Frank W Ockenfels 3: David Bowie, Light, & Portrait Photography | Magic Hour

January 14, 2020 0 By Peter Engel

– I shot Tribe Called Quest. ♪ A little somethin’
somethin’ somethin’ like ♪ – And the roll of film disappeared. And you know, I was a kid. You just don’t have answers to that stuff. – Yeah, they never used me again. (laughs) I first met David Bowie doing Tin Machine. The band did four shoots that day, and I was the fourth. I got the band over and I said, can you guys all take your shirts off? And he was like, what? And I was like, can you
all take your shirts off? And I looked at my assistant and I go, turn the lights off. (shutter clicking) Strobe goes off the back,
freezes their shapes and then I take a flashlight and I start painting them. Peel the Polaroid and
look at David and say, this is what the picture is. He goes, this is the most unusual thing that we’ve done all day. (mellow piano music) As a child, I was obsessed by light. I would guess I was probably 11 years old. I would lie and watch
it move across fields, and I would sit in my room and watch it as trees would move across the wall. And then over the years, it went from taking pictures of cars
to more and more and more kind of seeing what would happen when you shifted the light on things. It makes a lovely sound. (shutter clicking) (chuckling) The first time that image comes up, you’re just blown away that you
created something like that. (melodic piano continues with drum beat) (dog barking in distance) You’re all standing in
a row looking at me. – [Crew Member] You wanna
take a picture of us? – (laughing) – I love the moment of
looking at someone’s face. And it took me a while to realize that. This is the first picture I did that I felt like I got it, and I was like, I wanna be
a portrait photographer. You really were looking
into who that person was and seeing him. And that made sense to me. That was when I was like, okay, this is what I do. This is the picture I take. And then over the years, I’ve shot a ton of these portraits
with the same camera. Crank it up, curtain drops. For years and years, I was kind of known for this camera. – This is a great camera. Wow, no way! – I show up with a bag of cameras and go, what can I find to do? You know, I don’t wanna know sometimes what I’m gonna take a picture of. I kinda wanna find it once I get there. But I’m open to whatever happens in the moment that I can create something out of what’s given. If you don’t listen to people, you don’t have to agree with people when they’re telling you things on how they want to be
photographed or that, but if you don’t listen to them, you know, it doesn’t help. Especially with somebody
who is so creative and who’s so amazing as David. You have to listen to him. Once you do that, then if you say, what about this, what about this, he wants to hear what you have to say. But he also wants you to respect that he has an opinion. And that’s true with a lot of people. If the light doesn’t work, the openness suddenly changes. Figure out what it is in the moment that you can do, you know? So this is the light painting
that I’d done of them. – [Crew Member] That’s
the very first right? – That’s the first picture I shot of them. And then a few months later, it would all start with a phone call. He had to do a shoot for Rolling Stone, he was in the recording
studio and he requested me. And that kind of started the request line. (“Summer – Presto” from
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons) He’d call up and he’d say, I’m in the recording studio
with Angelo Badalamenti. Can you come and take pictures? The BBC’s doing an article on me, can take a picture of me
in Washington Square Park? They need pictures taken of this or we need pictures of this, or I need press pictures for this. Another time I’d done these blurry, kind of distorted images of my wife, and I showed them and he was like, I want you to do that with me. This is my favorite. It was four shots of these
distorted imagery that we did. This is the picture that ended up on the cover of Earthling. He’d send me notes back,
these little Post-It notes on the contact sheets. We like every one. (laughs) – [Female Announcer] The
reports that David Bowie has died at his home in New York. – [Male Announcer] He was 69 years of age, and he died peacefully today, surrounded by his family. – That’s the last shoot I did with him. David… he was tremendously giving as an artist to photograph, because he would always try, at least try what you were talking about, which is always kinda fun. David proceeded to basically sit there and kind of almost make
out with the mannequin and of course, The New York Times had no idea what was going on. (laughs) That was a different time
in life, I guess right? – [Frank] Just the journal
I made from that shoot. Flush my brain, I’ll do them and I can get whatever’s in my head out. I used to always say to people when they wanted to look at my journals, I used to always say to them, well, here, here’s the journal, but if you don’t like something or something offends you, or you don’t get it or whatever,
it’s like, I don’t care. These journals only need to
make sense to me, you know? By looking at these, you
can see how I’m thinking. And I think with my photography, you can see over the years where I started and how
I constantly changed to basically create the
photographer I am today. David, toward the end
of us working together, I shot a lot of pictures. And he said, I think we’ve done enough for a book, haven’t we
done enough for a book? (laughs) I went and had a meeting with him about doing the book because he wanted me to put the book together. I flew to New York and we sat in an office and we talked about what
it is to make the book, and that kind of thing. And then he disappeared for a while. Yeah. That my ending moment? Is that the awkward pause? I can, yeah. I don’t want to. It’s better for me to wait, because there’s a very
specific way I wanna do it. You know, why make a book that goes out and you make thousands of them people have on their shelves and it’s a piece of shit? I think a lot of photographers make books too early in their careers a lot of times, because they have no arc. There’s no sense of where you
began and where you ended. I’m never satisfied. I mean, I go through stages where I’ll get to a point with the light, and I’ll say, okay what’s different? (violin music) I’ll always try something new. I’ll find new ways, new lights, different ways to try to approach it. So this is kind of a light paint, so you stand still, it freezes you and then I paint the blue into you. And then you’ll move your head slightly, yeah, and that kind of thing, right. This is a shoot I did
with Bruce Springsteen. And this is in the same room. On one side of the room the light was all coming
in, flaring and soft. And then I love the other side, how graphic the other
side of the room was. The hairstylist reached in to flip her hair out of her eye, and I was just like, stop. And then I shot the picture. And this is his shadow. And the shadow creates so much more to it. This was the one time
David and I shot outside. He was really, really sick that day. I kinda love that he kind of just became part of this tree. You have to look at the face and have an idea of how you
want to light that person, and how the light’s going to embrace the best parts of who they are, and tell the story that
you’re trying to tell. Over the years, it was
kind of always funny, when you were sitting on an airplane and someone would open a magazine and you’d see a picture of yours. It’s like, the first time you
see a billboard you’ve done, or any kind of advertisement you’ve done that’s outside of just
showing your friends or in your house, is a
very surreal experience. (violin music crescendos) At 57 years old, I feel like I’m at about a 75% understanding of
being a photographer. I mean, I have so much more to learn. I need to now take everything
and mature it a bit more. I need to keep kind of doing that to it. (drumroll)