In 1973 I became a photographer.
I started the year with a Yashica Electro 35 G, a non-interchangeable lens range finder camera that had some automated features but still required me to learn focusing and the use of the aperture.
At first I was taking basically snapshots, a sort of visual notebook. But then I took my camera to our group session down at Stanford. When I got the prints back some were better than just snap shots, they showed a point of view and documented something that would otherwise vanish into mythology. Even today I have only to look at those photographs to know that I was part of a group that was far more diverse than the mythology paints us as being.
In early 1973, Jan and I went to Hollywood. She went because she was getting implants. I went to accompany her and to see Hollywood. Of course I took my camera. Being stuck with only one lens meant I couldn’t get what I saw or rather saw in my mind’s eye. I had serious Nikon envy for Jan’s Nikon F, a big bulky camera with the large boxy metered viewfinder.
On that trip I met some sisters and visited some very seedy drag bars on Cahuenga Avenue. I made some friends and started coming to LA to hang out with them and photograph them.
That spring I broke up with my boyfriend, Jerry.
Shortly after that I went camera shopping. First I bought a Nikkormat FTn and a 50mm f1.4 soon after I added an 85mm f1.8, a 24mm f2.8 and a 135mm f2.8. I also started carrying a small rangefinder everywhere.
I plunged into documenting an intense scene as a participant/observer. I was studying the work of Danny Lyon and other “street photographers.” I was taken by the work of the members of Magnum Agency and the war photographers who had covered the war in Vietnam. The unforgettable work of Nick Ut, Eddie Adams and Philip Griffiths. I was looking at the depression era work of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange.
I was too late for Liberation News Service, the protests against the War in Vietnam were mostly over but LGBT and Feminist demonstration were in full swing. So was shooting rock and roll.
I took photography seriously right from the start.
I shot available light, pushing my Tri-X to the max to squeeze even the highlights on to the film. Friendships meant I was able to shoot things I couldn’t possibly trust to a straight lab and so I took my film to Harvey Milk’s camera store in the Castro.
From Robert Capa I learned the importance of getting close to my subject. From Henri Cartier-Bresson I learned about the decisive moment. From Ansel Adams I learned about exposure and the print. From the FSA depression era photographers and the people who shot for Life Magazine I learned the importance of empathy.
From Annie Leibovitz I leaned that you didn’t have to be a man to be a brilliant photographer.
In 1974 I moved to LA. I had an apartment near Sunset and Fairfax, in the Villa Rosa.
I turned my cameras to the streets of Hollywood, the Pride Day Parades, the gay and lesbian demonstrations. The feminist demonstrations.
Eventually I became a photographer for the Lesbian Tide.
Somewhere along the line I learned that women who are photographers not only have to be vastly better than male photographers, they have to be extremely fortunate in their timing in order to become the token woman photographer.
While the passion was there I never managed to turn my art into a profession.
The passion for the arts is still there the love of photography the getting people to see what I see is as strong as ever.
Lately I’ve been reading about some of the members of the Magnum Agency.
Recently there were a couple of articles in the Nation. (I posted teasers for these articles below this piece.)
Thursday evening I saw a documentary titled, Which Way is the Front Line From Here?, about Tim Hetherington, a war photographer who was killed in Libya (2011).
The documentary is on HBO and is available on demand.
On Saturday when Tina and I went to the Earth Day Event I carried one of my film cameras and took pictures in black and white.