“The Eye”

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You cannot teach it. You can teach the technical stuff– aperture and f-stops, shutter speeds and frames-per-second, but you cannot teach “the eye.”

Some photographers simply see things instinctively in a way that puts all the points of focus, the colors and shades, the action, angles and the expressions all together in one quickly composed click that is measured often in the hundredths of a second…

…by a moment that comes together and reverberates emotionally like the way a musical chord is composed of simultaneous harmonious notes. And as every chord can carry a different mood in every different key, each image resonates with its own feelings and emotions and meaning… if it is a good one.

You can talk composition and you can lecture about exposure and the rule of thirds and the zone system and argue Cannon versus Nikon and you can even say it, “Nee-Kohn” as if you are so into it all that you are turning Japanese, but there is at least one simple way to say if it is a good picture:

It is a good picture if it makes you go, “Wow!”

Or if it makes you go, “Oh, no!”

Or, “Yuck!” or “Ha, Ha, Ha” or “boo, hoo, hoo.”

If it makes you feel something, it works. How strongly you feel it is how well it works. It is especially good if it makes you feel something about another person.

Video is the same but continues by rolling a string of those moments enlivened by the natural sound. It is the same, just chronological and energized and flashing around 30 frames per second. “Photography,” means, “to write with light.” We are all storytellers.

You can’t teach “the eye.” A photographer either has it, or they don’t. That is not to say that many a photog hasn’t had happy and productive careers making the grade bringing back technically proficient images or acceptable video that fills the void or covers the VO (voice-over). But it can do more. There are those among us who see things through their lens that make the world a much prettier place than your average point-and-shooter, or a more meaningful or pertinent place, because they let you see it that way. There are those that feel their work. Some instinctively know how to tell those stories without words, and they lay it out within the frame as art. And among those who know, it is said that those photographers have “the eye.”

That principle was explained to me on my first day of my first job as a news photographer. It was explained to me by JD Kirkpatrick. JD definitely had “the eye.”

It was my first day and I wasn’t a very good journalist. I should have taken notes. I should have written down the things JD said to me that day. I should have rolled tape on it.

“It’s the greatest job in the world.”

That I can put quotation marks around. In my memory, it was pretty much the first thing that he said to me as we left the station on my first day working at Channel 6. It was my first day working in any way in news, and to tell the truth, in the beginning, I did not particularly want to be doing it. But JD talked me into it.

Lanny, the chief photog, had spent the morning with me and another new guy, going over the gear and the cars and he gave us a quick but succinct rundown that ended up being the extent of all the formal instruction I ever got as a news shooter, then he sent me out with JD for a ride-along to see how it was done.

I was young and still had that confidence that now seems more like a low level of inexperienced arrogance and was probably convinced that I had a much better handle on practically everything than I actually did. I had been studying photography in an effort to make some money doing weddings, and didn’t want to respond to a help-wanted ad for videographers at WJAC, because up until then I was one of those guys who was inclined to make fun of local news.

But my wife at the time had easy access to my resume’ and applied for me and I didn’t know that until I heard a message on our answering machine inviting me for an interview.

So, my plan was to do it until I found something better, but JD took off talking about it as if we were already half way through the conversation and words will fail if I try to explain how, but by the end of that shift I had in my head an inspirational new perspective that news is about what is real and somehow that made it art and that made it fun and that changed my mind and I was off on a new career.

What he was talking about was things like the legitimacy of when you catch something in its natural state in the actual moment, or how it not only documents, but when you see it well lit, cleverly composed and colorfully delivered like a poem, it can almost be a spiritual thing. I don’t think that he used those words, but even today when I am watching CBS Sunday Morning and I see a sweetly shot package about someone or something and I suddenly get charmed or mesmerized or tantalized into caring about it, those pieces inspire in me a soulful feeling that moves me deep like a hymn. And if not quite a religious experience, I can at least try to explain it by saying that I caught the photojournalism bug off JD that day. The news bug bit and gave me a big, swelling itch to do something important with it.

And that was my training. Me tagging along while he shot some b-roll and we checked out something that they heard on the scanner at the station that turned out to be nothing, and JD telling me how it was done the whole time offering suggestions, instructions and conversational opinions like:

“Don’t let them call you a cameraman.’ Never put the camera before the man.”

And he good-naturedly lectured not to let the reporters introduce you as “My photographer.” Meaning that we are a team and that we work with a reporter, not for them.

And he talked a lot, because JD was like that. And I am glad, because he and I continued to talk about photography for many years afterwards. One of the best ways to learn is to study your heroes. I learned photography by searching flea markets and antique shops for old Life Magazines and by watching shooters like JD.

One of the best quotes by one of the great Life photographers is a famous one by Alfred Eisenstaedt.
“It is more important to click with people, than to click the shutter.”

People liked JD as much as they liked his work. Colorful, creative, cleverly off center sometimes, and always lit with a little something unique.

Did you hear about JD?”

Ron Ream said that. I had just hopped up on a hay wagon that they were hauling a bunch of us on to go and meet and greet and take pictures of Jackson and the other elephants at the Pittsburgh Zoo’s ICC. It was reporters, a couple video shooters, the PR person from the zoo and me.

“Oh, shit…” I thought, “They got his plants.”

I honestly don’t think JD would mind me talking about that. It was a big part of his personality. He practically introduced himself like that.

“Hi, I’m J.D. and I like to smoke pot.”

He didn’t hide it. I’ve seen him joke about it in a room full of State Troopers and seen them laugh along. They all knew him. He was just being JD.

But that wasn’t the news that Ron was delivering that day. He went on to tell me that JD had died.

He’d gone to bed the night before, not feeling well, and did not wake the next morning to go fishing.

He is hard to characterize. Maybe at first you try to see him as an old hippie, but that’s not quite it. He’s a U.S. Army veteran and he served in Vietnam, but I never heard him talk about that and I can’t say that I ever felt the warrior in his personality, if there was one. At times he would wear a kind of long military-green field coat with patches and insignias that I assume represented his actual service, but to me it was just a cool coat and not like a uniform. Other than a talent for tightly rolling up mic chords, I can’t think of much of anything regimented about his personality, or remember him to be either the sort of person to give or to take orders.

I watched a few Steeler games at his house, and I remember that he was sweet and gentle with his dog. He was generous and helpful by nature, and sometimes he had a slightly raunchy sense of humor. He was fun loving and more than occasionally obnoxious when not kept occupied– and certain targets had to be wary of surprise attacks from the rear with his wet finger suddenly wiggling into your ear. But he also had a timely habit of sticking his head into an editing bay and telling me something that I needed to hear, just about when I needed to hear it. He was great with kids. He loved to fish.

What JD was, was a friend. Not just in news photography, which he truly introduced me to, but in life. When I was downsized the last time and lost my license to travel about taking pics, it was JD who I wished I could have called to lament that loss. I hope that many people will be glad to see these old images of JD at work. But I find it sad that he won’t.

I don’t know if the business is anything like it was when I shot these pictures. That camera was shooting that big, old SuperVHS tape. And those editing bays are now no more than nostalgia, I am sure.

But, occasionally I still get the chance to shoot some high school sports and I see some of those young shooters on the sidelines and I think that it is a shame that they won’t ever get to work with JD. I wouldn’t be able to explain that to them and I doubt that they are looking for much “old school” advice. But I wish that sometime someone would ask me. I think that it would be fun to tell them,
“It’s the greatest job in the world.”

KIRKPATRICK – J.D., 61, Johnstown, died July 25, 2009, at his home. Born Sept. 29, 1947, in Johnstown

The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

This is Boo

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This is Boo.
I did not name him. I did not know him as a kitten. He came to us under vaguely explained circumstances that seem to involve some sort of territorial dispute involving himself and a pitt-bull puppy. He doesn’t talk much about that.

I don’t ask.

Before us, he was the companion of my wife’s daughter who expanded his education by choosing him as a roommate at WVU’s Borman Hall. I don’t think that he took any classes, but just hung around with the girls there. But I am sure that he learned some things. And though he is a cool cat who knows how to keep his mouth shut, after gaining his confidence he has since made some conversational inclinations that he has, “Seen some things.” Again, I don’t ask.

So, by the time he ended up here, he seemed, as one might expect, a little nervous and perhaps a bit over-stimulated, which is understandable.

But he’s a cat who knows how to make himself comfortable and in time and with plenty of pampering, reassurance and all sorts of kingly comforts and treats, he has settled in.

And though he says that he has never liked the term, “domesticated,” he has resolved himself to the life of an “inside kitty” and peacefully made a place for himself amoungst four poodles and two somewhat odd adult human beings.

He doesn’t usually tolerate formal photography, though he, like the Amish, will allow it as long as I don’t ask him to pose.

But these days, he knows that I am out of practice and that I miss being a photojournalist, so he graciously has allowed me to follow him around to do this “Day in the Life During the Pandemic” portrait project

from a feline point of view.

How has life changed for this house cat, since the pandemic has changed the world?

Not much.

I know what some of you are thinking…. And I ask that you be considerate and kind in your comments.

He is no more vain that any other cat. He has worked through his abandonment issues and is overall very confident and certainly has no problems with self-esteem….

But he has grown somewhat sensitive about his weight.

He tells me that in his younger years he was really quite svelte.

And he still moves well, for a big man.

But what looks like lazy might just be laid-back

and at this point in his journey through nine lives he is trying to grow over all that superficial stuff. Perhaps sadly, but truly, he is more thoughtful than playful these days.

He is a cat of few words and is wise in that he stays in the moment. He doesn’t waste any energy regretting the past or fretting for the future. He doesn’t waste any energy.

He spends a lot of time napping.

This is where we keep the towels, some of my old New Yorkers
and the cat.

In the big picture, he really is, as they say, “a good kitty.”

Except that he sits on the table and has diligently and systematically destroyed every piece of furniture that calls to his instinct to sharpen his claws.

But he puts his poop where he is supposed to, and he is a good listener.

And we have to take care of each other.

Kitty Boo is not allowed on the table.
But we love him anyway.

“they complain but never
they walk with a surprising dignity.
they sleep with a direct simplicity that
humans just can’t

when I am feeling low all I have to do is watch my cats and my courage returns.
I study these creatures.
they are my teachers.”

Charles Bukowski– “My Cats”

Football action at Berlin

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You should have seen the shots I missed!

I got to go to a great game Friday night as Berlin hosted Windber on the Mountaineers Homecoming. I had plenty of chances to get plenty of good action, but I have to say that I missed way more than I got.
Anyway, it was two great teams and a great night for football and here I offer a few images that I did get.

IMG_5689 8x6 72mm

Click on images

IMG_5828 8x5 72mm

See many more images from this game and support my efforts by purchasing prints or full resolution digital files, Here.


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