Ask Ty...December 7

Q: Ty,

Here is my monthly plea for photo advice from the "Original" King of Leisure, Ty Hardaway. First off all, of the Middlespace Monopoly you preside over –- come to think of it I like "The Middlespace Kingdom" you rule over better -- is off the hook. Fucking righteous shit really, and also easy to get lost in. I end up with so many multitude of synopsis firing and so many great ideas that the Real work gets lost in the shuffle.

I especially liked [recently]:
Tree 1994
Prosperity 1998 (#1) (#2)
Cemetery 1995
And of course your piece on Crows. You’re right; a group of birds that cruise around in a gang called a "murder" is hard. I mean come on...and of course daily shots.

At any rate, back to the real business at hand…clearly you’re working with a couple different lenses here as your close up shit is extra crisp. How do you that, what do you pack? I'd like to invest in a Canon D80 but it's priced out of my market. The new hype Canon is pushing is their D40, a pro camera that anyone can use. This new shit is unreal. [I know] a photojournalist for the SF Chronicle and the amount of technology he uses is ludicrous. Anyway, it seems the thing is interchangeable lenses (which I had a bunch of before cameras turned into computers). Anyway more ranting than question asking.

Totally dug East Summer West and Christine McGuinness. Solid idea, solid shots. Any plans for another? Or to a lesser extent, how did you come up with the themes? I’d love to have a weekly working theme as it's always a challenge to go out and look for something that happens to be your interpretation of the Theme or Phrase. Send them this way!

My site currently is nothing more than an over glorified Flickr account and I’m sometimes embarrassed to post some of the stuff I put up there. The "working" idea behind The Fifty Grand Project is to start a Website Collective of Photojournalist and raise money (at least 50 grand) to be used in a project similar to "Born into Brothels" (info on which can be found at Kids with Cameras link), in which youth are given cameras and encouraged to take photos of their environment. Working with kids down in Oakland and Hayward helped me realize that their innocence is a byproduct of having seen all the shit that goes down. And I thought they were better, stronger, kinder people than most people you or I know. So I guess the working idea is to pitch the same kind of project but instead of concentrating on other countries I'd like to concentrate domestically and make an impact, record, conveying the issues through the eyes of these "less fortunate" (as my lame ass boss liked to say) individuals. Anyway just kicking it around.

I applied to and got into The Academy of Art (for photography) set tentatively for Summer 2008. I hate school and haven't figured out if this is more bullshit or something I can bang out in a year or two but they do have bad ass equipment and resources…so we'll see. In the meantime I’m at work slowly trying to build my own Empire and yours is a great blueprint.

Let me know if I’m ripping off too many of your good ideas and feel free to steal, manipulate or critique anything you find at 50 Grand. Hope all is well out there and looking forward to chopping it up with you.

PS - I just got a couple prints from The Library of Congress where you apparently can look at all the archived photos and then have them duplicated for under 10 bucks. All kinds of cool shit there.

PPS - Directly after reading your advice (which was well received) on approaching people for shots I ran into an award winning photo in the town square/park up in Healdsburg. It was these three old-timer farm workers (at one time or another) chilling three deep on a park bench shooting the shit like old dudes do and they must do every week. In black and white it would have been a great shot. So I go up to them (I was having lunch with Nancy, so I thought it was in the bag having her walk up with me) and ask and it was a nightmare. All said no and things got uncomfortable, but I told them it wasn’t a problem and sorry I asked and moved on. In retrospect I think they thought I was an INS agent or some rich ass tourist laughing at the wet-backs who trim their gardens every 3rd Thursday. But it taught me a lot. First I have to learn more Spanish. Secondly, so what? It is what it is and I respected them enough not to fire off a couple clicks AND the key is the more people you approach the better your success rate will be.


- #88, NorCal

Ty: Wow! Good questions and even better observations. Gee where to start…

Thanks for all the nice words about my work. Believe it or not, I try pretty hard. It's good to know that firstly, someone is watching, and also that my work does something for someone. And, never worry about "ripping me off." Do what you want. I don't care.

It appears that you present about six questions that I can try to respond to.

Camera Equipment: Eh! I'm not a gearhead. I don't generally talk gear. I cannot stand so-called "photographers" who talk gear. I don't know lenses and I don't know bracketing. I mean, I learned all of this stuff at some point, but it doesn't matter. If I only had the camera on my phone, it's what I would use. But, your ingratiation has softened the shell. Here is my camera list:
Canon S5 IS: Good camera, great color and contrast interpretation. That is, the images look pretty much like what I shot; what I wanted. I really like the images and the flexibility (nearly a perfect camera). Problem is, vulnerable camera it is. They break like a motherfucker. E-18. Don't bump the little fucker or you have a $400 paperweight. Good camera though. Not so good with low-ish light but good all around field and studio camera. Also, this camera has good macro and GREAT supermacro features. Good video/stereo sound. Great zoom and image stabilization.

Nikon D50: I got this bad boy when the D40s were just released. So it was a steal at around $400. I have three lenses: the stock 18-55mm that came with it which is fine but not the sharpest lens. I have a big-ass 70-300mm zoom. A monster but quite clear. And, I have a vintage (manual only) f2.8 28mm prime. I generally use the Nikon for studio work or field work (the big-ass lens). Not so good with low light. The built-in flash sucks.

Olympus FE-230: This $170 wonder takes more than half-way decent shots. Good with low-ish light. Good color and contrast interpretation. And, very good macro and supermacro features. Plus it's about the size of a flip-phone or an iPod. You can pack it anywhere. It as decent video and sound too.
If I only had, say, $500. I might get the Olympus and the Canon. That way you're set. Digital SLRs are great (if someone else is paying for the equipment), but it's all bulky, pretentious, and expensive to operate.

New Ideas: I'm not a photographer. I'm an experiential artist. I do what comes to me. It might be written, photographed, blogged, or musical but I just go with the flow. But, I still struggle with inspiration and fight myself over output. So, I have nothing for you. If you feel it try it.

Weekly Working Theme: The themes for East Summer West came from friends and others. Christine and I sent a note asking people to participate then we each shot, from our individual perspectives, most of the themes.

I also struggle with 'what to shoot.' I never have an idea and just roll with the gut. I'm happy to lob a theme or two at you from time to time (like, "Naked Women") but I probably can't do it weekly since I'm bound to be onto something different at a moment's notice. You never know when an album is ready to happen. But, yeah, here's your first topic: Naked Women.

Fifty Grand: I like Fifty Grand. And I very much like a bunch of your shots. These in particular:
The first shot in Desolation Wilderness is rad.
At the Track has huge potential but falls just short for me. I get it though.
The Usual Suspects is great.
The first two shots of Small Town are brilliant.
And, there are others.
So, my advice here is keep it up. Keep shooting. Develop contexts even artificial contexts - it gives you something to work with. Find your style. Be bold. You can do what you with with regard to higher purpose. That is, your ambition to get cameras in kids' hands. But you know, develop your personal Empire before you expand. You're young. If you can go to art school, do it. Keep writing too.

School: If you can afford it, go to art school. Not necessarily to learn anything (which you will), but to be inspired and competitive with other artists. It's the exposure that will expand you. It's also a good line for any prospectus/résumé to have "art school" on there. I don't have that. I applied to and decided not to go to art school on two occasions. It just wasn't in the cards at the time, but I always wish I could've. It's a good network to penetrate.

Shooting People: Yeah, there are instances where you get the emphatic "No!" I've been there. Recently, I was in D.C. and this crazy black dude was kicking the shit out of a pay phone. There was no time to ask so I started to shoot. Before I could get a shot off, the guy noticed and emphatically declared, "Nigga, put that motherfucking camera away! No pictures of my ass. Get the fuck out of here!" All I said was, "OK" and kept walking. Sometimes it doesn't happen. But, keep trying.

Also, you were with someone. You may have tried the Power Of Two method. Have the person ostensibly "pose" kind of near your farm worker subjects and simply shoot past her. Here's where a good telephoto lens is helpful. You pose your confederate. Make it look like you are dumb tourists and just shoot over their shoulder or just past their waist. If you set up right, nobody notices.

Try this as an exercise: Shoot a picture of yourself once daily for a month.

Just a guess. - Ty