bore gazing was accepted in the collection, the permanent collection. It was the museum, Modern Art. And it was a big scandal because he was in the times, they described it as a commercial photographer. And so, you know, this is a never ending thing, but I do feel like I've always wanted to be an artist. I went to art school all the way I talk about it now is as a documentary photographer working in telling stories, I basically am saying this is a subjective truth, this is how I see it and no one can tell me they can be truly objective. You know I, I worked for the magazine is time and life and Newsweek and I saw a lot of occasions where objectivity was not employed. It's just so hard. So I think what I think an artist does is they feel compelled to express something within themselves. And that's what I do visually through the camera. And thanks for letting me,

Rubin:                        but you, you go back and forth. Can you talk a lot about, you've managed to create a balance that few have between being an artist and being a commercial photographer. How do you do that? Like how do you not fall too deeply into one side or the other?

Menuez:                   Well, you know, another way that I access this is through Andy Warhol who said, art is whatever you can get away with. Um, I really see, I really feel like there's, the question that you're asking is how do you reconcile the work that you feel called to do that gives you passion that you're passionate about, that gives you joy and the work you must do to make a living. And there is a lot of misconceptions about the ladder in terms of how you get it. And I figured out, I guess in the late nineties after being a photo journalist for a long time, and then the change that was happening in advertising was they were looking for authenticity. The audience was looking for more authenticity and was shifting from aspirational. Get this portion you can be groovy to, oh, that experience I can relate to. Maybe this is a really good product. I slow.

Menuez:                   Yeah. I think, I think that was an important cultural shift as the audience became hip to being manipulated. I think there's partly the digital revolution. Anyway, I just saw an opportunity there and I thought it was a chance actually to kind of go back to art school in that I could reconcile the conflict by defining myself in the commercial space. This is what I do. This is how I see you can exploit that. You can use me, uh, to a certain amount. I can be useful for you, but this is how it is. I shoot, I don't change my eye or how I shoot, which was the thing. A lot of times people would get hired because of their name and then in the commercial project they would have them shoot something completely, uh, you know, antithetical to what they stood for. So it was always horrible, but they did it for the money. So I decided I wanted to wake up in the morning and be a photographer, whether I was taking pictures of my kid or I was doing a commercial assignment or a commission to do a portrait of someone or a longterm documentary project. So that was how I did it.

Rubin:                        Do you, um, do you have any issues with photo manipulation tools like Photoshop? Where do you draw the line? Is there a line where you foot manipulate anything or do you not manipulate or what's, okay, sorry. That's it.

Menuez:                   This is, this is such an important question and it's also cyclical. And you know, when I was starting out on newspapers in the 70s, um, we would hear stories about photographers in the forties using pencils to change pictures and then transmitting them. I heard stories in the 60s people doing that. And even in the 70s, people were, they were manipulating photographs here and there. People were cheating, if you will. We took an oath. I remember the NPPA, the NPPA had a, uh, a manifesto you had to sign or you had to read to be a member that you would always tell the truth, you would manipulate your photos. Um, but then, you know, one of my greatest influences and inspirations was a photographer named w Eugene Smith and Jane Smith was the father of the photo essay more or less in life magazine. He was the king of that. And when I was 17, I actually got to meet him and hear him talk and then show him my work. And one of the things he talked about was he wasn't ashamed of having moved people towards the window. He wasn't ashamed of having sandwiches negative. It was like, you know, it's fact relig that he would manipulate. But he made it very clear point that he felt that he was an artist. He had a letter from Ansel Adam saying he was an artist.

Rubin:                        She read a certified, I certified the certification.

Menuez:                   He wanted that, that validation, it seemed, and he really believed that it was the truth as he saw it. And that was the best he could do. That's how he did it. So I always had that in my mind and then jump forward from, uh, that to being an intern at the Washington Post and in the dark room, we all had a little vile of potassium, fair, Sinai, deadly poison, and next to our fixer. So that when we were finishing our prints or I and the developer, we could bleach and highlights or narrows more than we could move if we were dodging. So we were dodging and burning all newspaper for starters. We're doing that because you had 60 line screens, right? You could barely see the photo anyway. So you're trying to make lights and darks to move your eye. Your eye goes to the lightest area of the picture.

Menuez:                   This is a really important point for all your listeners. This is the law of physics here. Your eye will go to the lightest area. So that's where you want to have the emotional impact. That's what we want of this center of interest. Right? And, and if it's light around the edges, you're, I just flies right off and you're onto the next thing somewhere else. You're gone until we wedding. Right? Hence vignetting, hence vignetting. And it's a way to move through the user's eye without them realizing it. So it's always been about manipulating the viewers a response and being able to see the information clearly and quickly. Now, has that been abused? Yeah, it's been so much, so much. And uh, with Photoshop, you know, I guess the short answer would be if you want to cut all that out, the sure. The short answer would be, as Russell Brown famously said, when he was being attacked, when Photoshop was being productized, hey, this is a hammer with this.

Menuez:                   You can build a house or you can tear it down. It's just a tool. You know, I, I heard him say, we've talked to him yet last week and um, he said that exact thing, but it's not, but it's not, I'm not sure I totally agree with that because to abdicate all responsibility, like whatever you make with this is we're convincing people of something. You know, people absorb. It's like a, uh, a chemical that goes through the blood brain barrier. Like it gets to sneak through and you perceive it as truth and as an artist, of course, your truth that you know, you're communicating your truth, but it has a journalist. Of course you're supposed to sort of have objective objectivity, but we know no foot photograph is objective. It's, it's, it's a fallacy from, it's from the premise, right.

Suzanne:                  I was just going to say does it also depend on kind of the, the um, the moral standards of the person making it like the w with the hammer reference is that person needs, you are either going to build something or they're going to like tear it down and it's what they're intending to do with it. If you have every intention of trying to fool people, that's what you're bringing to that. And it's hard for the audience to have to like to decipher that it's, but it's kind of wrong on that, on that person's, uh, intention of like, I want to fool people with photo journalism. That seems wrong. If you're making art...

Rubin:                        Suzanne, Doug, the, the famous picture from National Geographic where they moved to the pyramids slightly to fit it on their vertical format. You have any issue with that? Is that okay? I will decline comment on that. But I would say this, I want to go back to when I said the way behind my statement of Russell's about the hammer, the tool of this a tool was an assumption that we have a social contract that we will use it for. Good to Suzanne's point, journalists work really hard to get at the truth and this is not respected today in America obviously. Yeah. And I, I really feel like this is a sacred trust that the creators and the writers have to have with their audience to make this, it's a social contract, so yeah. Yeah. I feel like that's what what we have to remember. And that means you got to make an effort to keep that contract on both sides. It's a meeting of the minds and digital technology has weakened that contract because people don't know what to trust.

Menuez:                   And if it's, and by the way, the cover of a book or a magazine, it's got two seconds to catch your eye. And so you, and it's more of an ad than it is editorial content. So I'm confused myself about where the lines should be drawn for that I technically would prefer not to change anything for a journalistic publication ever. But there's, you know, I'm a person who lives with gray areas. I refuse to see everything as black and white. One of the things you learn in journalism, you go at it and you get both sides of the story and then there's five sides to the story.

Rubin:                        Right? Right. You're famously a user of the Leica Camera, and of course it's a beautiful camera. How do you feel about iPhone, smartphone photography? Do you take pictures with your smartphone? What do, what do you think about that stuff? Does tell us the device matter. Okay.

Menuez:                   I, I, I love that a billion smartphones came online last year and that unleashed untold amounts of human creativity with that camera. I salute Miraco borogoves Gove and her team at apple who sweated bullets to really make that camera's sing and transform the world. I think that, um, having a camera in my phone, it's like Chase Jarvis said the best cameras and when you have whiskey with freaking count on this cat, right. Love this camera. And I love my likeness and the like is are astonishing me every day because they are, um, they, they put nothing in, they don't need. So it, it's re re energize me by forcing an original discipline of what photography was to me. A lot of the craft is, um, brought to the fore and it also leverages my brain in a way that other cameras don't because the menus and the user interface is so sweet, so clean and so clear that I can actually use the features of the camera. Previously I would ignore all the minis mini options because I could never remember where those things, yeah,

Rubin:                        nested 19. You'd have to do it fast, like in job after you missed the fricking fixtures. So I would hand it to my assistant and say, where's that thing? And then I would use the other camera until he found me to hand it to me last night. It.

Menuez:                   So this camera, I, my assistant said to me the first day we used it, we were shooting a hackathon. Um, or maybe this was the second time I use it, this is the Leica sl. And he came to me, it was a 48 hour shoot. And he came to me in the middle of that and he said, you know, is there something wrong? I said, no, what's the matter? He goes, well, you're only shooting half as much as you always do. I was like, what? And I went to look at the material and I was like, oh, it's better. And we kept more selects and we shot half as much. So you know, I, I feel like the tool, like we say, like I said in my, one of my videos is stop. We always say it's not the camera, it's subsurface service, but hey, if that tool is a good match for your brain and how you work, by all means that's going to increase your chances of getting better pictures and be a better photographer. So you have to find the right tool for you.

Rubin:                        Yeah, I will take, wait, can I ask one more follow up on that? Which is I'm afraid of a Leica. Like I keep going to the liquor store and I pull them out and I hold them and I sort of fetishize this thing. It's, it just feels so good. It's like having a slide rule or, uh, uh, a great device in your hand that's perfectly tooled. I'm terrified. Half of my pictures, I'm standing in the waves. I'm like, it's raining on me. And I think I would be too concerned about this beautiful expensive precision device getting destroyed. And I prefer having kind of a beater for being out in the world. Am I?

Menuez:                   I buy you stuff all the time and by the time I get through with something in two years, it's already, the brass has rubbed off and it's already a beater. I just think there's, you know, I haven't been in love with a camera since I was like 14, but what a joy when you do fall. I fell in love with this, but I still don't treat it any differently than a hammer. It's my tool. And I maybe I cheated a little bit better than the last previous cameras, but not much. You know? And I feel like they have to be built to, they are, I mean this is the beauty of these. You can use these for photography or as a weapon. You know, there's so what made, so I kind of think you have to let go of that. That is a fetish that isn't objectification of the tool.

Menuez:                   But you know, if it's, if it helps buy used stuff by beat up stuff already get a good price, then you won't feel worried about it. Because I think a lot of people who are new or who are not coming at it from a professional point of view, who have having a run down the street with their cameras banging together with a mob chasing you. You know, you get over that heart of Oh this is a really special thing. You get over the money because you don't think about the money. You just think about the cameras. I appreciate people who take care of their cameras. And I know a lot of professionals who are really meticulous with it. They typically are not news photographer who are in the Sahara or at the North Pole or whatever. It's just hard to that and you just buy a new one if it, it's gone. You know,

Suzanne:                  speaking of running down the street, I was watching one of your Leica videos and um, it struck me as you don't do like photo walks as much as photo runs I chasing after the action that you see mid interview to get the shot. Can you talk a little bit more about just being willing to improvise like that? Huh.

Menuez:                   I can't really, it's just things happen and you have to re train. Our training is too,

Rubin:                        uh,

Menuez:                   get that picture no matter what. And it's so hard and they're so fleeting. It's so hard. Every one is a miracle. Every single frame that works, it's a miracle from God, you know? So I make, I can't explain it other than I'm just obsessed, you know, I'm just trying, I'm trying really hard and, and I'm failing. You know, 95% of the time I'm failing. Okay. So that's why he's so fearful when you get the design,

Rubin:                        but you're judged by the 5% dude, 5% or stuck are stellar. So it doesn't matter how many times you've missed.

Menuez:                   Yeah, but I think that's a good point though. I think if you practice this sort of zen approach of being in the moment, don't look at the histogram, don't worry about the LCD. And if you want to be a good street photography, you really have to have your head on a swivel and you have to feel things and just get in tune with where you are. And after a while things will come to you. It's a universal law.

Suzanne:                  Do you know when you take that shot? Like I'd got it. Okay.

Menuez:                   If you do, you didn't get it unless you're shooting a mirrorless camera. Because the thing is is that the mirror was always up at the millisecond. Second. So when I was shooting hard news or sports, if I, if I was really happy and then I would realize, oh, you know, I was in a millisecond later. Then you process the filming, you find out the truth and you know there's a, there's a really good book about Pulitzer Prize photos and you can see they put side by side,

Rubin:                        there's like

Menuez:                   10 photographers at an event shooting the same thing and yet the one that got the Pulitzer is just a millisecond layer. Then the one that's the photographer to the left, somehow it resonates more with the viewers. So with the mirrorless camera you do see it, but it's also going so fast, you're really not sure. I think what I, I think I would say 99% of the time I'm right when I think I got it. You don't really know for sure.

Rubin:                        How do you think about, um, I mean a lot of what you're describing sounds like a timing, right? To getting that right instant and I, of course that's an important part, but the other part is composition. How do you think about composition? Is it a natural thing? Is it just filling the frame with pieces? Can, can it be taught? How much time do you have? If you've got the answer, we'll keep the hoarding.

Menuez:                   I was happy to do it. When we were living in Woodstock at our house with Dennis stock, Great Magnum photographers, shut James Dean and all those beautiful cultural pictures he did.

Rubin:                        Rodney stock worked with me back in day at Lucasfilm. Yeah.

Menuez:                   Oh God. Yeah. Oh, what a small world anyway. Oh my God. Yeah. So Dennis, we're sitting at this very table, which is our old dining room table. And we were having an argument about contemporary fine art photography. I was on the board at the center for Photography and Dennis was a supporter and he was feeling like modern contemporary photography was just total bullshit. And the reason was is the composition and Dah, Dah, Dah. And I said, well, Dennis rules are made to be broken. And he slammed. That's bullshit. Do you want your pictures to be memorable? I was like, well yeah, definitely too. Well exactly. So, and he said, well go back to the 20th century favorites.

Menuez:                   So your favorite pictures that stuck with you, that you love the most, that changed your life. And you will see in every single one of those pictures, Aristotle's golden mean expressed.

Rubin:                        I don't buy it.

Menuez:                   I went back and he was 100% right. 100% right. Go look at the golden mean. Anyway. I still believe rules are made to be broken. And if it works, it works. Like there are some contrary things you can do. But here's my next point. When I was doing that study, it occurred to me to ask the question, why does still photography even exist today with this video centric world? And this was about 2007 when we were having this discussion. And I thought it was the time where everyone was telling me you have to shoot video and stills at the same time. I'm like, impossible, but why? You know, and stills, we're going down videos coming up and you know, people have much more engagement on sites with video Dada.

Menuez:                   But why does this still persist? Why is it still here? And I thought about it and I thought about it and I started to realize that I was remembering a dream and I think we think of dreams is like movies and I was remembering a dream and it came down to this moment in the dream that actually translated as like a scene of frame from the dream and my mind was filling in what had happened before and I remember what happened after, but I was fixated on this one scene and then I tried to think about what came next and it was another scene in my, when I really concentrated on this really deeply meditated on it. And then I thought about films and when I remembered films I'm remembering also seeing St St, which is frame frame frame. And we tend in science to recreate biology over and over and over in the history of science fiction and science.

Menuez:                   We are constantly recreating. That's what we're doing right now with Ai. We're trying to recreate the brain. Okay, what if the still photograph is the perfect Dataset for absorbing information for our brains? You know, you open your eyes and everything's upside down and black and white and then it becomes color at your, you're scanning for fight or flight, right? And then you start, your brain fills in and we're actually only seeing a percent small percentage of what's really there are bank can't accept all the data. What if that's still okay? So if I'm right about that, and by the way, I've talked to brain scientists and there isn't a lot of research. You can't really go online and find out easily how visual memory is formed. We know where a lot more about it now than we did when I started this query because I hired a researcher and I couldn't find anything about visual memory.

Menuez:                   We've learned a lot about all kinds of memory, but we still don't know a lot about visual memory. We know enough to know kind of where it is, but not how it's formed and not this theory. So what if I'm right? That means composition matters a hell of a lot. It makes the pictures sticky. Next question. So take pictures. What would, what would be your stickiest picture that, that you've taken? What is the picture that you want to be stuck in everyone's minds you want to be remembered for? I know, I really can't answer that. I have a million and a half of images in my archive is Stanford side. I don't, I'm, I'm not, I don't even have, I can't even tell you because I'm going through pictures now from 10 years ago. I never even saw or 20 years ago that I never even saw. We would shoot it and ship it and it takes me on average a year just to decide which pictures I liked from a shoot I did today.

Menuez:                   Yeah. I'm still processing it. Well, I, I use an artificial part of me that's very, um, trained, um, from being on deadlines and submitting, you know, and that's based on not me. That's not my internal clock. That's an audience thing. I mean, we were shooting for, for Newsweek, you're shooting for 3 million readers at the day back in the day. And so they're going to use a picture that's actually more to the lowest common denominator. That's quicker read as quicker and more compelling. Emotionally. I think for me, given the conflict I was explaining to you about being an artist versus telling a story for an audience, that's my biggest problem is what do I, you know, I'm always trying to ask myself what really is exciting for me versus what I know will work to reach an audience. So I'm still working that out. I need, I can't answer that Susan, but I think it's, but I think it's fun when you ask about composition and I always tell like students in classes that you learn the rules. Like you know, Dennis said learn the rules and then experiment. You just go out and play. I don't think there is any reason not to break the rules. I don't,

Rubin:                        I mean one of my soap boxes on the podcast is that I don't think there are, I just don't, I feel like, I feel like your job as a photographer is to fit all the things you want in the frame artfully and, and they're not going to be following leading lines of rules of thirds or any of that. You didn't need to get the things in there and they have the right kind of balances between them. I Dunno. It's, I don't think it can be taught that way. I think it would distract a beginner with, they're thinking about things like rules of thirds or no, you just want to, sometimes the subjects in the center and sometimes the subjects off center, you know, that's a, that's a thing, but I don't say that good. It's, is it a third and a quarter like come on. That's like a, it's a kind of a ridiculous thing to put in someone's head. Just move it, move the subject around, move everything around. You know,

Suzanne:                  Ruben, sometimes you feel like it's also Monday, like Monday quarterback Chi or Monday quarterbacking where you're like, oh well I'm going to look at this. I'm going to look at this picture again. And now it's kind of a third. So it's the rule of thirds. That's why I like it. Right. Is that fair to say? That's what you're like, it's not a third. It's not a rule. You're already breaking it. I don't know. I don't know. Anyway, I love this conversation

Menuez:                   cause you're not wrong. You're not right. It's a process that everyone has to come to for themselves and what works for them. But I, I would differ in one sense in that photography is not different than carpentry or making swords in Japan Caetano there is craft and to make a Katana that's going to last a thousand years, you're folding Shamani steel over and over and over it and there's a very specific way to do it to have a really good sword that will cut through bodies. They measure by the measure this sword strength. Like we're sharpness by how many bodies you can cut through with one blow.

Suzanne:                  So if you want a three body sword you got to have these certain things. That's the like of swords is the like of sorts. And I got to photograph the sword maker in Japan and I learned this stuff but I don't think garbage watched a lot of forged in fire.

Menuez:                   Well, I should go to that now that I may not get my shit, but I think that's, there's a craft element and like every craft you got there are step by step things you can do and but the mystery is does composition matter for the viewer emotionally or some biologic reason that forms memory? We don't know. I have a theory that that is true, but I like to be challenged. I like to look at stuff that surprises me. I don't want to look at everything that's exactly rule of thirds or whatever. I just think that we have to, if you use those and you learn those, then you have to kind of put it in here, the back of your mind and focus on what is important to you. Are a person, are you a person that's all about, you know, surfaces and pristine objects or are you about emotion and a mystery of what it's doing. It is to be human. I mean, what is it that really excites you? And so when you take out your iPhone and you're shooting your family, all that comes into play. You know, all of that comes into play and you could take a class about composition and may or may not help you. But um, I suspect that if people learn those techniques and then surpass it, go beyond that, like they put in their back pocket. It's something they could try or they could use. I think it will be useful for them. Interesting.

Suzanne:                  It's like the basic vocabulary for a language almost. You kind of have some key elements and then you can improvise or then you can make high coup.

Menuez:                   Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And I think, I think it's on the, on the photographer, it's that push themselves and try different things. Like you said Michael, you know, you don't want to think about that stuff. You want to figure out what's important in the frame and then let things happen naturally. But I think, I think there is something to learning the craft. I think that's what's missing in the digital side. In fact, I would challenge you on that because the barrier to entry now is so low. The tea to do photography that's reasonably, you can actually look at it and see something that's astonishing and that has leveraged a lot of people that didn't know they had an, I didn't know they had creativity. That's exciting and it's sure it's killed my industry. So what

Rubin:                        I completely agree with you, it's like we're, we're on the dawn or were like entering a renaissance of creative photography where everyone, like literally everyone has a Leica practically in their pocket. It's not like it, but they have a great camera and they just don't know anything. I'm like, they need to learn from people like you who have walked around with a camera in their hand their entire lives because there's something to be learned that it isn't. You can put, you can pick your iPhone up, but you do get better at it and you do learn. Yeah, and a problem with the iPhone for a photographer

Menuez:                   coming to the iPhone is learning the vocabulary of the iPhone because it's got different lenses and it's got different exposure issues. It's, it's you know, you really, it's easier if you get an APP and put it in manual and you can control it like a camera. And that's easier to live with the limitations. But it also is the strength that it has built in auto everything. But for me, the reason I always liked ams and I always had an m with me even when I was shooting another brand. That's the Leica. Yeah, I just had a, like a m because I would do street photography with that. And it was a discipline because it's all manual. And I had to remember to think before I lifted the camera, oh, I have to open up for this one that's coming up. I have to start focusing towards infinity for this one.

Menuez:                   I have to think of terms of f stops and shutter speed. And it has to be this quick because I'm lifting the camera and that's what I'm thinking of it. And that's what, the other thing about composition to fault finish up on that, you know, Carnegie Persona said it's not enough to get the decisive moment. He actually said that it's not enough. And he, he said the photographer has to put that moment within a pleasing graphic composition. So if you like his pictures, that's the way he looked at it. Something graphic and, and he was using probably our styles mean pink golden rule thing.

Rubin:                        All right. We will come back to that idea that, is there anything, is there anything you wouldn't take a picture of? Like, do you have Wifi?

Menuez:                   Put my camera down a lot. When I was ending my news career, I'd still have done some news, but I remember shooting like the hundredth person in a forest fire, lifting their family photos out of the ruined house, you know, and I just was like, you know what I mean? The greater good theory is, you know, you're bringing a story to wider audience to help bring light to uh, help the situation or help injustice if that's the case, you know, and, and to some degree you're invading privacy and the people don't necessarily realize the implications of the picture being taken of them in a tragedy situation. And I just at one point started to limit myself and I guess it's part of growing older, you become like, it was all about getting the picture because you'd be fired, you know, otherwise, and you're competing with all these other photographers. But I think as I got older I was just like, this doesn't matter as much as the human being here. You know? I always felt that way, but I really started to act that way. So it's not that there isn't something I wouldn't take a picture of. I mean I photographed a c Csection, I don't recommend it.

Menuez:                   Okay. I'm telling you don't photograph that.

Rubin:                        I mean, could you have taken Dorothea Lange's migrant worker, the mother, like would you put your camera in her face and that horrible moment she's in or does that feel invasive?

Menuez:                   Everything is by the moment you can't know what Dorothea Lange and that woman experienced the eye contact to each other or how they were. There is so much that goes on in nonverbal communication and verbal communication. I go into sensitive situations my whole life. And the first thing you do, I mean, there's two ways to do it. You could try to get a picture because it's just happening and you get it. But when I do that, I immediately make eye contact and go to the person and start talking and explaining what I'm doing or connect with them. I think if we're going to make a picture that's meaningful, I, I have this rule if I'm going to, I actually do believe as the Mussai that I photograph for the cover of day in life of African and peed out 300 photographers for that cover the Messiah.

Menuez:                   I don't like to be photographed. They believe you're stealing their soul. And I kind of feel like that's pretty true. We're taking something. Therefore for it to be meaningful, there must be something given in return. There has to be an exchange in my mind, at least how I work. So that could be as simple as just introducing yourself, showing respect, hearing their story, finding out who they are. It might be a meal, it might be your life. You have to be willing to give it up to get you gotta give it up, whatever requires, I can give you one example if you want to turn it here. I was assigned to shoot homeless people in Phoenix in 1986 something in there for Fortune magazine. And I flew down from San Francisco and checked in the hotel, got my stuff together and just jetted out to downtown, which was block after block, after block, after block of encampments, homeless encampments.

Menuez:                   It was the height of it, it was just madness. And there was uh, a man standing in, um, a section of tense and I thought that was really interesting and I didn't know what to do and I just started to shoot a little bit cause no one was getting, I wasn't getting any negative vibes and tons of people had been through there. So I just started to frame up a shot and this guy came up to me and said, hey, you know, MF, what are you doing here? And uh, he actually had a weapon. He had a knife with him and he started to kind of grab my arm and was threatening me and I said, oh, I'm with the press, I'm here to shoot the homeless story and tell the story. And he goes, Oh yeah, where's your press pass? I said, and I said, oh, I left it back in my hotel and I could see his, his I, you know, I did a lot of drugs stories, the Oakland drug wars and crack dealers and I could just see he was just, he was flying, you know, so I could sense in the moment that he wasn't really there.

Menuez:                   He was just as high as a kite. And I said, you know what, let me go back and get it. I'll come right back here and I'll show it to you. And he goes, okay, I'll be right here. And I get back in my rental car and I drive back to my hotel and I get my press pass. Cause I wasn't freaking mind. I get it on the desk where I had left it and I drive right back and the guy has completely forgotten about me. And I go and find him and I show my press pass and like that I'm in, he's my guide. Wow. And now I have a guide to the story and now I've made friends. So I think wherever you go in every community, there's somebody who's a leader who's, who's important in whatever that many culture is. You have to figure that out and make connections with people. Um, you can only steal photos so much without having to give something back even to get busted.

Rubin:                        Do you think this is something that um, I think consumers with their iPhones main be learning about or have to kind of come up against, which is how invasive it is to have a camera pointed at somebody and that developing that kind of trust, I think they pulled their cameras out all the time, but to get really good pictures, they need to confront what they're doing. Um, does that, is that a thing? Do you

Menuez:                   yeah, I think it's a threat. I think it's a threat when you take a camera now and pointed at someone, especially a camera with a long lens, it's a threat perception now. It's, it's, it's not even an invasion of privacy. They just don't know what you're pointing at them right away and what it is and what your agenda is. And if you're, if you're in New York City, everybody has an agent. So it's like they own their brand. All right. I mean, I'm telling you anywhere I walked all the five boroughs and everybody's has is aware now. So

Rubin:                        what's a photo on your wall right now that you took that you have of that I took? Um, well one is the of what you took in one is that you didn't take that you love. Oh look, there's the Hurwitz you have somewhere where it's up there. Wow.

Menuez:                   Jim Marshall. I'm doing this in reverse. Here's one of mine.

Rubin:                        Lot of Erwitt's. That's interesting. Oh, I love that. What does that picture? This is a

Menuez:                   young woman at the Hacienda where they make Tequila for in the IPV for [inaudible]. Uh, when I was doing, I did a four year project about Tequila is a symbolic way to understand Mexican culture. Hm. Um, yeah, Elliot was kind enough to write the introduction to my last, my most recent book, fearless genius in it, a real mentor and different,

Rubin:                        um, I'm, uh, I'm this huge Elliott Erwitt fan. That's cool. Were you a magnum photographer? Are you

Menuez:                   no, no. That was my goal. That was my dream on Dennis, uh, wanted me to consider it. You know, it may be, you still have, maybe it will still happen. I just went in a different direction. What makes them different? Well, there are a commune. I mean there are collective and they, they, there is a financial burden that some photographers there feel, some don't. I think it's strength in numbers. I think it's a really, you have to look at the history, how they started to fight against publishers who were taking rights and trying to pay nothing. A magnum is the most important event in organizing photographers before the ASM. P You know, in the SNP and AP, these are all really important organizations cause everyone wants our stuff for free and to crush us basically. But I kind of found my own path and there was an opportunity where I might've been able to go there, but I, I, I'm, I'm on a different path. Wow. That's good.

Suzanne:                  Yeah. What is one word that makes your photos uniquely you or uniquely yours?

Menuez:                   I would hope it's, uh, empathy. Uh,

Suzanne:                  I see that in your photos. I mean there's a quote that I actually had pulled prior to this interview that I love that's um, we're primates. We look for IEDs, expression and emotion and the human face. The face is how he connected with people. And I see, I see so much emotion and um, kind of connection with your subjects and your in your images. There's a lot of empathy there.

Menuez:                   Thank you so much. Thank you so much for saying that.

Rubin:                        This is great. I mean, Doug, I could talk to you all day. This is, I mean, I don't want to, I don't want this to stop. Is that like a great date? I Dunno.

Menuez:                   I love you guys. You guys asked the best questions. We should talk all day. We should get on another conversation. But I love what you guys are doing and I love that you're bringing conversations like this to people who are discovering photography. I think that's really important.

Rubin:                        We were at an amazing moment in history where everyone's got these cameras and I think it big brings up this question of like, why do we take pictures? Not just how, but like what is worth photographing? What? Why are we even doing this? There's so much data.

Menuez:                   I'll have to show you one more thing before I go to my studio here. This is what's on my wall that I see every morning.

Rubin:                        What is it worth doing? Nice.

Suzanne:                  Well first and foremost the thank you Doug and it's been an absolute pleasure. Our show was recorded and produced in San Francisco. It's got to neo to get show notes, see photos and post comments and please leave reviews and ratings on iTunes. Don't forget to subscribe. We

VO:                             get new listeners from you telling your friends and spreading the word. If you know someone who might get something from us, Doug, send them a link and thanks to Mitchell foreman for it in music and all of you for hanging out with us. We appreciate your attention and hope we've given you some things to think about. Until next time.


If you like our show, please subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or your favorite podcasting app, and please rate the podcast. And don’t forget to join the Neomodern Facebook group to discuss the show, share your photos, hear about specials for printing or framing your best images. Thank you!

#58 Meet Russell Brown, Pioneer of Photoshop and Mad Scientist

“I’ll do anything to a photo to make it better.”

Russell Brown

It is fitting, we feel, that our first show guest is the distinguished and inspiring Russell Preston Brown.

Who is Russell Preston Brown?

As Sr. Creative Director at Adobe Systems Incorporated, Russell Preston Brown holds a unique position in the computer industry. Brown maintains a vital presence in the digital design and publishing community, facilitating the exchange between the user and software developer that is so essential to Adobe's software development. (

Russell Brown, Eclipse at Ship Rock, May 20, 2012

Russell Brown, Eclipse at Ship Rock, May 20, 2012

Jerry Uelsmann, Untitled, 1974

Jerry Uelsmann, Untitled, 1974

See Russell’s work on Instagram:

Brown (2019) Dino Roundup with Cowboy Bob -  Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Brown (2019) Dino Roundup with Cowboy Bob - Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Brown (2019) A Wizard’s Hat Sunrise with Marie-Lee and Philippe

Brown (2019) A Wizard’s Hat Sunrise with Marie-Lee and Philippe

Brown (2019) Surfing at Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Brown (2019) Surfing at Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 7.49.23 PM.png

Thomas Jefferson’s grave (

Thomas Jefferson’s grave (


Rubin:                        Hey Suzanne.

Suzanne:                  Hey Rubin.

Rubin:                        where are you?

Suzanne:                  I'm doing well. How are you? I'm good. I'm good.

Rubin:                        You know we have a special show today. I know I'm, I'm honestly a little nervous because I am a, I am a big fan of his work, so I'm, I'm pretty excited. No, that's fair. Okay, well Russell, can I introduce to you Suzanne, Suzanne, our guest today? Russell Brown. Russell. Absolute pleasure. Yeah, introduce him. Full introduction. Okay. Hello. That's right. I should hear my voice. There I am. I'm Russell Brown. Hello Suzanne Russell. For those of you who are just tuning in to the world of photography. Russell is, oh, I guess professionally you're the senior creative director at Adobe. Is that still your title?

Russell:                      I have a couple of titles. A senior creative director is one that I use, um, in best just score. It's an good title. And I also have a secondary title called principal. Um, oh wait, I've forgotten my second time already. I have so many.

Rubin:                        Do you have a card? Maybe. Is it written on something?

Russell:                      Here's the card. No, it's changed a principal scientist because it had a good name. I liked it. Um, well let me, let me remind you what to do for this show. So for this show or any general guys, people listening, Russell senior creative director, right.

Rubin:                        I think more important is this idea that Russell was part of the original team that created the product, Photoshop, um, and hung out in the, in the days of the giant with Thomas and John Knoll. You guys put this together and um, I don't think it's possible to have really any kind of conversation about photography or certainly about Photoshop stay without talking about Russell. That's you man. And it's so cool to have you. You're our first guest really on the show, not outside of my family. You're the first one. Real good guess.

Russell:                      I am honored. Thanks. And yet, and yes, I was there in the beginning of time. Um, I was there the day that John Knoll came to Adobe, set up his mackintosh, carried it in on a winch. It was a big thing, no portables then and set it up and gave his first demo of Photoshop to me. And um, um, there is this a urban legend that I personally saw the demo and then I ran to John Warnock's office and insisted that he purchased it and he did based upon my input. That whole, that is the, that is written down somewhere. Is it true? I'm going to say that it's true here today. I will not deny it. Um, nor will John Knoll. He'll go along with that. That I was personally responsible for Photoshop being acquired by Adobe. Wow. How do you like this? Let's just keep the urgent or the urban legend moving forward.

Rubin:                        I like it. Well, that's quite an amazing accomplishment. Know that they know that they listened to you.

Russell:                      Yeah, that is my claim to fame and I'm going to hold with that. That's it. That's it. That's good.

Rubin:                        Um, I have like, I guess I've met you on and off over the years. We just, our, our, our paths have kind of intermingled over time. And first at the Ted Conference, it was early Ted, the Ted, and you see my Godzilla movie at Ted two and three d. I don't remember that. I'm on with the lights on it. Like I remember you performing at the close of the shows for many years. That was always my favorite on the coattails of Tom Riley.

Russell:                      He made, he made me look good. Our early renditions of the closing of the Ted Conference were legendary. So I'm a, I must, I'm, he was a little bit of a snippet. Um, I recall one of those closings. Um, we had a birthday party for Jonas Salk. So it's Jonas Salk birthday. Um, I exist today because he invented the vaccine in 1954 I believe, and I was born in 55 and so I may be here speaking to you because of Jonas Salk. So it's his birthday at the Ted Conference. Tom and I feel, um, 400 helium balloons and pass them out into the audience and make, and then everybody breathes in the, um, helium, right? I could have poisoned them all right there. We all sang happy birthday to Jonas Salk who, um, with high helium activated voices. So here's a little unknown facts only available on this podcast has nothing to do with photography.

Rubin:                        Okay. Now we're going to continue to talk about photography for a second. Can you seem to know a thing or two about photography? I see your work. Um, I mean, uh, I'd like you to sort of separate out the feelings that you have about taking pictures, capturing pictures and the postproduction, whether it, the Photoshop or whatever. Do you, can you separate those or is there no separation is or all your pictures creations?

Russell:                      I am very good question. Um, I think Ansell Adams said this, you know, you don't take pictures, you make pictures. Did he say that? He did say that. Yeah. I, I would follow along with that, that um, I'm more of a maker of pictures as he was in the dark room and from what I've seen, Ansel is original negatives were nowhere near what you would know these things, what the final print looked like and there was dodging and burning and lots of manipulation.

Rubin:                        Is it a gray zone or is there like either it's manipulated with dodging and burning or, and that's the same as taking it off the mountain.

Russell:                      Ah, well, well, taking it out of a mountain, I think Ansell Adams might've done that person. Okay.

Rubin:                        He hope to remember there was a cross, there was writing in that beautiful lone Pine Winter Sunrise picture. The students in the high school had written in white stones on the hillside, their initials, and he had them scratched out of the negative. He didn't want his assistant. So, um, I think this which assistant, I know most of the assistants who was, I think it was John Sexton was

Russell:                      I believe next time I chat with them I'm going to accuse him. Oh No.

Suzanne:                  Of Getting, getting into Photoshop before you did.

Russell:                      Yeah. Yes. Um, so back, back to my concept on this is um, I take a lot of photos but none of them are really just perfect photos and so I indeed will enhance my photos. Um, not only with the standard tools, the dodging and burn tools of light room, but if the sky is not quite right, I admit here today on this podcast and I will swap out a sky real you. Yes. And I will change things. I um, I just saw in one of my presentations, I will even add a bird. I know, right? Jet like making sure I have the better.

Rubin:                        I harbored a lot of Guilt about adding birds. So you, yeah. You know, it's just, it's another story. It's another episode.

Suzanne:                  You, I mean, for example, Rubin and I stand on opposite sides of this. Uh, this sort of discussion where he is very much a purist. Um, whereas I feel it is more the creation and that I'm, I'm okay if things are, are Photoshop or added to or augmented. Like I think it's, it is, it's making, making an image

Russell:                      with good taste. Don't you agree?

Rubin:                        It doesn't that change it into illustration even at Adobe don't we remember at was always this debate that Photoshop is really an illustrator's tool and light room is really a photographer's tool.

Russell:                      Interesting. I guess you could say that was true. My illustrator, graphic designer. Um, I'm, I come from the evil um, graphic design school where you will change any photo. Sure. Fit market what you're trying to say.

Rubin:                        I support that. I do support that, but I wonder whether that is, I mean there's many reasons people get into from the advertising point of view. Absolutely.

Russell:                      There's advertising, photography and fine art photography when you have to then throwing truly the first character Jerry Olson who had Photoshop before there was Photoshop.

Rubin:                        And so should we add, you'll xmen is like a father figure for both of us in different ways. Just to a spiritual visionary. Um, it's bonds us, I think.

Russell:                      Yeah, it's so, um, and I it back in 1973 when I was four, no, back in 1973 when I'm 18 and graduating from high school and I find Jerry, you Holzman's work and some at that time I was in the dark room. You know, I'm playing around with things and I've, I've found quite intrigued by, um, some of the early stuff. The first photo I saw was this, there's probably a name for it. The house which is placed on top of the stump. Loved that. A name for that one? No, it's untitled 1967. I'll put, I'll put that in the show notes cause I love that photo that in 1973 and don't look this up and find out it was actually printed in 1974 it wasn't, was it, when was it? I think it was in the late sixties, early before 74, I'm pretty sure. Um, so I see this and um, uh, motivate the quite a bit in the dark room and I did all sorts of crazy things, you know. Um, multiple exposures, eh, um, Ortho prints, black and white, um, negatives, positives and printing things. Um, but placing my hands in the developer bat didn't affect me. A lot of toxic waste there. Boy, the amount of time you go home and if that deck, tall smell on your hands. Um, so getting back to, um, your, your big question, um, I think a photo is a photo is a photo. I think it's, um, it's art. I, I cherish a good photograph that has, you know, has minimal, uh, adjustments. It, um, just really, uh, a finely toned black and white print is really, you know, um, magic too, I think to you and I both, and I'm sure there's some alterations, I think, um, certainly Cartier-Bresson probably. He of course he must have altered his a little bear. Yeah.

Rubin:                        Those guys were the magnum journalists. Maybe they came from the school of like, it is what it is, you know,

Russell:                      so not, I'm not that. Um, what was that series of photographs that was going around? Um, did you send it around? You just look at these photos of the 55th. Yes. And, and, and I think I said in my comments, you know, I wish I could take one that looked like that in my entire life. The masters, I, I'm, I can best describe myself. I do the photo, get it out there, throw it on to Instagram and then I walk away. I'm a sort of this, this just immediate response. I don't take the time to finesse it. I'm, I get it just right. You know, there's a point when you're working on a photograph in light room or Photoshop and you go, wow, it's sort of a wow moment. Like this is ready, this is ready to post.

Rubin:                        Hey Russ. I would say for me that's like being a caricature artist. Like I sit there, I whipped my camera out, I make a little sketch, I do a quick little whatever, like an origami and then I hand it off and move on and off

Russell:                      and I couldn't think of the old masters. They spent time and they probably put it up on the wall. Jerry doesn't going to throw something on or even Ansell's not going to put something into the gallery until he puts it on a wall for a couple of days. Right. And then has his assistant look at it and then makes more comments. Don't you think that that's the threshold that printing brings? Like that's the one step. Yeah. Well I'm missing that step. Or for your buddy. We'll be there for you. I don't know.

Suzanne:                  His Instagram, you are sort of method of choice.

Russell:                      I'm trying to figure out, okay. I am 64 years. Maybe my friends are 70 year old friends say that's young. Um, so, um, why is it, how is it that I lived without Instagram? Oh, my life. Because I went through, I did um, a website. I did podcasts, videos online. I podcasts are back in by the way. Yes. And um, and I to get your message out, we, everyone would put their images on a website and hand out a card and hopefully your, your images would be seen. So, but there's this, the immediacy. Why did, why am I like I'm a 24 year old instead of a 64 year old, maybe this is why all of the lion I like this, this roll away is out there and see how many likes I can get it for them. What has what's happened to me and it's happened to everyone else and it truly is an addiction. Um, and to go farther with this, I think it's an addiction and I think it, I think it, well, I hope it's improved my photography and my sense of photography. Some would say that I am merely making photos that the masses will love. I then gravitate toward photos that I can get more likes for and yeah, I know how to get more likes.

Rubin:                        Do you ever find yourself just doing something that is runs contrary to that? Just to, except your own

Russell:                      Julian costs? Said, Russ, are you making photos for yourself or for Instagram and likes? I didn't pause. I'm making them for Instagram filters.

Suzanne:                  Do you or do you, Oh, do you take it back to Photoshop?

Russell:                      Here's my current workflow. I used to be Photoshop only, but now I'm a mobile phone guy. Completely immobile. Yeah. Oh, so Lightroom mobile on my phone. Um, look, it's a notification about a wet, um, I podcast I have to do. Um, so I got, well I got my iPhone and I had my huawei phone. Here's my, it's cause they just gave this to me for free today. Um, the huawei, um, a Chinese phone. The most amazing, it's rated with the highest camera quality that you can have a 40 megapixel. Is that right? 5,000 times seven is, does that really come out to 40, 30. After you take off the header information? Right. A little over 7,000 pixels. There's a lot of pixels on the pixels and so I gravitated toward mobile and mobile all the time and shooting into iPhones and huawei phones, travel light. I went to Greenland and Iceland only took photographs with the huawei in that case that they, wow. Large format of it. I, I'm carrying around a phone and everyone else has their multiple, um, lenses and they're large DSLRs.

Rubin:                        Did you feel like you were able to take the pictures you wanted to take?

Suzanne:                  And what are the, because

Russell:                      I think I took better pictures than it did and I think I was more creative than they were. I believe that they've, um, uh, mobile phone has limitations and through those limitations you learn too. It's like a crutch. If you were learning to walk with, you know, this crutch, this, you've got this limited amount of resolution. You have this limited, you know, there's a lots of limitations. You don't have an aperture, you, um, but uh, here I have this tool and um, I find that I am more creative with it interest and maybe not getting the same resolution they're getting, but I feel I'm more creative.

Rubin:                        Don't you think that it has never, like, as you and I have watched technology march over the past many decades, new things are invented and they always have pros and cons. And the old school often says that's not good enough quality. I'm measuring against the old one. But you're not thinking about all the new things you get. And so instead of comparing the phone to my DSLR with my Lens Kit and this and that, it's just apples. What can I do creative with this optical device?

Russell:                      Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Cause you can do anything with anything ever. Ah, everybody has chosen their optical device for, um, capturing their images and I chosen my optical device. They say, well, why are you taking on this simple tool? Um, as I, and I'll say to them, it's, it's just the creativity that comes with that. The number of software tools for adding filters. Did you, you know, you were mentioning, um, I want to add filters to it. Um, if I find a photograph that's boring, I'll add a filter to it and boom, a hundred more likes. I'm sorry. It's a gimmick. Is that a gimmick? Pandering? Oh yes.

Rubin:                        You know, I honestly, I find that with my sunset's like heat myself every time I post a Sunset, cause I look, I think, I don't want to be the guy post in that beautiful sunset, but everyone loves them.

Russell:                      And it's like, hey listen, did I tell you my secret is, is sunsets. It has to, Eh, any image with orange and reds in it, you'll get more likes. Oh my God. Oh, black and white. Boring. I know, I know. No, I'm not an elite. Compelling Black and white. Um, is there a story in it? Is there a human figure in it? Very important. A human figure on the horizon in slight silhouette. Inst um, oh, uh, playing. Oh and he and enslaved you put blinds, planes, planes, planes and reflections. Oh, you can get them a reflection is so, um, how terrible and how many points is that worth in likes? Um, you can get extra a hundred likes for a reflection. Listen, we both know what a boring photo is. And even these days, well remember the early days of Instagram you would liked everything and yeah. Oh, like, like, like, like, and now I really guarded. I don't give out likes.

Rubin:                        So, you know, children, my kids, um, have a different relationship. The flakes on, so they are at a completely different app for them even was, they're using Instagram. They like it just to signal that they saw it and has nothing. It's not a judgement in any respect.

Russell:                      I, I think some of that happens. I think some of my followers just like it because I saw it, I saw it. I, there may be some of those, it's interesting about like, and um, on a, on a good day with a good photo that's done well. Um, 400 likes. That's pretty good photo. Sure. And so I'm on a really great day where it just resonates with everyone. 800 Likes. So that's where my level is. we both have friends who get a thousand likes in the first two minutes. We know those guys. Yeah. Um, and um, was envious of them. And then, and then this, this woman comes along online. Um, uh, okay. She was rushing and I don't know where she was from and she has, um, we've been following your work. We think we can increase your number of likes or getting elected to office. Yes. I'm very, I was interested to, everyone tells me, you know, all the photography, Oh, don't do it, don't do it. But it just had to try it. I Dunno what incantations she pulled off, but I paste put up an image. 2000 likes within an hour. Yeah. It was like mainstreaming the drug. It was just, and she says, so what do you think about us taking, you know, we'd become, you're a client, you become one of our clients and we would then this network, I think it's like a hundred people around the world who then all join forces and they like your images and they share it with everyone else. And so the system you are in the club and then they support you by spreading the word about your image and just makes me sick. It's like painful to hear this painful. Yeah. So I just want to say here publicly, I said no. I said no, I'll go with my um, 400 likes for a good day instead of 2000 In the first half hour. It just made me realize that you cannot look at an image. We both know this image got 20,000 likes. We just don't go.

Rubin:                        I mean very often don't you look at many people or images that get those likes and you think this is like actually a lousy picture. Like what that has no bearing on anything.

Suzanne:                  Well I have a question. I'm kind of like changing the topic a little bit, but please change the topic by the way. And we lost all our viewers and listeners by now. I read it, I read an article that you like to recharge by going on long walks. And so I was wondering, um, what would be your ideal photo walk?

Russell:                      We often get barraged by too much technology. You are going to totally agree with this one. Too much iPhone, too much Instagram, too much interaction. Um, and I think sometimes you just have to go on walks on without the phone and sort of refresh center yourself again. Um, and um, I can get to hyper about emails coming in, things little alarms going off. I've turned off most of the alarms on my phone, but I think in an everyday situation we get to barraged with too much information too fast. Besides that. Um, I noticed the other day how much data Apple's pulling in on your location, on your phone. Did you see that article? It's quite amazing. Then they have a record of every place you've gone. Um, but everyone has a record. Yeah. Google has, has had that for years. I think this just sort of your moment of Zen. That's what I was describing. What you do the weekly, daily. Oh, we do it every morning. You got for a tech free walk every morning. Yeah. I was thinking late.

Rubin:                        You know, Tiffany Shlain talks about how they have a sabbath, right? Where they a tech free from Friday night to Saturday night. That's crazy. I wish I could have done it. I, I'm completely incapable. It's turning things off the eat nuts, like giving up bread. It's really admirable. I on it. I try. Yeah, we try.

Russell:                      We've all tried to be a vegetarian between meals. Maybe you are images, right? Um, yeah. We're, we're, we were going with them. I'm influenced by the Internet. I'm influenced by Instagram. I'm not much of a Facebook person anymore because I don't want to see politics. I just want to share photos and see what others are doing.

Rubin:                        Do you think there's good like is Instagram, I mean I don't feel like it's a very good photographic, no. Is there a better word? Better?

Russell:                      I thought 500 pixels was trying to be that one. But do you know how they quickly come and go and they come into the come into fashion and then they hire these photographers too.

Rubin:                        And they also tend to be about the way they look to monetize is about stock about. So it ends up being sort of this pick up picture-esk stuck photo ish looking glossy photo and it's not really embracing popular culture of photography in the way that I guess I'm hoping for.

Russell:                      I'm there to invoke Julian costs name again. She told me about an Instagram site. I've of course, I can't remember the name of it that um, shows all of this same photo combinations. So person standing with the foreground with a mountain right behind. Guess we've talked about that. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I want to go to that site. I'll send you the link. It's in our show notes. I'll send. Oh, okay. Yeah. I, I really like to see that because I might learn something. I might steal one of them.

Rubin:                        You know what, I have a difficult question for you. You ready for a difficult question. So as, um, you know, you and I are sort of in the world of creators of these digital tools over the past many decades for pictures from sound and video, all that stuff. Um, now that all the media is digital and we have created all these tools for absolute manipulation, it now it becomes a photo. It used to be irrefutable proof of something and now it's not at all. It can't be, do we have some sort of moral obligation to create the antidotes to the thing that we created the, the virus for

Russell:                      this question? I love it that your answer, aunt an this question. Um, uh, I normally get to ask this in front of a thousand people alive audience. Wait a minute. There could be a thousand, but you could be, um, um, moral obligation to try to help people understand what they're seeing if it's been manipulated. Have some, we've, we've dealt with this at Adobe. We thought about programs that would identify where photos had been altered or retouched. We took on a role of trying to help, um, different agencies have come to Adobe asking for things like this. Um, they'll go on named and, um, I think we just have to accept that photos can be altered now and it's, we don't, I don't think Adobe has the responsibility. We created the tool, but we're creating the hammer. But we're not telling you to destroy the house or to build the house with the Hammer. Are we, we've got a really great hammer. We could say the same of the hammer manufacturers. Some they destroy it or they build. And so, um, uh, this can, either 50% of your audience is going to, Hate, what I'm going to say, or 50%. But we like it. I think it's up to the responsibility of each person to not lie in their photographs. And I'm very, um, I'm very clear when I post something that I've altered it and manipulated it. Um, but I think it's something we just, I think it's here. I think there are ways to analyze a photo if they really had to prove in court that this photo was real. I think there are ways to do that

Rubin:                        forensic answer. I'm just thinking whether the public somehow, maybe it's the culture of photography is to communicate that this is a live picture versus something that an illustration world in some way

Russell:                      they're moral standards set in journalism versus art. So I'll call myself an artist and not a journalist. And I think journalists have a code and that they follow very clearly. Most of them. Yes. Yeah. Well, we, we'd have seen her a few that to violate those laws. So I think journalism is, it holds out and I think they're making sure that they're screening things as they come in. And so there's a certain amount of control there. But on my side as an artist, um, I think I'm, I'm thinking back to 1990 I'm, I'm on the today show with Rick Smolan and they ask me, I'm Deborah Norville ask some Russ, would you ever give this up, this, this, uh, disability to alternate manipulate photos. You're, you're the evil. She said this evil. Oh, it shouldn't. I said, no, I will continue, um, to alter photos. I'll do anything to a photo to make it better. I think it was my, in my line. And so I'm an MP manipulator. I'm in the side that says that from the art point of view, you should be able to do this. But from the journalistic side of things, absolutely not. Absolutely.

Rubin:                        I'm never really comes down to the trust of the brand or the photographer. Yeah. Yeah. And if it's from a trusted source, then you can trust it's real. And if it's really entertainment sources or do want to make

Russell:                      it very clear on this podcast, you should never trust me. No, I make it, I make it very clear that I alter, there's, I alter everything I am. I'll alter it to make it better. And then those, those will argue. Did you make your photo better by altering it? I'm, I least, I hope so. I used to post the before and after picture online. I'm an educator. I'm supposed to show before and after. Right. I love it. And um, I thought it was good until, um, I think it shows you, it plays your shows your cards. Yeah. Sound I should be showing my cards. I'm supposed to show people how to play the game before and after, but then I found sort of a negative response to it that, oh, you're cheating. Your photos aren't real. I'm sort of the Jerry Uelsmann once again. Can you imagine and you know, early fifties, sixties with Jerry , those aren't real photos. I wonder what, I'm Ansell Adams. I know they were good friends. I wonder what he, how many responded to that? That's like, oh, there's Jerry goofy in your own altering images. I just think they probably felt it was all that. It's just photographic art. Yeah. The end though. I think as in that community they saw it as art. Yeah. But then he wasn't accepted as art is that he wasn't even accepted as art. So I mean, I think these are, this is all a learning of the public. People Start Romanticizing.

Suzanne:                  I have a question before we do, before we go further. Cause I'm curious, like you said, you, you may, you make pictures and you make pictures better. And what's the, what's your favorite picture that you've made spiritually?

Russell:                      Um, cosmically um, lots of feeling to it. I think it has to be, um, and it's not because it got a lot of like it's in a cut scene before, like time. I mean it could have been something never made it. It's a composite of an annular eclipse over, um, the Rock, is it a printed and on your wall? Yeah. And somewhere here at the House I had, my sister has it printed on her wall. So ship rock, um, it's, it's one of those photos. It's getting sort of passed around the web and ill occasionally see it. I'm quite surprised that I'm still attributed to the photo, but like, you know, cosmic photo of the day, um, um, aliens are with us. You know, these groups are you picking up on my photo? And they keep on running it over and over again. Um, proving their point.

Rubin:                        When did you print it and when did it take it?

Russell:                      Um, this was the solar eclipse that went across, um, in 2012 I believe across New Mexico isn't beautiful. You see it, you find it when you googled it has all the information of the universe. I found Russell Brown ship rock image and it came up as Adobe's. Dr. Russell Brown creates an amazing image. He doesn't getting attributed to me and hasn't been stolen and turned into a postcard. And that's a final point. I'm not a professional photographer about, I played one on TV. I'm not a professional photographer. I don't make my living out of selling photographs. If I did, I would be outraged the way people steal photos from others online. Um, I don't go looking to find it and I'm sure it's there, but it really irks me that people take advantage. And I know, I know and understand why some of my good photographers don't post big pictures. They're always putting little postage stamp versions because they'll grab them and run with them and steal them. I'm, I, if I went and looked, they were, I'm sure it would find it, but I don't want to look, I don't want to look,

Rubin:                        I don't want that Russ, Mike, I kind of evolved, uh, thinking about it to a point that says, I don't think you can stop people from stealing the stuff and I want, I'd rather them see it and risk being stolen. And so I've kind of, that's what moved me into this world that just says if it's really important, it's printed and I charge for my prints and I only make one or a short small number. And what happens online is just promoting my print.

Russell:                      And then dangerous thing I did with that image of the solar eclipse, the multiple images, I gave it to a printing house and didn't even think about it. I didn't give him the file. I gave him the full reds' file. Oh, that's like giving out your negatives. Yeah, it was, wasn't it? Yeah. I didn't think about it because I'm giving it to my sister and she's giving it to the printing house. You know, who's making this giant print and now they have it. It's digital. Poof. Off It goes. I bet it's scarred supplies. Yeah. It's an exit college dorm rooms across, um, uh, uh, thinking I'm a photographer. I was traveling with them, took a picture and, um, we're traveling through Arizona and, um, they're in one of the shops in Arizona along route 66 was a picture that he had taken on, on a postcard from out of China. And, um, could you imagine, can you imagine? And what do you, what do you go to the front counter and say, that's my photo and you need to take all those down.

Rubin:                        Um, wow. Well, um, that's, that's crazy. Yeah. I mean, I feel he's, yeah, that's just, isn't it? I'm not changing the subject exactly. But the final question, um, I always thought that it was cool, my feeling about both companies in technology and books and all that stuff as often. Um, I don't really want to do it, but it needs to be done. And so someone has to do it. So you ended up doing it. And when Photoshop was created, you know, Thomas and John made this tool. But I, I think I've always been really happy that I guess John went back to doing, she just wanted a tool like that, you know, vented this stuff cause they needed it. And then went back to creating cool things, you know, at Ilm and

Russell:                      Other things he wanted to do. And he saw, um, you know, they just got an academy award for, um, Photoshop. Knoll brothers. Yeah. So it was about time. Um, so he just in just recent interview, he said that he was working with Adobe and doing filters, um, like lens flare and other filters. He was writing for Adobe. And little did I know, I didn't know. He worked on, um, one of the, um, tools, um, uh, color range of fine locating a range of colors and selecting them. Really powerful tool. And so he worked on that. And so there was a point where all the engineers are coming in and there's, you know, 20 engineers. He just felt that he had other things, responsibilities to different lives. He decided to go back to, um, this dead end job of working on rogue one.

Rubin:                        John Knoll reminds me in that sense of, um, story, I guess it was like Ted 2003 where one of the speakers was talking about Thomas Jefferson and saying that on Thomas Jefferson's tombstone, it has three things written, like author of the Declaration of Independence, founder of you, whatever it is, has three things. None of the three things are, they was president of the United States twice. Like that's the way I feel about John Knoll. It's like he's, he's like, oh yeah, the last thing I did was invent Photoshop and now I've moved on. Right.

Russell:                      Where was he? He's in Tunisia or someplace, you know, somewhere in the world. Yeah. Was shooting. And what is it? He says, you need to go back the people cooking the food or, um, um, um, need to see you and it's just the hell. And here in Tunisia, and he goes back there and they're all fans of Photoshop. Oh. And they want it to meet the founder of Photoshop. So that's awesome. No, he didn't want to meet the director of the movie that's being shot. But Russ, go ahead.

Rubin:                        That's the way I think we feel about you. I mean, I know you're not the no brothers, but I've never like, I've never thought of Photoshop and not thought you were really the face of it. In spite of those guys. Okay. I want

Russell:                      to do the Jimmy Stewart's thing where I find out what is it that I did? Don't you want to go back and sort of, if I wasn't here, what would it be? What would it be? Where would he use it? No one would be using it. Yeah. Yeah. I was the wacky character who were doing the first demos. Um, remember when you brought David Hockney in to see this? Yeah. Yeah. That was the first invitational Photoshop is unbelievable to cross been pretty, I don't think, you know, I was too young, naive and stupid, um, to know how important of a moment that was. You know, sort of like, yeah, I really, it's like, who are you? I knew of his work, but if he stepped in today, I'd be 10 times men, more mesmerized and, but he was so fascinated by Photoshop and the color in there. The other thing that brought him in to that was the color printer from Canon, which was the size of a refrigerator at the time. And we could print directly in color to the cannon from Photoshop at the first colored postscript controller in it. So, um, that was pretty amazing moment. And we, um, um, we had Graham Nash in that room as well. Um, um, and he started additions. It was that connection patients after that, didn't he? Yeah. Amazing. It's lots of spinoffs.

Rubin:                        He's another one of those guys who like would have his band maybe mentioned is one of his early accomplishments. You've done so many cool things.

Russell:                      You know what he's up to today. So I'm, I'm, I'm honored to be a part of this whole Russ. Birth of Photoshop. Yeah.

Rubin:                        Thank you for all this time. Like I think I speak for everyone who uses these tools to just like, it's just great. I'm glad you did what you did and that you keep doing what you do and evangelizing photography for everybody.

Russell:                      You know, more insanity coming our way. Yes. Photoshop on the iPad out soon. It's interesting. I didn't say a date. Did I good? I didn't say a date. We're going to have to like hold off the podcast now for like seven months. Tell Adobe allows you to say that

Suzanne:                  lb Max, I think, right? Oh, is that right?

Russell:                      Does show herself. That would be a way. That would be a great time to show it off. Maybe we can convince you guys to show it at that. How's that? Yeah, that, that'd be good. Yeah.

Suzanne:                  No, I think they just mentioned it. I think it, I don't think they actually, yeah,

Rubin:                        no, just I'm loving. It's been announced. I can say that I can't get in trouble too much. All right. Well Russ, thank you. Thank you for joining us and being our first guest on the show. I'm very excited and um, this will air this weekend. Wow. And then you'll, you'll give me a link to it and then I can share it with no, never. You will never know what happened to with this. Okay. Did I do it? Well, they do well enough on the show to get my secret surprise. Yes, you'll get a secret surprise.

Suzanne:                  Well, it think you Russell Brown. It's been an absolute pleasure having you on. Our show is recorded entities in San Francisco. We're sponsored by new modern concierge style photo printing and finishing. To transform your iPhone photos into frameable art though neo to see our show notes, photos, and upcoming events, leave reviews, ratings and questions on iTunes. And don't forget to subscribe.

Rubin:                        Thanks to Mitchell foreman, first theme music and all of you for hanging out with us. We appreciate your attention and hope you can give me some things to think about. Until next time.


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#57 Enter the Darkroom

Jerry Uelsmann, Floating Tree (1969)

Jerry Uelsmann, Floating Tree (1969)

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Uelsmann at home, digging around in his contact sheets (2018)

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Me, in my darkroom, 1979

Me, in my darkroom, 1979

Rolling negative onto a spool. (This would normally be done in complete darkness).

Rolling negative onto a spool. (This would normally be done in complete darkness).

The Waldorf-Astoria in Phoenix, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

The Waldorf-Astoria in Phoenix, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

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#56 Why We Print

(and Happy Birthday Ansel)

The Mac OS Mohave wallpaper photo, artist unknown, and hypothesized to be somewhere around Death Valley.

The Mac OS Mohave wallpaper photo, artist unknown, and hypothesized to be somewhere around Death Valley.

Sand Dunes, Sunrise, Death Valley (1948) by Ansel Adams

Sand Dunes, Sunrise, Death Valley (1948) by Ansel Adams


  1. The selection process is part of the photographic process. It’s an important threshold to subject images to, particularly now that it’s so easy to take images.

  2. They proscribe how an image is consumed. You just don’t know what kind of device your image is going to be viewed on — it could be big or small, cropped by software or through reposting, over- or underexposed by a range of uncontrollable brightness settings on devices, modified in any myriad ways. If you care about the thing you’ve created, you want to control many aspects for how it is to be viewed, and decide how it should be presented— including its size, framing, surroundings, and exposure. Giving this up is giving up too much…

  3. You have to live with an image to know that it’s good. We keep thinking of printing as the deciding moment as to whether something is “good enough” - but we really can’t know that until we HAVE the print, and spend time with it. Printing is part of this evaluation process. (It’s another reason to print often, even if we only frame occasionally.)

  4. The creation of an object. A photo isn’t just an image, it’s a physical manifestation of that image. Ansel Adams said that the negative is the score, and the print is the performance. Each performance is another opportunity to do something amazing. And having a THING that you can hold… look at repeatedly, over time… this is special. Printing MAKES it special. It MAKES it iconic.

  5. The hedge to technology. Sometimes an image is important enough that you just need to make sure it’s not ephemeral, able to be lost or buried. Maybe tech will get better and you’ll always be able to see those digital files, but — probably not.

  6. Legacy curation: when we die, what of these images do we pass along as important. Do we just hand over a key to a cloud account with terabytes of images? tens or hundreds of thousands of images? Who would go through that? And what would they find important versus what you know to be important? Printing takes on this issue and creates an important subset that can be managed, saved, passed along, enjoyed.

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#55 Visiting Monet


Some snaps from my visit to the DeYoung:

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#54 Travel Pictures

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Some of Suzanne’s snapshots on her trip. The first row is how she sent them to me, the second row was my messing around with a little post production.

  1. The first one is like a face. Since the color didn’t really add too much, i wondered whether making it monochromatic wold diminish distractions and enhance the face-ness. Not sure.

  2. The powerlines felt unfocused to me, and the thing that was compelling was the weird array of lines in all directions, the birds on some and the lights on others… so i cropped tighter to accentuate this detail, cut out distractions, brought up the saturation and blacks a little to make the lights pop more.

  3. The weird color swatches on the wall just needed a little color balancing, a tiny bit of brightening. It’s oddly surreal.

  4. Suzanne’s selfie during our podcast recording is wonderfully composed, the frame feels full of interest and dynamic energy — the only issue was the white balance, and this shot is very hard: the room is lit mostly from daylight out a window, with a little bit of in-room fixtures, and then the computer is completely different color temperature — blue. So one white-balance fix won’t really solve it. I tried b&w but it lost the immediacy, so i just tweaked the white balance for the outside light and took all the saturation down a little so it was less problematic. It’s not done, but it would take more work to adjust the colors differently across the frame.

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#53 The Fifty, and Visual Osmosis

Chicago, 1952 by Harry Callahan

Chicago, 1952 by Harry Callahan

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VO:                             This is Everyday Photography every day where you get to listen in on a chat between a photographer. (That's me) and a regular human (that's me) with an eye on making your pictures amazing. No technical stuff. No talk of gear or software, just photography for the love of it. We're sponsored by bringing concierge photo printing and framing to everyone with a smartphone. I'm Suzanne Frtiz Hansen, enthusiastic iPhone picture taker. And I'm Michael Rubin, photographer, founder of Neomodern and grumpy old man. And we're in San Francisco tonight. Welcome.

Rubin:                        Hey Suzanne.

Suzanne:                  Hey Rubin. How are you? I'm good. Um, where are you today? Where in the world is Susan Fritz Hansen? I am in Dallas, Texas. How is it? Just in case there was another Dallas? You know, people in the US. Um, no, I actually don't know that yet. Maybe you do it. I can't think; it's a big state. It's a very good state.

Suzanne:                  Yeah, it is big. Uh, I'm staying at the Adolphus Hotel, which is actually a stunning, beautiful, lovely hotel. So it makes, makes my extended travel, uh, even nicer.

Rubin:                        Well, that's one. That's wonderful. Um, so I'm good. I wanted to, you know, on our show, um, I dunno, like a month ago you first kind of put out there this idea about what were my favorite picture is what inspired me. And then in our, a couple shows ago, we, you really sort of doubled down on that that bad. Maybe I doubled down on the bet, but it was like, could I come up with like the 50 photographs that really influenced me that I feel like, I don't know, taught me everything I know about photography. I'm, I'm not, I don't know. I mean, I was, I grew up with all these pictures and I haven't taken a class in my photography is the way it is.

Suzanne:                  So wait, you've never taken a class?

Rubin:                        No, not really. No. There wasn't one. There was one class kind of in college in printing and clearly I didn't get very good at it, but it was, uh, yeah, but that was sort of the limit of my photography classes.

Rubin:                        Um, but now everyone's got a camera. And, um, so we've distributed that anyone can take pretty good technique pictures technically. And then my thinking was it's really, really the only thing you need to kind of learn to be comfortable or to like your pictures more, is composition because the exposure is and other things at some level work themselves out. You can, you know, learn to get better at that obviously. But I was separating out composition is just a special class of things that would be really useful and people teach composition by all of those rules and I keep contending that there are no rules. You just kind of, I don't know, pick it up. It's like how do you balance something on, on your hand? Like, well, you moved to the left. No, you moved to the right and then you can't do it that way. Does that make sense?

Suzanne:                  Well, without pride, I mean it's practice. I guess

Rubin:                        that was pretty much anywhere it's going to go when you're balancing, right? Isn't it just how it kind of feels in your hand or how old or whatever. So, uh, so I did, I took that challenge and I pulled up what I think are the 50 pictures that inspired me most that I, they're not necessarily the best pictures in history or the most famous or the most valuable, but I really think, you know, maybe I'll tune it a little bit, but I really think this set, if someone just goes through the pictures and looks at them and literally spend some time with it, not just like, oh, that one, that's a pretty picture, but really looks at what's in the frame, what's not in the frame, what's lit, where the subject is, how their eye moves around. I think that you can't help but walk away and see things differently.

Rubin:                        So that's the, and so I posted it. I mean, should we break, should like look at them. They're either on neo modern. Nice. Take a a minute that I have them on the neo modern site. It's called the 50. The W I'll have a link in the show notes. Um, for reasons I can't totally explain. I, my URL is photo school. Um, you know, so it's called the 50, but don't go there, go to what high school did you go to? Go to the bottom land. You'll see the 50 there and the first picture in that set is one of my favorite pictures ever. In fact, I think it is my favorite picture ever. It's hard to say that. Uh, it's by Harry Callahan. It's just these silhouetted trees from Chicago. Uh, 1952 and I will, I'll add, by the way, I don't expect anyone to learn who these photographers are or know the history, know the context. The point is to just look at how this picture was composed.

Suzanne:                  Yeah. All right. Well, and I should say something about today's episode is we are not in the same place obviously as I'm an in Dallas and you are in San Francisco. Yeah. But, um, I am behind my computer, so I'm able to sort of see these live as we are as we're going through them.

Rubin:                        Maybe our listeners could also bring up the 50 and kind of look through them when we're done. I Dunno, maybe they're driving and it would be ill advised.

Suzanne:                  Yeah, maybe don't open your laptop while on the 405.

Rubin:                        Yeah. I'm not going to go. And honestly you don't need a ton of explanation, but I thought maybe a quick run through of what's here and what I started to see. Um, do you, I mean, what do you think of this picture? Does it do anything for you?

Suzanne:                  Uh, I like it. I think it's always interesting the, for like the opening line in a book or the kind of the first of first in a series. So I, I'm really interested to hear why you chose this as your first image. Um, I quite like it. I think the high contrast is, it's very bold just to describe the image for a second. It's like the bottom, maybe the bottom, uh, like I dunno, eighth or something is almost like a white ground of snow. And then you have these kind of fairly solid about six, six trunks that are then piercing that line, that horizontal line into as they're kind of coming out of the earth. And then there's like a gradation kind of from uh, a light gray to an even later grades. You got go up the frame in the background and then the, the branches, there's no trees, there's no leaves on the trees. They are so fine. You see so many details. It almost looks like like pine trees, you know where they have that much, those small little branches that go across a cross each other. It almost looks like algae to me. Beautiful Lung tissue or something, right? Oh yeah.

Rubin:                        Yeah. So one thing I'd say is your thought that it's high contrast that is, you know, the initial impression. But as I look at it, it's actually not, it has a lot of gray scale. In fact, it only works if it was super high contrast. You just have sort of white on the bottom and black trees and you wouldn't see that the greater the line between the snow and the Lake Lake Michigan behind it. So it's actually surprisingly grayscale and not like Highcon black and white. Even though it does. It absolutely feels that way. But I dunno, the horizon is really low and the trees make up the large part at and I guess the cropping of the trees, you know, you get the base, you don't need that. I think of all the ways I might have shot this where you might be back farther so you see the top of the trees or you're, I don't know, you move the horizon in the middle in some way and it's not, people talk about these rules about where the horizon goes and clearly it's not a rule.

Rubin:                        It works here because of the trees that you see this part of the tree. And um, I'm not sure I want to go into this level of detail on all of them cause there's a ton, right? But I think that this is really an amazing picture to me because it holds my interest even though in a sense there's no real action or subject in the sort of a classical sense. It, it feels very abstract. And at the same time it's, it's, you know, it's not like a, a super close up of something. You can't tell what it is. It's abstract. But it's real scene, you know, it's kind of a distant medium shot. Anyway, I love this picture. I put it at the beginning just because it's, I stare at it all the time. I love this picture so much and, and it really did start to change the way I compose stuff.

Suzanne:                  You know, like what did this do?

Rubin:                        Well, there's something about seeing the world. Um, you're kind of at a right angle to your subject. It's like there's a plane through the subject matter and I'm at a right angle through it looking at it. So there's a lot of ways if he turned and looked kind of to the left a little bit more, the the horizon wouldn't be a parallel to the bottom of the frame. The trees would be, you'd have trees getting farther away in a different, um, way, I guess, you know. Um, and you'll see the it a lot in certainly in my work and in some of the pictures here where there's that kind of right angle to the plane of the subjects that sometimes just squares it off. It, it makes the composition feel a little more formal than when you're just kind of shooting at any angle.

Suzanne:                  I would say. I would agree. I feel like this is a very, it feels very formal to me. It's almost like these three couples, you know, where you have these, like it's very, it's very balanced. You have those two that are on the outside that are close even though it's like the ones that are just inside our further out than the ones that are just behind it that are inset. And then you have these two main um, main trees in the center, which again, it's, everything has such a nice spacing. It to me, it almost looks like the trees were dancing. They were doing some formal, a waltz or something and they've been, they've been caught in the winter afternoon.

Rubin:                        Um, that's, that's a very romantic way to look at this. The other thing that is that the, the tree that's there, there is a tree that is sort of the center point to me and it's the sort of the fourth one from the left. It's, it's the most forward. It's kind of the biggest trade, not by a lot, but you'll see as we go through these pictures at even in this composition there is that the mass there that seems to make the balance right. If that was a little bit farther back, I don't think the picture would work as well. Yeah. You know what I mean? If it was an equal equal weight to all of those trees, but it's, it's subtle, but it definitely feels like the front picture. Let's, let's go to the next one. It's, it's a similar kind of picture in a sense because it's a series like the trees. Each of these kids, this is a,

Suzanne:                  this is, I just, I'm laughing because I just realized I'm so used to being on Webex meetings and I was like, oh my slide's not advancing. Just realize it's cause I'm arrowing through on my own. Um, so all of you at home make sure you're going to have to enter your own pictures. Rubin, what do it for you? Um,

Rubin:                        this picture from the late sixties by George Tice, uh, w we have up at neo modern frequently because I like it so much. It's a sweet picture. I've talked about it a lot before, but I think one of the things that's interesting about it in, in the way like the trees is that the subjects, there's a lot of subjects and yet there's still sort of weight towards, I don't know, the kid to the right in not quite all the way to the right. I don't know is he's looking straight at the camera or maybe those two kids together. There's more weight there. Even though there's other activity and each child is almost perfectly positioned in the frame in their own little world. Right? Yeah. So to me, this is an example like the tree picture where in the real world there's a lot of subjects and you still need to kind of create weight.

Rubin:                        Um, each thing is in exactly the right place. It's well composed. It doesn't feel random. Um, Andy's really caught this. There's all kinds of sort of exposure things, lighting things that are about snow and the gray scales that still works. But anyway, think about the trees and then think about these sort of kids in black and they have a kind of feeling that goes together for me and then advanced to the next one, which, um, it's very, it's not a well known picture. It's from the forties. Um, um, stop the civil war stop. It's the war. It's World War Two. Right? Um, and it's from, uh, you know, people on the street in Paris looking at these war posters. But again, look how they're all arranged in the frame. Sort of like the kids sort of like the trees. It's not necessarily about, um, who they are.

Rubin:                        Like they're not facing the camera. It's not a picture of Steve and Susan or whatever. Right? It's, it's, it's about this group of people looking at this thing and you're not sort of featuring the poster either. You're not just like making it so it's easy to read. It's about their relationship to it. Right? They're reading it, but somehow the way they're all arrayed in the frame again reminds me that composition is about arranging objects in the frame. There's no, again, I wouldn't say there's a rule of thirds or leading lines or any of those things. It's about fitting the things in there and telling the story. And uh, I like that they're anonymous. It's not a picture of anyone. The kid picture, you see their faces. It's, it's much more, this could be your children or someone's children, right? They could just, but here there's just strangers and it's okay.

Suzanne:                  What I like about this one is that again, I agree it's a, it's a very formal structure, but if you ever, if you've ever drawn in perspective where you have the grid and then kind of the thing that is closest to the camera or to closest to the kind of the frame of the image, then you have in sort of descending order as you go further back in space, it becomes smaller and it sort of spreads, you know, spreads out. And this is exaggerated, I think by the People's height that the man and the man in the middle of 10 is actually the tallest. But then you sort of have the in, you know, in descending height order as people go further in space. Almost like this really formal

Rubin:                        draw. Do you see how he's kind of like the tree, right? It's a little bit closer, a little bit bigger, and clearly the subject in a way that the energy center, even though they're all important, but there's something about, I, I've found when I've taken pictures of groups of things I could, I could show you some pictures I've taken. I've found that I sort of imitate this composition with the strong thing forward and then these other things drifting off into the distance. So again, these are not just interesting pictures, but they kind of worked together as you're kind of learning these ideas. Compare that too. There's a really sort of beautiful picture by fall Mooka. He, uh, Martin Mu Casi, uh, from Liberia, 1930. So this is a real sort of early modernist picture. It's kind of like both of those pictures before this where the children are silhouetted, so it's not a portrait of them. They each occupy this sort of weight in the frame. Um, there's that front. The kid who's closest to the camera has the most weight. It's like the guy with the umbrella in the Burkhart. It's like the, the tree that's a little bit farther forward.

Suzanne:                  Oh, there are so dark and eight has that same sort of rhythm, almost like notes on a staff that you sort of feel this composition go through, go through the image. But here they're so dark that they almost look like cutouts. Like it's like the reverse of Matisse, where mean see so that cut out these forms and kind of apply them. This is like the image has almost the absence of, um, of these like these silhouettes. This is a beautiful, immensely

Rubin:                        hand on the left. Like, yeah, there's a hundred today, a hundred photographers would have Photoshop that handout. It would have felt like it was a mistake. And I think that it helps like it, it adds more to the story. There's more children than just the three. It's not this sort of perfect thing. It's this caught moment. Um, there definitely is this ton of energy in the picture. They're moving fast and it waves are splashing, they're silhouetted by the ocean, but they're also dark skinned. And so it's, it accentuates that sort of silhouette. We'll come back to this idea where that hand is in the frame like that. It shows up in a few other pictures were, again, I think of these ideas of Wabi Sabi of like not perfect if you, if we retouch or if we try to create this in a studio, it wouldn't have that hand in it. And I think that things are to get to perfect and particularly in this world of digital photography where we can modify anything we, uh, it raises the bar, I think for us to, to imagine you. Your pictures could be that sort of perfect and that they're better for it. I think this is better for having the imperfections of that. Huh?

Suzanne:                  Well, you know, it's real.

Rubin:                        It's really, this also is up in Neomodern right now. I love this picture. It's just a, it's just really cool. How big is that? Um, I think all of these are, you know, most people certainly for the history of photography, most of the sort of "classic pictures" are really like 8x10. You know, the printers are 8x10 or a little bit larger, a little bit smaller. People are not making wall size then. Yeah, yeah. Something like that.

Suzanne:                  I forget I'm on video.

Rubin:                        Yeah, I can see you holding your hands up. No one else can, but that was right. You held it up correctly. That's how big it is. The next picture I part of it, it's by Alfred Eisenstaedt and um, he's a phenomenal photographer also from the 30s. Um, and it's backstage at a, at a ballet, the composition, they're framed by the window. It's got these really cool, um, light, dark areas. And again, I like the silhouette of the one of the dancers and the side lidding lighting of the other one. And maybe this speaks to me more as a lighting story than a composition story, but they're composed beautifully with the light behind them and they're not centered. They're not at a third. There's a bar going across. You see that it doesn't, it doesn't make it a worse picture. You know, if you, again, if you rejected it because, or Photoshop did to get rid of that, I don't think it would be a better photograph. It gives us a sense that we're peering into their private space because there's stuff between us and them I think. And I, and I just loved the lighting there, that sort of Gossamer, uh, dance outfits lit from the side.

Suzanne:                  Yeah. It's also interesting is just how little these outfits have sort of changed over the years.

Rubin:                        Ballet outfits.

Suzanne:                  Yeah. I mean like you look at like Degas and then you look here in the 30s and then you look at now and they still wear these gospel or Tutus and the headbands and the toe shoes. It's just, it's, in a way, it's kind of this, this timeless moment that a lot of young girls have where you're waiting off stage, you know, waiting, waiting to have your moment in the footlights.

Rubin:                        It's lovely, isn't it? The cool thing about ballet that like the outfits are the traditional outfits have valet for the most part. When, when there's modern dance, sometimes it's like getting rid of that old school look of ballet. Right?

Suzanne:                  I mean, I love modern dance, but yes, I think, I think the pew of both is, is, uh, is really lovely. It's, it is, it's like this timelessness, this nostalgia that you can still take part in.

Rubin:                        Yeah. And I feel about this the same as I do a little bit about the Moon Kasi, where we've caught a moment that clearly is something going on. There's a story there. We've, we've, we're sort of privy to it. It's not a silhouette like the Liberia shot, but it's still not like a classic portrait. You know, again, if you pulled your iPhone out to take a picture, I think a lot of people would reject something like this as being sort of too dark or you can't see one of the girls' faces or, or whatever. But I think that it's abuse, it's a, it's just a beautifully framed and, and also wonderfully lit. And that's one of the reasons I like it.

Suzanne:                  I think what I really like is the importance of of light and that you get to see like the back of the, I guess the dancer in the foreground with her back to camera or you sort of see the let the silhouette or the highlight on her left calf and I, it's like it, it really, it's important to see that. Otherwise you'd just kind of disappear into this a solid form, but you get the differentiation, you get like the, the subtlety of our figure, how important it is to actually catch all those elements to, to truly define something or the shape of something.

Rubin:                        Look at the circle, the curves, like they're standing inside this sort of weird round or oval window hurdle. Yeah. Right. So you've got the curve on the bottom with the, on the outside and then you have the window on the inside and the composition gets the top of the window on the inside and the bottom of that arch on the outside. So it's PR, but so it's been thoughtful. So, even though you're, you're kind of cropping the left side of it and it's, it's not even, but it's very thoughtfully composed, right. Each of those pieces are placed in frame nicely. Uh, it's, it's a beautiful, beautiful picture that Iran, okay. So let's move to Elliott Erwitt. Um, my, one of my favorite photographers, he just is, he's so funny and this is just perfect. There's so many things going on here. First of all, it's just comic, right? You're, you're in an art museum with all this art around, and this little crowd is around the frame that has nothing in it or, you know, and,

Suzanne:                  but this is staged, isn't it? I mean, this is something that with the stage,

Rubin:                        I believe that Erwitt did not stage this stuff and he would just, yeah, I'm pretty sure. I mean, um, he's, he's around. I guess he could be asked. I've never heard him talk about that. But he, but he's not a photographer who staged things. He was a journalist for magnum, and I think he probably wanders around museums and saw this moment. Um, you know, you've got, again, if we're gonna talk about Photoshop moments, there's the guard kind of on the right of them down the hall a little bit. Yeah. Uh, and you know, someone might have taken that out is not being part of the subject or not being part of it, but I think that it adds, it adds it to the mass on the right side. And then you have the portrait of the, that um, guy in the frame on the left who's almost watching them.

Suzanne:                  He's a guy. That's why I'm like, this has got, this is it seems posed cause it's like that picture and then the statue in his picture, they're all, they're all looking over at the other thing on the wall. It was the winter. They're fine.

Rubin:                        I mean Erwitt stuff. He's well known for his dog pictures and lots of his photo juxtapositions. But this I think is unusual and I think that it's demonstrating a kind of composition that I like where there's a story going on. It's funny, the juxtapositions are cool. And then the character, the, the painting is a character, you know, just as much as the people in the frame. Think how that's different. There's a, the next picture is Kurt j person and um, it's also in a museum and here you also have the artwork participating in the narrative, like that statue behind them as looking down at them.

Suzanne:                  What are you looking at? What are you looking at and the other statues

Rubin:                        looking at them and they have a relationship. I love how they're peering. I like how for Cartier Bresson he used the darkness. I don't know whether he did it in the dark room and I don't think he did, cause you can see some stuff on the left but it's just dark behind these sculptures as opposed to the Erwitt before it where the, the scene, the room and all that stuff matters to the story. Right. The people and the scene. Whereas this one it's better because it's so dark behind them at highlights the, the beauty in the sculptures and then the funny sort of body positions of the, of the tourists.

Suzanne:                  So I have a question on this photo. Like why would you keep that bit in the left hand corner? Why wouldn't you crop that out?

Rubin:                        You know, it's really interesting. I have two, two sort of answers. One is, my sense is I would have not cropped it out because I don't sort of want a crop, but I would darken it. I would burn it out. So you're, I didn't kind of move out there. Why didn't he do that? And I think the answer, and again I'm guessing is that [inaudible] persona was a big proponent of shoot it composing in frame and not cropping. And I think that he used a file and he carved out his negative carrier so that you could see the edges of the negative to kind of prove that you have the entire negative being printed and he's not manipulating. He actually got it. So in a sense, whether it's on purpose or not, I think he had an ethic that said he's not going to crop it out, but why he didn't burn it out. Not sure what it adds, but it's really there. Like I, I sat and stared at the picture the other day. I took this picture because this isn't, this image is not widely reproduced. It's hard to find this online. And so I basically had to pull the photo out and just shoot it and like that's, that's what it looks like, you know? Huh. Um, I, uh, I don't know if we should go through all 50 of these. Don't you think this is a bit, yeah,

Suzanne:                  I would say 10. Maybe we just do 10 and then, or do you, are there ones that she went to look at? I, I know that we're diving into, uh, diving into them more than you did. Just say starting to sound feel like a class. Right. But I definitely want people to spend some ideas come photo school. Just for the record, it's new [inaudible] dot com slash photo school. It is. I'm, I just,

Rubin:                        I really, you know, feel that you do not need someone like can be explaining this to you. You can have your own experience of these pictures, but I would want someone to spend some time with them to think about this again after staring at this picture. Suddenly when I'm out in the world, I'm seeing like I'm remembering these things, how I'm not imitating it per se, but I'm thinking about, oh, I like it when the background's kind of dark and highlights the things or you know, whatever. I believe that the lessons can be gleaned without you realizing what the lesson is. You just see it and it gives you permission to do things to, to try things.

Suzanne:                  It's like visual Osmosis. Is that a thing? No, I don't know. I mean we could, we could make it another thing. It doesn't closest. That's another shirt. I think it's another shirt. Wait, you're going to have to write it down. You're in the studio. Oh, I got it. Okay. Grab my notepad. Oh, I'll see if I can do that.

Rubin:                        Um, let's, let's kind of wind this down. I don't, I'm not going to go through all of these. I think that we've, I've introduced people to the idea, we can certainly talk about it more, but I don't think, I want to Belabor the point. And the idea is that you don't need someone to explain it. So sitting here and explaining it, it's kind of, you know, misaligned. All right. Yeah. Um, okay.

Suzanne:                  Do you like looking at these pictures? I think that there is a lot to, uh, just a lot to see and a lot to learn. I think if you are studying any, anything you learned from the master as you learn from what's gone before you, whether that's medicine or art or photography in this case, I think that there's a tremendous value in seeing what's come before and how to, how to see things differently to help with your own seeing.

Rubin:                        Yeah. Yeah. Are you taking pictures on your trip?

Suzanne:                  I am. Um, I, uh, I actually was just going through the pictures just before this because I had a feeling you were going to ask me. I am, I think, uh, one of the things that I think it'd be interesting to talk about is taking pictures while you travel. Uh, whether it's travel for work or travel for fun, it's just, it's different. And, um, I sort of

Rubin:                        let's do that. Okay. Okay. So we'll, we'll wind this down and then let us, let's talk more about your travel pictures. We'll do another episode where recover more than 50 of people like these, but I don't think, uh, I think we've introduced the idea and, um, I got to at least talk about the Harry Callahan, which is really all I cared about.

Suzanne:                  We started strong. All right, well I will let you close out the show and uh, we'll, we'll catch up. We'll catch up in a bit. Yeah,

Rubin:                        that sounds good. And I will, um, add like neo modern, we've totally redone our online experience and um, I really want to do something good for the people who listen to the podcast. There's only, I don't know, 500 or something people who are regular listeners. We're about to hit 12,000 downloads and I'm very excited about it. So there are discounts for you on that are available on our website. I'll just leave it at that and we want it, you know, and we want to see what you're doing. And you can upload pictures. We can talk about them. You should get some stuff printed. Anyway, uh, that's my plug for neo modern. Uh, I will wrap it up. Anything else you want to add? Nothing. I'm good. All right. Well our show is her coordinate and produce in San Francisco and sometimes in Dallas. Go to new and get show notes and see photos, comments, leave your reviews and ratings on iTunes and please don't forget to subscribe and remember we'd get new listeners from you telling your friends and spreading the word so you are getting something from our show. Let us know. Let your friends know you love it when the audience is growing. Special thanks to Mitchell foreman who is out there making some new music for us and all of you for hanging out with us today. We appreciate your attention and hope it. Give me some things to think about and tell them next time.


#52 Creative Expression in Your Pictures

1839-2019: 180 Years of Photography

“The most transitory of things, a shadow, the proverbial emblem of all that is fleeting and momentary, may be fettered by the spells of our ‘natural magic’ and may be fixed for ever in the position which it seemed only destined for a single instant to occupy.”

William Henry Fox Talbot, 1839 –Inventor of Photography

Carmel, 1984—A photo that didn’t strike me when taken, but discovered decades later and it continues to grow on me. Tastes change, in both directions, over time.

Carmel, 1984—A photo that didn’t strike me when taken, but discovered decades later and it continues to grow on me. Tastes change, in both directions, over time.

Otto Titzling is a fictional character who is apocryphally described as the inventor of the brassiere in the 1971 book Bust-Up: The Uplifting Tale of Otto Titzling, published by Macdonald in London, and by Prentice-Hall in the USA.

The name, a pun on "a two-tit sling," was invented by humorist Wallace Reyburn in the 1970s. Since then, the name has appeared in the game Trivial Pursuit (the makers of the game fell for the hoax, and listed "Otto Titzling" as the "correct answer" to the question of who invented the brassiere), the 1988 movie Beaches (featuring a song named "Otto Titsling" sung by Bette Midler)


The Art of Fixing a Shadow — the history of creative expression in photography


Women Before 10am, photographs by Veronique Vial

Inure: (v) accustom (someone) to something, especially something unpleasant.

(see Suzanne’s print from episode #48)

PATTERNS catch the eye, finding things that repeat interestingly. I always play around when I see various forms of organic repetition, usually with some wabi-sabi in there. But ultimately, they are boring - the don’t have any story or mystery or energy. They’re just kinda interesting.

This next set is similar, but different in important ways: they harness that sort of visual repetition (above), but then mess with it: use it, break it. The repetition isn’t the subject, the breaking of it is the subject.

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#51 Beginners… How to Start Growing Your Skills

Thus begins our release of podcast episodes each Sunday morning!

Amusement Park, London, by Henri Cartier-Bresson (1962). One of the fifty.

Amusement Park, London, by Henri Cartier-Bresson (1962). One of the fifty.

Museum, Naples, by Henri Cartier-Bresson (1962). Another one of the 50…

Museum, Naples, by Henri Cartier-Bresson (1962). Another one of the 50…

After recording this episode, I sat down and created the list of 50 photos that Suzanne challenged me to assemble. SEE THE FIFTY

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#50 Photomosaics and Collage II

This is Gabrielle Israelievitch; she’s an artist who has done a lot of work in photo collage, influenced as i was by the work of Jerry Uelsmann.

Yellow Taxi

Time (*this image unusually breaks Gabrielle’s constraint of only cutting with straight lines.)

Time (*this image unusually breaks Gabrielle’s constraint of only cutting with straight lines.)





In case you want more with Gabrielle.

Uelsmann at home, his contact sheets spread out on worksurfaces to facilitate serendipitous seeing things.

“Small Woods Where I Met Myself” (1967) Jerry Uelsmann; I was 4 when this went on the wall in our house, and was the stuff of my nightmares for years.

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#49 When You Need a Pro…

These amazing photographs by professional photographers all have impressive production value — they are executed and crafted with unimaginable skill. But underneath the production values, the images are beautifully composed.

See how gorgeous these are? You can't do this with your iPhone. Few can. There's a reason these people are professionals.  Photo by Chris Burkard  (  Off-the-rails adventure photographs

See how gorgeous these are? You can't do this with your iPhone. Few can. There's a reason these people are professionals.

Photo by Chris Burkard ( Off-the-rails adventure photographs

Photo by Alloria Winter  (  Lush fantastical scenes of women.

Photo by Alloria Winter ( Lush fantastical scenes of women.

This first part is free: composition. You don’t need anything but your phone, and you can get good. Then you’ll be able to expand. These professionals all have command over composition first, and then apply that to a wide array of more complicated productions.

There are a lot of photos you see that you simply cannot create yourself and it might be frustrating. Not with an iPhone. Not without a few things: 1. access to private or particularly hard to see places; 2. gear and tools that are usually expensive and designed to handle many situations, including lights and baffles and power and lenses and GBs; 3. extremely good technical skills using tools like Adobe Photoshop, where anything is possible photo-realistically. When I see photos that are produced through these things, I can appreciate them, but i have a different reaction to when i see something amazing, that anyone might have taken if they just happened to see things that way.

When an event IS important and you want both documentation, and artful, there are experts who love doing this, and they’re worth what you pay them.

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#48 Decorating with Photographs

Suzanne Fritz-Hanson, “Santa Barbara, 2018”

Suzanne Fritz-Hanson, “Santa Barbara, 2018”

Robert Motherwell, Red Sea

Robert Motherwell, Red Sea

If you like our show, please subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or your favorite podcasting app, and please rate the podcast. And don’t forget to join the Neomodern Facebook group to discuss the show, share your photos, hear about specials for printing or framing your best images. Thank you!

#47 Wabi Sabi and Photographic Imperfection

Wabi-sabi is natural, a way of life, a beauty of something that either moves towards or from nothingness. It is the beauty of the imperfect, impermanent, incomplete, modest, humble and unconventional. The word wabi refers to a spiritual path, the subjective, the philosophical and spatial. Sabi refers to material objects, the objective, aesthetic ideal and temporal.

Wabi-sabi is the beauty of the rustic, primitive, earthy, variegated, crude, natural, imperfect, and even ugly. This makes it different from modernism which is the beauty of the slick, minimalist, mechanical, perfect, polished, smooth and gorgeous. — MARIA ANTVORT

*From The Beauty of Wabi-Sabi

Alcatraz, 2017

Alcatraz, 2017

Wabi-Sabi, Kintusgi, Ikebana, Haiku

Wabi-Sabi bowl

Wabi-Sabi bowl

Ikebana flower arrangement

Ikebana flower arrangement

Kintsugi bowl

Kintsugi bowl



Pretty is Different Than Beautiful

Smoke Chair, by Maarten Baas

Smoke Chair, by Maarten Baas

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#46 Look at the Light

Sunset, Christmas Eve 2018

January 2019, Sunrise, Sea Ranch


Screen Shot 2019-01-06 at 7.00.11 PM.png

This is an illustration from educational materials about page layout design. In this case, the grey rectangles are photos, and the designer is looking at the relative weights of the photos. Some layouts are more attractive than others, but it really depends on what photo is in the rectangle.

Even lighting over a surface is like the layout in the top left — everything has the same relative weight. It’s not bad, it has its uses. But for many photos it misses an opportunity to say something strongly. The layout next to this, top center, makes a bold statement with that top photo, and something less heavy, less strong is hanging from it. Again, look at this as a metaphor for the array of light and the shapes in your frame. The light illuminates unevenly in natural scenes, revealing some things and hiding others. Consider uneven lighting across the scene.

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#45 Shooting Nudes: The NSFW Episode

Kenna pointing out aspects of his printing of Ruth Bernhard’s “Nude in Box” (Weston Gallery, August 2017)

Kenna pointing out aspects of his printing of Ruth Bernhard’s “Nude in Box” (Weston Gallery, August 2017)

Photographer (and Printing master) Michael Kenna

Photographer (and Printing master) Michael Kenna


Screen Shot 2018-12-09 at 7.09.15 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-12-09 at 7.10.10 AM.png


Edward Weston, Nude (1934)

Edward Weston, Nude (1934)



Edward Weston, Nude (1927)

Edward Weston, Nude (1927)




Ruth Bernhard (1967)

Ruth Bernhard (1967)

Ruth Bernhard (1967)

Ruth Bernhard (1967)




Helmut Newton “Naked and Dressed/Paris” (1981)

Helmut Newton “Naked and Dressed/Paris” (1981)




Judy Dater “Self Portrait at Badlands” (1981)

Judy Dater “Self Portrait at Badlands” (1981)

Judy Dater “Self Portrait” (1981)

Judy Dater “Self Portrait” (1981)




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#44 Minimum Gear

From the Smugmug Photowalk, San Francisco

From the Smugmug Photowalk, San Francisco

If you like our show, please subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or your favorite podcasting app, and please rate the podcast. And don’t forget to join the Neomodern Facebook group to discuss the show, share your photos, hear about specials for printing or framing your best images. Thank you!

#43 Landscape Lessons

John Sexton

John Sexton

Rubin (Outside Modesto, 2016) - Here’s a landscape with no horizon. It wouldn’t ever look interesting on Instagram (and honestly needs to be reasonably large to be savored), but if there hadn’t been clouds it would have suffered greatly.

Rubin (Farm, 2017) And an utterly quiet landscape, with horizon.

Rubin (Moon, Russian Hill, 2016) Here’s an urban landscape. The moon in the sky is extremely subtle, but without it the picture is lost.

Rubin (Sunset, Tulum, 2017). A pretty sunset in this case is improved with the foreground subjects (my kids).

Rubin (Sunset, Tulum, 2017). A pretty sunset in this case is improved with the foreground subjects (my kids).

Ansel Adams

John Sexton

John Wemberly

Michael Kenna

Walter Misrach

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#41 The Instagram Dilemma

The photo that I shot last week — I uploaded, then deleted, it twice on Instagram, pretty sure it was just too sexy for the feed. Eventually I posted it. (and two days later Instagram removed it because it violated community standards. So there you have it.)

The photo that I shot last week — I uploaded, then deleted, it twice on Instagram, pretty sure it was just too sexy for the feed. Eventually I posted it. (and two days later Instagram removed it because it violated community standards. So there you have it.)

Even after all that ranting, both of us have Instagram accounts…

If you like our show, please subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or your favorite podcasting app, and please rate the podcast. And don’t forget to join the Neomodern Facebook group to discuss the show, share your photos, hear about specials for printing or framing your best images. Thank you!

#40 Some Technical Questions

There’s nothing quite like seeing an image you’ve taken get printed like artworks.

There’s nothing quite like seeing an image you’ve taken get printed like artworks.


8-12 mega pixels can print nicely up to 8.5x11”

12-16 mega pixels can print nicely up to 13x19”

*If you know your exact pixel resolution, divide it by 300 (pixels per inch in a quality print) to get image size in inches.

If you like our show, please subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or your favorite podcasting app, and please rate the podcast. And don’t forget to join the Neomodern Facebook group to discuss the show, share your photos, hear about specials for printing or framing your best images. Thank you!