March 24, 2020

Roth and Ramberg-About Photography II


(Dale Roth is one half of the photography duo, Roth and Ramberg. As writing is not his strong suit, he has asked his teenage son to correct his lack of punctuation and when possible, add in big words. However, Dale does know how to do a perfect scheimpflug.)

For over 25 years we have been producing an annual, self-promotion photography calendar. Over time it has evolved from just four photos to monthly photos to daily photos. In the beginning, we picked a theme for a calendar and took photographs relating to that theme, but after a trip to Las Vegas, the theme of our calendar shifted to being about an annual photography trip. Every year, we would travel somewhere in the world to capture the images needed for our promo. 

Every single one of our trips has been incredibly, but one I have been thinking about recently was our trip to New York City. I had been to NY a few times as a tourist and each time I went, the more I realized the city is a visual splendour to photograph. It was 2013 and while we were thinking of a destination for the following year’s calendar, it was clear we had to go to New York. We decided to do 365 photos of street photography. Neither of Michele nor I had done this before. Although we had a flavour of journalistic qualities in our photos, as we prefer to have them less staged, we were not known as street shooters. We had big ambitions with this calendar but as always, we strived to push ourselves, get better and learn more. 

I’ve never had my own photographs up on my wall. A part of me thinks that if I’m happy enough with my photograph to put it up on my wall, then I’m content with my photography. If I’m content with my photography, then I’m not going to get better. That is the passion that drives me. I am dreaming and searching for the perfect photo with and underlying hope that I never find it. 

We flew to NYC in July, otherwise known as the middle of the hot, hot summer. My choice of camera, which I carried in a courier type bag slung over my shoulder, was a Fuji Xpro with three lenses: Wide, normal and telephoto. We arrived in NYC in the late afternoon, took some photos from inside the cab and with no real plan, made our way to a friends place in Brooklyn. In the morning we got up and headed out in no specific direction. There were a few areas across the city that I knew were most certainly visual. Coney Island, Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and the Staten Island Ferry were among some of them, but we were confident we would be able to find more. Viewing the photos now, it is apparent we had started out timid, taking photos only of people far away or of such easy subjects like the Brooklynn Bridge. As the day progressed we moved to longer lenses in order to photograph people from a distance. Our timidness soon shifted when we started “shooting from the hip,” with wide angle photos. This meant not only that the subject didn’t know they were being photographed, but also that we had no idea what we were photographing, as we could not see the viewfinder. We aimed the camera as best we could and hoped we got an interesting photo.

We then hopped the subway to Coney Island, knowing we could easily get some photos there. It was the fourth of July, not only Independence Day, but also the day of the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. The place was pretty busy and we could easily melt into the background. The normal lens worked fine as we stopped and watched our prey, waiting for the right moment to press the shutter.

Next to Coney Island is an area called Brighton which was mainly populated with Russian Immigrants. The people and the culture were different there, which made for interesting photos. However, the feeling was cold and very closed off, causing us to be more cautious but also more curious. Our inner photojournalist was starting to come out. 

The day wrapped up and we headed back to Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Bridge was something we were determined to get a great photo of. There are photos from below the bridge, from on the bridge, through trees beside the bridge and as I go through them, I’m wondering if the perfect shot even exists.

Day two brought about more confidence, we were a tiny bit bolder a tiny bit more obvious as we explored the Brooklyn neighbourhood. As a photographer, I find myself very award of my surroundings, paying close attention to the people nearby. Some stand out with obvious quirks, others seem to disappear into the background. It’ s a matter of watching and letting the scene unfold in front of you. If you can raise that camera and not alter the scene or the people in it, then it becomes very rewarding to take the photo, to capture an instant in time, a moment that can never be created again. 

Some street shooters get right into peoples comfort zones, controlling their positions and expressions. I prefer to lay back and let the scene control the photo. My job is only to hit the shutter at the right time. This is what separates video from stills. A video tells a longer story with movement and change, while a still photo has to tell a story in and instant. Both are effective and both have their use.

NYC has five different boroughs and we decided to visit each of them. We discovered some new areas and a wide assortment of people. One such area was a Jewish neighbourhood in Brooklyn. A lot of the men wore large, round, fur hats called Shtreimels. We walked up and down the streets, trying to get a good photograph of these men in their community. A lot of them realized this and their hands were soon covering their faces. Although we were coming from a place of good intention, it left a pit in my stomach following these people around taking their photograph for the sole reason that they looked different. I’m glad I’m not a photojournalist as most times, that job is not about respecting others privacy. The job is to get the shot not matter what, to share that photo, to tell a story and make a difference. I’m not so sure the photos we took in that neighbourhood that day made a difference or told a story other than some people are different than others. 

Williamsburg was another interesting neighbourhood, you could tell it was a trendy and hip place to be. It was abundant with incredible food and shops and opportunities for people watching. We found the hidden gem of Rockaway Beach off an area in Queens. Who knew you could surf in New York? It still had remnants of the destruction of Hurricane Sandy, but had a distinct cool beach vibe nonetheless.

By Day 5 we were staying in Manhattan, in a hotel near Chinatown. We had spent our time trying to hone our street shooting skills and were now ready to take on the Big Apple itself. Overloaded with a variety of stimulus, we first observed, then began interacting. Our true nature started to come out as we met lots of people and listened to their stories. Some of them we photographed, others we didn’t, just sat and enjoyed their company. The architecture alone is amazing there. The way the light from the sky played with the shadows cast by the enormous skyscrapers captivated us. With our cameras, we could show the mass of people or zoom in on an individual and their specific moment. As we were shooting digital, we definitely took more photos than we should have. The editing, although tedious, was fun and sometimes surprising. It was interesting to look back on the steps we had taken to try to get that “shot.” It was a bit of a sense of accomplishment to take on something as foreign to me as street photography and walk away with a few photos that were good. It was a reminder to always push ourselves to get better at what we do. I do think our photography styles can evolve and change.

By the tenth day of bouncing around different neighbourhoods and walking miles to see what wonders lay around the corner, we were exhausted. As I look through the photographs now, years later, the memories of the trip come flooding back. Of course, this is what photography does. Some of the memories are personal, ones I could never begin to show or explain. Some memories are impossible to show in a single photograph. The time spent, the smells, the surroundings, the timing, whatever it is that made me push that button is really only known to me.

I gathered a whole new respect for street photographers and photojournalists in general. Being constantly aware of the world around you must get tiresome.

I can see a lot of what I think are great photos that were taken over the 10 days in NYC, but am still waiting for that perfect photo to put up on the wall. I still haven’t found it, but I’m happy to share the gallery of photos that we did take in NYC with you. Here is the link

I can see a lot of what I think are great photos that were taken over the 10 days in NYC, but am still waiting for that perfect photo to put up on the wall. I still haven’t found it, but I’m happy to share the gallery of photos that we did take in NYC with you. Here is the link

If you have a favourite, mark it. I’m curious as to what you see and you like. This will make me a better photographer