Black and White Photography of New York - Dave Beckerman

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Trashy Memories

3 September, 2008 (21:54) | 1 comment

garbage-can-20011 Trashy Memories

Don’t you think there are textures that bring back memories on a subliminal level?  Something here about the paint and the industrial factory feeling, and the twine tied to the lid.  Also the light coming through the fine wire…  I just wonder if there is some sort of hyper-subliminal-link to an experience that I connect with this feeling. Read more…

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The Early Days

8 July, 2008 (15:44) | No comments

I’m working on this blog from both ends so to speak. While I’m adding the color photographs, I’m also still culling through the early journals. This from March 2001

I’ve really given up on the digital [inkjet] black and white printing. I guess I experimented with it for about six months. The results weren’t bad, but not the same tonal range as the darkroom stuff I’m doing. Also, the equipment, seems more finicky. The printer was working fine for a month or so, and then I started getting banding. I spent a lot of money on cleaning, using different inks etc. but for sure the results when you are doing a large print were not as good. This, does not seem to be the case for color.

Today I’ve been printing for a few hours, and I’m really banging them out. The secret, at least for me, is to keep very good notes, which is not really in my character, but I’ve learned the necessity the hard way.

And the Zone VI enlarger, which I’ve been using for ten years or so, has never failed. I guess the bulb will eventually need to be replaced, but that’s about it.

[Obviously, couldn't see the future very clearly. Still can't.]

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Crafts Fair

9 December, 2000 (10:48) | No comments

Yesterday, showed prints at the Ad agency where I work… they have a crafts fair each year. I think there were more vendors than customers, but did o.k. Sold: Night Chess (2x), Promenade, Trees Silhouette, Mouthwash (first person that ever bought that), Two Women, and a bunch of others that I forgot to write down.

The day before, I had a lot of my stuff in my office and also sold about six prints.

It is a lot easier to sell in person than over the web. The web is really a souless place. You don’t know the person who’s buying and they don’t know you.

Interesting conversation with one woman who had seen my stuff a few years ago, who said. how great it was that I was actually doing what I wanted creatively. I quiped back, “Yeah, after 30 years.” And she said, “Some people never do it at all.”

Point taken. But I have been wondering why it took me so long to ‘find myself’ — after all, I’ve been searching for a creative path since I was fifteen. Music, photography, screenplay writing, lighting director… who knows? So many twists and turns — I had sold screenplays, but the one that was almost made was cancelled when the lead actor died. What if he had lived? Do all paths lead to the same place? What if instead of going to college and studying Philosphy, I had studied photography? All I know is that for me, at that time, the idea of studying photography did not even occur to me… Whatever.

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In the Dark

7 November, 2000 (10:47) |

Printing ‘Promenade’ all day today in the large size… it was a painful printing process. I lost my good notes from the last printing, and had to go through it all again. I had a good artist proof (thank God) to compare against. But just had a lot of trouble with it this time… I really don’t know why. Dodging, burning, and nothing was looking right. Eventually I just left it and went downstairs and got some lunch. When I came back, what was sitting in the tray looked very good. Go figure. Then I did a few small prints of ‘Promenade’ on graded paper — something I hadn’t done before. Later on, I decided to use the hypo-clearing agent in the bathroom (no ventilation) and had a bad choking fit. Won’t do that again.

Anyway, it took me all day to print five large ‘Promenades’ and a few smaller ones.

I’ve got a bunch of new stuff from Arizona that I wanted to at least take a stab at, but was too tired.

What a weird day. I kept dropping the tongs in the developer. At one point, after I had the easel all lined up, I leaned against it as I was putting in the paper and it moved. Hopefully, tomorrow will be easier.


Anyone Buying?

30 July, 2000 (10:34) | No comments

traffic to the daveBeckerman.com site continues to increase. but i’m coming to the realization that people are using it more like a museum than a store. i think that i will do better if i put my images on tee-shirts and sell them. in other words, you can view the images on the web and enjoy them, and get a lot of feeling from them. why do you need to buy them and go through the trouble of having them framed and put in the house. but shoes, or tee-shirts, or hats, or jewelry are another story. you don’t get the functionality until you order it. which takes me back again to the postcard, and greeting card thing. because here is a physical thing that you need to get, in order to make use of it and get the full benefit.

i’m now at a point where i’m getting about 15,000 page views per week. that’s a lot of pictures served up. and registrations are now up to about 15 per day. quite a bit compared to when i first started out. but so far, offering more affordable inkjet prints has not boosted sales one bit. in fact, sales have dropped off when i started offering them. so, the good news is, more people are browsing the site, and viewing more pictures; the bad news is that sales are really minimal. still, as i said to a friend the other day — its very gratifying to simply have people stop by and browse. and if that’s all its going to be, well so be it.

i really wonder how the larger sites like Corbis and art.com are doing. they have obviously put millions into selling art on the web.

on the good side, several stock companies have seen my work and invited me to submit images to them. so maybe that will help. we’ll see. i can tell you that something like that where the agency takes care of the sale and the legalities would definitely be easier than trying to sell directly to the public.

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First Inkjet Prints

29 July, 2000 (10:32) | No comments

The last month and a half disappeared in a blur. I fell into the digital print world. I had been talking about the inkjet stuff with a friend of mine for the last few months, but when I saw with my own two eyes what was possible, at least in color, I thought it was worth investigating. Luminos had just come out with monochrome inks for the Epson 1160, so I figured for a few hundred bucks I would take the plunge. The printer was about $400. I already had a fairly okay negative scanner which I had used to put the images on the site. My initial thought was to try and make some small postcards, perhaps a brochure. And I have to admit, that the initial results were so amazing, that I got hooked.

Began experimenting with various inkjet papers, and within a day or two I had several very good prints.

I had been very sceptical about all this. Last year I went to the Javits center photography exhibit and saw some black and white digital stuff, but didn’t think that it could compare with chemical printing. Now all of a sudden, with the right inks and the right scanner and printer, it was here. What a relief not to have to work in the dark in this small studio apartment. No more fixer fumes. No more setup and cleanup. All the headaches of chemical printing gone. At least in the smaller sizes.

I showed a bunch of my work to friends, and to production people where I work part-time, and the reactions were the same as mine. This stuff had a lot of potential. I created a bunch of postcards and gave them out to people wherever I went. Gave some to my father to give out to his friends. And simply carried a bunch of them around with me so that I could show samples of my work around.

Then of course I had to change the site so that I could offer these digital prints, which I just finished the other day. And while all this was going on, I was still shooting, working part-time, and selling chemical prints. I thought myself very successful, being able to keep track of all this, until my sister tried to call me the other day and got no answer. Turns out I had forgotten to pay the phone bill. And then a guy came by and slipped a notice under my door about the rent being late

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Early Sales

7 June, 2000 (10:31) | No comments

… sales through the web site remain non-existent. But I continue to receive e-mail from people saying how much they are moved by some of the images. So I can only conclude that the prices are too high for the people who are visiting the site, and there is a hesitancy about purchasing prints on-line (which I can understand). On the other hand, even the sales that I made last weekend, are partially due to having the website, in the sense that I was able to get an idea of what the friend was interested in, and arrive with a portfolio of prints catered to her.

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The Grumbling Begins

23 February, 2000 (19:17) | No comments

Well, inquiries continue to come in. How can I buy a print? I would like to see a catalogue. Do you ship to Spain? And I’m beginning to wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. Seems like I need to take the next step and really put together a shopping cart and on-line credit processing. What about returns? What’s my policy if someone gets the picture and hates it? I’ve been writing back to people that if they send it back to me in its ‘original condition’ within 5 days of receiving it, I’ll refund their money. Seems fair, but where are they going to send it back to? My P.O. Box? Ain’t gonna fit. I find myself thinking about stuff that always annoyed me — like ‘there’s a restocking charge’ etc. Why should there be restocking charge? Crazy. I guess it for the time it takes me to walk to wherever its been delivered to, unpacking the print, and putting it back into my excellent storage system beneath the bed.


Prints Sold for First Time

22 February, 2000 (19:13) |

Well this is a bit startling. During the last few weeks, requests for prints are coming in through this web-site. Something that I hoped for, but had no idea would actually happen. It brings up a lot of issues. Should I enable the site to take credit cards? All sorts of business issues — such as Return Policy. What’s fair? I think that for the most part the images on the web don’t really do the prints justice — and in many cases, the actual framing/cropping on the web is not the exact same thing as the final print. (Of course I think the final print is better, or I wouldn’t have done it that way, but do I need to go through every image again, and try and make the cropping etc. exactly match the final print?)

Yesterday, I was cursing myself because I had taken such bad technical notes on a few prints. And in one case, I had actually sold the only Artist Proof, and had to go back and recreate the printing from scratch.

Its not like there’s a flood of orders or anything. But mostly, of the hundred pictures or so that are on the site, I really only have extra prints of about 10%. In short, most prints are made to order, and if I get requests for 5 separate prints in one week, that forces me back into the darkroom — close the one window in the house with velcro and a thick black cloth, cut off the air supply, and prepare to sweat and asphixiate. The only thing that makes the process bareable is playing really loud music while I print (best printing music: Anything by Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and if in a more tranquil mood — Paul Simon). But as you expose the print, I use a beeper to count the seconds, and the music must be turned off.

For me, the printing process is the most painful. Not only because of all the physical limitations of the apartment, but ly because it is mentally exhausting. Another creative act.

I’ve been printing black and white since I was about fifteen and had a darkroom in the back bathroom in the Bronx. Those were by no means fine art prints. I had no idea what printing was about, except that it was exciting to watch the image appear in the Dektol. (Some of those very early prints still hang in my sister’s house. Technically awful. But they continue to last in the family.)

I probably made my first ‘Fine-Art’, technically adequate print about 8 years ago. (I think this was Benches). It had the full range of tones, had that luminous look that Ansel talks about.

Ansel describes it as a ‘performance’ of the negative. Well put. There is a little ballet with the fingers, with pieces of cards, with wire-hangers, with pinkies flapping. Bring this part down a bit. Move the whole thing to the right. Is there anything extraneous? Does it have the impact? What will it look like when it dries down (usually you need to account for this %10 dry-down effect in which high areas that may look completely without texture, develop texture when dry.)

The printing process, compared to the shooting style I’ve developed, are at complete ends of the psychological spectrum. Shooting is quick, and almost unconscious — at its best. (As my friend Dirk cautioned me, ‘You can’t try to be Zen-like — you just are’

Printing is more cool and calculated. An editing process. A re-evaluation. In short — ‘A Performance of the Negative’.

So the next time you walk by the Upper East Side of New York and see a middle-aged guy with his head sticking out the window gasping for air — its probably me, and I’ve just finished printing a large order.

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The Real World

16 January, 2000 (03:49) | No comments

I was told by someone, that during the first year of trying to ‘make it’ as a photographer, probably 75% of your time goes into marketing. I have found this to be true so far. Although most of the marketing is through the web. Today, a company called asking if they could use one of my images for their company splash page. This is very exciting, but I need to find out the legal implications since it features a person in the foreground, and I don’t have a model release. In fact I don’t think it is possible to get model releases given the way I’ve been shooting lately. I myself, often don’t even know that I’ve got an interesting shot until weeks later when I notice something interesting in the shot.

I’m also finding that a lot of galleries, both on-line, and brick and mortar, want submissions made with slides, which of course I don’t have any of. So I’m going to have to pick up a SLR solely for the purpose of shooting slides of my work.

I’ve got a backlog of about 30 rolls of film (normal for me) that need to be developed. I have a few orders that I need to print up, but have been procrastinating doing. I also have some interesting work from about 20 years ago somewhere that I’d like to put up on the web site.

Next week — for the first time — I’ll be working half time at the Advertising agency. So I should have time to get around to all these tasks. I’m also in the process of trying to write an article about the Contax G2 vs. the Leica — always a hot debate amongst street photographers. I can tell you that there is no particular winner. They both have their pros and cons — if you want to see a preview of my ideas on this debate click here.

Another thing that I’ve noted is that the Scenics screensavers are downloaded about ten to one over any of the other screensavers. Probably now getting about 50 downloads per week of all screensavers.

Hopefully a time will come when the web site will release me to go out and start shooting again, which I really haven’t done seriously in months.

I guess I’ve been hiding behind the website development, which is very safe — for a while now — and its time to go out into the real world.

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Banners (First Attempt)

30 December, 1999 (03:40) | No comments

I know this is going to annoy alot of people — it annoys me to have to do it, but I added banners to the site today. It’s part of the LinkExchange program, where if I agree to show others banners on my site, then, given some ratio or other my banner shows up on other LinkExchange sites.

Here’s the banner people will hopefully be seeing on other sites.

If it works, I’ll keep it. If not, its gone. All part of the grand experiment of how do you get people to your site without spending big bucks (or any bucks at all up until now.)

The real problem is that the place where I get the most hits, namely as each image is shown, is the last place you want to be hit with a banner. For now, I’ll resist that idea, and just keep it on the home page, and other pages where it won’t get in the way of the images.



27 December, 1999 (03:39) | No comments

I’ve recieved a lot of letters from photography students asking for advise. A favorite quote is from Walker Evans, who was giving advice to another photographer, Ben Shahn. ‘Look Ben, there’s nothing to it. F9 on the shady side of the street. f45 on the sunny side, twentieth of a second. hold your camera steady!)

Film speeds have changed since then, but still, good simple advise.


Selling on the Street

26 December, 1999 (03:36) | No comments

A few days ago, I stopped by one of those photography stands that seem to be all over the streets of New York. Mostly selling black and white tourist type photos. I asked the woman who was managing the site, whether these were here photos. She said, ‘no.’ She sells them for someone else. I asked her, did she think it was possible to make a decent living doing this sort of thing. And told her I was contemplating it. She took one look at me and said, ‘No. You couldn’t do it.’

- Why not? I asked.

- Because you need to be a big bastard to do this. And you don’t look like a bastard at all….

What was I going to say — ‘I can be a big bastard! Really I can’

* * * * *

I have to admit, although I’ve never seen myself as a saleman — and am generally pretty shy about pushing my self into the fray — since I decided to try and sell, I’ve spent 99% of my time with what could be called marketing. Or to be more exact, figuring how to get myself listed with the various search engines. It seems like a game. Alta Vista, for example, seems to throw my main page away — but some other engines have picked it up. The main keyword that I’m shooting for is ‘Black and White Photography’. If I ever switch to color, I’m going to be in big trouble. Fortunately, since I’ve been shooting for twenty odd years in black and white, and never had the urge to take a color shot, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.

Putting the site together has been interesting, since I have that computer background that I’m trying to get away from. The hard thing, is how to give a feeling of what the prints look like in real life. That was why I decided to make the main images 300 x 500 pixels (larger than on most sites) and include hi-res images that could be loaded. My logs however show that for every 5000 regular size images that are looked at, perhaps 200 large images are clicked on. Makes me wonder if its worth it.

I also played around with a Java Applet that allowed you to zoom in and out and explore different parts of the picture, but a few people told me it crashed their computer. So much for that.

So far I’ve spent $100 on marketing. That was to buy a RealName keyword.

And of course, the big thing still remains, which is to put a shopping cart and credit card processing on the site.


First Post

25 December, 1999 (03:28) | 1 comment

[I'm going to try and slowly import some of the early posts into this blog. The following was the first post I wrote back in 1999]

Probably a strange thing to try, but the idea of starting an on-line,
journal related to this photography might be interesting. That remains
to be seen. Like any journal, this will be somewhat rambling…

I’ve been shooting in the subways for almost 8 years, and I’m pretty
much sick of it. I think that originally, I wanted to show that you could
apply Ansel Adams type techniques to the most urban parts of New York,
and wind up with beautiful photographs. Instead of the grainy stuff I
was used to seeing, I would try and use medium and large format cameras.
Pretty difficult to take a view camera onto a crowded subway car. Number
one, you are not allowed to use a tripod in the subways, at least not
without permission. Number two, how can you expect the average New Yorker
to react to something so outrageous?

The best that I got during this period was actually the Empty Subwy car. This car, by the way, was only empty for about five seconds.

subway car interior

Another highlight, was the shot of the Man & Woman which was taken with a Rolliflex Twin Lens. None of the
work that I did was hidden — as Walker Evans had done. I always felt
too sneaky to actually put a camera inside my coat as he had done. Instead,
the camera was out in the open, sitting on my lap. Actually propped up
on my briefcase. My theory was that after a while, true New Yorkers would
ignore you.

man and woman

In general that was true though I got my share of dirty looks.

Part of my fascination with the subway, was that I had always had a deep
phobic reaction to being caught in these crowded trains. I don’t exaggerate.
I thought that by trying to capture this phenomena, it might help me get
over my phobia which it did. Go figure.

Another reason for shooting as much subway as I did, was simply because
it was there! I took the same train to work every day, and if I was going
to shoot, this was about all that was available during my normal work
day. One trick that I used was to measure the width of the various subway
cars. I always knew ahead of time how far it was from one door to another,
or from one side of the train to the other. And of course, the lighting
didn’t change much. Open up as much as you could. Use the slowest shutter
speed you could manage. Hope for the best.

After a few years, I switched to an auto-focus camera (the Contax G2)
because it had interchangeable lenses. This gave me the ability to shoot
with a wide angle lens which you really need on a crowded train. The problem
with the G2 was that it was a bit noisy. So it became important to pick
a train that was noisy. The best of all was when you got a subway car
where the p.a. system was out of whack and was continuously squeaking
and groaning. The other thing was that in general, it was impossible to
shoot while the train was actually moving (due to slow shutter speed).
Almost all the shots on this site were taken while the train was still.

* * * *

Another idea I once came up with was to dress and act like a tourist!
After all, I was sort of a tourist. New Yorkers take everything for granted.
I bought a big, cumbersome map of New York, had it sticking out of my
jacket pocket, and wandered around looking at the tall buildings. I had
noticed, while I was in Paris, that tourists were tolerated. If you were
a tourist, it was okay to take a picture of most anything, and the denizens
simply chalked it up to another annoying American. Wouldn’t the same technique
work in New York. I once visited the Empire State building and pretended
not to speak English (of course, all the while snapping away like crazy).
At the top of the building was a man selling stamped coins or something,
who tried desparately to explain to me how much these trinkets cost and
why I needed one. I kept shaking my head and explaining in some language
of my own devising that I wasn’t interested. A couple next to me got into
the act, telling me that each trinket cost FIVE DOLLARS. Counting them
out on their fingers. Finally, I pretended to understand and said in an
accent — ‘Too Much’. And went on.

I was always looking for techniques that would allow me to get close
to my subjects. It didn’t seem to be fair to use long lenses, and I’ve
never used a lens longer than 90mm (on a 35mm camera) to photograph people.
I was influenced by whatever I read about Cartier-Bresson. I read that
he basically walked around with a 35mm and a 90mm lens (of course with
a Lieca). If that was good enough for HCB, it was good enough for me.
And there is something to be said for that simplicity. I’ve also stood
clear of zoom lenses.

When I first started shooting seriously, I used a Canonet which had one
fixed lens (was it 28 or 35??) and forced myself to get closer or further
by walking. I probably stayed with this camera for about a year.

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