An accomplished professional photographer for more than four decades, Arthur Meyerson is also a much sought after lecturer and educator at leading photographic workshops. Author of The Color of Light based on his personal photographs, he continues to lead inspirational photographic tours and give back to the field he loves by mentoring up-and-coming photographers. Here he discusses his experience and images from a photo tour that he recently led in Turkey.
Q: Can you provide some background information on the portfolio you submitted?
A: These photographs were recently taken during a photo tour I was leading in Turkey.
Q: What camera equipment did you use to shoot this portfolio?
A: All of these photos were taken with my Leica M and a 35 mm f/2 Summicron lens. With them I had the ability to work close to my subjects while not being “threatening” and therefore easily ignored.
Q: What do you think you accomplished in creating this portfolio?
A: I am continuing to try things with a rangefinder camera that a DSLR doesn’t allow me. There is more freedom to work within the frame and yet see the overall image. I am also continuing to try and work close to my subjects and achieve more intimacy without being noticed. And finally, from a color stand point, I’m studying the way the color black becomes so important to the color composition simply in the way other colors play off of it.
Q: Do you feel it’s crucial to get physically close to your subjects to create authentic and compelling images of the type you shoot, and if so why? Also are there any other characters and features of this camera outfit that you find especially conducive to your kind of work?
A: I think the thing to remember is that we are basically talking about tools, namely the right tool for the right job. Using longer lenses and DSLRs are necessary for some types of shots and I use that system accordingly. But there are also situations that call for the ability to work close. That is when I like the M. There is a certain intimacy that comes when you are able to work closer to your subject. And working with a wider optic isn’t easier, because you are still responsible for everything within the frame. Therefore, you have a lot more real estate to be looking at. But, using the rangefinder is quite different than working with the DSLR, and doing so has helped me to create a different look in my photographs, and I like that.
Q: You shot this portfolio while leading a photo tour in Turkey. It conveys the visceral impression of actually being there as an astute observer and experiencing the color, texture, and dynamics of the city as you walk through it. Do you agree, was this your intention, and did you shoot these images in any particular city? Also, what suggestions did you make to the participants that would tend to take their photography to the next level?
A: I think that all photographers are observers. This is what we do. We see, then we select what resonates with us, and attempt to capture those moments the best way possible. This was certainly the case in Istanbul where all of these photographs were taken.
At the beginning of any tour, I have a meeting with the group and explain that a photo tour is not the same as a workshop, but rather, an opportunity to put into play the lessons learned in a workshop. What we try to do in a photo tour is provide an experience based not only on photo ops, but also a chance to learn about the culture, the history, the arts, the architecture, etc. Because all of these add to the photographer’s understanding and appreciation of a place and its people – it helps to create photographs that capture a real sense of place.
While we don’t have a classroom or assignments, we do allow time for reviews and critiques to help people see what’s working and what needs work in their photos. I usually give them the following things to consider when they are out there shooting:
a. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to say?”
b. Listen to your intuition.
c. Look for unusual perspectives.
d. Avoid preconceptions and photo clichés.
e. Minimize the amount of equipment you carry. The less you carry, the more you’ll see and shoot.
Q: Did you have any personal reason for choosing this destination for your tour, and since you’ve been there before, was there anything else you were trying to say or convey that was not captured in your previous visits?
A: My previous visits to Turkey were all on commercial assignments. The exotica of the place was what kept me wanting to come back and having the opportunity to take a group of photographers along was the perfect reason.
Q: Can you tell us anything about your new book slated for publication next year? Which locations, time frames, and types of photography do you plan to include?
A: At this point, it’s still a bit of a work in progress. I had shoulder surgery back in November and I was literally unable to do anything photographic for several months so I had a lot of time to sit back and reflect. And I began to realize that there are parallels between my personal life and professional life. My photographic life has pretty much been based on travel both near and far as well as the ups and downs of all my journeys. Some of those places and stories I finally want to highlight and share. So while the work covers a time frame from 1971 to now, none of the photographs will be repeats from my previous book, The Color of Light. As for which locations I end up presenting, we’ll have to wait and see.
Q: This is a splendid picture of what looks like a street market at night. It’s full of riotous color and human interactions, and its down the street perspective suggests an amazing sense of depth. Where did you take this picture, what were you thinking when you composed it, and will you please provide the tech data including exposure and ISO setting?
A: The photo isn’t a night scene or a street scene. In fact, it’s the interior of the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. Not as big as the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar has its own style and character which is what I was hoping to capture here along with a bit of motion to illustrate the hustle and bustle of the place. Tech data: ISO 1600; f/16; 1/8 second.
Q: The Muslim faith is certainly an important element in Turkish culture and this image eloquently conveys its devotional aspect and the fact that it is observed by a wide variety of social end economic classes of people, as visible in this image. The fact that they’re facing Mecca and praying in an urban street environment also suggests that Islam is imbedded in the daily life of many Turks, and isn’t only reserved for the mosque. Do you concur with these observations and were you thinking about these social elements when you took the shot or were you primarily focused on the physical and compositional aspects of this compelling scene?
A: The photo was taken on the second day of Ramadan. The mosque was full and the overflow crowd spilled onto the sidewalk and nearby street. In all honesty, I was totally caught up in the moment and the body language. What’s interesting, and one of the things a still photograph can’t capture, are the sounds of the chanting that was going on during the moment and certainly added to the overall ambiance.
Q: This one is certainly energetic and vibrant with undulating swaths of magenta and blue cloth dominating the foreground, and a narrow band of people in street clothes moving against graffiti covered walls (they look like closed corrugated metal storefront doors) in the background. What’s actually going on here and why did you decide to compose the picture in this radically asymmetrical way?
A: This photograph took place during a Gay Pride march that I stumbled upon. I got totally caught up in the moment of light and color. And then, as the photo gods sometimes do smile upon us, the huge Gay Pride flag came waving down the street and I wanted to put myself in a place where I could take advantage of its size and grace. When I got to this side of the street I also saw its relationship to the people and the background and that beautiful light playing off the flag along with that potpourri of gestures of the flag and the crowd.
Q: Here we have a striking abstract composition that could be called a study in red and blue. To me it feels overtly happy with an underlying tinge of sadness, and jauntily assertive, but in a shabbily funky way. What do you think this captures about Turkey in general and the lifestyle of the location where it was taken?
A: This was taken in a tiny tea garden outside of a nearby mosque. I had come across the shop as the man had just finished washing down the pavement around it and I was at first taken by the colorful reflections. As I began to move around, I noticed the worn stool and table and began to think it would be nice to try and incorporate them into the photo. For me, it becomes an abstraction of a scene Turks can readily identify with.
Q: Based on the “epaulets” on this subject’s shirt and the presence of a small Turkish flag, my first impression was that he might be a minor government official of some kind, but then there’s a stand for placing one’s foot on the counter in front of him and what may be cans of shoe polish and an array of gold-capped bottles on the right, indicating he’s just an elegant looking shoeshine guy. Who is this serene looking gentleman and why did you decide to take his picture and compose it in this way?
A: He is, in fact, a shoeshine man. I was drawn to him not only by his looks, but also for the pride that was presented, both by him and by his booth, which is elaborate by U.S. standards. I like doing portraits of people, particularly when I can incorporate some of the environment that helps define them.
Q: This is a classic example of capturing the decisive moment and it’s a simple, yet dynamic image of a barefoot man wearing long pants who’s just on the verge of jumping into the water. Did you coordinate with this guy so you could capture this image at the precise instant before he hit the water or is it an example of precision timing on your part? By the way, what shutter speed, aperture, and ISO did you use and what does this image mean to you personally?
A: I was walking across a bridge and saw these young men taking advantage of the opportunity for a swim in the Bosphorous on a warm afternoon. Since I do not speak Turkish, communication would have been impossible, but as I got down to the water’s edge, this young man dove in. I had one chance to make the photo and because I was using the rangefinder I was able to capture this moment where he was suspended between the dive and entering the water. Tech info: ISO: 1600; f/16; 1/750 second
Q: Based on what participants have told you, what are some of the things they have learned on these photo tours that help to enrich their experience as photographers?
A: Most of the participants come away with not only a new body of work, but also a greater understanding and appreciation for these countries, their people and the culture. It’s about creating an unforgettable experience. Photographically, it’s learning that photography is a process. It takes time and constantly going out, trying new things and making new images. And while experimenting and trying new things can sometimes lead to failure, it can also lead to discovery and success. When I encounter students who want nothing more than to have their own style, I explain that the problem with the word style is the word itself. Just like in the world of fashion, things go in and out of style. In photography, it’s more important to have a vision.
Thank you for your time, Arthur!
– Leica Internet Team
Check out Arthur’s last Leica interview here. To see more of his work, visit his website or connect with him on Facebook. Join one his workshops here: upcoming events include: October 18-23, 2015; The Color of Mexico workshop in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, March 27- April 1, 2016; The Color of Light workshop in Santa Fe, NM, May 5-May 16; Istanbul Photo Tour, May 20- May 31, 2016; Portugal Photo Tour, and June 13-17, 2016; The Color of Light workshop on Whidbey Island, WA.