Two informal portraits taken late one winter afternoon a decade and a half ago with an old Rolleiflex Tessar 75mm f3.5. For years after photographing in and around the outdoor “Women’s Market” in Sofia, Bulgaria, I found it difficult to photograph faces in Western Europe and even in my native New York. Faces in the latter locations appeared less marked by life and labor and more by fashion and pose. When looking at these two portraits anew after many years, I remembered phrase from a poem by the great Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, something about “faces carved as if by plows.” A quick browse through the bookshelves and I tracked the words down to his passionate poem about the Virgin Mary and the faces and eyes of women, “The Faces of Our Women” (“Kadιnlarιmιzιn Yüzleri”).
The photos also reminded me of three photographers. The first is Austin, Texas based professional photographer and prolific writer and weblogger, Kirk Tuck, whose kind comments about the photo below in the course of an email exchange a year or so ago led to my relaunching Bubkes.Org.
The second is Pieter Vandermeer, a rough and tumble Rotterdam-based professional who, in the midst of his continuous flow of assignments, was the official photographer of the Rotterdam Film Festival in its initial years. Piet had learned photography in the Navy and not, like most Dutch photographers, at an art academy. Piet had the courage and integrity to look subjects (and clients!) in the eyes, engage them, and enable them to be themselves. Even when photographing people “on the street,” he would invariably track them down and present them with a print of their portrait, a confirmation of their and his person-hood. Piet’s approach was part of what prompts me every now and then to blow the dust off one my Rolleiflexes and set them to work. With a Rollei, I can lock eyes with a subject and, at the same time, compose, focus, and shoot. Because I am tall, the ability to use the Rollei at waist or chest level rather than eye level keeps me from looking down on subjects, literally and figuratively.
The third photographer is Elena Nenkova, a very fine Bulgarian studio and music event photographer who, back in the 1990’s, was also a printer of custom photographic enlargements. Many of the older photos I occasionally post on this site are scans of prints she made from my negatives. Thus, they are her work as well as mine and incorporate her vision, care, and excellence.