When Fujifilm staged its X Series 5th Anniversary celebration event in Tokyo in mid-January, and launched the X-Pro2 Hybrid Multi Viewfinder camera, one short movie really grabbed my attention, the one made by Bryan Harvey on his father David Alan Harvey.
Bryan Harvey’s movie depicts the unique way that mirrorless cameras equipped with optical viewfinders, such as the new X-Pro2, its predecessor the X-Pro1, the X100 series and Leica M-Series rangefinder cameras, aid one in being immersed in the world as opposed to standing off and observing that world.
I have been searching for a metaphor, and the best I can find so far, though flawed, is the difference between a mirror and a wall. A mirrorless optical rangefinder camera is a window into the deep space with which a photographer is surrounded.
It is a window constantly on the move, showing more than the view the lens sees, keeping us alert to the vast realm of possibilities the world offers up to us, just outside the view on which we are fixed at any given moment.
In my own photographic practice, I discovered that cameras like those above as well their 120 roll film format optical rangefinder equivalents made by Fuji, Mamiya and Plaubel, gave me an edge in aligning far objects with near ones then capturing them in a split second.
Without the view being blacked out by the camera’s shutter at the moment of exposure, I could see exactly what I had captured at the very moment the shutter tripped. Each successive, successful image capture rapidly induced a flow state, the zone, defined as the mental state where one is “fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” [bctt tweet=”An amazing short movie by Bryan Harvey about David Alan Harvey and the Fujifilm X-Pro2.”]
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 x David Alan Harvey / FUJIFILM
American photographer David Alan Harvey from Magnum Photo Agency talks about photography and and his relationship with the camera FUJIFILM X-Pro2.
One the other hand, I found that entering the zone was much harder to achieve with cameras relying on the photographer seeing an image projected onto a screen or ground glass, especially DSLR cameras and to a lesser degree mirrorless EVF (electronic viewfinder) cameras.
My metaphor for this way of seeing is a wall, based on the camera obscura that existed well before the advent of photographic film. A full-sized camera obscure projects images through a pinhole onto a wall where they are observed or traced.
Each way of seeing and photographing, window or wall, has its benefits and downsides, its pros and cons, and neither should be considered better or worse than the other. There are times when one needs to stand off to one side and observe, and others when one wants to be right in the middle of the action, at times more objective and at others as subjective as it is possible to be.
When I watched Bryan Harvey’s short movie over and over again, I was also struck by his unique skill in communicating what it is like being a photographer working in an immersive, subjective, window-equipped way as David Alan Harvey often does.
So I asked Bryan some questions about his background, his methods and whether growing up as David Alan Harvey’s son has influenced his own vision as a moviemaker.
How important to your work as a cinematographer has exposure to the world of stills photography been for you?
As you can imagine, I had a pretty unconventional childhood, being the son of a National Geographic photographer. Both of my parents are artists, so the study of light and composition within the frame has always been something that was talked about. Our house was filled with photo books by masters like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and so on. So I grew up flipping through those, studying the photographs.
My dad was (and still is) the social hub for many top photographers, dropping by for late night bull sessions where I would stay up late and listen, absorbing all this talk about photography. So a lifelong study of still imagery has very much shaped how I see through the lens. Adding motion to that was just a natural progression for me.
I consider it a lifelong education process, and I’m always trying to improve. Today I marvel at the work of great cinematographers like Emmanuel Lubezki, or Roger Deakins, and try to borrow, copy, or steal what they do!
Did your father’s work as a photojournalist influence you in how you see and how you work?
We traveled as a family all over the world on assignment with my dad. I mean, at ten years old I was going up a remote river in Borneo to photograph head-hunting tribes that were totally cut off from civilization.
I remember pulling up to their village in our dugout canoe with bare-breasted women running to greet us, excitedly touching my hair because they had never seen blond hair before. We slept on the floor of their longhouse with the whole tribe, human skulls still hanging from the rafters. This was in 1977.
I don’t think there’s a lot of those experiences left in the world, so growing up like this definitely ruined me for ever being able to have some sort of desk job. But I grew up watching how my dad worked on assignment and learned a lot from that.
Shooting stories for National Geographic is not just wandering around taking random pretty pictures. A thirty-page photo essay requires intensive research, producing skills on the ground, and cohesive pictures that add up to tell a story. So all of this translates to filmmaking.
Telling stories with pictures is kind of built into my DNA. I think the biggest thing about growing up this way is it’s given me an innate ability to approach any situation or location and quickly determine where to place myself to try and produce the most compelling images.
How would you characterize his particular way of seeing the world and making photographs in it?
My dad is all about immersing himself in whatever the situation may be and participating. It’s the opposite of the fly on the wall. You get a sense from his work that he’s not only relating to the subject but there is a closeness and trust there.
I also think he takes a slightly exaggerated view and sees everything with great enthusiasm, and I think this shows in his work. He’s always been excited by the idea of being able to walk out the front door and produce interesting images anywhere, in the vein of Cartier-Bresson, with no need for war, or death, or catastrophe – instead it’s about saying something about the human spirit – communicating something we can all relate to that transcends across all cultures.
Documentary photography can do so much and is a such a powerful medium, but any single photograph has to distill it down into something digestible – a mother’s loving look at her child, or a young boy showing off for the girl next door, whether they are in Mexico, or Malaysia. Anyone can look at his work and relate to what it’s about.
My dad is an inspiration for so many, and a big part of that is his enthusiasm for photography even at his 70 plus years. When others might be hanging it up, he’s still moving forward, growing and exploring new ideas with his work.
Your depiction of your father in the short movie for Fujifilm has captured the experience of being a photographer immersed in the world, just two eyes, a mind and a camera, effectively almost naked except for a little piece of high tech metal and glass and electronics, in a way I have never seen before.
How did you do it?
One goal I had on this project was to try and shoot in a style that would capture the feeling and philosophy of using a rangefinder camera (like the X-Pro2) which is so different from photographing with an SLR.
It's a bit subjective but shooting with a rangefinder can feel more immersive, less removed from the subject. So I tried to craft my shots to be almost like a POV of the photographer as he’s moving through the world, immersing himself in the subject matter. This is one of the main reasons for choosing a camera like the X-Pro2, so I felt it was important to try and capture that, at least in a subliminal way.
Also, from the outset I decided that we would go for philosophy rather than talking about the camera itself. It’s just a much stronger message, and these days viewers are so sophisticated that even a whiff of a direct sell on the camera would turn people off rather than attract them.
So for the voice-over, I conducted several interviews in the field with my father, trying to get at the essence of his philosophy.
Then I cherry-picked the best bites and wrote some lines to connect the dots. Then we re-recorded everything, making sure tone and emphasis was just right.
Bryan, please tell me more about how you shot your movie footage, your crew, your shoot’s duration and location.
This project was shot on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. I had eight days on the ground, but only actually shot a few choice hours here and there, at the prime situations in the best light.
This was my strategy from the beginning, because I had the flexibility to do so, and felt it would yield the best results with the budget we had. Most commercial shoots don’t allow for this kind of serendipity.
The commission was a two-minute video so I knew I really only needed to focus on about three main shooting situations. I did not do any real storyboarding – except maybe in my head. I had been to Puerto Rico before, so I already has some ideas and did some location research online before the shoot.
Before we flew down, I had the La Perla Skatebowl, the dock at Crashboat, and horses on the beach set up, and then figured we’d find a few other interesting situations once we got on the ground. The pelican whisperer and the coconut guy were a result of that – building-in time in the schedule to just allow for the unexpected.
I worked solo for the most part, except for one day I had an AC to assist at the skate bowl. We also had a full time local fixer to help get releases, etcetera.
One might approach a project like this with a much larger support crew, but then your budget clock is ticking big time, shoot days get confined to a few consecutive days or whatever, and every hour of the day is planned out and scheduled on a call sheet – things can get somewhat forced and then you might miss out on the magic. You also lose flexibility when you have so many moving parts with a big crew.
So yeah, there were times it was totally hectic, like running around with a hand-held gimbal by myself, pulling focus, looking for a place to set it down to clean the lens after it got splashed with salt water, all the while with this amazing pelican whisperer scene happening behind me…
I shot the project with a Sony A7s II almost entirely on a [Freefly Movi M10] gimbal. It’s all shot in 60fps 1080p, no special lens filtration, but after a lot of research and testing I used the very flat S-Log2 color profile. I edited in a 24fps timeline and color graded in Adobe Premiere Pro.
What thoughts went through your mind as you shot it and edited it?
Message, energy, pacing, tone, flow… these are all things I think about when I’m crafting a film in the edit room. When I’m shooting I kind of just get in the zone and just reacting to what’s in front of me, trying to get the perfect shot.
What were you and your father thinking during the planning process?
It was a bit of a scramble at first because we didn’t have much time to prepare. We initially wanted to shoot in Cuba, where we've both worked before, but ate up a few weeks with red tape at the Cuban embassy trying to secure media credentials to shoot there.
With the clock ticking we ended up abandoning that idea obviously, and Puerto Rico ended up being just perfect for us.
How have your clients at Fujifilm received your movie?
I have to thank Fujifilm for trusting my vision and giving me total creative control, which is rare for commercial work. The project was very well received by Fujifilm. They flew us out to Tokyo for the product launch where my dad spoke and showed his work, and the video was screened for a large live audience, which is always the best to get that live feedback.
What response has it had from photographers?
Everyone I met in Tokyo seemed excited about the project. The video is close to 100k views so far, and I’ve seen lots of positive comments all over social media.
Have you shot movies for other camera makers?
I have worked with Panasonic on a few projects. My first was the debut video for the GH4.
Then more recently an anamorphic short film, spin, drift, to demonstrate the new anamorphic capabilities of the GH4, which was a fun project I was able to shoot in my own backyard here in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
A Failure & A Hope
I have a confession to make. Some years ago, during a photographer-in-residence fellowship at a university in a distant state, I encouraged media department staff to shoot some movies about the documentary and fine art photographers who sometimes dropped by on assignment or to work on personal projects.
They began with one on me and the project I was working on, involving documenting life in the streets of the city. My way of photographing with Leica rangefinder cameras and wide angle lenses was intense and rapid. I had honed an ability to accurately previsualize images without studying the scene through the viewfinder and captured images super fast.
My critics, and I had plenty of them in that isolated place prone to strange ideas about the world, told me it was impossible to work in that way and produce those images, that I must be carefully casting and staging such scenes. Nothing could be further from the truth.
That movie about my way of working failed in its aim and was discarded. On the other hand, Bryan Harvey’s movie about his father working in a similar way and at similar speeds with a similar camera works very well indeed, and I would dearly love to see father and son collaborating on a documentary much longer than two minutes duration.
(cover photo credit: snap from video)