CD: First off, thank you for agreeing to be a part of FuseVisual. In your Luminous-Landscape article “Seeing in Color” you mentioned the photographers who were shooting compelling color images: Hiro, Art Kane, Ernst Haas, Pete Turner and Jay Maisel. Was your early work influenced by them or were you already shooting and defining your imagery with color?
Eric Meola: Influences are a “work-in-progress”. I am always beating myself up, always hungry to see great visual art. I doubt there is a single photographer of my generation who has not been influenced by Ernst Haas. But my personal influences range from peers like Arthur Meyerson, Stephen Wilkes, George Steinmetz and Steve McCurry, to photographers as diverse as the Civil Rights photographer Ernest C. Withers, and landscape revisionists like Edward Burtynsky. I’m also influenced by modern art–Josef Albers, Jules Olitski, Kenneth Noland, Kandinsky, Miro, Mark Rothko, O’Keeffe, Pollock. And yes, photographers as diverse as Pete Turner, Jay Maisel, Hiro, Irving Penn, and Robert Frank. Photography is one of the most fluid forms of expression, and the concept that it is about realism was long ago put to rest by photographers such as Aaron Siskind. So I’m not sure at what point these influences affected my work, but certainly they became part of it ,and certainly they continue to be part of it. To me, that’s an exciting thing–to influence others, and to be part of an evolving sensibility of photography as art, and that this is a community of visual artists influenced by the changes evolving within a genre.
CD: Two of your images were a strong influence on my work: Coca Boy and Promised Land. I never realized it at the time but as the years have gone by I understand how they inspired me to shoot graphically and with intense color. What was your connection to the intense colors and graphic approach? Where did it come from?
Eric Meola: I grew up in Syracuse, New York–one of the snowiest, most grey cities in the NorthEast. When I first became interested in photography, the explosion of color in the works of modernists such as Pete Turner was something I gravitated to, and something which I’ve tried to put my own stamp on. Photographers shoot in color, but their subjects are seldom about color. As my work has evolved, my subject has become color itself–a celebration of color in all its permutations, both abstract and real. I’ve simply grown tired of the sensibility that dictates that photographs need to be real, that they need to be in a documentary style, that they have to have some preconceived notion of content. I simply love color, and Mark Rothko’s color fields speak to me as much as Gene Smith’s “Pittsburgh.”
CD: Your new work does not rely on vanishing perspectives as much as form and color. Tell me about the Tornado Alley, Yellowstone, and Atacama projects? Have these projects changed how you approach color and form?
Eric Meola: Photographing tornadoes is something I’ve always wanted to do–except I’m much more interested in “supercells” than tornadoes. The light, the drama, the sense of oblivion, of armageddon, of nature’s fury, of the rawness of light, and landscapes enveloped in a primeval infinity of mood–the rawness of the Great Plains, of an American wilderness that few people realize still exists. Death Valley, Arches, Monument Valley–they don’t interest me because they’ve become the “bucket list” of photographers who shoot with tripods. I want to literally be blown away, to smell the ozone, to feel the wind, to have the hair stand up on the back of my neck, to watch as lightning strikes all around me. The places I’ve chosen to go to–like the Atacama, and Yellowstone in the winter, still have that sense of a virgin, primeval landscape that draws me in to its textures, its light, and its moody, raw power.
CD: You photographed Bruce Springsteen in Black and White for two album projects. What was it like to see in B&W and how did the lack of color impact your compositions? Also, you have published two books on Bruce. What was it like, thirty years on, to go to your old negatives, scan them, and see them with a fresh perspective?
Eric Meola: Black-and-white is something my generation grew up with and was influenced by. I saw Bruce in black-and-white, not color. Bob Dylan’s third alum was photographed by Barry Feinstein, and it was a great takeoff on Woody Guthrie–a Sixties dustbowl pastiche. The “Born to Run” cover owes a lot to Richard Avedon, but my original concept was to photograph Bruce on Ellis Island! Bruce’s words were black-and-white, and that sensibility carried over to shooting in very contrasty “monotones.” Seeing and working with the negatives was a revelation, and continues to be one! There are times they look as fresh as the first time I saw them after they were developed on June 20, 1975. They are part of my soul, and I have come to a separate peace with them. I never wanted to be known for one image–such as Joe Rosenthal’s famous shot of the Marines at Iwo Jima. But, I can’t fight that. Those images are part of me, and part of what defines my life and my career.
CD: We have talked about peace, stop watches, and hunches. How do you balance the desire to shoot in risky situations to create new images versus the desire to shoot closer to home?
Eric Meola: Home is the riskiest of all. It’s not New Guinea, it’s not some sand dune in the Empty Quarter, it’s not exotic. It’s the place every kid asks you about–your backyard. And it turns out that my backyard is the universe, a broad empty space in the flatlands of Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas, that is part Coen brothers, part Lewis and Clark, part Fargo, part Sun Prairie, part John Ford, part Georgia O’Keeffe. But all enthralling, all addicting, all wild west, all a spinning vortex of light and dust and everything that has ever excited me about photography.
CD: What advice would you give a young photographer starting in this career today?
Eric Meola: Be yourself, find yourself, read books, take road trips, shoot constantly, know your gear, shoot the things you love, go outside your comfort zone, take risks, make mistakes and learn from them, have heroes, ignore the techno-garbage that is going on around you and realize that Facebook, Flickr, and Instagram are inventions of a society that places fame before substance. Make images, not social networks.
Don’t look down at your iPhone, look up with a sense of wonder at the mystical, spiritual, magical world that surrounds us.
What’s in Eric Meola’s bag?
I must own all the world’s camera bags–ALL of them.
But I mostly use a LowePro Stealth 650.
I insist on having my lenses mounted to my cameras, WITH the shade in place. I don’t see the point of storing lenses with their hoods in reverse and caps in place–I want to be able to shoot as fast as possible. The Stealth 650 is deep enough to let me do that!
And generally speaking I tend to use one body and one lens when I walk the streets of a place like Burma, or Haiti, or India–so the bag gets left with a driver, or I switch to a lighter,smaller, less conspicuous shoulder bag.
So, for instance, I can carry 2 bodies, with 2 lenses mounted with shades, such as a 70-200, and 16-35, ready-to-go in the Stealth. I also like that there’s a zipper on top so I don’t have to lift the cover to get to a camera. I can access the camera THRU the bag, not FROM it!
And, it will even hold a long zoom such as an 80-400 with hood in place! It will also carry a 1TB hard drive with cables, a 15″ laptop, and all the other paraphernalia of digital “life on the road.” And it’s incredibly well-balanced.
Somehow even when it’s got 3 or 4 lenses, two bodies, a laptop, and hard drive, cables, etc–somehow, it doesn’t seem that heavy. The strap and weight distribution seem to work better than on any other bag I own. It will even take a 300/2.8!
That’s the big bag. The small bag is a LowePro CompuDay Photo 150–it’s an unassuming shoulder bag that looks more like a messenger bag, and holds 2 lenses with a body.
Sometimes I don’t carry a laptop or even back up–I just bring the CF or SD cards back home. More often, I put a CF AND an SD card in the camera, write RAWs simultaneously to both, download the SD through the laptops’s SD slot onto an internal 1TB SSD, and keep its CF mate as a backup until I get back.
In other words, I re-use the SD card, but I come back with a stack of CF “backups”. More often than not, though, I’ll backup to one or two small 1TB drives made by Oyen–smallest ones currently available.
I’m also on the TSA “Trusted Traveler” list so I can go through security as expeditiously as possible. My iPhone has a Mophie battery pack on it so I don’t have to recharge as often. And, even to this day, I repeatedly go over where everything is in the bag–what pocket has that allen wrench for the Really Right Stuff baseplate?
Where is that damn connecting cord that…WTF, I simply don’t want to have the light exploding in my eyes, and miss the shot of a lifetime because I’m having a “brain freeze”.
I keep all my manuals for cameras, intervalometers, etc., on my iPad, and my DropBox is organized so I can get to just about anything important on the road–cloud-based contracts, images, passport copy, etc. I use an app called GPS tracks on my iPhone and keep it running in the background and it automatically sends a .gpx file to DropBox so I have a record of my travels for that day. I’m a big fan of the app TripIt, because I can organize all my flights, hotels and car rentals in seconds, with all the confirmation numbers, gates, costs, etc.
I import into Lightroom 5, and try to keyword as much as possible, especially if I’m somewhere exotic like India where the names are very complex and very long.
I like to build 1:1 previews, because they have a lot more color space, and give me a better indication of what the file looks like, and there’s little if any lag time in viewing the image sharpness.
I’m currently upgrading to a new Mac Pro “cylinder”, blinged out with a 1TB SSD, 32GB of RAM, and a 6-core, 3.5 GHz internal. Speed is what it’s all about–speed in writing and reading files as much as processing speed. Maybe in 5 years I’ll switch to a 16TB SSD RAID, and 256GB of RAM, but that’s not likely anytime soon.
I store my images on a state-of-the-art Pegasus2 8TB Thunderbolt 2 RAID 5 array. A backup is on a slower, less expensive, LaCie d2 5TB Thunderbolt/USB 3.0 drive, and a second backup is kept off-site in a bank safety deposit box.
I use two calibrated NEC 30″ monitors, model PA302-BK. The colorspace I work in is ProPhoto, and if you think you’ve seen color, you haven’t seen it–period.
These NEC’s are thick, super even wide gamut LED monitors that make my images look the best I have ever seen them. There’s a depth, luminosity and sense of infinitely variable tonality that I’ve never seen before. They look 3D, even though they’re 2D.
This is all science fact, not fiction, because the reality is we live in a different world than even 3 years ago. I try not to upgrade my system for at least 5 years, but the hardware is changing so rapidly that sometimes it’s just not time-efficient to stay with older computer gear. It’s not a world of my making, but while I’m in it I want to know I’ve built a system that works for me, and try to keep up with it as much as the next poor bastard who’s gasping at the speed at which technology is morphing like a runaway hydra in overdrive.