Hidden Places

Avondale, Auckland NZ 2012 (photo credit: Christian Espinoza)

Explore in your own backyard.

Or go walkabouts to places unknown, get lost and figure out your way back. Venture out for a surprise like I do (usually with my camera in hand and a stash of film).

I was on assignment by Metro Magazine to get images from several markets in Auckland City, including the pic shown here taken in Avondale Sunday market. More of a flea market, there were hidden gems everywhere. Finding people of all shapes and sizes, looking for knick-knacks, fresh vegetables, and some clown heads to toss balls at in exchange of prizes.

I have a genuine love of people, and when I am behind the camera I feel I create a sense of closeness. Maybe it’s more of a desire for something raw. When I don’t have a camera I notice I keep my distance and am considerably more reserved.

Wherever you find yourself, notice your instinctual responses. This self discovery can happen daily, it needn’t wait or become monumental. This daily reflection process has helped develop my work and the way I approach my practice.

No one moment is most important. Any moment can be something.”

– Garry Winogrand

Time Flies

Auckland Airport departure lounge, 2018 (Photo Credit: Christian Espinoza)

It was exactly one year ago that I departed the sunny shores of New Zealand for beautiful Cologne in Germany. I was attending the world’s biggest photography and imaging festival, Photokina.

This is not a blog about the festival, although I did already blog about it at the time – you can read it here. It simply makes me reflect on the fact that it has been an entire year since that trip, however in my mind it feels as fresh as if it were only weeks ago.

There is no Photokina festival this year but look out for it in May of 2020, where no doubt some monumental announcements will be made as per usual. I would also note that Nikon, Leica, and Olympus have confirmed they will not be in attendance, so let’s hope they have something else up their sleeve. Leica is in a class of its own, however, so they have little to worry about.

In the meantime I will continue to covet the Leica Q2, Ricoh GRIII, Canon EOS R plus RF 28-70 f2, and the Fujifilm GFX 50R and their novelty sized lenses.

Learning to See

Ponsonby Auckland, NZ 2011 (photo credit: Christian Espinoza)

Last year I attended an exhibition at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, showing original works from Arbus, Friedlander, Evans, and Winogrand, among others. I felt as close to royalty as I ever had been, in that moment. It was an inspiration to see the prints, mostly small in size, in person, warts and all.

Currently I am re-reading Winogrand: Figments from the Real World, by John Szarkowski. This may be the fourth time I have issued the book from the Central Library although I always glean fresh new insights each time I read the book. The man himself was warts and all, and he gave us his only self in every picture. Except for the really early work, that is.

Winogrand’s earlier work during the ‘Eisenhower‘ years of the 1950’s was markedly different to the work he would produce only a few years later, post 1961. It was more reserved, more far away, and had it not been for the rest of his oeuvre, I would say it was simply lacking.

I think he was learning how to see. You could say these were his discovery years. I think what drove Winogrand to pursue his way of photography is as fascinating as the photographs themselves. Ultimately he became consumed by it, and towards the end of his life he had lost track of (or perhaps avoided) developing and printing, and simply kept shooting compulsively. He shot over a million frames in his lifetime (pre-digital).

It has taken me over 15 years to learn how to see. Trawling through thousands of my own film negatives and slides in the past couple of weeks, I have come to realize why I am doing what I am doing. I don’t think I knew that until now.

If something you do in this life makes you feel great in every way, then simply do that as often as possible.

There is no substitute.

Comparing

Colca Canyon, Peru 2008 (photo credit: Christian Espinoza)

English poet, Alexander Pope once said, ‘To err is human; to forgive, divine’. I would add a new and less eloquent version of my own, ‘To compare is human’.

The topic of comparing oneself came up in conversation over coffee with a friend yesterday. We agreed that whilst this is not an uncommon impulse, it can quite easily become a trap. Much like the rabbit hole except with murky, swampy waters and a stench of envy.

We are all flawed in this life, that is just a fact of the human condition, however in the glow of Instagram and its various filters, you would not be remiss to think that we all live perfectly wonderful lives and are surrounded by the glow of the sun always. And by we, I mean everyone else but you.

They may be more attractive, have more wealth, more intelligence, and more success than you. You feel that you just don’t measure up to them, and as the feelings of inferiority fester, you fall down the trap and you sink deeper into a state you can’t get out of easily. This is the trap.

In reality, the only person you need to compare yourself to is: yourself.

As a photographer, I look at the work I did ten years ago versus the work I did last week, and that’s the only comparison I make. In fact, these days I am immersed in scanning my own film from the last 15 years of shoots, I have no time to even look at other people’s work (plus, I don’t have Instagram).

If you find Instagram or any other visual social media platform is causing you to feel this way, maybe take a break from it and surround yourself with real people and actual hobbies. Write down what you’re grateful for every morning, my wife just started doing this and it has turned everything from night into day.

Celebrate yourself vs envy someone else.

To compare is human; to choose not to compare is also human.

Bernstein, A Renaissance Man

Leonard Bernstein conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall, 6/24/88 (photo credit: Steve J Sherman)

The Central City Library is my second home. Often I will take Ethan with me as we’re both avid readers and we stock up on books for the week. On our last visit, I stumbled upon a book titled “Leonard Bernstein at Work: His Final Years, 1984-1990”, containing original photographs by Steve Sherman.

I am not sure what drew me to the book, but after the first turn I knew it was going to be hard to put it down. I love this book and the photographs, but moreover the man himself. Bernstein, ‘a mensch’ as he has been described, gave everything he had to his work. The book contains passages and quotes from the people that knew Bernstein and were moved by him and his insatiable charisma.

Already a familiar name in music as the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein rose to stardom in late 1950’s after composing the original soundtrack for West Side Story – a very New York theatrical play. He rarely slept, he poured all his time into perfecting his craft. But he was more than a conductor, the man spoke many languages, he played the piano, and he had his own TV show teaching the younger audience and influencing thousands or more. He was an activist, a poet, a writer, and he made everyone feel loved.

He wasn’t without his flaws of course, but his heart was as big as the sun and it shone on everyone that came into contact with him.

It’s the artists of the world, the feelers and the thinkers, who will ultimately save us, who can articulate, educate, defy, insist, sing and shout the big dreams. Only the artists can turn the ‘Not-Yet’ into reality… And there’s no time to lose.. You’ve got to work fast, but not in a hurry. You’ve got to be patient, but not passive. You’ve got to recognise the hope that exists in you, but not let impatience turn it into despair… And out of this paradox you have to produce the brilliant synthesis… It is you who must produce it, with your new atomic minds, your flaming, angry hope, and your secret weapon of art.”

– Leonard Bernstein

Role Models

Ethan with a camera, Queenstown NZ (photo credit: Christian Espinoza)

When I was 10 years old I wanted to be like Mike.

If you’re like me and grew up in the 90s, you will know I am talking about Michael Jordan (you may be forgiven to think Michael Jackson, but he was so out of reach). It didn’t matter that I was 5ft nothing and couldn’t jump, I looked up to Mike and stayed a loyal fan, despite Space Jam.

A few years ago I heard a story that Chamillionaire met Mike at a party. To be clear, this is Chamillionaire from ‘Ridin’ Dirty’ fame. Right, now he was also a massive Mike fan too, so he approached Mike and respectfully asked him for a picture. Mike turned to him, and to Chamillionaire’s surprise, he said “I don’t take pictures with no n$%%*&r”. That left him crushed, angry, and ultimately disappointed to be so dramatically let down by his role model. By proxy, I no longer see Mike as a role model. To be fair, I also don’t look up to Chamillionaire as a role model neither!

My son has recently been showing an active interest in taking pictures. But not just throw away phone snaps, he’s actually talking to me about framing, leading lines, and we’re able to have engaging conversation on photography. Maybe he has observed me taking photos long enough to take an interest himself, but whatever it is, I feel the need to do as much as I can to encourage him.

Whether you’re a famous athlete, movie star, musician, or simply mum or dad, you should act in good faith, good conscience, and treat others with respect. You never know who could be looking up to you.

Video below is the funniest… it’s the homeboy Chamillionaire describing the Mike story. Peace.

The Bigger Picture

Honolulu, Hawaii 2017 (Photo Credit: Christian Espinoza)

In photography, perspective is essential.

It’s what recreates depth and dimensionality within a flat 2-dimensional print.

If done right, perspective sells products. It determines which sneakers you buy, or which glasses you’ll wear. Nobody wants to eat a flat looking hamburger.

Perspective gives tone, shadows and highlights. It makes us feel, smell, and taste what is not there. It really does sell.

Perspective also frames your reality. Like photography, perspective will add dimension to your life. It will give it depth, shadow and highlight. If you lack perspective then your life will become 2-dimensional.

Whenever my son would get into a stressful situation, I gave him this advice (which I took from Jocko Willink, ex US Navy Seal), “Relax. Look around. Make a call.”