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How To Make a “Disgusting” Photo


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My “Disgusting” photo of James Nachtwey.

Yesterday I was very excited to have the opportunity to hear James Nachtwey speak at Photo Plus Expo in New York City. James Nachtwey is no ordinary photographer and for me to see him speak, and even have a remote chance of shaking his hand, was a dream come true. James Nachtwey is one of my heroes and a source of inspiration. When asked, “If you could meet anyone in history?” I usually answer, “James Nachtwey.”

When the door opened for his Keynote address I pushed my way through the crowd and somehow got a seat on the front row right in the center. James was on stage trying to get his computer working and the crowd waited. I decided to pull out my camera and shoot a few frames.

The light was very low so I put a flash on my camera. I decided to use my 200mm lens so I could get a decent shot. I took a few photos and then something totally unexpected happened. The guy next to me began to critique my skills.

He began by shaking his head and then said (with a very strong German accent), “No, no. I’m sorry but that picture is horrible. It’s disgusting. It’s not even average.”

Excuse me?

“It’s disgusting. You need to use wide angle lens, you need to get right up to him and use a spot meter and figure out the proper exposure. Do you have a light meter? Your photo tells no story, why are you even shooting?”

I didn’t know how to even respond to this guy, so I said the first thing that came to my mind, “Who are you?” I mean if this was Shaul Schwarz or Damon Winter I’d certainly want to hear what they had to say. But it wasn’t either of those guys or even anyone I’d heard of, although he did make sure I knew he “commuted from Munich to New York regularly.” Good for you dude.

He continued, “You need to frame your shot totally differently. You need to get Mr. Nachtwey and his photos at the same time, nobody will want to see your photo. Turn off your flash, why are you shooting like this?” Still amazed I replied, “It’s for my blog.”

“Your blaahg.” He drew out the “aaaah” sound for dramatic effect. “Nobody will want to see your blaaahg.”

At this point I was not a very happy camper. But I understood what the dude was saying. In the context of James Nachtwey it made sense. Nachtwey has made a career out of getting closer. I’ve even written about it on this blog. The light from my flash would be flat, the shot unflattering, no context, no story.

But I didn’t care.

I just wanted a damn shot of James Nachtwey to document the fact that I’d been in his presence, to put a visual stamp on the memory of the moment. What Mr. Munich didn’t know was that I planned on shooting many more shots during the presentation. He had no idea what my blog was about or how I’d display the photo.

When I’m shooting it’s very important to me to know the context of the presentation. It changes the way I make a photo. I don’t shoot family vacation shots the same way I shoot a scenic photography. The intent is totally different. One shot is to capture a memory and the other is to create art.

I happen to like my disgusting photo of James Nachtwey. He’s isolated and looks very introspective. He’s just as I imagined he would be.

After the lights dimmed and James began to speak I was consumed by his imagery and inspired by his message. I was moved by his passion and desire to change humanity through photography.

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After the event James was besieged by hundreds of photographers who wanted to get a shot or meet the legend.

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And somehow I got close…

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…and talked to…

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… Mr. James Nachtwey.

My friend Zowie Stapleton was there to record it all with my iPhone camera. The pictures are all wrong, average and disgusting.

I’ll cherish them for the rest of my life.

  • ronink

    Nice Mark. Glad to see your trip went so well.
    I'm also glad to see you refrained from adding bunny ears behind his head. :)

    I'm telling you that this picture is sick. But “sick” in a totally different way. That's amazing.. you're right next to the man.. nice!!! =)

  • http://www.absesay.com/ Ab

    I love it and totally understand. I'll be out, and so many people ask me were is my camera, and I pull out my iphone and they look at me like i'm crazy. I've owned tens point and shoots from the Yashica T4, Contax T3 (I think it was the T3), Olympus c5050 ……….. and many many more. I wouldn't be surprised if I bought one last week that hasn't been delivered yet that I have already forgotten about. But nothing is more priceless then one of my friends saying do you remember when…. and me having a picture of it on my iphone. I just with you got a shot of Mr. Blaaahg up close and personal like he likes it.

  • Andrew Walker

    Thanks for posting this.

  • Checorrea

    I'm so very happy for you Mark…..I'm glad you're not letting this idiot bring you down and why should you…it was a specia moment for you….glad you enjoyed it!

  • cecilwalker

    Great story Mark. Sometimes people are so full of themselves they easily lose track of alternate possibilities. They only see things through their own, now limited minds. Maybe help felt more important, more knowledgeable, more better than everyone else by critiquing without even knowing your intent. I am sorry for him and envious of you my friend.

  • cecilwalker

    Great story Mark. Sometimes people are so full of themselves they easily lose track of alternate possibilities. They only see things through their own, now limited minds. Maybe help felt more important, more knowledgeable, more better than everyone else by critiquing without even knowing your intent. I am sorry for him and envious of you my friend.

  • ericmitchell3

    Mark I've always found saurkraut disgusting and it sounds like you meet a “sour kraut”! Who cares what he thinks! You got exactly what you wanted, documentation that you met one of your idols. The last line of your blog or should I say “blaahg” sums up that last photo for me! Congrats!

  • Anthony laughinghouse

    Hello Mark,
    Thank you for posting this. 1st I would like to say that I think your picture is great. I also would like to thank you taking the stance that you did. It inspires me because as a beginner I get a lot of detracting comments “your pics are no
    good”,”why are you waisting your time and money”. Mark
    because of people like you dave hobby Zack arias (the idols
    of my day) I say f@/$& the haters and carry on with my
    hobby quickly becoming my passion. So, to you Mr. Wallace
    I say thank you for teaching(you gotta start selling those
    videos :),inspiring, and standing up for yourself and your art
    form and to mr Munich, (we tell people in Brooklyn go f–k ya self) Diane and yourself are officaly New yorkers. You guys rock can't wait to you come back to NYC for next seminar
    Stay strong shoot strong

  • http://www.reportage-bygettyimages.com/#p=photographers/David_S_Holloway david…

    what a weird experience.
    in the words of David Burnett “you know, everyone likes to be helpful.” i guess this even includes german commuters.

  • nomethod

    What a jerk!

  • http://www.pieterwesterbos.com/ Pieter

    Wow….just wow….that is truly amazing. This post really moved me. To me, this is exactly what photography is about. Pictures that mean something to someone, no matter what camera, aperture, iso or whatever is used. It's even on my own homepage:
    A photo is simple and complex at the same time: a fraction of a second to capture what words cannot. A snapshot can be as valuable as a work of art. It just depends on who is looking at it.

  • David G

    Sounds like an awesome experience (for the most part) Mark…now I'm jealous!

  • http://davidburkephoto.com/ David Burke

    Great Story and the images are perfectly disgusting. I love them. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://dealzbydesign.com Web Design Lexington

    Not really a disgusting item for an amateur. For remembrance purposes, this is okay.

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    It just depends on who is looking at it…

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    That Sounds interesting, I agree with you.Please keep at your good work, I would come back often.*

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  • Greg_Brave

    Hi Mark,
    Good post, and I understand your position, but I wanted to say something in favor of “Munich” guy – sometimes his position is also a good one. I mean that yes, its a digital camera and shooting hundred more pics doesn't cost a thing, but from artistic point of view – if you just point and shoot, then just don't shoot. We see so much photographic crap on the internet, why add more to it?
    This is why I love so much 1x.com and don't like flickr. I also would like to give credit to that guy for one more thing – he didn't hesitate to critique you. Here, in the comments I didn't see a single negative comment. All of them are something like “you are doing a wonderful job!!!”. But how can you learn from such comments? It is much easier to say “your photos are good, great, etc.” and move on, than to say “your photos are not good because this and that”.
    I always look for that kind of “explained” critique.

  • Greg_Brave

    Hi Mark,
    Good post, and I understand your position, but I wanted to say something in favor of “Munich” guy – sometimes his position is also a good one. I mean that yes, its a digital camera and shooting hundred more pics doesn't cost a thing, but from artistic point of view – if you just point and shoot, then just don't shoot. We see so much photographic crap on the internet, why add more to it?
    This is why I love so much 1x.com and don't like flickr. I also would like to give credit to that guy for one more thing – he didn't hesitate to critique you. Here, in the comments I didn't see a single negative comment. All of them are something like “you are doing a wonderful job!!!”. But how can you learn from such comments? It is much easier to say “your photos are good, great, etc.” and move on, than to say “your photos are not good because this and that”.
    I always look for that kind of “explained” critique.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6CPAOXVFSYGEUOO2K5RP3DZZ5M Jim Ruley

    Glad you didn’t let that jerk ruin your precious time. Some people can try to poopoo on the best of everything.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6CPAOXVFSYGEUOO2K5RP3DZZ5M Jim Ruley

    Glad to hear you didn’t allow this “Muuuggghhh-nic” dude drag down one of the most influential and important times in your life. Most journalists would give their left “you know what” to get a couple seconds with James Nachtwey.

  • Anonymous

    Though I am just an amateur photographer, I have been a big fan of James Nachtwey since I started photography. You’re such a lucky person to see Nachtwey in person. And don’t ever mind the “guy with a strong German accent” for every photographer has his or her own technique. In my case, I like to capture emotions of people. That’s why, I always go back to Berlin through Billig rejse Berlin and take pictures of different persons in the city.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002428110213 Ann A. Franklin

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  • http://itsmeviji.wordpress.com/ Viji Nair

    Hi Mark,

    I was searching for some portraits of Mr. James Natchwey and my eyes stuck to your “Disgusting” image that you captured of Mr. Natchwey. I really liked the way you have posted all the incident happed at the following event. I also loved the title you mentioned which actually made me read this article. 
    The sentence you used ‘One shot is to capture a memory and the other is to create an art.’ was the heart of this article.
    I am glad that I am introduced to your blog and will keep viewing your articles and excellent & ‘Disgusting’ Photographs :D.. Picking up the very 1st image of Mr. James Natchwey that you captured. :D

    Viji Nair

  • Terry Doyle

    Mark, I am so very happy that you got the chance to meet one of the best photographers in the world. lucky you . TD

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