The Work of David Maialetti By David Norbut
DN– Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about your background as a photographer
DM– I started out as a newspaper photographer, I got my first job out of college, which was an internship out of Bloomsburg, PA where I covered everything from fairs to high school sporting events. I grew up in Philly and I wanted to get back to Philadelphia and work at one of the newspapers there. Something came up in 1997 and I have been with the daily news ever since, I freelanced for them for a little while, and shortly after got hired on full-time. So roughly around 98′ to today I’ve worked for the Philadelphia Daily News & the Philadelphia Inquirer
DN– Can you touch on how Mobile Photography plays a role in your work?
DM– My approach toward photojournalism or newspaper photography, whatever you want to call it, was always to try and make a photo that wasn’t typical, that was a little unusual. I try to bring a fresh perspective to how I see each event. From the very beginning I always felt that it was my duty to not only just capture what was there but to catch something that the viewers may not have seen if they were there, to give them something more than just the basic kind of image. But there was never a real home for my mobile images, I don’t have a blog, I don’t have a photo column, so there were a lot of images that never saw the light of day. I may go out on any given day and make pictures between assignments along the way or just pictures that were too far removed from the event that I am covering, and the paper obviously wouldn’t use those photographs.
So last year is when I really started using Instagram, I found that this was a good home for those images. So what the paper or their website doesn’t use, I could post them there. My main priority is still to give the newspaper the best possible image for any event that I cover. I’m not being paid to Instagram, I am being paid to provide quality images to the newspaper. The other side of it is that I do see many other pictures off of an event or between events and I make these pictures whether the newspaper wants them or not. I found that there was a difference between what I do for the newspaper. when I shoot for the paper I’m using pro DSLR cameras with different lenses or different bodies, it’s maybe a little more complicated work if you want to call it, a little more challenging to capture things. I find with the iPhone, you are free, there is just a simple interface. While my approach is to try and give a fresh perspective on something, there is something liberating and freeing about taking a picture with your phone. You don’t change the shutter speed, you don’t change the f-stop. Something that I feel strongly about is coming up with a strong composition. For me, its finding a subject then composing it in an interesting way. The camera phone lets you do that in a very very simple kind of way. So, Instagram has allowed me to share images with people or subscribers things they wouldn’t normally see, It helps me stay creative.
DN– Would you consider it a sketchbook for ideas?
DM– My approach for the newspaper is to give them what they need or what I think they want to make a safe image, but not being afraid to take some risks. If I’m covering an event with a couple other photographers and everyone is standing off to the left because that’s the obvious place to stand, well maybe I’ll start there, but I’ll quickly want to find another perspective. I know that’s a simple explanation but I’ve always felt that no matter what I was doing with the camera I was always trying to find interesting, fresh photographs, trying to get that next level, and catch something no one else saw. I don’t know if mobile photography has changed how I approach things, but it definitely has allowed me to share images that may not have been seen working for the paper so there’s definitely the sharing, feedback, and commentary. It is a unique thing for us photographers.
Although, on Instagram you are not necessarily getting a critique. I think Instagram is too nice when it comes to that, but I think that’s OK because you are still getting your work out there… either way its a good experience to have
DN– This is just my opinion but don’t you think the “nice” comments are sometimes just feeding into mediocre work, people just posting for recognition? Do you think we need honest commentary or is it not that serious of platform?
DM– When I first started on Instagram I thought about it, why are these 25 other people praising this photograph, when the background is completely distracting, and there is a telephone pole growing out of this persons head. So I would make these comments and I noticed that maybe this wasn’t the right forum for this kind of critique. I don’t know if its rewarding people for taking mediocre photos, because I’ve found you can just follow the work you enjoy looking at… I don’t think you are going to reach everybody, I think some people are just looking to share their everyday photos and they are not necessarily looking for a photo coach or someone to evaluate there photos
DN- Attention to composition, can you touch on how you compose your photos.
DM– I think it varies, what I enjoy doing or how I enjoy seeing. I am always drawn to a surface or a background, an interesting wall. I will see this background, its clean, there is nothing really pulling the viewers eye away from it, I’m using it like a canvas, and waiting for something to come into the frame. I think composition is an important part, the background is the building block. I will already have the camera framed on something and I’m just waiting for a little help from the photo gods to bring someone into the frame. Ya know, I’ve waited sometimes just an instant, someone walks into the frame, boom i can move on. sometimes its 15 minutes.
DN– What about cropping to help composition?
DM– I don’t do a lot of cropping, sometimes if I’m going to crop its because the lens on the camera is limiting, like I can’t physically get close enough to something, ya know? I’m trying to be the zoom lens myself, maybe there is something preventing me from getting closer or getting the right angle, so there may be a crop there. But with the mobile image we are limited on how much we can crop, we can’t take a small piece of it like we can with a larger file. I am really trying to compose it as I see it on the screen and mostly using the square apps to begin with, so I’m composing it to display as a square image. I rarely use native camera, which I think is maybe already cutting a bit of the image quality down. so again I think composition is really important. When I am taking someones portrait, I’m looking for the nicest, cleanest, interesting background and of course paying attention to light and shadow; obviously hoping to catch something interesting.
DN– Shooting for the paper you get a lot of great opportunities for shots, please tell us about your dream scenario…
DM– I do feel very fortunate to do what I do, working for the newspaper you do sometimes get access to things the general public won’t get. But larger events, when there is a lot of photographers, all trying to get the same picture, its not that I don’t like that, but there is a level of competitiveness among photographers and sometimes people don’t work well together.
Those images are hard to make, when everyone is trying to make the same picture, ya know for me, that would be really boring if I had to do that everyday. My dream assignment would be for me to show up and be the only one there. I can photograph how I want to photograph, without restriction, without a police line, or a public relations person telling me to stand over there
It would be to really just find someone interesting and spend some time with them, photographing just to make nice images that tell a story. The connection is really important. While its great to photograph the super bowl or a world series, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but theres a lot of aggravation and so much work involved and doing that all the time would be a highly stressful situation to be in.
DN- Can you tell us what inspires you, not necessarily just photographers, lets talk other mediums. Things that get you going?
DM– That’s a good question. When I’m really down, I have a huge collection of photography books to go to, full of photos that always inspired me. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, basically any magnum photographers, when I’m in a rut that’s where I go. Something about opening a book and seeing the photos in print, it helps me think about why I do what I do. You can pull inspiration from anywhere, go through a gallery, go through the art museum. For me, its sometimes not necessarily seeking out the photo collection, but looking at the paintings, looking at how painters see light, I think that’s an important thing to remember. While photography might be the step child in the fine arts community, I think your pulling from and being able to understand and use light. Sometimes its as simple as walking around Philadelphia and running into something that is completely fascinating. I tried to listen to music while making pictures, it doesn’t work, but I definitely listen to music. I don’t know if it inspires me to make photographs but I think any time someone is producing or making something it is easy to pull from that.
DN– Well, what are you listening to right now?
DM– laughs, Oh man, anything from TV on the Radio to Led Zepplin to The Lumineers… might possibly lose some credibility for this but anything from Macklemore to Fresh Espresso, the Seattle band. I’m just all over the place.. it just depends on what type of mood you’re in. Going back to listening to music while shooting, I tried to do that while covering a football game, and it was a complete disaster, I had to take the head phones out. For me, its part of your senses, I need to hear whats going on
DN– Can give us any advice on just starting out taking photos and perhaps for folks already in the field trying to make better quality photos.
DM– Overall if you are just starting out, some people are just lucky and they are born with some level of creativity and no matter what they pick up they are good at it, but not everybody starts at that level. For me, it was taking classes to really get a basic understanding on the principles of photography, how to use a camera and probably the most important principle, to remember what makes a photograph is light. Without light you are not going to have an image. I think my best advice to someone starting out is understand light, don’t be afraid to experiment with it, using light in different ways, don’t limit yourself. I hear so many young people say I want be this or that. I think you will miss out if you aren’t open to different styles of photography. If we limit ourselves, you are probably missing out on styles you may be good at. Always try to improve, to seek advice, to accept critiques from photographers that you look up to, find photo books, look at the work of others
As far as mobile photography and the square format, its really finding an app that is simple to use. I recommend 6×6. Find something that controls exposure and focus. For the people that are at that next level, its really your commitment to want to improve. It is easy to get discouraged, don’t dwell on your failures and don’t celebrate your success so much, because the next day you have a chance to do it all over again. I think if you don’t push yourself you’re not going to grow. The idea is to always keep it fresh and keep pushing forward. You almost have to fail to really grow, if its easy for you, I don’t think its art.
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In the Light: Portraits with a Nokia Lumia 1020 by Dave Norbut
My first love in photography was capturing people. There is a delicate balance in simultaneously capturing raw spirit and beauty.
There has always been something about looking at a good portrait, to me, that is just mesmerizing. For a long time I have struggled with making portraits that I am happy with, or enjoy looking at myself. I feel after many years, I have finally only just begun to understand light.
This series of images was shot in the span of 2 days at each subjects home. I feel the mood is heavily impacted by how comfortable the subject is. In my early days of taking portraits, I thought all you needed was an interesting character, throw em up against the wall, get close, boom boom, done. Looking back it seemed a very harsh way to do such work. With this series, I spent some time, I took my time, I let my subjects move freely and let them dictate when I snapped the shutter. They told me when they were ready, just with a look or a movement.
The 1020 let me control my exposure, it made capturing the light very simple. It gave me control, much more than I would expect from a mobile device. There is no editing necessary when you can control the camera before you snap the shutter. I was even able to view the image in black and white as I was photographing, also a beautiful thing. I shot everything the same, manually controlling the exposure, in black and white mode through an app called Proshot. I was really interested in seeing how the camera would perform and I was not interested in manipulating the image once I started seeing the results. The soul is the subjects. The mood is in the light. The 1020 silently and reliably performed the task at hand. As someone who is becoming less and less interested in the gimmicks and filters and squares of mobile photography this device is doing a fine job for quality photographs.
Preservation and Magic by David Norbut
Many things have been said already and nothing that I can say is going to make much difference.
Reading other people’s words or listening to other people’s thoughts sometimes helps me understand my own feelings about life a little bit better.
The same thing goes for photography and the way I feel about taking photographs. I take what I can from meaningful images. Photography is a way to preserve history, however small or unimportant you may think a picture is. Whether it is a portrait or a scene, it could mean things you’ll never understand to somebody else and the simplest moments can sometimes become the most prolific photographs. One portrait with nothing exciting about it, just a simple mood, the capture of that one person at that moment in time can really be much more meaningful down the road to that person, to their loved ones, and to the people that came after them. Future generations can use photography as visual history.
To me taking photographs is a beautiful way to waste your time and preserve it simultaneously.
I do however think that things are starting to move incredibly fast. We are starting to lose touch with humanity, technology is getting faster and is used for a variety of functions. It seems to me that we are trying to make life too easy.
That was starting to happen with the way I take photographs.
I wanted to slow down.
I wanted to slow down the way I live my life.
I wanted to slow down the way I appreciate life.
I wanted to slow down and enjoy every passing moment.
I wanted to slow down the process of taking photos every day, to hopefully capture better images.
I was becoming uninspired by the flood of mediocre work that I was seeing on a daily basis and this doesn’t exclude my own.
The reason, or reasons, that I started taking pictures was that there was something magic about freezing time. We are documenting history and preserving life.
When you start to look at how photography works, once you start to dig a little bit deeper you realize that it is really something incredible in the world before pixels. We were using light and silver to perfectly re-create what you see in front of you, to freeze the exact moment of human life.
There is a thing called Camera Obscura.
You can stand in a room and black out the windows and block out any sunlight to come in and you can cut a little hole in the black paper on the window to let just a little beam of light in. If you stare at the wall facing this hole with the lights pouring in, the exact image from outside will start to appear perfectly projected on the wall upside down.
Now if that isn’t one of the most incredible things that you could ever see I don’t know what is.
All that being said, why are we so quickly blasting out and posting so many mediocre photos.
It is a very magical, beautiful and serious art form that we are fucking with here. I think we owe a little bit of respect to the magic of this craft.
Going out with your digital camera or your iPhone or your point-and-shoot… all you have to do is set everything on auto and boom, boom, boom hit a button, hit a button, hit a button
It was becoming too easy and it was becoming boring for me.
The idea that I was just pressing a button and praying for a result became a very real and terrible thought.
One morning, I woke up really early I got in the car I drove to Philadelphia and the only thing that I was prepared to photograph with was an old 35mm camera and a couple of rolls of black-and-white film.
Not being able to see a result right away automatically slowed me down, I couldn’t just take a picture and look at it and say okay this is what I need to do to fix it. I had to make sure it was right. It left me little room for error and it made me become more Zen-like, more concentrated on what I was doing.
You take the camera, you focus it for every shot, you change the settings for the light, you pay attention to the light, you pay attention to your camera, you pay attention to your settings, you pay attention to the scenes around you and it becomes a whole new thing, yet it’s the oldest thing, it is the first way, the beginning, the permanent end result. Life recorded on silver with light.
I’m not trying to denounce one camera or another. I’m not trying to put down digital photography or Mobile photography. To me it is all photography and it’s your choice on how you do it. Everyone is different and everybody feels differently about the way they like to shoot or what they like to shoot.
I will still gladly shoot with any camera I have with me, whether it’s a film camera or a digital camera or a phone.
All I’m trying to say is; as photographers I think everybody needs to take their time and focus on what they’re doing. Don’t let technology decide the pace of our shooting, or the ease and effect the quality of our photographs. Things will be a lot more meaningful if you create something that you took your time with and put some effort into rather than just shooting and praying.
At the end of the day, we are only on this planet once. I just want to put my best foot forward and I want to really give the respect to what I’m doing every day.
So I say to the community, step up your game, take your time and study the masters.
If you have any love or respect for taking photographs, lets really see it. I promise I will do the same.
Film: 35mm, Kodak Tmax 400
Camera: Canon AE-1
No edit, High Resolution film scan
Chinatown, Philadelphia 2013
Although I only spoke with Jim for about an hour and a half, I could have asked him questions for days… I’ve only touched on the life of this dude. An old soldier (which he wouldn’t elaborate on), a worldly traveler riding horses with clans in the far corners of Asia, and an ex-Reserve Deputy Sheriff using his skills of diffusing heavy situations to become friends with Outlaw Bikers in the western US… All the while capturing eye catching, timeless, photographs. Let’s scratch the surface…
*Pastor Paulee Curran in Arizona– A long term documentary project of mine in the Circuit Riders Motorcycle Ministry comprised of mostly ex-outlaw motorcycle clubs or “1%’ers” who have become Christians. They have an outreach to Drug Rehab programs, Prison Assistance, assistance to outlaw families who are outside while they do time, and domestic violence programs (as protecting women who need to get back into their home and get their stuff or move out without getting the shit beat out of them again). These guys and their associates can be a little tough, Christian or not.
Being involved with a lot of humanitarian & NGO organizations, I was getting lost and frustrated in what I was doing.
Christmas of 2006 my wife Christi bought me a Canon Rebel kit (the original kit with 2 lenses and a spare battery) Attached to the box was a card that read “Learn this well, let the pictures tell your stories and go help Jimmy!”
Today when I head out and pack my kit, which now consists of 2 Canon 5D Mark II cameras, I see the Rebel sitting on the bookshelf above an arsenal of daisy chained hard drives and remember when I could not believe how many photos I could fit on my 16 & 32 mg cards.
BUT that camera was my entry into the world and the start of this journey of what an image can convey.
Simple, clean and uncomplicated. Until 2008 I had no idea what a light meter was. Photography was just plain fun, lots of “I made that!” moments.
I entered the iPhone world, only because it seemed like the best fit for our world with Macs in our home and office.
Then I read a review one day for Picture Show.
Hmmm, that might be fun to play with and that was it I was hooked on mobile photography. The simple joy and fun was back.
I make the joke all the time “if these things ever shoot RAW my DSLRs will gather dust.” The other day I put the 645 Pro app on my phone, I think we are getting close.
“I would rather be in a room full of outlaws and criminals, than these guys in my own neighborhood of Irvine with the golf shirts. It’s the guys with golf shirts that scare me… at least with the outlaws, you know where you stand.” -Jim McGill
D: David J: Jim
D: Talk to me about your biker photography. How did it start?
J: I had been soliciting an outlaw gang and they agreed to at least meet me in Laughlin, NV during bike week. Turns out, the contact I met ended up knowing my father from the past and was a little pissed off about it. About to throw down and get my ass stomped, Pastor Paulee, an ex-outlaw clergyman I know, recognizes me and puts his hand on my shoulder and announces ” Hey! This guys with us!” And I watched these guys fly back…
In most situations these guys were hardass at first. I’d get lines like “Bro, I didn’t wanna be photographed in the past, I don’t wanna be photographed now.” So there was a little bit of being the meaner dog, and there was a little bit of being the goofy guy. A long time ago, I was a deputy sheriff. I realized the best way to diffuse a bar fight is to be goofy. You can walk up and be a prick or you can try to make friends in 20 seconds. I think over the course of meeting up with these guys two times, I tried to earn their trust by being friendly. They even started call me “Hef” because I smoke a pipe, thought that was pretty cool. I will sometimes have issues with new guys coming in, but over all it’s been good. It’s the same story over and over, it always comes down to getting their trust. You are the outsider. The only mistake I’ll never make again, don’t shoot the pretty women first! (laughs)
I’ve even been asked to photograph a few weddings. It’s pretty cool to get a call from an outlaw, saying “I really like your stuff, can you come photograph my wedding?” Best part about a situation like that is that I can gain more contacts to go photograph. If this ends up being my genre, photographing that world, I’ll be okay with that…
I even went as far as to enroll in a motorcycle safety course to get my license.. Im qualified to go about 10 mph in a parking lot, but…(laughs)
D: Oh, so you don’t ride?
J: No, I don’t ride. In some cases, I will take the shots from a car, close enough to make it seem like I’m riding amongst them.
*This is Billy, he is an ex outlaw, from Colorado. This particular photo is taken within 72 hours of him deciding he wanted to become a Christian. Pastor Paulee had just baptized him in the Colorado River. There are about thirty of us standing around a campfire, but Billy was just standing alone on the outskirts of everything. In his mind, just coming out of the life, he’s still a prospect. He didn’t yet feel like he had a part in the group. Billy stood like that in a tension for hours. At one point I tried to engage him in conversation, he kind of just nodded, like “I’m really not interested,” and kept his eye on the leader…
D: Let’s talk about some of your more intimate portraiture, how’d you get into that? It’s most definitely your own sort of pin-up style, wouldn’t you agree?
J: Yeah, the one girl that has appeared a lot on the EyeEm site, the girl with all the tattoos, her name is Amber.
A while back I took some courses at a community college on photography. The professor, to try and screw with me, tells me “you can photograph strippers or prostitutes, your choice.” So, I went to a strip club nearby and struck up a conversation with one of the dancers and asked her if she wanted to be in a documentary project… I have now known her about 6 years. I’ve watched her go from being a full-time dancer to a mom and a clothing designer. She actually just asked me to photograph her wedding, which should definitely be cool. The one question I always hear about this type of photography is, do I know the models personally or intimately? Because they say there is always this eye contact, and hopefully I have a knack for that. The portraits don’t necessarily look superficial. I’m trying to approach it as a storyteller rather than a fashion photographer.
*Amber in a kitchen in Los Angeles, CA– This is a shot from when I first started paying serious attention to iPhone photography beyond the “normal” snapshots that make their way to the occasional Twitter and Facebook posts. On this day armed with my normal rig of two Canon 5D MK II’s, tethering to Lightroom running on my laptop, we had two 40″ soft boxes and two studio strobes. I kept finding the exposures lacking, so as I sat on a bar stool in the center of the kitchen trying to work out the lighting, I pulled out my iPhone and started snapping some shots. Amber was laughing at me saying “Hey photography boy, I think here is an instance where size doesn’t matter…” Then I showed her this shot altered in Pictureshow and received an instant “that’s AWESOME!” At that point we changed the lighting and the direction of the shoot. Ultimately, all post editing on the 5D shots were based on this iPhone snapshot.
D: Any advice on getting that eye contact in a photograph?
J: I used to have on my business cards “meet with them, eat with them, shoot em.” But too many people misinterpreted that, so I got rid of the phrase. I see too many people pull out the camera, take the shot, then run away rather than engage. I don’t even have to have a conversation with people, it’s the momentary eye contact that makes those shots.
D: Travel photography, what’s your approach?
J: I try to see the finished image in the camera. Yes I crop, I crop all the time. Generally, I’m seeing the finished shot or I won’t take it. I know what final image I’m going for.
D: Any difference making these connections in your foreign travels?
J: Oh, thats even better! At that point you don’t speak the language, you can just plead ignorance. I have 3×5 cards for most of the countries I travel in that says “You are beautiful, can I take your picture?” I carry field model releases in their language as well. There were a couple of times I’ve gotten myself into trouble… Like taking a picture of a solider in China. This usually isn’t a good idea, but I’ve been there. I will come up and flash them a card that says “you’re beautiful…” and that kinda throws them off guard and diffuses the situation. For the most part I’m just that big stupid American… (laughs)
D: Are you born and raised in California?
J: Born and raised in California, I grew up in the San Bernardino mountains, about 60 miles from where I live today.
D: Back on traveling for a moment, tell me about some of the best spots you’ve visited?
J: I really love Tibet and Mongolia. But if I was gonna move anywhere in the world tomorrow, it would be Japan. It’s the one place on the planet where I feel totally at ease and stand down. If I could have any dream job, it would be to go to Japan and photograph the Yakuza*. That is kind of a closed world, but I’m always looking for an in.
D: How long have you been shooting iPhone? Any favorite methods, apps?
J: I first shot with an iPhone in a lighting situation about 2 years ago. If Apple would make these damn things shoot raw files, all my dslr’s would just gather dust. I love the idea, I do wish it was a little more camera-like, give me a viewfinder and that’d be kinda cool. As far as apps I’ve been using… Snapseed, Phototoaster and Photogenie 2. No, I don’t have Instagram on my phone, everybody always asks me that.
D: Well? Let’s get an answer. Why EyeEm and not Instagram?
J: I put Instagram on my phone and shot a picture. I did not realize it would post instantly. Thankfully, I posted something as benign as my cowboy boots. That’s why I don’t have Instagram. I wanted a chance to review my photos first.
D: Lastly… any significance behind the Photo444 name?
J: It seemed like for years, every time I’d get on an airplane to go away or come home it was always 4:44 or flight 444. My wife calls it “trip time.” To this day I feel, even if I look at the time, that’s what time it is. I may not notice any other time that day. Also, when I started my website, “Jim McGill Photography” was (and still is) the site for a shitty wedding photographer from Connecticut… (laughs) So my wife suggested Photo444 because its the start of a new adventure.
*Yakuza generally are traditional organized crime sects, commonly adorning full body tattoos.
* On a side note, while I was editing and drafting this interview, Jim had contacted me 2 days in a row. Sending me photos from his wife and an old friend, encountering the strange reoccurring numbers 444, while reading previews of this interview. He certainly wasn’t kidding!
About David Norbut
David Norbut @dnorphoto is drawn to capturing the raw beauty of the people he meets, and the environments surrounding us
Meet David Norbut
When seeking inspiration, where do you consistently turn?
Chuck Close once said “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
That pretty much sums it up for me, I walk outside and take photographs everywhere I go.
There is some part of my existence that became completely obsessed. As a child I would stare at photographs in the history books in school, mesmerized by the people, the faces I saw. It filled me with so much wonder, I suppose it still does. It’s a way to preserve life, spirit and civilization.
I just go out and document what I see and hope in some way I can preserve the beauty of today for folks who will come after we’re gone.
What are you currently listening to, looking at, reading into that inspires your art?
Music is probably my favorite part of being alive, I can’t think of any else that can dig so deep into the emotion of a person, whether you are making the music or listening to it. I spent a few days in New Orleans last year and the jazz I discovered down there has really stuck with me and I think it always will. Other than that a few constant companions are Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Ryan Adams and my most recent favorites, Shovels & Rope.
As far as reading… I need to read more its a good habit to have.
If the viewers of your art could know one thing about your work, or feel one way when they walk away, what would it be?
I would like to think they’d feel some sort of connection with humanity. Most of my work is portraiture or street scenes involving life and livelihood
We are all one people.
What medium would you like to try that you haven’t?
Filmmaking. I’m really interested in making what I like to think of as “moving photographs” maybe a silent film, with some music.
Contact David Norbut
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