Tuesday, July 04, 2017

On July 4th, 2017

I think it struck me when I saw a reference to "it's 241 years since the Declaration of Independence...." and it freaked me out a little bit, as I remember with great clarity the Bi-Centennial, and the verve and energy which accompanied so many events of that year (duh... yea we're talking 1976.) I was in the first year of working with Bob Pledge and our new agency -- Contact Press Images' official start date was in April '76 I think, and at that point the world was still our oyster, as magazine photographers. The marketplace of photojournalism was so different from today: there were magazines (for me, principally Newsweek & TIME) who wanted to beat the competition every week, and they had both pages and budgets with which to try and do so. It meant that if you came to an editor with an idea that was even remotely serviceable, and it could result in a story or more importantly, in the raising of a story from 'ordinary' to 'color act,' the money would be there for you to give it a go. And the money was always accompanied by enthusiasm, the kind of enthusiasm for the work which I think they try to imbue in students at J-school (I never went.. so it's just a guess.) Working with those TIME and Newsweek correspondents was usually a treat. They were smart, well-informed, savvy about how to act in weird places, and very often well connected, so you didn't spend too much of your precious time just trying to get your bearings on the ground.

By contrast, the technology available to us was so much less sophisticated than today's world as to seem almost laughable. This was the period pre- cellphone, pre-internet, pre-computer, pre-cable tv. Our cameras shot film, and when you looked at the back of your camera, the most you would ever see would be the end label from a Kodachrome box to remind you what film was inside. The one thing we never left behind was a small Sony shortwave radio. With your little Sony (and for some reason, as the technology kept changing and smaller radios would appear on the market - my Sygma pal Jean-Pierre Laffont would always have the tiniest, most compact of shortwaves) you could bring in BBC World Service ("... at the sound the chimes of Big Ben, it will be 19 hundred hours, Greenwich Mean Time....") or VOA (Voice of America) and find out what was actually happening in the world. Very often, as happened several times in Iran during the Revolution, I would hear about something on BBC that was happening five minutes from my hotel, and would never otherwise have known about it. ) Keeping in touch on the Sony was the one lifeline you had when you were otherwise in some colorful but remote place (Quetta, Ayers Rock, Canon City Colorado...) making pictures for a future day.

I remember being in Tokyo in late June, and into early July of 1976. The night of July 4, I'd gone to a disco with some journo friends, and we got back to the hotel very, very late. Even now it feels like it must have been 3 in the morning or so. Back in the room, I flipped on the TV (which had all of about 4 channels), and watched the Tall Ships sail at their inordinately slow pace through the New York harbor. It was far more a still picture than it was a dynamic "tv" image. Yet it was the culmination of all those pre-BiCentennial events and celebrations. Standing in a hotel room in the middle of the night, watching a scratchy b/w image on tv seems, in retrospect, like such a different time ago. It was as if the age of film was its own kind of an age of innocence, and once the digital image, and its many creators were unleashed upon society, things would never be the same. Everyone with a phone is a photographer. And there are still some actual photographers roaming around the world taking photographs with the incredible current crop of digi cams. And while we try to keep and maintain all those digital pictures, there is something still a little disruptive about NOT having negs and slides - things you can hold in your hand - physical manifestations of our photographs. I don't really expect to be here in another 41 years, though you never know, but I suspect that the love and joy we had for our pals Kodachrome and Tri-x from those years at the end of the 20th century will have transformed yet again into something that none of us photographers can even ponder. I sure hope it's as much fun as I've had these forty one years. We're just sayin'...   David

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