Christmas trivia

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Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all! Enjoy the day with your family, eat too much, and grab an interesting shot or two if you can. No pressure. And here’s hoping that whatever new bit of gear you’ve been lusting after has now migrated from under your tree to your itchy paws. But in case you find yourself at a loose end after all the gift-giving, and in danger of slipping into a food coma after too much turkey, here are a few factoids and stories about photographers that you might not have known.

  • A young man wanted nothing more than to be a jazz drummer; but his chosen career didn’t work out, so he became a photographer instead, later specializing in photojournalism. Even in the ’40s, a photographer made so little money that he had to make ends meet by being a hustler at chess clubs, playing for quarter stakes; this despite landing large commissions for major magazines of the day such as Look. (It seems nothing much has changed in that regard.) His early images of New York City had a distinctive, rather cinematic look to them…Stanley Kubrick ultimately gave up photography to become a cutting-edge cinematographer.
  • A young boy was such a restless hypochondriac that he was repeatedly expelled from various private schools, and by grade eight, his family pulled him out of formal schooling completely. He taught himself the piano at age 12, and his intense focus for the next 12 years with the intention of becoming a professional musician; what changed his career path was a visit to Yosemite in 1916 with a Box Brownie. That man went on to become one of the most famous landscape photographers of all time: Ansel Adams.
  • A rebellious youth from a wealthy, bourgeois family left formal Catholic prep school to attend the private Lhote Academy, run by cubist painter Andre Lhote; he trained as an artist but grew bored of the stiffness and rules of the medium, gravitating towards both realism and surrealism – opposite ends of representation, but neither of which had the structure of classical art. He then attended Cambridge, served mandatory duty in the Army, got placed under house arrest for hunting without a license, then had an intense affair with his host’s wife before a nervous breakdown and escape to Africa. Here, he encountered the work of Martin Munkasci, whose images challenged him: before seeing them, he didn’t believe such spontaneous captures were possible with a camera. This was the birth of ‘the decisive moment’ – we are of course talking about Henri Cartier-Bresson.
  • Kubrick, Adams, and HC-B all used Kodak Box Brownies at one point or other in their early careers. Ultimately, they each picked the best tool for their purpose – and their intended look – Kubrick switched to a Graflex, Adams went with his plate-cameras, and HC-B went Leica.
  • Robert Capa’s famous photograph of The falling soldier during the Spanish Civil War was part of a much larger collection of images that was lost when he fled Europe in 1939, known as ‘the Mexican Suitcase'; it was subsequently returned in 2007 by its present-day owner, Benjamin Tarver. Inside were nearly 5,000 negatives by Capa, Chim and Gerda Taro.
  • Although it’s popularly believed that Capa’s photographs of the D-Day landings on the beaches at Normandy in 1944 were blurry because of a combination of the technical limitations of cameras of the day and simply the incredibly intense nature of the situation, the reality is that of the 106 images shot, only eleven survived some serious bungling during development by a lab technician at his agency in London, and even those were heavily damaged to the state that we see in prints today. Moral of the story: develop your own, and guard your negatives/ raw files.
  • One of (in my opinion) the greatest photojournalists of all time is also possibly the most overqualified. He gained a Masters’ degree in Economics before working as an economist for the International Coffee Organization. After a stint with Sygma and Gamma, he joined Magnum; not finding that serious enough for his needs – by now developed into an intense humanitarian drive to both document culture and raise social awareness – he left and formed his own agency, together with his wife. Although he shoots digital now, he also has those files exposed to film and then rescanned/ reprinted from that source to create his signature tonal look; the irony of course is that this process probably takes longer and has more potential pitfalls than just shooting film to begin with. The man is of course Sebastiao Salgado; his current project, ‘Genesis’, started in 2004, will likely also be his last – he claims that he has so many images to go through that it will probably take him the rest of his life. Now that’s dedication.
  • There seems to be something about photography, music and painting. Another painter-musician – who even did a stint at a kibbutz – eventually turned photographer, joining the newly-formed Rolling Stone magazine as staff shooter. Her career was built around celebrity, and turned her into a celebrity herself; she was unconventional, lesbian, gave birth at 51, (in)famously bad at financial management, and possibly the only photographer both to reach that level of wealth and also lose it. We are of course talking about Annie Leibowitz.

For every big-name photographer who’s made it – notice there are no real normal photographic superstars today, they all seem to be almost manufactured in the same way Hollywood manufactures the images of actors/ actresses – there are dozens who are doing fairly well, hundreds who are getting by, and thousands who believe in the dream enough to endure the suffering while trying to make it work. Having been in the last category, and just about surfacing into the second to last, I just want to say I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given, and it’s the least I can do not to mess them up. If you’re still in that last category – don’t give up; it took me four tries to be able to make a sustainable living from photography and related activities. I know that if I hadn’t made one last push, I’d probably still be regretting it. Make a wish, people, and then work hard to make it happen. MT

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Comments

  1. Jorge Balarin says:

    Merry Christmas !!

  2. Oops … scrap my “BTW” comment … the original comment was in regards to Stanley Kubrik not Ansel Adams !

  3. Hi Ming, what an original and striking photo to this post ! Thanks for the efforts you put into your blog. Hopefully all of your various photography activities meld into a sustainable and profitable venture, for many years to come. Best wishes to you and your family.

    BTW: In regards to Ansel Adams, both Wikipedia and the Ansel Adams website give his year of birth as 1902. By the late 1920’s he was earning enough money for photography to survive. There is no mention of any chess exploits.

  4. vinh truong says:

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family Ming. Thank you for all the hard work you put into this blog to share your knowledge and help all of us to become better.

  5. Thanks for the post Ming. May you and yours have a good Christmas and a Happy and Peaceful new year.

  6. József Oldal says:

    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year for you and your blog.
    Funny thing about your blog, that since I know about it, I always feel like getting small but very valuable little presents when I find your new posts. I wish you to get into the “dozens” and still have this blog running…

  7. Great post, Ming.
    Merry Christmas to you and your family.
    You neglected to tell us your life story. I’m sure most here would be interested to hear it. :)

  8. I love the knowledge about photography that you impart, Ming. I have always found your posts to be thoughtful, knowledgeable and inspiring, and always spoken as a true master and ambassador for Photography. Your voice is an important one in the world of photography, not least because it is a rare gift to be able to share your knowledge so selflessly, as you always do. You set a very high standard both in the photographs that you take and in the articles that you write and your work is always thought provoking. I’m especially looking forward to hearing more of your adventures in the world of film photography, a passion that I have personally had for the last forty years or so. A while ago, someone asked me what photography means to me. I wrote a few words and I would like to share those words with you as I would like to believe they apply to yourself, too;

    “It is the play of light and dark, of highlight and shadow, the seen and the unseen. It is capturing a moment as it enters into memory. It is action, frozen, or in motion, time stopped or stretched. It is sharp and it is blurred. It is chemistry, physics and maths, and it is art. It is science and it is magic. It is storytelling and it is fact. It compliments words but does not need them to speak. It is a reflection of the world and a window to the soul. It is thinking and visualizing. It is imagination and it is intuition. It is observing and waiting, anticipating, then acting. It has a history and it shapes the future. It is a craft and it is an art and I am both artisan and artist
    ….It is looking at the world through the eyes of a child.

    Photography is my job …but it is so very much more my passion”

    Here’s to a great 2013 and hope that you will continue to make photography a growing and sustainable career.

  9. I love the knowledge about photography that you impart, Ming. I have always found your posts to be thoughtful and knowledgeable and inspiring. Your voice is an important one in the world of photography, not least because it is a rare gift to be able to share your knowledge so selflessly, as you always do. Merry Christmas to you and your family and may even more of your photographic wishes come true.

  10. I was just recently directed to your site. Great work and I appreciate your insight. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and your family.

  11. Father Raphael says:

    Imagine the world without Christmas! Today’s post has a personal touch. Nice.
    Merry Christmas! Incidentally, we follow the Julian calendar so we have 13 days to go before services for the Nativity begin.

  12. Thanks for your continuous inspiration and hard work – it’s truly appreciated.
    Happy Holidays and enjoy 2013!

  13. Merry Christmas Ming, and everyone!

  14. Ahh Ming. So much more. Not only do you need to have the passion and the dream, you need huge self discipline and the self belief you will succeed, unless of course you are one of those moderately talented talented individuals with an incredible ability to self promote. The latter may make a business success but they will never develop a following or be remembered, and there are many here, I suspect, that will remember Ming Thien, not only for his ability to take remarkably good photos, but for his wonderful gift of being able to inspire and impart his knowledge to lesser beings.
    happy xmas. If you make it as you appear to done, you certainly deserve it

    Tim

  15. Thanks Ming – always look forward to your posts. Tony

  16. Merry Christmas Ming! Wishing you and your family the best this holiday. Thanks for all that you’ve given us readers this year. Thanks for all the hard work and dedication.

  17. Arthur Wang says:

    Happy Holidays Ming!

    This was an especially great post among your many great posts, an inspiration for all of us in upcoming new year.

    Thanks and best wishes,

    Arthur

  18. Merry Christmas, Ming – but seriously, Kubrick having to earn money hustling from chess, as photography wouldn’t pay in the ’20’s, despite him landing a big contact ?? He would have been less than 2 years old in the ’20’s. Even Jesus (if you believe in him) waited until he was a man before picking up a Leica R6.2 or walking on water … Now, THAT’S precocious !!

    • I mean “contract” not contact, of course !

    • That’s what several sources report…

      • Sorry to keep going – I wish I didn’t feel compelled to, but you are stating that “several sources report” that a man who was only born in July of 1928 was acting as a chess hustler and selling photos in the 1920’s ?? You know I love your site man, but I have to call “bullshit” here. The man would have been 1 and a half years old. Sometimes we must use our intellect rather than just trusting those we admire. You MUST be mistaken. This is not possible unless it is truly a Christmas miracle …

        • No, because its a typo – I should have checked that. It should be 40s because he was in his 20s. This is what happens when you try to reply comments on the fly on your iPhone…my mistake.

      • LOL – OK – it all makes sense now. I just see so much crap on the internet, which then gets repeated – ad nauseum – as proven fact, and am obsessive compulsive (my fault) about “the truth” (I even capitalise “TRUTH” in my mind). Yes, in his 20’s makes perfect sense. Apologies for the unnecessary interlude !!

      • At least you know some people are reading what you say very carefully, so it isn’t all wasted time … ;)

  19. Wonderful trivia with beautiful thoughts. Worth to tweet. – Happy Xmas to you as well, Ming!

  20. Thanks for this Christmas gift.
    Joseph

  21. Chris gmail says:

    Inspirational

    Chris Suan 917-355-3071

  22. like!

  23. René Sterental says:

    Happy Holidays Ming! Awesome post.

    René

    Sent from my iPhone 5

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all! Enjoy the day with your family, eat too much, and grab an interesting shot or two if you can. No pressure. And here’s hoping that whatever new bit of gear you’ve been lusting after has now migrated from under your tree to your itchy paws. But in case you find yourself at a loose end after all the gift-giving, and in danger of slipping into a food coma after too much turkey, here are a few factoids and stories about photographers that you might not have known.  [...]

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