PHOTOGRAPHY LESSON WITH JOHN FREE

PHOTOGRAPHY LESSON WITH JOHN FREE

January 15, 2020 100 By Peter Engel


John Free is one of the great street photographers of our generation this summer I decided to reach out to John and request a lesson I asked if he would be willing to share this lesson on my show to which he agreed so I packed my camera and headed out to California to further my own education and learn something from a great living master this is my lesson with John Free What can you get photography today Ted? What can you give to yourself today? go through that Golden Door Morrison standing on the threshold waiting by the door you go through that door and you’re on a tremendous high level because you got it in your heart now what you’re trying to do no one knows what the product is oh it’s an 8×10 print no it’s not oh it’s in a gallery no it’s in a book no no no the product is a photograph powerful enough to emotionally affect or move the viewer in some way for having seen all day long you’re sweating working for that purpose that’s what it is let’s go for a walk look at all the things look at all the things you’ve got people come from way over there the tracks people going that way What’s coming? Look at every single person that you see within range it only takes a couple of seconds to scan this guy’s going to be coming up the stairs and you could run over here and shoot this way you can shoot down this way and what makes it real realistic maybe is to shoot right through this railing because no one in their right mind would do that so if you do it it adds authenticity he’s got the thing on his shoulder of course there’s people in the way now but if I could just get him oh now we’ve got two of a kind I think I’ll go up to a vertical no I’ll try it horizontal I got two of a kind I get the horizontal and I’m ready to say something if they get mad at me and now I’m out of film but you got to keep him alone I wasted about two shots I got all sand and just then boom all sand now I’m gonna get all sand there I did it again and I waited for the girl’s arms to go out that’s how quick it is what’s the story why would you want a kid with the drink all alone on a beach would be better if it was taken from up there but what does it say what does it mean it’ll confuse everybody they’ll look at it and its a mystery well why what am I supposed to think the kid with the drink and the big expanse of sand what is that I’m confused you don’t want to do that I mean I don’t want to do that I don’t want to be misunderstood so you try hard to imagine what the viewers gonna see when they look at this particular shot and that guides me but are they thinking of that when they take the picture I think it’s important and what are you doing the picture for oh yeah you got a good point there we’re going to do it in conjunction with the article I’m writing okay well now it that you thought about that that might change the next picture you take and I’m not saying what to do but at least think about what your intent is and what the purpose of the photograph is what do you want to do with it and that might help you narrow down to where you want to go with that [Music] I took my first outdoor picture on Christmas Day 1969 1969 my wife and I are backpacking through Europe colder than hell walking down this hitchhiking and no one’s coming around and the snow is coming down so beautiful in this forest the tallest mountains it was gorgeous you could hear each of these huge flakes hit leaves there was nothing around I look up on the hill and there’s a Walt Disney looking ruins of a castle I say hey maybe we better get a better camera than this Instamatic we went into Frankfort that night and bought a used Topcon 100 35mm 53mm lens and it changed my life I stayed in Ireland for three months and made some of the greatest photographs of my life I don’t know where the hell it came from what is the idea behind it what are you doing with the picture what are you doing it for are you taking simple stupid shots that any child would make don’t you realize the power that you’ve got in your hand make it difficult easy ain’t worth nothing in my game that’s what I’m going to explain to you is based on the work of Bresson, Frank and Smith my big three they blew me out of the water I agree with just about everything they said I try to combine all those things that I want that they gave and that they wrote about and they showed us I put that in the computer then I have to train my brain the brain doesn’t want you to be a photographer the brain wants you to be a schmuck walking down the street it doesn’t know anything about photography he doesn’t want to get close to people he’s been saturated with false beliefs his whole life don’t point don’t touch don’t get close don’t steal those photographs you fool he’s got no right you got all this suffering be a detective Robert Frank said be a detective it’s the greatest thing in the world since he hugged me I saw him in a gallery I went to look at his work to see how good his prints were and there he was no one knew him he was an old man I ran out and hid in the bushes felt like a fool he comes out with his wife and I go up sorry Robert I got to take your picture bam I said Robert thank you for being there I said thank you for being there I teach photography at UCLA and you’re in my pocket in every class he came over and gave me a hug never said a word yeah 1996 right here in LA he’s the man forget about the style Bresson’s style was excellence excellence in craft excellence in execution excellence in showing the shot excellence in thinking about the shot that he wanted to give it to you that’s a style I want but I don’t want anybody to look at my photographs and say oh that’s a John Free because I can tell how he tilted it no no no I don’t want that the photographer is not supposed to be visible look at Robert Frank the Americans he’s talking to the woman in the car he’s about that far away from her but it doesn’t look like there was a photographer present the woman doesn’t even seem to notice him that’s what it is to me the subject is important not me I want to present it to you that’s all that’s all it is you start at five years old I’ve taught 5 year olds photography completely changed everything I brought them books I went to Kinko’s and got blank books and brought them I say okay here’s what you’re going to do here’s these disposable cameras do a day in your life I want to see every aspect of your life and they’d go home and they’d shoot mother washing dishes and now mother is not a stick figure anymore that they drew on a piece of paper and with the curly hair mother is a wonderful photograph smiling down at her son and I got pictures of me and my son teaching this 18 years ago and the kids pasted them in the book and that’s when they paste the pictures in the book they have to write about the picture now that causes two things wonderful educational possibilities here not only do they approach the program visually but they approach it writing about it describing their day they have to but they have the picture mom was washing dishes and she looked down at me and it was fun boom now you’ve done two wonderful things for that child you’ve connected writing to taking pictures and loving his mother and putting it together and presenting it to someone else in a book all at the age of five years old a magical life and this camera strap pulls me to wonderful places and it will pull you if you have the gladness in your heart and that smile and do it with that right intent sit on that rock so what did John say and what’s the best area of photography I can go in take it from there