The Interview. (by @andreclemente & @kypexin)
@streetphoto_bw: You have a rather distinctive photojournalist approach to your photos. Is this strictly a passion or are you a journalist by trade?
@ampstacy: I’d wanted to be a photojournalist since the age of eight; I am now forty-three. I got a rather heavy amount of discouragement growing up about the profession, both because of its danger and the idea that it might not pay very well. My family has some pretty traditional views about the path to happiness, so I am kind of the black sheep of the flock.
When I was in the military, I was stationed in Korea and I started taking photos, printing them and posting them on a bulletin board (as was the custom) in a bar where my unit would hang out. My photos were always gone the next day because people wanted to keep them as memories of their time there. That was a tremendous ego boost.
I was hooked, so when I got out of the military, I moved to Northern California and went to San Francisco State for a photojournalism degree. But as I was nearing completion of the program, I put my dream on hold as I started making pretty good money at a “regular” job, and because I married a woman who already had a child. She felt my pursuit of photojournalism was too dangerous for a family man and she asked that I give it up. Sadly, I consented to this request, and didn’t complete the program. I have always regretted it. In 2008, as our marriage started to unravel, I picked up a camera for the first time in some ten plus years, and started shooting. As first, I was terrible – it was as if I had never gone to school in the first place. But eventually it got better.
After we were officially divorced in early 2010, I went to Thailand to document the Red Shirt protests. It was intense as it was pretty dangerous and I didn’t have much of a plan or a sponsor. While I was there, many people in Bangkok helped me by feeding me, giving me rides, or advice. Every time I tried to pay them, no one would take my money, saying things instead such as – just make sure our story gets told. Since I didn’t have sponsor or publisher for my work, I am so grateful for Instagram because it has given me the ability to share that experience and their stories with the greater world at large.
So, I think in a way, I have officially become a journalist, I am just not doing it via the traditional main stream media routes. For my day job, I actually own a consulting company.
@streetphoto_bw: Photojournalism / Documentary Photography / Street Photography are genres that are interrelated. My basic understanding is that Photo Journalism is documenting an event or a news story while Street is more focused on day-to-day life. What’s your interpretation of the differences between these styles and would you classify yourself as one or the other?
@ampstacy: I tend to think of street photography as a subset of photojournalism. While it is true that the discipline does have longer form concepts, such as the photo essay or covering an event, but when you are in school, you are taught about something called features, which are just day to day slice of life stories – much the same in many Instagram feeds.
@streetphoto_bw: Do you consider a story to be essential to Street Photography?
@ampstacy: Not always, but I think a story can be very enriching. The subjective rules of photography obviously apply : light, composition, timing, emotional content. Sometimes the photo captures everything perfectly and you can write the narrative yourself because it is obvious. Sometimes, a supplemental story does enhance the experience though. When I was a young photographer, I would classify myself as a run and gun type of picture taker. While the photos were good, I always found myself wondering, wanting to know more, and acknowledging to myself that maybe I was being a little thoughtless about the act of picture taking. And as I thought about it, I never understood why within newspapers the disciplines of photography and journalism were kept separately. If one can, shouldn’t one try to do both? Now I take my time and try to learn about the people I photograph, listen to their stories, see things from their point of view. For me, it is a much more enriching experience as a process. The pictures are strong, but the stories do allow people to connect differently to the photos that the pictures alone don’t necessarily facilitate. I also think it makes certain photos stronger. It certainly has gotten those who follow my stream talking and thinking about the world at large. And I think that is great.
@streetphoto_bw: What do you use to shoot? How much do you use the iPhone and what are your apps of choice?
@ampstacy: I have tried very hard to use my iPhone4, but I have to be honest and say that I think it is a really poor camera for the type of photography I do, which relies on very precise timing. The time between pushing the button to take the photo and the picture actually being taken varies wildly, depending on the day. I have hundreds of “almost” shots and have decided that until the technology improves further, I will defer and continue to use my DLRS for 90% of my needs instead. Plus, for printing and enlarging, I find the quality of the iPhone photos simply not there. So, my weapons of choice are my Nikon D700 with a 17-35mm 2.8, and a Nikon D300 with a 85mm 1.8. I generally shoot at 17mm 95% of the time.
@streetphoto_bw: Do you set out on photo trips specifically for a story or with a set idea in mind?
@ampstacy: I always have a camera with me 24/7; I have done some deliberate projects, such as covering Occupy in both Los Angeles and New York, but generally speaking, I just go walking and whatever happens, happens. I meet up with @whittiersam on a regular basis and we have spent a lot of time covering street life in downtown LA.
Because of this and the travel I do for work, I have accumulated a massive compendium of people in very difficult circumstances. I am honored that so many people have allowed me to photograph them and have shared their very heartbreaking stories with me. I feel very special and really try to treat that with care and respect.
@streetphoto_bw: What’s your approach for portraits? How involved are you with your subjects? You ask for permission?
@ampstacy: It is a really subjective an nuanced experience each time I meet someone because it is a new relationship, new dynamics, and a different set of circumstances. For portraits, I usually like to talk to the subjects for some period of time, so I can get a sense of their emotional temperament and range. After a time, as their talking, I will hold my camera up and let them continue to speak. As I find the moments that best represent their character traits, I take pictures. Sometimes I ask, and sometimes I am told no.
@streetphoto_bw: Do you ever give money and/or help the people you photograph?
@ampstacy: I do not give money in exchange for being able to take someone’s photo. I do however give money to people who ask for it and if I do, I give what I can. I think that you can’t do ignore how deeply the people I meet are suffering. I know that by giving a dollar, I have helped a parent feed a child, a man find a bed, a woman have a hot meal.
But more than the money itself, I think more than the money itself, is that by taking the time to speak with people, I am allowing them to experience something that those on the street are often deprived of: dignity and respect. So many of my subjects have told me how they have been kicked, urinated upon, spit upon, ignored. It is really amazing sometimes what the power of a handshake and a smile is capable of.
@streetphoto_bw: You deleted your older photos around the same time FB bought IG. Why and what is your opinion on the FB acquisition?
@ampstacy: Well, one reason was that when I first joined Instagram, it took me awhile to adopt a style or look to the photos I posted. I was all over the map, had 800+ photos in my gallery, and the first 500 photos in my gallery were not to my present standard. So, it was a good time to do a little spring cleaning, if you will. As an aside, it would be great if the new owners would develop features that made deletion of multiple photos easier. Also, I find that people rarely go back and look at earlier work, so I think I want to have a smaller gallery in general.
As for my opinion of Facebook and its acquisition, I was very disappointed to hear the news. Not because I don’t want the founders if Instagram to have a well deserved pay day, but because one of the most interesting things about the IG people I know is that we have a common thread: we left Facebook on purpose because we didn’t find it fulfilling. So, I think my fear, if there is one, is that I don’t want the aspects of the social bond within Instagram compromised. It is obviously out of my hands, but I have looked at other apps, such as Tadaa and I find them pretty limited in terms of what else I do on Instagram, which is write stories to go with my photos. And while Instagram has a size limit that makes me have to write very economical pieces, most of the other apps limit me to no more than a slightly verbose caption.
@streetphoto_bw: Are there notable street photographers than inspire you in your work?
@ampstacy: Oh man, there are so many great people on Instagram!!! Some of my favorites are: @akibengchia, @_meanwhile, @giflzs, @simcue, @mustafaseven, @desimccarthy, @mikevelvet, @harryboejl, @whittiersam, @auroramichavila I could go on and on and I know I am going to wish I’d mentioned several more people. But these people’s work is amazing and not to be missed.
@streetphoto_bw: Speaking about inspiration in photography, sometime when watching photos of other great photographers, I catch myself thinking “This is truly great, I’d like to shoot and get a picture like that.”
Obviously there are no limits for learning from others but do you think it is very important for a photographer to develop his/ her own style unique style (particularly in street photography) as soon as possible, or is it okay to occasionally imitate the style of a photographer that inspires you?
@ampstacy: I think if you look a photographs a lot, which I do, as I have hundreds of photo books from famous photographers, one thing that emerges is that when you see one of those photographer’s pieces elsewhere, you can instantly tell that it is theirs. So, if you see an Annie Lebowitz, Mary Ellen Mark, Sebastio Salgado, James Nachtwey, Leonard Freed, or Eugene Richards, you know it is their work and no one else’s. The same is true for music – Phillip Glass can’t be confused with Gershwin or vice versa. You know it on the first note.
But in order order to develop these distinctive styles, you have to accept a body of rules and principles around aesthetics that give you a solid foundation in understanding your craft. When you combine this with your own distinctive vision, you start to develop your own unique style. If you fail to establish the foundation, then at best you will have a series of happy accidents from time to time, but you won’t be able able to be consistent nor satisfied with your work because it won’t resonate to others or to yourself because you won’t understand its underlying elements well enough to refine and manipulate it.
@streetphoto_bw: Thanks so much for taking the time do this! We appreciate it.
@ampstacy: I am so happy to be interviewed by you. I really appreciate being able to do this. Thank you.