Richard L Shenk Photography
questions & answers
open quote
I'm not sure being a photographer is really autobiographical. It's like an affliction. I see things and record them on film. But I don't know if it has anything to do with what I'm thinking or being. It's more like your extra body. When I start taking pictures I'm like a machine. I keep going.

There's something in it that interests me, but I don't know if it's related to the rest of my personality. close quote
When did you first get interested in photography?
I've been interested in photography my entire life. My father used to travel over seas and he bought me a 35 MM camera early on. I had that camera through college at Tulane in New Orleans. The first year I was there, they integrated the schools. So I have slides of one little black girl being driven up with the federal marshals and people carrying signs that read: "Integration won't make you white..."

I took pictures of everything you can imagine. I was on the field at football games, baseball games, various women that I would meet, faces, fairs. Then somebody suggested I take a course on black and white photography.

And after all these years, you have stayed faithful to the original printing process when digital is faster, less toxic and with Photoshop you can (supposedly) achieve the same results. Why?
I do not think you can achieve the same results...maybe close...but not the same. I do not dismiss digital photography and with air travel security it is appealing. But as long as I can keep producing what I consider to be some wonderful images in the traditional way I guess I will. I have offered to go out with friends and make the same image both on film and digitally to compare the results but they have not taken me up on the offer.

In most of your portraits, it seems as if your subjects are in the midst of their daily rituals � do you ever pose them?
Sometimes I do pose the people...mostly to get the right background or to include something in the image that I want...such as the girl in the dance costume overlooking the rice fields.

In all your travels, is there any one place that has had a special affect on you?
I have been to many moving places...many of which I could not record properly. Point Lobos is right up there at the top, since I always revel in its myriad splendor and varying scenes. Bagan is a wondrous site with its 4,000 temples in ruins. Ankor Wat of course. Kyoto. But I guess that I would have to say that Jerusalem is the most magical and I have made a few good images there.

Yes. The photograph created from two separate negatives.
This is outside of Yad Vashem, the memorial to the 6 million. It speaks for itself. The other negative is from a mural inside the memorial museum that was taken at a concentration camp. I didn't take these two pictures with the idea of putting them together. That happened in the dark room.

They say the camera never lies. What do you think?
If you took Abraham Zapruder's film of the Kennedy assassination and you stopped frame by frame, I'm sure there were some people in the picture who were smiling. That doesn't necessarily mean they were happy Kennedy was killed. They just happened to be smiling � for that tenth of a second or that 60th of a second. The camera can lie. And maybe the photographers lie too.

How has your vision changed over the years?
In the beginning I was more interested in abstractions � barn-siding, cracking paint and that sort of thing � I did that for about 15 years. I felt that the other stuff was so overdone. Why take a portrait if you can't be better than Arnold Newman? I got tired of abstractions, so in the last several years I've traveled to several Asian countries. I really like the Asian rural faces. I'm still a sucker for a good abstraction. But I don't know that my vision has changed much.

(Looking at an astonishing picture of trees and mist he took last year in China, I observed how the tonalities and hues appeared hand-painted.)
What kind of paper is this?
Portriga is a paper made by Agfa that has been discontinued. It was a warm tone paper. But it takes a selenium tone in a peculiar way. It's not entirely predictable � from piece of paper to piece of paper it can change. But the image it helped create was incredible. I couldn't possibly have created it. The greens. The blues. At the time, I have no idea how I knew to use it for this particular shot. I have no idea. Call it intuition from years of experience.

Richard L Shenk Photography