My introduction to photography started when I was around 13. I was not addicted until I went to Nam in 1970. There was a camera store that I went to all the time for advice and gear etc. The name was, Kosmin's Camera Exchange. Herman Kosmin encouraged me for years and when I came to him for a camera to take to Nam, we had an interesting exchange.
He handed me a Black Lac M4 with a 50 and 35 Cron set. I told him that I could not pay for it as it was too much for my wallet. He told me to take it and if I made it back I could return it then, if not, he said he lost a friend, not a camera.
When I returned, he told me that the debt was paid and I should just make photos with it....(tears in eyes)
This really cemented my INTEREST in photography. The simple fact that someone believed in what I was doing and could do.
Incredible. You recently shared with us your work documenting the send off for Lt. Eynon. Has the military been a part of your photographic life ever since your time in Vietnam, and if so, would you tell us about this?
Yes I suppose it has been. Let me first establish that I am a photographer 1st and foremost. Anything I did or do in life, photography has always been there.
I photographed the protest of the Nam War from both sides. I worked with the group of Vets trying to get and then maintain the Viet Nam Memorial here in Philly. That led to some awareness of the POW/MIA issue which took hold of my life and always will.
I worked with a few Troop Support groups. The Patriot Guard Riders and the spin off group I helped establish, The Warriors' Watch.
The photography for me with these groups is about a few things. It's about RESPECT for the soldiers going, their families, the soldiers coming home, the soldiers that died.
It's about the 1st responders and their work.
So I document that work in a clean respectful mode. I am not trying to create art, I am trying to make a document that people will see and maybe wake up and feel respect for what they are viewing.
I have not done enough welcome homes and I have done far to many funerals....
My approach to the street is to try to just observe. That's what I do, I observe.
First off, I have to feel connected. By connected I mean that I am in the here and now with what I am doing. If I feel distracted, then I try to find what is the distraction and try to do that.
There's a rhythm on the street. The rhythm of life. I try to be aware of where and what I am in the scene that interest me. Am I a participant, making dynamic changes in what I am responding to, or am I just kind of like a voyeur, just observing.
You asked about themes and I suppose I have groups or better, bodies of work.
Within these bodies of work, there are trigger mechanisms that I respond to.
These triggers are what I pay attention to both in a good and a bad way. It's good to have these, we all do but only working with them creates stagnation, after a while.
Seeing new triggers excites me. It leads to new ideas.
When I'm out there on the street, I'm home. I'm at one with the world. I am alive.
I have always felt this way about photography. I have always had a camera at my side.
I always will....
I have a series called, "Gambe' Game". It's started as an interest of legs against the street. Then, after many images I noticed that some shadows had worked their way in. Then all the sudden, some other shapes started to appear. I studied the work carefully and found the Gambe', leg, had other triggers. Shadows and found objects became triggers.
I found myself in cemeteries, walking, missing souls that left this world....just wondering around and then realized that what I was really doing was responding to, "Icons". Crosses, Flags, you name it...once that happened, well all hell broke loose.
Then after some time I noticed that many images had some sort of reflection in it. Reflection, that's a HUGE word, isn't it?
All the while, working on the series, everything was applied to the street.
I never let go of my ongoing personal family album. So all these things and more come together for me when I'm on the street. All the triggers, all the many people I met, all the photographers, all the life, has filtered it's way in, or should I say, I have filtered into life.
Thanks, Don. On your site, you refer to photography as your "true life companion". In the years since you first became addicted to photography, have you ever gone through an extended period without it? If so, what brought you back, and if not, how do you stay interested and keep it fresh?
True Life Companion, that is the truth.
There has never been an extended period of life without photography. I have managed to incorporate image making in every facet of my life. Actually, I have been accused of having my life be a part of my photography and I guess to some extent that is a truer statement.
I wish I could answer what stimulates me and keeps me interested. I sleep images. I live images. So the problem for me was always, what not to photograph. What I mean is, I could make series on anything but you have to choose your battles. So I just try to focus on what I'm seeing at the moment and try to fit it in some wheres.
I remember back in the early 70's starting a body of work on American Artist. When I made the portraits, I never really paid attention to the fact that death was on my shoulder. I had completely forgotten about that.
So now all these years later I look at the Bolotowsky or the Bertoia and I kinda get tears in my heart. They have passed on but left with me a Portrait and a life lesson that will live beyond my life.
That's amazing, Don. We could talk about that body of work alone for a long interview, I'm sure, but I'll leave that for the members' questions.
I think it's safe to say that for almost everyone, part of the enjoyment of photography comes from sharing our photographs with others. The selected list of museums and galleries featuring your work is long and impressive. Could you share with us your recollection of your first showing, how it came to be and what it was like?
Well, there were a few that really didn't mean anything to me other than showing work. What I mean is, I wasn't in the frame of mind to get something from showing work. I guess the first good show was at a gallery I started in 1975. I formed a group here in Philadelphia named the f11 Group. We used f11 because of the f64 group with Adams and Weston. Our 35mm cameras got that kind of DOF at f11, so the name fit.
We made a co-op gallery and I had my 1st really good show there. It was up for 5 weeks and I got good press from the media and other shooters.
That's what meant something to me, getting response from other shooters.
Ding McNulty, curator of Prints and Pictures for the Phila Art Museum curated my show.
He was a great help to me for many years.
It was exciting to put together but then I felt that it was anti climatic. I mean I quickly realized that I liked putting work together and I liked hanging shows, just not mine. I'd rather be on the street doing what I was meant to do.
Yes, I think I can. There is a fellow at GETDPI named Wayne Pease. He hangs in the Small Sensor Forum. I recommend him because he is constantly pushing the envelope.
He has a nice gentle but focused vision. Wayne post processes his images in a very unique way often using Nik Software.
He is a very talented image maker.
Don, I find it very cool that the photographer you've recommended here is someone who's work you saw in a forum, as opposed to a book, journal, or showing. It reinforces what we are doing here at mu-43. For those reading this interview, here are Wayne's GetDPI posts for quick reference.
In this interview as well as in the forums, you've referenced your experiences photographing photographers and other artists. Of those you encountered over the years, please tell us about an artist you particularly enjoyed meeting.
I could write a book on this. To choose one is difficult but the man who looked back at me the most was Edmund Bacon.
I met Ed when I was doing my series on American artist. He was introduced to me from the AIA, American Institute of Architecture.
He was a designer of cities. His work is seen worldwide. His book, Design of Cities, ISBN 0-14-004236-9 is a classic and taught me many things about the relationship of The City and it's inhabitants.
Ed had no idea about photography but loved the work we did together. He was often amazed that an image could provoke the feelings he put in words.
He taught me to see my place in the world. How each one of us is a part of each other.
We did a book together that is unpublished due to his death. The title is, "The Murder Of The Little Stream."
As they were designing the North East section of Philadelphia, the city felt it best to fill in the streams and waterways thru the area. Ed explained that life flowed thru the streams. He felt that making the housing developments work in conjunction with the streams and land, that it would be a community surrounded by life and the residents would have a park surrounding them.
He won the battle and we Philadelphian's are better for his fight.
So we started the book a few years befor his death. I still have the first mock up.
He wrote prose and poetry and I made images to go along with his work.
Then again, I made images and he wrote about them.
In his words, we inspired each other.
Many have not heard about him but surely his son Kevin, you have heard of.
There are others but Ed is a part of my essence and always will be.
I felt like I was born when we met and a part of me died when he did.
He was a great artist but more importantly, he was a wonderful human being.