Claire Yaffa: Thoughts of Photographers for Philosophers, Poets and Dreamers, Chapter 21

Claire Yaffa took her first photograph 45 years ago when her son was 18 months old and it was the beginning of her journey, first as a mother, then as a photographer. She has worked extensively for The New York Times and Associated Press. Her photographs have appeared in countless influential publications and have been exhibited at major venues in the US and around the world.

How does a photographer photograph a “master photographer?”

When asking permission to take a photograph of an artist or a person on the street, it is a difficult request. The response is uncertain. Often it is with an abrupt NO or a wave of the hand. The photographer is the pursuer, hiding behind the camera to achieve his goal.

I do not remember who the first photographer I photographed was. I think it must have been Cornell Capa. When showing him some of my photographs, he said “You take pretty pictures Yaffa, what do you want to say. ” His words encouraged me to be a concerned photographer photographing my concerns of a disadvantaged society. However, as I attempted to find my way, I thought if I could meet and photograph a photographer whose photographs I admired, I would be able to learn how they accomplished their art. I wanted to understand why and how they photograph. Where they offered advice, as Cornell Capa did for me? Do they reveal who they are by the subject they choose to photograph? What makes us respond to their photographs?

My Leica introduced me to Leica photographers and also other photographers I had admired. Many have become treasured friends. I have been fortunate to be a photographer and to have the opportunity, desire and courage to meet and photograph the icons and giants in the world of photography

My most recent artists of my Master Series, said yes!

Donna Ferrato

An advocate of photographing domestic violence, she is seldom without her Leica,which she uses to document her photography. She is a renowned photojournalist. Her book, “Living With The Enemy” had four printings. She was the President and founder of Domestic Abuse Awareness, Inc. and is now a member of Facing Change Documenting America (FCDA). She has received many honors, including the W. Eugene Smith Grant, and in 2008, the City of New York officially declared October 30 “Donna Ferrato Appreciation Day” for her work as a women’s advocate. As a resident near the World Trade Center, Donna Ferrato has photographed her neighborhood and the people she comes in contact with every day. She has lived there for almost twenty years and it is very different than when she first lived there. Her exhibition “Donna Ferrato / TriBeCa: The Collection” opens at the Leica Gallery SoHo on November 14, 2013. A publication of her new book “TRIBECA” is an exploration of ten years living in TriBeCa after 9/11.

 

Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark has said, “making a great picture is hard.” She has achieved great success as an artist and teacher. She has had 17 collections of her photography published and has lectured and exhibited her photography world wide. She has also been a unit photographer on movie sets. Her newest book, published by Getty, features portraits of youngsters at their proms. When she was teaching at the International Center of Photography, founded by Cornell Capa, and asked what she teaches her students, she said, “I’m teaching them to look and to translate what they see on a piece of film … to think about what they want to say with their camera, “Be true to yourself.”

 

Eugene Richards

When one opens a site for Eugene Richards, be prepared to hold your breath as you witness the heart and eye of an extraordinary person and photographer. Eugene Richards was a civil rights activist and VISTA volunteer. He graduated from Northeastern University, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his graduate studies were supervised by the great photographer, Minor White.

He is a photographer, writer and filmmaker. He has published over 15 books. “Exploding into Life” chronicled his wife’s struggle with breast cancer. “Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue” is an extensive report on the effects of hard core drug usage.
His newest project has been a campaign which he launched a month ago with Kickstarter to self-publish “Red Ball of a Sun Slipping Down.” It speaks of life in an extraordinary, poignant place in the Arkansas Delta. He worked in the delta as a social worker and reporter and has returned to combine the past with the present.

Bruce Gilden

“I’m known for taking pictures very close, and the older I get, the closer I get.”

Gilden was studying sociology at Penn State, when he became interested in photography, after he saw Antonioni’s film “Blowup.” In 1968, he then took night classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York. His fascination with normal people on the street began his photographic career. His first major project was photographing the human shapes of individuals at Coney Island. He photographed in New Orleans during Mardi Gras Festival and in 1984, he traveled to Haiti, publishing his book “Haiti” showing his fascination with voodoo places, rites and beliefs there.

When he became a member of Magnum in 1998, he returned to the streets of New York City, where he had been working since 1981. He has traveled and exhibited widely around the world and is the recipient of numerous awards, his most recent, in 2013, a Guggenheim Fellow.

- Claire Yaffa

You can also see more of Claire’s work on her website, www.claireyaffa.com.