It was only after many long frustrating hours of trying to describe what’s so special about the photographs of `cweeks...
That I finally realized I was trying to describe something that wasn’t there.
I finally realized that the magical something that sets `cweeks’ works apart from others is that his camera disappears. There is no sense as you look at his photos of street scenes and other captures that you are looking through a lens, even the lens of a particularly talented photographer. There is a sense of simply walking through a town and seeing what you happen to see – without the usual subtle “commentary” of the photographer winking back at you with his framing, his lighting, his signature technique.
`cweeks has no need to announce his presence in his pictures, letting his lens be the viewer’s own eyes with no separation from the subject. Photography becomes art when all trendy technique and “stylization” disappears and the viewer absolutely believes, knows, he or she is seeing what “is”, believes he or she is seeing a capture of what has just “happened”, thanks to an unbiased, un-opinionated reporter.
A series of seamless artful strokes in front of and behind the camera.
Such ego-less presentation and sharing are rare in our times of self-promotion, especially when the artist is quite talented enough to be
allowed such indulgence if he chose to partake of it. `cweeks photos have such a purity and sense of immediacy that after perusing them for a while one
doesn’t feel a sense of “documentary” but of having been on an actual journey. I’m sure people often “remember” `cweeks’ photos as being from their own
experiences rather than being photos they saw.
Weeks creates celebrity portraits as well as street scenes, but manages to bring his street sensibility to the photos even when the settings
are relatively intimates, e.g., celebrities’ living rooms and backyards. Again, there is no feeling of the expected posed portrait. Again, the camera disappears.
Somehow he “disrobes” his subjects, cajoling them into dropping the façade of their “posed identities”, so that it feels as if the viewer is a member of the
family just glancing over at the subject, who just happens to be famous. This is something I find unprecedented. (O.K., have at it, deviants: Here’s where you
slam me with other photo artists who achieve a similar effect.)
Even the best “celebrity” celebrity photographers are unable to present truly naturalistic presentations of their subjects – there always being that identifying
patina of “demi-god” glow about a rock star or movie star. Instead, `cweeks allows us the experience of looking at stars as if we were one their best friends
or family members. The effect is far more startling than the rowdiest shock shots.
`cweeks exemplifies the best street photography, which is not the capture of the most ultra-hip moments in the hottest of hot spots, but rather the selfless recording of a place and time as it was and would have been experienced by any person had they been there at the time, no matter how distant in time or geography the photo is separated from the viewer experiencing it.
There is a real magic to photography that comes when the artist is able to “disappear” his camera and equipment, and even his own presence...
And let himself be our eyes, the eyes of all those lucky enough to discover the places he’s been and the moments he’s seen. `cweeks is one such street magician who hopefully will inspire many to emulate his achievement.
Interview with Chris Weeks
`cweeks is an editorial photographer with an emphasis in entertainment based in Los Angeles covering assignments for the world’s most recognized brands, wire services, magazines, advertising and public relations agencies. His work has been published all over the world in newspapers, magazines and websites such as InStyle, Vanity Fair Italy, USA Today, People and hundreds of other publications both in print and online.
What is there in the experience when a person looks at a photograph that determines the artistic or human value, the success or failure of that photograph?
Photography, much like so many other mediums, is personal. What moves one person may not affect another in the same way. I’m pretty crass: If a photograph moves me – in whatever way – the photograph is successful to me. I mean, really, what is artistic value? If something speaks to you, it speaks to you and really doesn’t need any other explanation.
I remember covering the opening of an “important artist” hosted by a very important art dealer. He saw me looking perplexed at one of the “pieces” and I said, “How does this move you?” Curtly, he replied “It’s 3 million dollars and I sold them before this show was even open. That’s how it moves me.” He’s not a very nice guy.
Art can mean many different things to many different people. I prefer to be emotionally moved in some way, shape or form.
What is it in a photographer’s aesthetic sense (his “eye”), in his expertise with his technical craft (his camera), and in his years of labor capturing moments and images that makes him as truly an artist as any fine arts painter? (i.e., What is your response to pre-Stieglitz cavemen who still denigrate the idea of photography as genuine artistic expression?)
I think photography and fine arts painting are wholly different and I’m not so sure even though they are both art, per se, can be compared. In mentioning Steiglitz I think he explained it best, “"Photography is not an art. Neither is painting, nor sculpture, literature or music. They are only different media for the individual to express his aesthetic feelings… You do not have to be a painter or a sculptor to be an artist. You may be a shoemaker. You may be creative as such. And, if so, you are a greater artist than the majority of the painters whose work is shown in the art galleries of today."
Stieglitz when he had one of the first shows of photography in New York back in the day had other photographers, not painters, as was the norm, as the judges. Photographers and painters and sculptures all have different sensibilities in the context of their respective “eyes.” There is cross-over for sure, though. I do think that each kind of artist sees work in their own medium differently than artists in other mediums.
I don’t think that Henri Cartier-Bresson ever wanted to be known as a photographer but rather a painter. Don’t think it worked out that way for him.
When I look back at the part of your question that says “…years of labor capturing moments…” it’s hard for me to imagine any labor at all doing what I’ve done since I was 11. Not gonna say my exact age but it’s been a long-ass time. Decades. No matter if I’m shooting a commission for a magazine, an assignment for a wire service or a public relations agency … whatever the situation may be … I know exactly what they need. I give them exactly what they need. Many times what they need is straightforward illustrating whatever they need illustrated. Sometimes, though, they’ll see something else in the edits that they may not have known why they needed it but they did. I’m always happy when that happens.
It’s funny. My friends – yes, they’re mostly working photographers – will always share the story of the beautiful ambient light photograph or the not-so-common juxtaposition that plays (our parlance for being published) over the other photographs we’ve moved or file that are more straightforward or “expected.”
You also mentioned “technical craft.” Like other mediums that use different size brushes or whatever it is they use in their craft we know our equipment and exposures without a camera telling us what to do. For me given an ISO I know the pair (shutter speed/aperture) within a half-stop just by looking at the light. Knowing what’s there allows me to adjust that so that the moment I want to record is properly framed. Usually, within an instant.
That isn’t to say some photographers can’t do as well or even better although they use programme or automatic settings. I know at least a few photographers who shoot big commissions who use less-than-desirable glass and have their cameras set to programme. One doesn’t always have to know everything in a technical sense to be a photographer. That having been said when you deal in moments like I do most of the time if you’re going to rely on the camera to be tricked by some element of exposure it didn’t know how to handle, a guy like me may possibly make a beautifully exposed photo of a moment someone else botched.
I’ve watched that happen. On several occasions.
What is the difference between taking a picture and real photography? What is “photography” for the genuine practitioner?
For the most part “taking a picture” is what you see being done by people on Facebook with their Blackberries or iPhones. If it’s a picture of their friends, there’s too much head space and they cropped above the waistline making people amputees. It’s a picture of their dog cropped at its knee. It’s a picture of their girlfriend with an unfortunate tree growing out of their head. It’s a picture of a family vacation of which they spent ten thousand u.s. to see some of the wonders outside of their own city … and they take one picture. Someone looks wonky. Someone photo bombs them. And all they have is that one photograph.
I’m not saying beautiful photos aren’t made with smart phones. In fact, many of my favourite personal photos are made with my iPhone 4. Then again, I know the difference between a picture and a photograph even though there is no difference because technically each word is interchangeable for the other. In this context I’m talking about the difference between “taking a picture” and “making a photograph.”
When one makes a photograph they’re making sure a group shot is balanced. They’re making sure they’re not making people (or animals for that matter) amputees. They’re making sure that there’s nothing unfortunate growing out of their subject’s head. And they’re making more than one photograph so they have “insurance.” The list could go on and on.
I’m not saying that when someone makes a snapshot or making something look like a snapshot they’re not really making a photograph. Making a photograph is more thoughtful than taking a picture.
For me I like a well-balanced frame. I like my subject to be positioned in the golden section but I also like other elements, whether they are in-focus or part of a beautiful blur, to balance the frame. I like to give the frames some sense of their environment … sometimes only a kiss of the environment.
Photography for the general practitioner is probably different for each individual general practitioner I would think. It’s hard to make a blanket statement about someone’s current level of desire of knowledge about a subject, passion or whatever motivates them to put viewfinder to eye.
What is the most gratifying response you’ve ever received from someone particularly affected by one of your photographs?
Because I do what I do because I love making photographs this kind of question has different answers for different situations. Is it absolutely lovely to hear the creative director for a worldwide ad agency tell you how beautiful the selects are? For sure. Is it equally as beautiful to make photographs of your aunt’s aging champion dog with a puppy-glint in his eye at 16 years and then he dies the next week? Seeing her face when she looks at that photograph is very gratifying knowing you recorded a moment of her personal history that means a lot to her. Is it hearing when you go to pick up your new reading glasses – yes, because you’re getting old – “I went to your website. I love café’s. I love cafés exactly for the reason you seem to like them. Your photos took me back to Paris and make me want to fly there next week.” Or could it be when you’re showing your own child how to edit photos on Apple’s Aperture and you start browsing old personal archive frames that bring back memories for her? Fond I’m hoping, of course.
There are many gratifying responses and all of them are unique and special. Honestly, it’s one of the best parts of being a photographer.
Can you explain to the clueless why there is a yawning abyss between what you or Annie Leibovitz does and what paparazzi do? Does the ubiquitous presence of paparazzi present problems for you in trying to record events?
First off, Annie is an editorial/advertising God and when she’s on set she’s usually a bigger name than the subjects, which is one reason people commission her. I’m not all that comfortable putting my name in the same sentence as hers. I enjoy the work of Norman Jean Roy or Douglas Kirkland much more than hers. Yet, I wouldn’t want my name in the same sentence as theirs either. I get plenty of play on my commissions and assignments but I’m not in that league. That league requires more time than I’m willing to give to “work.”
In the context of making sanctioned and commissioned photos we try and make the subjects look as good as possible. Paparazzi on the other hand try and make someone look bad. Compare a cover of Vanity Fair or V and that of the National Enquirer.
Even with street photography I’m not down with shooting homeless people. I want to represent the human condition as dignified. Whether that human condition in front of my lens is an editorial context or a personal context I’m not okay with making people look bad.
Perhaps the “paps” as we call them in L.A. have a whole different motivation for making photographs? Perhaps they’re in it for the money as I suspect they are. Honestly, I don’t think they’re very good photographers. They represent – to me, at least – a sub-genre of photographers.
The funny thing that I recently found out was that Ron Gallela – the same guy that Jackie Kennedy won a restraining order against and who is known as the grandfather of paparazzi –graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I mean, really? Certainly in his education there he learned how to make a photograph in an editorial context but got sucked into the dark side of dogged pursuit of the famous in their private time. I will say that his black and white photographs from back in the day are far more beautiful than most of his contemporaries.
Paps are everywhere in L.A. and N.Y.C. and London for that matter. They make it a bit more difficult to go from my car to my assignment if my equipment is on my shoulders. Tourists ask “Are you a paparazzi.” No matter how you answer that you know they don’t believe you because of the coverage the paps get. And then they generally have a bad tourist memory of the “asshole they met in L.A.” Whatever. They have only a surface understanding of the photo world. Sometimes they’re corrected. Sometimes it’s not so nice.
I’m hired as a house photographer for big fancy events on occasion. Sometimes, even if the party is low-key, the paps find out from the wait staff or valet guys. If a celebrity is swarmed before they come in, they need some time to decompress. If the paps weren’t so aggressive, perhaps that wouldn’t be the case.
But what is a pap? To me a pap is a exploitive mindset. I know legitimate photographers with killer credentials that when you see them enter “your event” where you are the official photographer and you’re doing the dance with the talent to get your client the right photos that will play and make the talent (celebrities) look great … I cringe. I know that they see A-listers and see dollar signs. They don’t care what they have to do to get any photo. Whereas someone like Scarlett Johansen can see me at a party and say, “I’m really not feeling well and don’t think I look too great…”
“Don’t worry I want you to feel great about how you look even though you always look amazing.”
Some of the others don’t give a rat’s ass and will “get the photo and answer questions later.”
No, I don’t need to be a starf*cker like others in my world but I also don’t want them to hate me when they see me. I don’t know how some of these guys masquerading under proper credentials live with themselves knowing they made someone feel horrible. It really sucks.
Thing is … paps are only a part of the equation. The other part of the equation is the median reader of publications or sites that feature celebrity gossip. Your sister, your mom, your aunt … they’re all guilty of buying the magazines or visiting the sites thereby employing the paps.
Vicious vicious circle that whole thing.
What was the recent legal ruling about concerning the rights of street photographers that your document was a contributing factor to?
One day when checking my dA notes I saw something interesting. I opened it, went to the link, saw it was in Slovenian and kinda shook my head. What ~tjaz told me was that the Privacy Commissioner, because of “Street Photography for the Purist” and other references, was able to make an exception for street photography as an acceptable artistic expression.
That’s the first time I’ve gotten that type of email about something I’ve put on the internet.
Can you share with us a little bit about the current state of laws around the world regarding street photography?
The laws concerning street photography are different country-by-country. In the U.S. we’ve been pretty happy about the decision in the Supreme Court case Nussenzweig v. DiCorcia. Basically, it says that as long as someone is in an area designed for public egress and ingress there is no reasonable expectation of privacy and as long as there is no commercial intent behind making the photo you can pretty much do whatever you’d like photographically, of course. You can’t sell a photo of someone for use in a Herpes advert because the subject of the photo is tacitly endorsing the product in some way. If it’s art and someone wants to pay you tens of thousands for a print, it’s all good.
That’s really not the case in many countries in the E.U., though. I don’t know the specifics but from what I understand the citizens of France or Germany own the copyright to their image and cannot be photographed without their permission. If one publishes these images, there are damages to the subject. Again, I don’t know the exact laws as I don’t live there nor am I a citizen there. In those countries I’m either working or just “a dumb tourist.”
Even though street photography is legal in the U.S., there are situations like the one in Long Beach, California wherein a police officer can stop you from taking pictures if he feels “there is no artistic merit” to the picture and feels you could have other motives for taking the picture. That’s a slippery slope for a law enforcement officer to also act as an art critic. He could stop me from making a photograph of two longshoremen having a funny moment together if they were around some kind of infrastructure that the police felt had no artistic value.
I know other street photographers who have been harassed whilst making photographs in and around public transit. Unless it is specifically posted otherwise you have every right to make a photograph anywhere you choose in the U.S. Sadly, that’s not the case in other countries because of “privacy fears.”
What is your position on laws to curb paparazzi vs. those laws infringing upon artistic expression?
I believe that celebrities should have some kind of protection against stalkers with cameras. There are no laws I know of that specifically target the stalkerazzi and infringe upon artistic expression. I know that some news/media outlets are opposed to some laws that could infringe upon freedom of the press. Those laws have nothing to do with me so I don’t pay a lot of attention. I’ve never had a situation where I was stopped from completing a news assignment or even an entertainment assignment.
I have gone through some pretty serious background checks to be able to be credential to certain news and entertainment assignments and commissions. Last July I was introduced to a guy from Scotland Yard. I extended my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Chris.” To which he laughed and replied, “We know exactly who you are.” I was “in the bubble” with Will and Kate during their California visit as their photographer; I’d hope to high hell they knew who they were putting in the bubble.
Legitimate guys with a non-exploitive mindset have nothing to worry about no matter what laws are considered or passed.
What is your advice to a young deviant wanting to pursue photography as mostly an art form? Is there any great difference in your advice for someone wanting to pursue photography as a career? Is there really any line between the two at all? And where in your opinion with 30 years of experience as a photographer is that line drawn?
First off, there is no difference between being a working photographer – I hate the term “professional photographer” because it doesn’t mean shit – and pursuing my own artistic expression. I know that’s not the case for many.
If you are interested in photography, I’d look at a lot of photography and see what you’re drawn to. Then I’d look for more photographers who do work that you’re drawn to. I would buy a simple camera. I would buy a simple lens. I would buy simple books about the mechanics of photography. You don’t need the latest and greatest piece of bullshit published by supposed photographers who are only in it for the money. Again, it’s the motivation behind the photography. Is it because one loves it or because they want to make a lot of money?
Without copying the photographers you like attempt to emulate the work you’re drawn to. Practice. Get to know exposure pairs for whatever ISO or film stock you like given whatever lighting scenario that’s thrown at you.
Once you decide you really want to pursue making better photographs you can even take a workshop taught by someone who photographs material you like. Stay away from Photoshop-jockeys, bloggers and others in it for the “paid meet-up masquerading as a workshop.” Research the photographic background of the organizer and make sure they’re proper working photographers. Stay away from manufacturer-led workshops. Although my friend and partner Severin Koller and I put on the Street is Serious series of workshops, we don’t do it for money alone. We genuinely want to coach street photographers who want to know more about making better photographs. So far we’ve lead workshops in Los Angeles, Berlin and New York with an upcoming date in Rome next month.
Practice more. Post work on sites like dA or flickr.com – avoid gear-heavy forums as the saying “birds of a feather” couldn’t ring more true – and see what feedback you get. Comment on other work and ask questions.
And practice some more. Never stop. I don’t.
The word amateur means one who does what one loves. I may get paid for what I do but I do it because I love making photographs.
Pursuing photography as a career is a whole other issue but is rooted in the above. Although talent isn’t always requisite – especially considering some of the people I know who’ve “made it” – you have to be a people-person and be able to market yourself. If you think “I’m good, they’ll find me,” well, you’ll probably suffer from that entitlement issue. There are A LOT of talented people you’re going to be competing with. And I guarantee they’re going to know how to market themselves.
No matter if you’ve gone to art school or a photographic technical school you’ll want to assist. You’ll probably assist for free in the beginning. Get as much experience as you can. Shoot when you’re not assisting. Build your book. Edit your book. Let your book always evolve.
Whatever you do don’t fall into the trap of buying “How to Make it as a Pro Photographer” books because they’re written by guys who don’t have the first clue how to make it. They make money by selling books … not by actually working as photographers. Sites with accompanying workshops will most likely not result in an aspiring photographer’s success. The enthusiast photo world is filled with imposters selling snake oil.
Hopefully, an art buyer or whoever is hiring you will see “your style,” like it and hire you.
It’s a tough road but it’s not impossible. I’d do this job for free but luckily I don’t have to. I’m fortunate to have amazing clients who assign and commission me to travel to places I wouldn’t normally go, to document world class events and make photos that will be seen by millions of eyes. That’s one of the reasons I’m there: I’m taking the place of millions of people and showing them what I saw. I have a responsibility to those people to show them exactly what happened.
How do you feel about “political” photography and trying to express a message in one’s pictures? Is this a corruption of the art of street shooting if the scene isn’t one hundred percent “natural” and spontaneous? Does the presence of a photographer at a political demonstration automatically heighten tension and provoke people to do things they might not otherwise have done? By the same token, does the presence of cameras curb police malfeasance as well as making documentation of such abuse possible?
If you are a photojournalist or visual journalist as they like to call it today, you cannot insert your own personal views in your reportage. Your job is to document and tell a story which isn’t imbued by your personal bias. A Reuters stringer was “not used any longer” over his reportage in Beirut. He wanted to make the smoke resulting from Israeli bombing more prominent to call attention to his particular view by enhancing the photo in Photoshop. His smoke looked like American footballs.
Interestingly, the same photographer a few days before his “big mistake” was placing an item near a woman he was photographing in a heavily bombed area. A friend of mine was covering the same area and saw him doing what he was doing and called him out.
“It makes the photo better; there’s nothing wrong with that.”
I doubt he works for any major wire services any longer. Perhaps he teaches others how to Photoshop.
If you are doing a particular theme such as “The Plight of the Itinerant or Homeless” in a street photography context as a personal project I don’t see anything wrong with showing their plight. Just be upfront about it.
If you want to make rich people look stupid because you’re either jealous or against materialism and you go photograph in posh areas only to make the more affluent look bad, I’m not down with that. Your motivations would be more in line with what I think of the paparazzi.
I believe that all street photography should be spontaneous. I don’t like the kind of photographs that someone like Bruce Gilden does by getting in someone’s face with flash. I’m sure some people love it. I’m sure some who want to exploit street photography and plagiarize someone’s style in search of their own could disagree with me, though.
I prefer to be unseen as much as possible so that my camera or presence doesn’t influence the way a subject acts.
I think that a camera can, in fact, record a moment that is more of a reaction to the camera itself than the events going on around the subject. It doesn’t automatically heighten the tension but it mostly depends on the sensibilities and motivations of the photographer behind the camera.
Because cameras are so cheap they are everywhere. Back in the day police could kind of tell who was legitimate and who wasn’t. As was seen during the 99% protests all over the U.S. it didn’t matter if your state, county or outlet-issued credentials said “New York Times,” “Associated Press” or anything, the police didn’t care in many situations. They didn’t know who was who and pretty much didn’t care to differentiate.
Interestingly, we still got to see plenty of police abuses play in dailies and weeklies as well as online. Pepper spray cop. Jerky NYPD bashing someone in the face. From NYC to Berkely.
Did it do any good, though?
I mean you can go buy a press pass from people like www.ia-pp.com for USD $60. How does a cop know it’s usually just purchased press credentials?
What first drew you to photography and what it is that continues to give you the most pleasure in shooting? Which photographers should deviants who want to learn more about the art form immediately google?
My first experience making photographs didn’t even involve a camera. I remember sitting in the backseat of my parent’s car and blinking to record an image in my mind. I blinked and made photos all of the time. I think I wanted to remember things as I saw them and bugged them endlessly until they bought me a camera. That was 30 years ago and I haven’t stopped since.
I’m drawn to moments primarily but I’m also drawn to bringing out the “real person” that I’m photographing. I’m obsessed with making photographs. I don’t remember the last time there hasn’t been a camera on my shoulder. If I’m not able to make a photograph of something I see, it drives me crazy.
Google people like Norman Jean Roy, Barbara Davidson, Kwaku Alston, Kevork Djansezian, Adrees Latif, Jaimie Trueblood, Randall Slavin, Doug Menuez, Riccis Vallardes or Douglas Kirkland to name a few. Those are real working photographers who do really nice work. And, they’re incredibly nice people as well.
Can you please share with us your top five photographers on deviantART?
Hmm. Honestly, it’s hard to think of usernames when I know some people in their real lives and have kinda forgotten. Let me think.
I don’t know if I have a top five on dA rather than people I’ve known for a long time as good people and who make really nice photographs and post on dA. I love the aesthetic of `Gonzale. I can tell there’s a caring heart behind her photography. ~banxter makes lovely frames. `coxi kicks ass in any genre he shoots. ~londn is a great photographer but I see he hasn’t posted for years. ~claytes makes photographs I like to look at as does `SimonSawSunlight. I also know every single one of these guys/girls in real life. And I wouldn’t have gotten to know them if I wouldn’t have met them on dA.
dA can be a wonderful place.