Richard Bram - AllFormat takeover (1)

We invited Richard Bram of UnPublic to do an IG takeover in February and it was so brilliant, we had to keep it as a more permanent record. You may want to grab a coffee - there are two parts.

Note: because of a rebranding that took place shortly after the takeover, Richard’s references to inPublic mean UnPublic. 

Good day, everyone. This is Richard Bram @photobram52. I’m honoured that Ioana @transilvirish asked me to do an Instagram takeover for the @allformatcollective this week. As this is a group dedicated to film, I’ll be showing just that: photographs made with different cameras, formats, and a variety of subjects, not just the street photography I’m generally known for. I’ll show you a photograph, sometimes the contact sheet from the roll, and if possible the camera with which I made the picture. Many will be from my early years as a photographer, before I moved to London, New York, then back to London. Some of these have rarely or never been seen outside of my files. As it goes on, there will be more photographs. There will be stories. 

#Zocaló incident, #Oaxaca, #México 2001

Serendipity led me to photography: I studied political science and art history at university and international business in grad school. Like most of us, I took 35mm snapshots growing up. I’d been told that slides were the best way to record colour, so most was on transparency. I never thought about becoming a working photographer. I liked taking pictures and felt I had an eye for it. Then in 1984, when I was 32 years old, my business career ended in Louisville, Kentucky. A personal crisis became a major turning point in my life. With the encouragement of friends, I decided to become a professional photographer! I didn’t know what this really meant, only that I truly wanted this to work, more than anything in my life to that point. This first photograph was typical of my ‘pre-professional’ photographs, one of the earliest that I think of today as successful, a derelict storefront in Philadelphia made in 1979. I was struck by the streaked dust on the window and the wonderful old, stained, and worn mannequins having a conversation within.

In 1980 I was briefly living in New York City, in training for my last ‘regular’ job as a sales rep in the clothing business. I walked from my temporary quarters to the office and back. By this point, I was almost always carrying a camera, a Pentax Spotmatic - long gone. One rainy night I was heading home and this giant roller skate was out in the rain. As I clicked the shutter a man came by huddled under his umbrella. I didn’t know it, but it may have been my first ‘street photograph.’

722 West Main Street, Louisville, Kentucky 1985

35 years ago this week I became a photographer. I had a lot to learn to bridge the gap between a talented amateur and actually earning a living as a working photographer. I went to the public library and educated myself, made a lot of mistakes but worked hard, and had some lucky breaks. Within about three years I had a regular clientele as a commercial public relations and event photographer. The next two or three years were very thin, as was I during my “10,000 hours” learning period. I traded the Pentax for a used Nikon F2, bought lenses as I could, and walked all over town observing people with my camera. Here, I’d just left my friends’ loft and looked back up to see them talking in the window and made this with a 200mm. A few years later this would be my home and studio for four years. (young working guy with NikonF2, motor, & 200mm lens; 1985 photo by Nick Mills.)

#mainstreet #louisville #kentucky #35mm #blackandwhitefilm #smokers #candid

I became a photographer having never processed a roll of b&w film nor made a print in a darkroom and knew I had to learn FAST. A course at the local rental darkroom and taught me the basics. Shortly after, a distant relative died and I inherited a carload of photographica: a full darkroom kit - a big 1950s Omega B6 enlarger (35mm up to 6x9), trays, tanks, reels, &c., and a mid-50s #CrownGraphic #4x5 with a 135mm lens. I took it as a sign that I was at last on the right path. I took another course at a local college in using a #large-format camera as well as extending my hands-on b&w technique. The teacher was Andy Anderson, a sharp, experienced, hard-bitten old commercial photographer. He could see a flaw in a print from the corner of his eye and would bluntly tell you so. You get the most from the toughest teachers and I learned a lot. A bit later I was out on the street playing with motion and long exposures and made this photo. When a person is walking, one foot is absolutely still on the ground while the rest of the body is moving. Sure, this had been done before, but I hadn’t done it yet. 

It’s been a while since I’ve used the 4x5, mostly for portraiture, but I’ve gotten it back out again and there will be more.

#SeelbachHotel, #Louisville, #Kentucky 1987

#blackandwhitefilm #oldschool #analogphotography

The 4x5 was a very practical tool for a lot of things. One of my first clients was the local art museum, where I recorded paintings on large format for the Registrar’s office. This was straight-forward paying journeyman work but not interesting as photographs. In the contact sheet you’ll see a collection of things: a modern ceramic sculpture, a commercial still-life for an anti-alcoholism campaign (pro-bono work for a social service agency), and amusingly, a photo for my insurance company – all my 35mm #Nikon gear about 1990. Pre-digital meant carrying a lot more stuff around on your shoulders. Aching back, neck, and shoulders, and arthritis are hazards of the profession.

As I said, in February 1984 I had a lot to learn and had no other source of income. As my wife often says, “Chance favours the prepared mind.” While taking that first darkroom course, an acquaintance was leaving a public relations gig with the Louisville Library system and recommended me. I interviewed with them and got hired to make PR pictures for the Library newsletter and any other photo needs. I was in the Library all the time – where the knowledge is. I worked through all of the 779 (Photographs) and 771 (Techniques & Materials) sections. I read some, skimmed others and soaked up photographers’ monographs like a sponge. As I got to the end of the monograph stacks, I first came across Garry Winogrand. “Public Relations” hit me between the eyes. I was shocked: tilted perspective, no formal grace or composition, backlit, hard light; what was this stuff? Social event photos were harsh, critical, often lit by “melt-the-eyeballs” flash. Struggling to learn my craft, make everything look as good as possible, and eke out a living, another question came to me: Who would have paid for these pictures that made so many of their subjects look terrible? I put the book back in the stacks and moved on. 

The contact sheet here gives a good idea of an average working roll: a portrait of a librarian, a reception for the Japanese Consulate donating books, a ribbon-cutting. This is straight-forward and a lot of it is pretty routine, frankly. But it’s work and it pays the bills which is a Good Thing. But soon I began to notice things: the uncomfortable moment at an event, something out of place, unscripted, that the organizers might not want to see. I began to understand what #Winogrand was getting at. Here’s a Congressman speaking with the Japanese Consul who is a bit surprised at what he is saying – it’s awkward and uncomfortable. His body language and expression tell the story.

Congressman and Consul, Louisville Free Public Library #lfpl #Louisville #Kentucky 1989

#LeicaM3 #blackandwhitefilm #publicrelations #analogphotography

The biggest break I got in the early years was being asked by John Nation, a prominent #Louisville photographer and fine friend to this day, to join him when he was asked to be the official photographer for the Kentucky Derby Festival. From that day forward, my career took off. There were nearly 100 events NOT including the horse races all over town, each of which had corporate sponsors. Before long, every company in town knew who I was and that I was working down front at their events. I never had to show a portfolio again. Of course, there are always things that a client’s not interested in seeing, and after a few years I began specifically looking for these and taking these uncomfortable moments with the M3 tucked into my bag. 

Kentucky Derby Hats, 1989

Celebrity Luncheon, 1991

Clown, 1991 

Winn-Dixie, 1991

President and Princesses, 1993

@kyderbyfestival #blackandwhitefilm #publicrelations #analogphotography #LeicaM3 #LeicaM6

On the sweeter side, working for the Kentucky Derby Festival meant having a press pass and the ability to spend time on the backside of Churchill Downs. It was a beautiful time of day to be there, before dawn as the track came to life and the horses were fed and exercised. One morning in golden light I managed to get a horse in full gallop with all four feet off the ground. 

Red Rider, Churchill Downs, 1986

Stable Hand, Churchill Downs, 1986

#Fujichrome #Provia100 #colorfilm #transparency #NikonF2 #churchilldowns #kyderbyfestival #fromthearchives

#Contactsheets are important in many different ways. For example, I’d seen the work of the photographic pioneer Eadweard #Muybridge in the library including his famous early studies of running horses. (The original sequence reproduced here was made in 1878 to settle a bet between by railroad magnate Leland Stanford.) I was often at the track well before dawn, using the motor drive on the camera trying to duplicate his famous sequences. However, it was DARK that early and required longer exposures, like 1/8th or ¼ sec. I didn’t get what I’d hoped for. But when looking at the contact sheet, I realized that there was something more interesting, at least to me. This turned into a series over the next few years called “After Muybridge”. (Always credit your sources.) 

#blackandwhitefilm #Horses #churchilldowns #Sequentialphotography #NikonF2 #equinemotionstudies

Though I don’t play an instrument, I’ve always loved #classicalmusic - as well as the many other types of music that I’ve burnt my ears with. In early 1986 I met Lawrence Leighton Smith, conductor of the #LouisvilleOrchestra, and was asked to photograph a rehearsal or two for the season’s opening concert. I was overjoyed: Smith was going over the #Beethoven ‘Emperor’ piano concerto with his teacher Rudolf Serkin, one of the greatest pianists of the 20th Century. I was free to walk around and make whatever photos I wished as long as I kept out of the way. The stage lights reflected up from the pages into their faces as he and Smith compared notes on the score. I noticed little bandages on the ends of Serkin’s fingertips – he was 83 at the time. They played the entire piece together on two pianos. Standing at the end of Serkin’s piano, I made a few photos, but was so overwhelmed I just put all the gear down, closed my eyes, and felt it wash over me. 

Because I deeply loved the music, Larry and I formed a professional friendship. I became the in-house photographer for the Orchestra for 12 years and got to meet, photograph, and hear an incredible amount of fabulous music from the world’s greatest performers.

When you’re working with an orchestra, you need to be quiet. Early on I was using the F2 which has a shutter clack that you can hear across the street. A friend told me I needed to get a Leica. I knew it was a famous camera and all, but didn’t see the reason. “Because it’s almost silent” she replied. A couple of months later, a beat-up Leica M3 with a 35mm lens showed up in a local shop and I bought it. It has the quietest focal-plane shutter of any camera I’ve ever handled, including later Leica Ms. Soon I could walk around in the sections during rehearsals and no one minded. They knew I would not get in the way nor startle them with a loud camera in their ears. (The father of modern photojournalism, Alfred Eisenstaedt, was the first to do this with the Berlin Philharmonic in the early 1930s.) Here is the great violinist Isaac Stern in a difficult rehearsal, the player’s-eye view of Pinchas Zuckerman, as well as a delightful children’s concert, all from the early 90s. 

#LeicaM3 #blackandwhitefilm #LouisvilleOrchestra #PinchasZuckerman #IsaacStern #ClassicalMusic #Leica_Fotografie_International #fromthearchives

I still work with orchestral musicians here in London; Besides street work, it’s my other great photographic passion. The best part is being close enough to hear the wood. Here Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Aaron Shorr are rehearsing a Beethoven sonata. I had a Nikon F5 with me this time, but ½ way through the roll the shutter jammed! Luckily, I had a spare camera in the bag – a 1979 pocket-sized Olympus XA, a full-frame rangefinder, almost like a baby Leica. It did the job.

A year later I was at the Tate St. Ives with my musician friends. The cellist Neil Heyde and I walked into a room with sculptures by David Nash, gigantic roughly geometrical shapes of charred black wood. They were very powerful and seemed to suck the light out of the room. Neil wanted to see what effect they might have on sound so he sat down with his cello and played at one of them for a while – it absorbed sound as well. I photographed him with a 6x9 1936 Zeiss Super Ikonta. (Aside: You’ll see on the contact that landscape’s generally not been my thing…) 

#takeover #blackandwhitefilm #contactsheets #tatestives #ClassicalMusic #OlympusXA #Zeiss #SuperIkonta #mediumformat #fromthearchives

Working for the Library at fundraising events meant mingling with Louisville’s movers and shakers, many of whom were on several cultural and charitable boards. As I made photos of the local worthies at Library events, I began to be asked if I’d do jobs for other cultural organizations like Kentucky Opera and the Louisville Orchestra. In 1986 this led me to what I think of as my first ‘Winograd moment.’ Kentucky Opera hired me to cover a fundraising concert featuring the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti. I followed him around as people surrounded him for autographs, gave him gifts, &c. &c. (On the contact sheet, a lot of photos are circled to be printed for the patrons.) Later in the evening he attended a fundraising dinner and ‘society’ people were all around fawning as he signed photos. I was a bit turned off by the whole spectacle and switched to a hard flash in the dark room. Later I felt the same slightly jaded feeling while photographing a birthday party for a local fashion figure. (Technical note: Bouncing the flash on the ceiling with a white card/plastic bit or whatever is always more flattering and helps avoid the dreaded red-eye. In the days before digital this was VERY important.) 

Luciano Pavarotti Dinner, Louisville, KY 1986

Birthday Party 1987

#lfpl #publicrelations #blackandwhitefilm #NikonF2 #flashphotography

The Pavarotti photo brings up the subject of flash. Even now, I rarely use it unless it’s dark and I have to, preferring the light that I see as I’m looking at the subject. Sometimes you have to because it’s dark, or intentionally trying to make someone look bad. That’s what direct flash does. When you suddenly set off a flash in someone’s face, especially at night, you have slapped them in the eyeballs; it’s an inherently aggressive, hostile act. It’s your choice to do so, but you need to realize that and be prepared for a reaction that may not be good. Also, you only get one chance – once it goes off, that’s it and you’ve got to move. 

Other than public relations work, I’ve only shot two large bodies of work with a flash. Both times I was angry within myself for different reasons. The first and best known is ‘Big Hair & True Love,” shot over several years at summer events in Kentucky. (The picture titles come mostly from slogans on signs or t-shirts in the photos.) I mostly used the little XA and flash because it’s small and doesn’t look like a ‘professional camera.’ This particular contact sheet was from a surprisingly good hot August night in 1993. There are six shots that made the final cut for the series on one roll, including two successive frames that were a perfect pairing. Far more often there were three rolls with nothing at all.

The Great American Hog 1993

Keyhole Tops 1993

Iron Maiden 1993

Kamikaze 1993

#flashphotography #blackandwhitefilm #kentuckystatefair #bighair #fashion #candidphotography

Flash 2

In the fall of 2011 we were living a block away from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan when the Occupy Wall Street encampment started. I began to walk through every day just observing rather than participating. At first, I was sympathetic to some of the many causes being espoused but as time went on the day-to-day reality became more chaotic and for too many seemed to become a party with street cred and after a couple of weeks a tourist attraction. Lots of celebrities parachuted in to ‘show solidarity’ then left fast, as did Jesse Jackson one evening, playing to the crowd but not really looking comfortable. I shot it with an M6 and an on-camera 283 flash. The legacy of Occupy Wall Street is mixed, but in the long run it changed the political discourse in American politics to this day.

#OccupyWallStreet #blackandwhitefilm #analogphotography #LeicaM6 #Leica_fotografie_international #NewYork #ZuccottiPark

The Lost World of Polaroid 1. 

Shifting from the serious to the silly and occasionally sublime and, this being Instagram, there HAS to be a cat picture.

Experimenting is a Good Thing. It keeps your mind open and helps everything you do even if it may not work. I had a lot of fun with Polaroid films. Sadly, what I’m going to show can’t be done today as the films are gone. SX-70 film was fun – You could draw on it if you worked quickly while it was developing. It was also fun to go all David Hockney and collage, like this view of the studio of my Louisville loft c.1993. Original SX70 had a special color palette that could be quite delicate and beautiful.

#Polaroid #SX70 #collage #Hockney #analogphotography #lostworld #loft #Louisville #MainStreet

The Lost World of Polaroid 2

A lovely thing that one could do was make Polaroid emulsion transfers. Using large format peel-apart color film, you made an exposure, waited about 10 seconds, peeled the print of, threw it aside and took the still-developing chemical negative, roll it carefully onto wet watercolor paper, wait one minute and then v-e-r-y gently peel the negative off to give you a transformed image. This first one was made with a Polaroid back on the 4x5 as the cover for an article on the two little girls who were dancing Clara in the Louisville Ballet’s “Nutcracker.” 

#Polaroidtransfer #CrownGraphic #largeformat #analogphotography #louisvilleballet #fromthearchives

The Lost World of Polaroid 3

Vivitar made a gadget called the Instant Slide Printer. It used Polaroid 669 peel-apart film to make small snap-shot-sized prints from your slides. It was perfect for making emulsion transfers. I made a series of these from photographs of Oaxaca for Galeria La Mano Magica who carry my work. There is a special beauty to these that I love. There were also lots of failures and occasionally happy accidents with transfers, like when the emulsion peeled back off the paper as it did on a photograph of two windows. Other times there would be ripples or stains that worked. These make up for all the ones that don’t work and end up in the bin. Sadly, these films are is gone and there will be no more. 

The first image is the original transparency made in the 16th-c. church of Tlacolula, Oaxaca, México, and then its transformation via the Slide Printer into a transfer. (Aside: In every naturalistic sculpture, the figure is looking at a particular point is space. If you find that point, the sculpture will be looking directly at you which can often be a bit unsettling. Try it.) 

#Tlacolula #Oaxaca #México #MonteAlban #ZapotecCulture #PolaroidTransfer #VivitarsSlidePrinter #GaleriaLaManoMagica

Panoramic 1. (All formats, right?)

In 1991 I read an article about re-using the ‘disposable’ plastic cameras that Kodak and Fuji were pushing. For fun, I picked up a #Kodak#Stretch35” loaded with 200 color film. I used up the roll, but rather than take it to the lab where they break open the camera and throw it away, I carefully took the film out in my darkroom. I re-loaded it with #Ilford #XP-2 because of that film’s wide exposure latitude and went out to play. The camera had a 25mm plastic lens, masking off the top and bottom of a full 35mm frame to hide the fuzziest parts of the image. It says on the box “Use out doors in bright light. OK. I was boating on the Ohio River with friends and but didn’t want to risk a ‘real’ camera falling in the water so took this one along. The point of focus of the cheap plastic lens tended to shift closer at the edges, so by chance this self-portrait utilized this otherwise bad quality well. I’ve made a lovely 11” x 14” print from it that’s surprisingly sharp.

Self-Portrait, Ohio River, Summer 1991

#plasticcamera #KrappyKamera #Panoramic #blackandwhitefilm #toycamera

Panoramic 2. 

I soon found an ‘#AnscoPixPanorama ’ for about $10 in the drug store. This was essentially the same all-plastic camera as the Stretch 35 but designed to be reloaded. I still have and use this one now and then. It’s fun, like all ‘#crappycameras.’ You can’t take yourself too seriously. This doesn’t mean that you can’t make serious photos with them, though. I’ve taken it with me to many places and gotten a lot of fun photos and beautiful ones too. 

Snowy day, #SpeedArtMuseum , #Louisville 1991

#Swans , #Prague, 1996

#Sundsvall , #Sweden , 10:30 p.m., July 1997

Panoramic 3. 

I love the panoramic format, but it’s tricky to use. As my friend Gus Powell said to me “…cool, but it’s a lot of film real estate to fill.” For serious image quality you need a proper panoramic camera. There are several variations available: Flat-field like the XPan or Fuji 617, or the rotating-lens 120º cameras, like the Widelux, Noblex, or my personal favourite, the Russian #Horizont. These last cover a huge field and have an intriguing distortion created by the moving lens. (I had an XPan briefly but never really got on with it - we went out a few times, had some laughs, but never had a relationship.) For me, there is something wonderful about the wacky curvature that I love. It can also be used vertically with care to create photos that have the air of an Oriental scroll painting. 

Paddock, #KentuckyDerby 1998. This is what I mean by filling a frame.

Water Street, #NewYorkCity 2004. The cover of my first book.

Bamboo, #AngkorWat , #Cambodia 2000.

#Holi , #Udaipur , #India 2005. (Before I went, Matt Stuart @mattu1 said to me “Colour, Bram. India is colour.” He was right.) #MonteAlban , #Oaxaca , #México 2001

#Prague , 2005. Sometimes the subject fits the format.

#SquareFormat 1. Working within a square is different. It’s inherently more centered and formal, part of fundamental classical geometry. Consciously or not, if you’re paying attention, you’re handling it differently to a rectangle. The twin-lens reflex, whether #Rolleiflex, #Yashicamat, or even a plastic toy like the #Diana or its successor the #Holga, was the camera of choice for many photographers, from the famous like Helmut Newton or Diane Arbus to the unknown (until recently) like Vivian Maier. It also allows one to crop the image easily to fit photo paper with no real loss of image quality, but that’s different from considering the whole frame. I’ve used it a lot for portraiture (more later), but also like the challenge of making it work in the quotidian world. Again, filling the frame is what it’s about, even if it may be considered negative space. (While I haven’t used it much, there’s no way you can take yourself too seriously when using an all-plastic Diana covered in black tape against light leaks and knowing that the front of the lens could suddenly fall off for no apparent reason.) 

#HorseGuards, #London, 2002

Via Gramsci, #Panicale , #Umbria , #Italy 2002

#PlaçaCatalunya , #Barcelona 2002

Market Street, #Louisville, 1994

(cont’d in part 2)

Using Format