Monday, September 29, 2008

Paul Newman sighting at Perpignan

One last note about the nightly slide projections at Visa Pour L'Image (as it pertains to, of all people, Paul Newman). This image was taken during my final night in Perpignan and is literally a screen grab showing a sampling of photographs from the Shaw Family Archives, which is distributed in France by the agency Roger Viollet. These images look to be either publicity photographs or behind-the-scenes pictures taken during the filming of "Paris Blues," which starred Paul Newman and Sidney Portier as American expatriate jazz musicians wooing American tourists Joanne Woodward (Newman's wife) and Diahann Carroll. Louis Armstrong is also in the movie, and appears here along with Duke Ellington (perhaps Ellington was technical consultant?). Something I am recalling now is watching the bonus material on the DVD for "The Hustler." Included on the DVD is an interview with Newman, talking about how he was in Paris for "Paris Blues" when he entered into discussions about being cast as Fast Eddie Felson for Robert Rossen's "The Hustler." Originally he had a contract to star in the movie "Two for the Seesaw" with Elizabeth Taylor after "Paris Blues" wrapped. But Taylor was working on "Cleopatra" at the moment and that movie was going into overruns with the photography and required her to stay on longer. This meant Newman was free to take the role of Fast Eddie Felson in "The Hustler" (Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine ended up being cast for "Seesaw.")

I was going to include this image in my posts about the nightly projections at Perpignan, but it didn't seem to show enough context. I'm glad I took the picture with my Leica and not my low-res cellphone camera. It's just a cool thought to think about a young Paul Newman playing a cool cat--surrounded by and working with the coolest cool cats ever, living legends Armstrong and Ellington--even before he was cast as the coolest silver screen cat of them all (at least in my book), Fast Eddie Felson. There is a long list of Paul Newman's movies that I haven't seen. And while "Paris Blues" doesn't seem to have attained the mythical status as some of his other roles, I think "Paris Blues" might just have to go to the top of my list.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Perpignan, part three

My last full day in Perpignan was characterized by a somewhat renewed sense of energy and optimism. By then my body clock had gotten adjusted to the time difference and I had gained a pretty good sense of the layout of Perpignan. Plus, I recognized people–photographers that I knew who were just then arriving to the festival as well as some familiar faces from throughout my first day. I realized where I really needed to be was a venue I hadn't had time to get to, the Palais des Congrés. That's where all the photo agencies and wire services had set up booths in a very "trade expo" style, not unlike what you'd see at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center. And so I made that the main purpose of my last day at Visa.

At 10 AM I was in line with a handful of other portfolio-carrying photographers outside the Palais. When they let us in I saw a bunch of people go straight to a table where they were passing out translation headsets. So I did just the same and caught the first half hour of a "Meet the Photographer" panel discussion with the photographer Cédric Gerbehaye. The presentation was all in French and it was pretty fascinating to listen to the broadcast of a person translating, in real time, the discussion that was taking place right in front of me. After a while I started to get a little antsy and decided to go see some of the agency folks.

The first room that I encountered was something that I had not expected to find in all of Visa, a room filled with representatives from smaller "boutique" agencies. Collectives, really. I found that most of the photography being done by these groups came the closest to resembling my own work. It was all a lot more stylized, a lot more artsy than all of the "scorched-earth" photojournalism I had seen in all the exhibitions. I showed my work to a woman named Madalena, who works for the Kamera Photo collective in Lisbon, Portugal. There were about 20 total groups represented in the room and it was nice to just go around and collect some of the promotional pieces that were being handed out.

Up in the main exposition hall were all the "big gun" agencies. AP, Getty, Corbis, AFP, Reuters, etc. It was not immediately clear to me who would be the best person to talk to. I wasn't so much expecting to nail down a firm contract with an agency as much as I simply wanted to begin a dialogue and get some feedback. European Pressphoto Agency had a booth that seemed fairly inviting and so I started with them. I was told to come back later and ask for Cengiz Seren, EPA's Editor in Chief. When I returned he warmly welcomed me and offered me a seat. I was telling him about my negative portfolio review the previous day as he opened up my book and started to look through it. He hadn't gotten three pictures into it when he said "You did a fine thing coming here." He kept going back to one of my pictures in particular, the first print of the portfolio, of a canoodling couple in a bar booth. He said it made him think of a Neil Young song. I thought that was a cool thing to say. We chatted for about fifteen minutes, he gave me some great ideas to pursue and we made plans to stay in touch. He suggested I also talk to Guy Cooper at Corbis, who ended up being equally welcoming and generous with his time. As for Cooper's response to what my reviewer said the day before, he said "No, you have absolutely every right to be here." His take on New York City is that it's "enduringly fascinating to the rest of the world" but we also talked about the "endangered species" that is photography in the vein of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, etc. We talked a lot about model releases and the difficulty that can arise by not using them when a client wants to license an image.

After I spoke with Cooper I went over to talk with Dominique Lecourt at Roger-Viollet, which I would describe as a vintage/boutique press agency that's been in existence since 1938. It's actually a reference historical archive and a lot of the imagery they deal with has been acquired from various collections. Because the agency is celebrating it's 70th anniversary this year, a lot of the highlights from its archive were shown at the previous night's projection at the Campo Santo. These images caught my eye because they were black and white portraits of jazz musicians in the 1940s, movie stars like Paul Newman and Marlon Brando back in the day, etc.

A little later on I found myself chatting with Ferit Duzyol of Sipa. I told him how much I liked Göskin Sipahioglu's images at the Eglise des Dominicains and I was pleased to discover how Duzyol had had a hand in making that exhibition. That was pretty much it for one-on-one reviews with people from the big agencies. I actually tried a few others but was told to come back the next day, which is when I was supposed to be flying out. I went back down to the collectives booths and talked to a few more people there before setting out to get some lunch. It doesn't sound like much but this was all spread out over the course of about four hours. I also got a lengthy tutorial on Aperture and was able to hop online, check my email and reserve my seats for my next day's flight to Warsaw via London.

After lunch I headed back to the Hotel Pams to see what all was going on there. I got a little turned around and had to resort to pulling out my map. A rail-thin fellow with a battered Leica asked me where I was going. When I told him he gestured to have me follow him because he ws going there as well. It wasn't until several days later that I realized it was Philip Blenkinsop, who ended up winning the Visa d'Or news prize.

Outside the Pams was a very long line of people waiting to get registered for the festival. I could tell the festival was really starting to get underway. I crushed my way through the main entrance and as I was getting a cup of water I saw a familiar face approaching. It was Lance Miller, the Triumph motorcycle man from the night before. He had taken a look at my booklet of 12 photographs, had been impressed, and thought I'd be a good candidate for an interview for the Canon Professional Network website. His proposal to me was basically, "You're an up-and-coming photographer from New York, this is your first time in Perpignan, we'd like people to hear your story. This could also bring you some attention and possibly help your career out a bit." Soon he was on the phone with an associate, saying "I found the New York photographer, his name is Cary and I want to send him your way." An hour later I was to meet a film crew on the rooftop cafe of the Palais des Congrés. Sure enough, two men come walking in with a bunch of video gear. It was Sean Griffiths working the camera and a sound man, Murray Clarke, recording me as I talked with Evelien Kunst. All three (below) were working as a crew for Red Dot, an Amsterdam-based production company working in Perpignan for Canon, trying to get a wide variety of festival attendees.I basically was asked to talk about my background, my current work in New York, my influences, my reason for coming to Perpignan, my plans for the future, etc. It was kind of a trippy being filmed as onlookers no doubt were thinking "Who on earth is that nobody they're filming over there?" They asked me to flip through my portfolio and talk about a few pictures in particular. In all, I spent about 45 minutes with them. We'll see if that footage ever sees the light of day. It's not important to me if it does or not. What is important is that I came to Perpignan totally alone and yet had managed to meet some great people and get some responses to my work. The entire experience had taken a complete 180-degree turnaround from 24 hours earlier.

Soon it was the long hike back to my hotel to drop off my heavy portfolio and take a quick nap. After cleaning up a bit, it was back into the center of town for my final night's projection. I had stopped at a cafe for a quick bite to eat and watched as people were making their way to the Campo Santo. I finished eating quickly and rushed over. There were about 20 people ahead of me in line when they had to cut off entrance to the inside, apparently it had reached maximum occupancy. Some people were were visibly upset, whereas my mind was already starting to wander ahead to the next morning when I had to catch a 7:15 bus. I almost decided to go back to my hotel and get a good night's sleep. But I figured somewhere there was another entrance. So as best as I could I sort of hugged the perimeter of the Campo Santo, just trying to find access from another area. Sure enough I found a smaller doorway on the east side being guarded by a police officer. A few other people had gotten there just as I did and I snuck in with them, holding out my Visa Pour L'Image name tag. As far as I can tell, I was the very last person allowed into the projection that night.

What followed was yet another amazing evening of dazzling visual choreography on the big screen. It was even better than the first night. The program closed with a spectacular medley of images commemorating the tumultuous year of 1968. Prague Spring, Tet Offensive, MLK and RFK assassinations, revolt in Paris, Black Panthers, you name it. It ended with the astoundingly apt "Earthrise" photograph from Apollo 8 lunar orbital mission on Christmas Eve of 1968. I was the first person in my section of the seats to begin clapping as the credits rolled.

Back over at La Poste afterwards I had a few quick conversations over a few quick beers before I decided I better not risk oversleeping and missing my early bus. So I decided to leave while I was ahead. On my way out through the grand arch of Perpignan's iconic castillet I ran into none other than festival director Jean-Francois Leroy. I said to him exactly this, "I just want to say this is my first Perpignan and I did it all wrong. I have to leave first thing in the morning and was only able to stay two days. But can I just say–the nightly projections were amazing. Totally blown away by them. The sophistication of the sequencing, the music..." and right then a woman had come up and interrupted us, an old friend of his. It didn't matter, I wasn't going to wait around for them to finish talking. I sort of patted him on the back and continued on my way. A couple seconds later I heard him say "Thank You." I looked back and he was waving. I gave him a peace sign and walked on.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Perpignan, part two

Walking to the Campo Santo on Tuesday night to check out the projection I felt a little better due to the fact that I wasn't carrying my heavy portfolio around like I had been all day. I still needed my map, as I was headed to a part of the city where I hadn't yet ventured. The Campo Santo is a 14th Century cloistered cemetery, apparently one of the oldest in France. For the purposes of Visa, it's basically set up like an amphitheater with stadium-like seating and a gigantic projection screen. Getting into the Campo Santo is kind of an ordeal. There's a massive bottlenecking of the crowd through a kind of winding alley, with only 50 or so people allowed in at a time, every few minutes, I guess to avoid a big crush on the inside. I got in line and slowly crept my way forward with everybody else. Looking around I was trying to find familiar faces but I didn't recognize a soul. Everyone around me was speaking French, and most of the people appeared to be just regular townsfolk (Visa attendees were easily noticeable by the red wristbands). After 15 or so minutes and only 30 feet from where I had started, I overheard a man and a woman behind me who were speaking what was very clearly American English. I wasn't listening to their conversation or anything, I was just sort of bored and getting a little impatient with the slow movement. When I took out my cellphone camera to take a "Hail Mary" picture of all the people in line behind me, I caught a glimpse of the couple. It was Eugene Richards and Janine Altongy. Knowing that they had been right behind me the whole time without me knowing it caused me to be somewhat flummoxed when I went to say hello. We chatted briefly, I told them I was just stopping through Perpignan for a couple days on my way to Warsaw and they said they had just flown through Warsaw. Richards said it was his first time coming to Visa in about fifteen years. I gave him one of my little promotional booklets and the three of us walked into the Campo Santo together.

Right away, my first impression of seeing the inside of the Campto Santo was one of amazement. It was much, much larger than I had envisioned. It's said to accommodate 4,000 people. That's a pretty big audience for a photography slide show. A few minutes after I found a seat up near the top, Visa director Jean-Francois Leroy came onto the stage and addressed the crowd. After that, two professional-looking emcees came onto the stage to introduce the first piece. Then the lights were turned off and the projection began. And I have to say the entire hour that followed was utterly astonishing. It was all in French and I was unaware at that point that I could have gotten a translation headset, but it didn't matter. Just the medieval setting, the stars in the sky, the absolutely perfect weather, the sharpness of the images on the screen, the sophistication of the sequencing, the very effective choices of music, all the French being spoken. Hell, even how everybody around me was smoking cigarettes–I just sort of bathed in it and let the experience wash over my senses. At some point I just felt a sense of "Okay, this festival is worthwhile." I was no longer annoyed by the portfolio review earlier that day, I was just stoked to finally be on the same level with 4,000 other people. It didn't bother me that I basically didn't know a soul, and of course I was still pretty jazzed about running into Richards on the way in. During the slide show I thought to myself "Finally, you've arrived in Perpignan."

After the projection was over with it was time to check out the famed "Café De La Poste." I just sort of followed the crowd and found it fairly easily. That's where I finally started to recognize some faces. Unfortunately, nobody that I knew personally but that was alright. Any time I saw a person with writing or an eye-catching logo on their shirt I would strike up a conversation. I saw a man with a Brooklyn Industries shirt and we chatted about New York. Then I struck up a conversation with a woman with a Timbuk2 bag like mine. Then I saw somebody walking toward me with the "Triumph" logo on his shirt. I said to him "So you're a Triumph man are you?" To which he replied, "Absolutely." Stupidly guessing/assuming that Triumph motorcycles are made in America, I said "Are you American then?" He looked at me kind of funny, said something about Harley Davidson and by then I could easily hear his British accent. Turning the subject to photography I asked him "So if your Triumph was a camera, what kind of camera would it be?" He thought about it and offered that it would probably be an EOS 1D Mark III. I said "So, what, do work for Canon or something?" and he said "I might." And then I said "Well that's gotta be one heck of a motorcycle you ride." To which he said "So where are we going with this, photography or motorcycles?" All kidding aside, I told him I had seen the Canon Ambassadors exhibition and that I really liked it. I told him I was more or less a lifelong Canon shooter, that my workhorse lens, a 28mm f/2.8, was a lens I bought my junior year of high school in 1991. I told him how it was my first Perpignan, and that it hadn't gone too well during the day. I said, "But after tonight and all that amazing work I just saw..." nodding in the direction of the Campo Santo. Then he more or less finished my sentence, "Now you'll be coming back every year right?" That was about it for the conversation. We shook hands, he told me his name was Lance, and I gave him one of my booklets. I walked back to my hotel pretty satisfied with how the evening had gone, and with a much better outlook for the remainder of the festival.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Perpignan, part one

I've been back since Sunday night and have been slowly easing back into the rhythm of New York City. Warsaw was a great time, a beautiful city, and I met a lot of wonderful people there. As for Perpignan and Visa Pour L'Image, my experience there was equally positive and uplifting. But I will say that I really had to work hard to make it worthwhile. From the get-go, I knew I'd only have two days to get as much out of the festival as possible. I absolutely had to be in Warsaw on Saturday the 6th, so that meant I had to leave Perpignan mid-week, just as the majority of the people were arriving. But I definitely got a good sense of how the festival works and I look forward to attending again in the future.

My overnight trip to Perpignan, via Dublin and Barcelona, was a long and exhausting one. I landed in Barcelona at about 10:15 AM on Monday, September 1st. By then I was really starting to feel the effects of jetlag, especially after not getting any sleep on either of my flights. The real problem was that I had set up too strict of an itinerary for myself once I was on the ground. Once I had waited in line to get my passport stamped, then waited around for my luggage to appear and then finally gotten on board the Aerobus that was to take me into the center of Barcelona near the bus station, I knew I had cut it too close. I had planned to catch an 11:45 bus from Barcelona to Girona, Spain but I missed it by a mere four minutes. As I result, I missed my final bus, a 1:15 from Girona on into Perpignan. Long story short, I got to Perpignan around 8 PM instead of 3 PM. Fortunately my hotel was right near the train/bus station so that was convenient. I got checked in and unpacked at the hotel, washed up a little and set off into the center of Perpignan with a map to try to get my bearings for the next day. It didn't even occur to me that I could have made that night's projection at Campo Santo. But by that point I was completely spent and all I could think about was getting a good night's sleep.

The next morning I got registered at the Hotel Pams around 10 AM. Then I got signed up for a critique with a picture editor affiliated with ANI, Association Nationale des Iconographes. But that wasn't scheduled until 4 PM so I had plenty of time to check out all the exhibitions in the various venues around the old part of town. It's hard to say, I saw so much work, but probably the images that stuck out the most were Göskin Sipahioglu's images from Paris in May, 1968. These were on display in the Eglise des Dominicains, which just by itself is a pretty amazing space, but was made all the more impressive when lined with beautiful black and white prints.Around 3PM I went over and hung out in the courtyard at the Hotel Pams. I felt slightly awkward not knowing a soul, save for John Trotter, who I am surprised remembered me from so long ago. I recognized a few faces but for the most part I was a total loner.

Although I suppose it would have been perfectly appropriate to approach anybody sitting in that courtyard for a quick, casual portfolio critique, or even just shop talk, I wish it would have been more explicit. As in, designate one specific area of the courtyard and have it be solely for people who want to show their work around. I struck up a conversation with an Italian photographer sitting nearby, Eduardo Castaldo, and we looked at each other's portfolios. One of the last things he said to me before my ANI critique was something to the effect of "Now I know what I should have brought to show." I took it as a compliment.

Not knowing what to expect from my ANI reviewer, I went in with an open mind. But it didn't take long for the encounter to veer off in an uncomfortable direction. Basically, my reviewer said "You don't belong at Visa. Visa is all about hardcore photojournalism. This black and white is passé. You need to be showing color pictures, news pictures, reportage, tearsheets, etc." I am summarizing, of course, but that was the basic tone of it. I was slightly offended by how the reviewer didn't even look at every print in my book, and actually flipped through it three or four pages at a time. It was disheartening, and not because the person said Visa was the wrong place to be showing my kind of photography (in fact, that actually was somewhat close to what I had been expecting to hear). It was disheartening because at that point I thought it was going to be my one and only opportunity to show my work around to a professional. I had actually gone to Perpignan thinking I was going to be meeting with dozens of people. Eventually I just kind of relented and nodded a lot, with a lot of "Uh huh" "Yeah" and "Okay, I see." But it was a pretty uninspired review. At one point the person looked at their watch. "Oh, are we about out of time?" I asked. "No, actually, we've got a whole fifteen minutes left," implying that there was so much time to say so little. I thanked the person and left with ten minutes to spare and walked back to my hotel take a nap.

As I was lying around it was hard to resist the temptation to just stay in my room and sleep through that whole night, that's how tired I was. And I was seriously beginning to worry about getting back to Barcelona on time for my 1 PM flight on the 4th. One missed bus connection like I had on my way into Perpignan would have meant missing my flight to Warsaw. I considered leaving the very next morning, on Wednesday the 3rd, and just spending the whole day photographing in Barcelona. But then I'd have to find a hotel without doing any advance research, so I just decided to stick it out in Perpignan. I got out of bed, put on a fresh shirt and hoofed it back into the city center, still very much uncertain about the whole experience, not very happy with the way it was going.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Out of the office

I am currently in Warsaw, Poland and will be for the rest of this week before heading back to New York on Sunday. Last week I spent a few days in Perpignan, France for Visa Pour L'Image, an international photojournalism festival. I will have many stories to report and hopefully some photos. But internet access has been spotty, and my morning routine as of late is nothing like my coffee-and-headlines mornings in New York. But I'm having a great time in Europe. Stay tuned.