2 Guys Photo is pleased to introduce its readers to some of the photographers who most inspire us. The artists we’ll feature here are not the ones who have published in National Geographic or whose images adorn the halls of the Guggenheim. Not yet anyways. And so… meet Philadelphia area photographer, Ray Sachs. I recently had an opportunity to interview Ray and to review some of his recent work.
2 Guys Photo: How did you first become interested in photography?
My Dad and my older brother were both into photography when I was a kid. So I guess I got it by osmosis starting when I was 10 or 11. I got very involved in B&W film and darkroom work in high-school and VERY involved in college (mid-70s now) taking a few artsy type photo courses and really working on it, spending very long nights in darkrooms only to emerge and wondered how it could still be daytime? I’d occasionally shoot a roll of color slides while traveling, but my heart was always with black and white prints. When I got married, had kids, started a career, etc, in the mid-80s, I stopped doing anything more than taking family snapshots with whatever point and shoot we had around the house at the time. I missed the whole transition to zoom lenses, auto focus, auto exposure, and digital without paying more than very peripheral attention. And then I woke up to a whole different world!
2 Guys Photo: What’s your gear?
I have a few cameras and lenses. I’m not at all gear fixated in terms of the holy grail of “image quality” that some folks seek to the exclusion of all else – I couldn’t pixel-peep my way out of a brown paper bag! BUT, I’m pretty into the gear that helps me get the shot in the first place and there are functional differences between different cameras for different types of shooting. To that end, I have two m43 cameras (a Panasonic GH2 and GF1) and a few lenses as my all around nice gear, I have a Nex 5 that I love for street shooting because of the flip down screen (lets me shoot from the waist like an old twin lens reflex), and an LX5 as my tiny little knock around camera. Truth be told, I could probably use the LX5 for everything and do just about as well, but I enjoy the flexibility the other gear gives me – shooting with long lenses and wide lenses and low light lenses does open some very real doors.
2 Guys Photo: Please describe your evolution as a photographer.
From the time I was a kid, I always did various types of photography pretty well, but nothing really well. I’d shoot anything from landscapes to abstract shots of almost anything I saw, to architecture, still life shots, street shots, even action shots (worked on the high school newspaper and I remember shooting football games with a fully manual Pentax SLR and a 50mm prime lens). Then, as noted, about 25-30 years of really not shooting anything other than family snaps with whatever basic camera we had at the time. I guess I never fully lost my eye for it, but I forgot EVERYTHING technical about photography And then I got seriously back into it about a year ago when my wife and I were anticipating going on a month long trip for a 25th anniversary celebration (which we did last July). I figured I really ought to have a decent camera for that and started doing the research, bought an Olympus EPL1, and it just took off from there. I quickly re-learned all of the basics of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, depth of field, hyperfocal shooting, etc. I discovered RAW shooting and quickly figured out how to process digitally and WOW, the possibilities became immediately apparent!
I immediately understood that soooo many decisions that had to be made before the shot was taken in the old days (choices of film, B&W or color, whether to use a red filter or a yellow filter or no filter, whether to shoot IR film, etc, etc), etc, could now be decided after the exposure had been made and used to really enhance the shot. And processing that would take hours in the old days can be done in minutes now, so you can try all sorts of things you might not have in the past. Also, without the cost of film and chemicals and other disposable supplies, I could shoot to my heart’s content; try every angle, bracket like crazy, etc. I felt (and still feel) like a kid in a candy store enjoying all the new technology has to offer. I’m not sure that people with no experience in the film era can fully appreciate the tools we have at our disposal today – on practically ANY desktop computer. And the opportunities for black and white are completely astounding, so I’ve rekindled my love of B&W and I’d say 90% of the photo’s I actually like enough to work on end up in B&W.
2 Guys Photo: What do you most like to photograph… and why?
As noted above, I shot and still shoot a bit of everything (except flowers and birds and stuff like that – just never had an interest and it seems like everyone else has that material covered!). I’ll shoot landscapes or architectural shots, abstract textures and patterns found in everyday objects, family, etc. I take a camera on bike rides and hikes and I tend to shoot whatever I see that looks interesting. Shooting while traveling is always fun because there’s just so much new to take in and there’s something about seeing a place with fresh eyes that really opens up the possibilities.
But lately I’ve developed a serious love of street photography, probably because it’s so difficult, because there are so many moving parts. I may not be that great at the other stuff, but it doesn’t feel all that challenging to shoot mostly static subjects when you really have time to compose, change settings, etc. Street photography is very different and challenges me like nothing else – it’s almost like an athletic event where you have to be both mentally and physically ready to react as events unfold around you. I feel like I’m just beginning to scratch the surface of street photography and I have no idea whether I can be any good at it or not. Even when I get one of my best shots, it just doesn’t begin to compare to the work of the really good street shooters – I see the stuff some other folks do and I’m just amazed that they can catch such perfect moments in such wonderfully sensitive compositions.
I tend to get a nice moment or an interesting composition every now and then, but getting them to happen at the same MOMENT – what a challenge! It almost never happens, but its so much fun hanging it out there and going for it. You have to have the right attitude to get out among people and do it, though, and some days it comes easier than others. It’s an intensely involving type of photography and, for now at least, I’m loving it.
2 Guys Photo: Which photographers most inspire you?
I love all of the obvious folks. The great street and documentary shooters like Cartier-Bresson, Gary Winogrand, Diane Arbus and many others. Ansel Adams of course – I had a great book of his work as a touchstone. Edward Weston’s incredible still life shots (how can a bell pepper look THAT sensuous?). And there are tons of great people shooting today – they’re all over various photo sites on the web. I’ve met a few street shooters online who are so good – they really give me something to aspire to. I just love looking at good photography. There’s a lot of it out there and I like most of it. Pretty much anyone who see’s the world differently than I do and is competent enough to get it down in a photograph is somebody who’s work I want to check out.
2 Guys Photo: What inspires you to shoot?
Some days I see it and feel it and ANYthing will inspire me to shoot. And some days I don’t see it or feel it and NOTHING will inspire me to shoot. I just try to keep the camera handy enough to be ready when the muse comes by for a visit!
2 Guys Photo: How do you overcome a “dry spell”?
I’ve only had one real slump since I started shooting heavily again – after shooting a few thousand shots on our trip last summer I just didn’t feel like shooting for a few weeks (probably because I was spending so much time processing them!). And then one day I just decided to go shoot and that was that. I think that, unless you’re shooting for a living, you can just wait them out and let the muse return on its own good time. Part of the reason I got out of photography when I had kids and a really busy career and stuff was a fairly conscious decision that I wanted to be a full time participant and much less of an observer than photography sort of forces you to be. Now I’m at a point in my life again where I’m happy to observe a lot of stuff. And so I mostly just let it come to me in its own good time…
2 Guys Photo: How and where do you display your work?
I print a few shots every now and then and they live on the walls at home. I did a Blurb book of my favorite shots from last year and gave copies to a few close friends and family for holiday presents. And I maintain a Flickr site where entropy has clearly prevailed, but I try to maintain a collection with a decent subset of my photos that I can point people to without too much embarrassment.
My Blurb book from last year can be seen here:
My most viewable Flickr photos can be found in three separate “sets” located here:
There’s a fair amount of overlap but there’s also a lot of new stuff on Flickr that’s not in the book.
2 Guys Photo: What are your future photographic plans?
I don’t have any specific plans other than to keep doing it as long as I’m enjoying it. I’d like to put a book together each year like I did last year as a “best of” that’s easy to browse through and that maybe my kids will get some pleasure from someday. That’s about as far as it goes…
2 Guys Photo: What advice do you have for someone who is either just starting out in photography and/or anyone wanting to improve their photographic skills?
Just to do it if you love it. If you don’t love it – life’s too short – find something else you’re passionate about and do THAT. Don’t get too hung up on gear or, if you do, treat that as one hobby and the actual photography as another – don’t confuse the two. If you love gadgets like I do, cameras can be really fun on their own terms. And the right gear can help make certain types of shooting a bit easier. But no gear will make you a better photographer! For that you have to learn to use what you have and the most important tool you have is a photographic eye, which can only be developed by going out and shooting a LOT! Lance Armstrong once famously said, “its not about the bike”. Well, its not about the camera either! And another great cycling champion Eddie Merckx was once asked how to become a great cyclist and all he said was “ride lots”. Well, to paraphrase Eddie, ‘shoot lots’!
2 Guys Photo: Is there anything else that readers should know about you to better understand your work?
Just an admission: I was never any good at drawing or sculpting or painting or singing or really any other visual art. But I was always comfortable taking photos. I read a quote from some artist recently to the effect that ‘photography is the easiest art form to get good at but the hardest to get great at’ and that rings true to me. Its relatively easy to get to a level of competence, even artistic competence, but there are depths you can spend your whole life trying to plumb. To transcend the obvious reality of a photograph. So, go get good at it and have fun and don’t worry about the rest. If you’re wildly talented and driven enough, maybe you’ll be one of the few great ones. Most of us won’t – yet we can get a lot of enjoyment out of just being reasonably good. That’s great news! I see great photographers and I know I’m not anywhere close to being one of them, but I can do well enough to entertain myself a great deal. And pull off an occasional really fine shot that will live on after I’m gone. And that’s pretty cool!
That is cool, Ray. Thanks for speaking with us and we’ll look forward to seeing more great images soon!
Posted by Rey