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Michael Ernest Sweet Interview: Capturing the Human Fragment on NY Streets

If you know little about Street Photography then you would know that, in Street Photography the primary subject of the picture maybe completely devoid of people. It can be an object or environment where an aesthetic human character can be projected. Well, human or not, the idea is to capture pictures at a poignant moment! This candid photography is currently quite respected all over but has also been an issue of conflict. Even with these issues, it did not stop Michael Ernest Sweet from jumping with his 28mm in this field!

 

Fur

If you have ever been in New York city chances are you have been clicked by Michael Ernest Sweet without you knowing about it. Living in Montreal this past master travels to New York where his partner resides. This doesn’t stop him from taking a break and snapping people unknowingly and making a great shot of it. Your faces, your expressions don’t interest him. With a different approach, Michael will be more interested in your fur coat and fashionable blazer. Moving with a very small, fast camera and his finger on the shutter he walks in New York and snaps photographs with an instinct.

The more I read about him, more intrigued I became about his role as a Photographer, Writer, Teacher. He is an award-winning writer and photographer. His poetry was debuted by legendary publisher Barney Rosset in the Evergreen Review, and his photographs have appeared in Popular Photography. This prompted me more to delve into his life and know more about him. Lets get to know more about Street Photography , the Michael way and learn from his experience in this interview.

Q1. Sometimes it runs in the family. Sometimes you go against all odds and sometimes it comes naturally. Which one was it for you while starting with Photography? What was your inspiration?

My aunt was a semi-professional photographer. I grew up with her in close proximity and she always allowed me to use her equipment and cameras. Despite this generosity on her part, I really only likely shot a dozen rolls of film as a teenager. I don’t think I have any of the photographs. It was likely her influence though, or at least access to her cameras which inspired an interest in me. I was really, initially at least, seduced by the camera itself – as a piece of equipment. I’m still to this day seduced by the camera. This is one of the reasons I shoot a lot of film because I prefer the feel and the operation of an analog camera.

Q2. You always seem to favor the traditional medium of going black and white? Don’t colors interest you?

Michael_Sweet_Me and the Two of Them 2

I have done color work. In fact it’s all I am doing these days. I have a new book coming out in February titled, “Michael Sweet’s Coney Island” and it is all in color. The images in that collection were shot with a Harinezumi toy camera and are very, very saturated. Martin Parr told me quote, “I thought my colors were bright, but now I see I am quite muted”. I thought that was quite funny. He’s a great guy and a fantastic photographer.

Q3. Never being a Street Photographer, I feel that audacious shots like this must be requiring quite a lot of balls. Have you ever been sweared at for taking images unknowingly. Tell us about this incidence.

Outcall

Sure I have been sworn at and had people threaten me. I guess it doesn’t bother me that much. I know, especially in New York City, that I have the law on my side. It does ruin the day though. I rarely ever get back into the swing of things after an altercation. I usually go for a beer and call it a day when that happens. It doesn’t really happen all that often though. I work very, very close to people – mere inches – so that usually think I am photographing behind them or something. In fact, the photo that you chose below, of the woman with the lace-up boots and the cigarette – she saw me in the reflection in the window and swore at me, but I got a great photo out of it.

Q4. I dont get to ask this to many photographers. But you being a poet too. What is the inspiration behind this poem? Is this you, the photographer you are talking about?

That poem is mostly fiction. It’s inspired by conversations people have tried to start with me, but mostly fiction. I’m usually a lot nicer to people who recognize me and strike up a conversation.

Q5. This photograph happens to be my personal favorite (not because of the dude in the picture) but in general the expression, tilt, Raybans and the cigarette . What made you click this picture? Did you decide clicking him when you saw him or it was just a random fluke.

Sugar

Interestingly, I was waiting to cross the street at a red light on Stillwell Avenue, near Coney Island. He was waiting too, just ahead of me. I always keep my camera at my side and my finger on the shutter release; he spun around and I raised the camera and clicked it. Thankfully I was using the Ricoh GRD IV that day and it is lightening fast and doesn’t require a pre-focus step. It’s just click and you have the image. That camera is a real legend. So fast, fast like a rangefinder.

Q6. If i were a beginner in street photography what are the 5 things that you would suggest to me – including what kind of gear should I use

Five things! That’s a lot. Let’s see: 1) Get a good fast camera and stick with it. Get to know that camera and be able to dominate it, 2) Go out on the streets as if you are going to work. Spend the whole day out there and if you get 2-3 decent shots you’ve been successful, 3) Know the laws where you are shooting. For example, I live Montreal in addition to NYC and in Montreal street photography is forbidden by law. You can take photos, but if anyone depicted in them makes an issue the law is squarely on their side, 4) Don’t show all your work on the internet. Show your very best stuff and keep the rest. I’m very tired of all the photographs of random people walking down the sidewalk – most taken from the side. What is the point of all these photographs? Show only your very best and if those aren’t good, take up gardening, 5) Grow thick skin. Street photography is a cutthroat world. It’s truly very rough and there is very little camaraderie or collegiality. Be prepared for that and don’t expect compliments on your work to come easily, they most certainly will not.

Q7. Close-ups seem to have become your signature. Any particular reason for it?

Hugo

It became my signature. There really were not many people photographing like this when I started. It was rather unique. Mark Cohen’s work was really all that came close in any kind of consistent way. I also like this mode of working. I find it thrilling. If I were going to wander the streets with a big long zoom lens I’d rather photograph birds. I don’t understand street photography with zoom lenses. Now, let me be clear about something. I’m not saying that street photography that is more composed and wider in scope is not good. Most all street photography is exactly that (think Cartier-Bresson or Winogrand etc.). I just focus on the extreme close up and the “human fragments” because that became my signature. That’s what people expect from me now.

Q8. A writer, A poet, A Photographer, An educator. You seem to wear many hats. How do you manage time for everything? Given a choice between either of them, which would be your favorite?

Yes, I am a real polyhistor (laughing). I’m just simply an artist. I move around in the arts depending on the time in my life or even the time of the year. For example, I don’t really photograph in the winter. I usually write more in the winter months. In the summer I am always out on the streets with a camera. I’m a teacher by profession, so I don’t work in the summer months and I have all that time to photograph. I also paint sometimes and have even made metal sculptures too. Like I said, I am all over the place. This past summer I also wrote a book called, “Ham and Eggs & Pork and Beans” which is poetry and drawings. It’s adult humor. Kind of Bukowski really. I loved that project and I think the book is a lot of fun.

Q9. Have you ever suffered form Photographer’s block? If yes then how did you manage to overcome it!

Fashion Police

Yes all the time. I do something else. I paint or write or meditate or drink beer and read novels. I’m not too concerned about lack of inspiration. I think it is completely normal to suffer from creative blocks. If you panic it can really overcome you. The key is to accept it and not let it get the better of you. I could care less if I ever make another photograph. In fact, I might not.

To know more about his work you can visit his website 
All images copyright Michael Ernest Sweet courtesy of Brooklyn Arts Press

Nigel Grimmer Interview: Self-Portraits Done in Art Drag

Nigel Grimmer

It’s almost a guarantee, a universal fact of life. If you have a family, you also have, somewhere deep in your pocket of history, a family portrait that looks just like every single one that has ever been made. If you’ve seen one family portrait, you’ve seen them all. But why do family portraits end up looking the same? Who said this genre of photography had to include what it does?

Nigel Grimmer makes photographs that expose the pressures placed on photographic genres. Putting his family in dunce caps, or having them take selfies as roadkill, Grimmer has previously explored what gets included in a family photo album. In his most recent project, Art Drag, he takes a shot at one of photography’s principal illusions — depth. Just as flattening the world to a map creates distortions to shape and size, a photograph also distorts a 3D world into a flat fantasy. The paintings highlight that — within a photograph —  what you see isn’t always what you get.

In this interview, Grimmer talks about his start, explains more about Art Drag, and reveals how you can participate with him by sending your own photos.

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Joana Choumali Interview: Capturing the Grace and Beauty of Africa

haabre

Chunky jewellery, impish smile and a camera in hand – Joana Choumali has a face of a saint, with eyes that twinkle. I wish this interview would have taken place in the Africa’s sleekest cities, Abidjan from where she belongs, but for now I have to put right with this.

Behind those twinkle in the eyes, lies a face which has seen the harsh reality of living in a city of political crisis, young people subjected to discrimination and rejection from their surroundings. Joana’s projects deal with many intense topics like facial scarification (a fading practice carried out in the Ivory Coast), young men and girls who want to become independent and reintegrate into society, razed shantytowns and slums of Abidjan and much more. A graphic artist by education Joana was working with an advertising network giant, McCann Erikson group.

Winning the prestigious POPCAP’14 award for her project Haabre, The Last Generation, this famous photographer believes in highlighting equality of men and women in her photos. When I was randomly reading about offbeat works of photographers, Joana’s name flashed out and I decided that I want to know more about her life. Just as I was amazed by her normal but divergent approach to photography I am sure you would too. Let’s jump on to more about her life revealed in the interview.

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Shane McCauley Interview: Bumping Continent to Continent and Blowing Heads With Music

Shane McCauley

It’s called 128 Beats Per Minute: Diplo’s Visual Guide to Music, Culture, and Everything In Between (Universe, 2012) and it was Los Angeles photographer Shane McCauley’s first major project with Diplo. Since 128 BPM, McCauley has gone on to shoot with nearly everybody: Tequila makers. Music magazines. High-end fashionistas. Standard print mainstays. And new media behemoths.

Yet McCauley didn’t start out like many other photographers. In high school, he listened to Jawbreaker, Fifteen, and Minor Threat. He went to shows in restaurants that never hosted another. He took risks and stayed away from doing things too safe. He has even said that he might have ended up dead if not for photography. In that light, it’s easy to see why McCauley’s work has a little more grit — to him, photography isn’t just therapeutic performance. It’s first craft then always, always work.

In this interview, McCauley tells us how he got his start, explains why if you go to beautiful places, you’re not always going to make beautiful work, and talks music — lots of music. Go to the end to see some of his favorite images paired to some of his favorite songs.

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Jeffrey Boudreau Interview: Bold Portraits Captured by a Shy Photographer

Jeff Boudreau

Jeff Boudreau lives and works in London. He has worked with Vans, Tank, Aksu, and DROP magazine, among many others. In 2013, he shot and directed a video for Vogue, and, this past year, he was shortlisted for the APA / Lucie Foundation’s prestigious grant for his ongoing personal series.

In this interview, Jeff talks about how he started shooting his friends skateboarding, explains why he gets real close with his frames, and reveals how a shy person like him can make strong and bold work.

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Graeme Mitchell Interview: Not Thinking About It Yet Thinking All The Time

eyes_closed2 eyes_open

Some notes before the interview. This conversation took place via email between an office and an apartment in Los Angeles. I wrote the questions toward the end of the night of September 23rd. Near morning. But early or late enough to be considered neither morning nor night. Either way, I wrote them, proofread that, then went to bed.

I have the impression that this conversation could have taken place in the corner of a dark bar. Either there or a church that nobody attends. In fact, this church must have already been forgotten. Graeme Mitchell says he spent a morning on his answers. Mitchell has worked with W magazine, the New York Times, and New York Magazine, among many others.

In this interview, Mitchell talks about how he transitioned into photography, explains some ideas behind his work, and engages in a conversation like an old friend would.

The answers and their questions have been edited and reformatted to aid readability. 

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Audrey Guiraud Interview: Cityscape Photography as You’ve Never Seen

Audrey Guiraud

I know very little. One thing I know: you could live your life seeing only what’s necessary. Either you’ve lived seeing the same things over and over or you haven’t. I’m afraid that when I go all that I’ll see are the things I spent my life forgetting: the numbers of an ATM machine, the concrete of a forgotten highway, the green lights suddenly red. My last memories: one blur of the inconsequential.

That’s my hell. But what if you wouldn’t mind it? What if a flood of inconsequential images is what you want? To be treated with things that do no harm, instead of remembering all the faces you’ll no longer see. Meaning corresponds to what you’ve experienced. That’s perspective, and perspective is why I really want to share Audrey Guiraud’s work.

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Jared Thomas Kocka Interview: Leaving Everything Behind to Shoot Photography

Jared Thomas

A few weeks back, I found an article in Complex that I really loved. It was titled The Top 25 Young Photographers to Keep Your Eye On. It was a fantastic selection of photographers. Our interviews with Catherine Scrivener, Ira Chernova, and Jessica Lehrman started from there. But the article wasn’t only an article. It was a list.

And at the top of this list, Complex‘s number one young photographer to keep your eye on, was Jared Thomas Kocka. Going from working at Dominos to shooting LA’s best models, Kocka makes work that’s vibrant and clean. But describing his work would be the least interesting thing to write. If you want to read about an artist who left everything he knew to create his art, or if you need inspiration at all, just read his story.

In this interview, Kocka talks about how he got his start in photography, explains his move from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, and reveals why his parents are his greatest influences.

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Jessica Lehrman Interview: Capturing Stories You’re Meant to Tell

Jessica Lehrman

On page SR6 of Sunday’s New York Times, an article appeared with the headline “A Family Hits the Road”. In it, documentary photographer Jessica Lehrman writes about a 3,365 mile journey taken this past summer with her family. The article begins: “Rusted Root’s song ‘Send Me on My Way’ is blaring as my sister, Cassidy, winds our little Nissan Sentra through the serpentine roads of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. The fresh basil my dad bought as a ‘car freshener’ is wilting on the dash . . . ”

Lehrman goes on to write about her childhood, of moving town-to-town in a RV, and about hiking canyons, handling rattlesnakes, and finding herself on the road — all between the ages of nine and twelve. But tucked at the very end, sounding as a whisper or a dedication, is a sentence about a small tattoo written on her wrist. This tattoo is a word, and the word a symbol. For her family, though, it’s a dedication: Gypsy.

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A Day on Set: Janna Park’s Fashion Shoot

Janna Park

A while back, we had the chance to interview fashion photographer Janna Park. In that interview, I rambled on about sad movies and her work’s intimacy (you know, the usual dramatic flairs I never put down). Anyway, we really liked her work, so when she asked if we’d like to feature her again, we said, “Sure, but can we do something different?”

Different means different things to different people. Differences are just similarities for different things. For example, I love reading poetry, and assuming you’re mature and saved yourself from suffering from it, you probably don’t, so we might have that difference between us, but in reading poetry, I’m also similar to someone who loves poetry (these are my most special people). But different right now, for this particular article that you’re reading, means that this interview isn’t really an interview. It’s, well, an interview + MORE!

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