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In this installment of Douglas Kirkland On Photography, Douglas Kirkland talks with his friend and colleague, Gerd Ludwig. A photojournalist best known for his work in National Geographic magazine, Gerd Ludwig has taken a special interest in Russia and the former Soviet Union—in particular, the people and stories surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
As the installment begins, Gerd is packing for this third major trip to Chernobyl. Gerd shares his techniques for choosing and packing gear for a photojournalism expedition.
Next, Douglas and Gerd sit down for a wide-ranging conversation. They discuss the changing business landscape of photography and Gerd’s approach to photojournalism. Gerd also describes how and why he works in Chernobyl and details how he financed his latest trip through the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.com.
After Gerd returns from Chernobyl, he and Douglas meet again to review some of the photographs and video that Gerd shot during his latest trip. They talk about Chernobyl today, about how video is impacting photojournalism, and about the future of Gerd’s "Long Shadow of Chernobyl" project.
I grew up in a small town in Canada. Only 7000 people. The first picture I ever took was taken with a box camera, a Brownie box camera, and I remember pushing it into my chest, 10 years of age at the time, and pushing that device down and it went clunk. I got the buzz right then and it's never stopped since. Speed Graphic was the camera of the time and if you had this in your hand as a young man, I have to tell you, you really felt you were hot.
Turn this way, that way. I mean, that was a charge of like nothing else. I got a call from Look magazine. I was basically hired to shoot fashion and I was the new generation. I was in my mid 20s. The year was 1960. And then my boss in New York called me and he said, "We'd like you to go to Las Vegas with our movie editor because Elizabeth Taylor, who hasn't been photographed or had a story done on her in about 2 or 3 years now, has said she'll give us an interview." I sat quietly in the back of the room as the journalists interviewed her and I went up to her at the end and I took her hand and said, "Elizabeth, I'm new with this magazine," looking her straight in the eye just like I am you.
"Could you imagine what it would mean to me if you'd give me an opportunity to photograph you?" I was holding her hand still. Pause. She probably thought she was never going to be released. And then she said, "Okay... Come tomorrow night at 8:30." To make a long story short, I did. And I got pictures that ended up really starting my career photographing celebrities. I had the cover of Look magazine, my first cover, and from then it was like an explosion of possibilities.
This camera is the one that I actually used to photograph Marilyn Monroe, this very camera, this 500C. We went to visit her in her Hollywood home. It was this camera, myself, Marilyn. A wonderful photo session that went on for about three or four hours. And I feel a great attachment to this. I've been very careful to hold onto my images. Ever since I was always able to keep my pictures, so that's why I have all these books. 15 in all at the moment I believe.
I'm best known for my work around entertainment and these are work from the movies. You know they're different times, different places. I've worked on 160 films in all by our last count. For me, one the most significant and important areas of working with people is to know your subject, feel sympathetic toward them. You have to feel that I care about you, and I do. Boy do I ever! Because I know that what you have in you is going to make a great image.
And honestly, you can have any lens in the world or any type of camera, but if you do not have a subject who is connecting with you, your chances are substantially reduced of getting a good image. I learned from a lot of different sources and resources certainly, in photography in the early days and later on with computers. I asked a lot of people a lot of questions. And I had a lot of wonderful people help me. And frankly, years ago, somebody gave me a lesson I've really held onto and I feel this this way very strongly.
Do the same for somebody else. Wen you receive something good just pass it along. And I hope that you get out of this something special. And I'm trying to pass it along to you. I care about it. I hope you do.
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