Photo of the Week 6 August 2013
The clean lines and balance of blues and reds in Frank Foster’s image “Door and Plant” captured our attention and that’s why we’ve selected it as our Photo of the Week this week. We had a chance to speak with Frank who is originally from Jackson, Mississippi and has been a full-time university photography professor since 1979 about his image and photography career.
Find out more about this image captured in Chinatown, Los Angeles, and learn about Frank’s experiences as a photographer and professor of photography as well as his perspective on the ever-changing photography industry.
What gear did you use to capture this shot?
Where was this image taken? Why were you inspired to capture this particular building?
The image was taken in Chinatown, Los Angeles. I was first attracted to the color of the subject and the alignment of visual elements such as the pole on the right and the door. The subject is made up primarily of vertical and horizontal elements that fit within the rectangle. I am a believer in the use of the rule of thirds, a very old system of visual organization. I consider myself a documentary photographer and this subject and environment typifies the older Los Angeles, Chinatown area and its architecture.
Were you trying to convey a specific message with this shot?
The message I try to convey is one of observation; acute, accurate observation of what may be the insignificant or banal.
Do you have any advice or favorite gear that you enjoy using for street and urban photography?
I use several cameras when shooting and in fact have recently started shooting film again. I am shooting with a RoBoT Star 50, which is a 24mm by 24mm film camera. I also shoot with a Leica M9 and a tri-elmar lens. For square images I use the Ricoh GXR, outfitted with a 28mm lens. I also sometimes shoot with an Olympus O-Product, just for fun. As I said before, I am going to back to film and large format photography. I just recently acquired a Toyo 4 by 5 and will shoot with that. My education in photography was based on film but I also shoot with my cell phone Samsung Galaxy 4S to piss off all my friends and students who shoot with film.
What kind of photography do you enjoy shooting most both for professional and personal photography projects?
I consider myself a street photographer so I have to be mobile when doing this for safety’s sake because I photograph sometimes in not so safe areas. The street is an interesting place that is ever changing. I have begun to photograph people so this is new and challenging for me. I have started a project of documenting San Francisco, a city that offers much to photograph and one which I love. I am working on several collaborative projects currently. I am documenting the Salton Sea and working with a historian, Dr. Eric Mayer in our examination of the misuse and demise of this area. Our plan is to publish an eBook on this subject. I am also working with an up and coming writer, Michael Dwayne Smith. The project involves the unification of images and text with the goal of publishing eBooks and creating exhibitions of this work.
Who are some of your favorite photographers that you draw inspiration from?
The photographers that inspire me are: Clarence John Laughlin, Robert Frank, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and my teachers, John Divola, Judy Fiskin and Murray Riss. Peter Reiss for his expertise in portraiture of the street and Brent Wood for his so valued technical advice are also some of my favorite photographers.
What type of photography classes do you teach?
Over the last 34 years I have taught a variety of courses from the graduate level to beginning photography. For the first thirteen years of my career, I taught at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Since 1992 I have taught at Victor Valley College in Victorville, California.
How has the photography industry changed since you began teaching in the late 70’s?
The photography industry has changed radically since I began teaching with the invention of digital imaging, social media and the popularity of the cell phone camera. Digital imaging has made the craft and mastery of photography seem easy. I want to be careful here and not piss off too many budding photographers but it seems now that in just a matter of weeks, days or even minutes you can become an incredible photographer whose work is seen by millions on the Internet. Technique seems to have supplanted concept with the use of multiple layers and filters. I liken it to the over dependence on CGI in some films today (I also teach a film course). I believe as some do, that creativity, choice of subject, control of the frame and communicating a concept will always shine in accomplished images. It is important for a photographer to shoot as often as possible because I consider this a form of learning and the images you share with others, an act of teaching. See each day as another chance to make images. You may create an image that could communicate to someone. Your image may move them, change their thinking or just inform us about our world. Dorothea Lange said it best in her quote about the vision a camera imparts, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see, without a camera.”
Frank currently lives in Victorville, CA and works as a photography professor for Victor Valley College. You can find more of his work on his portfolios: http://500px.com/FrankFoster and http://frankfoster.carbonmade.com.
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