Name: Bob Fischer
City, Country: Oakland, CA
Website or Portfolio Site: www.robertfischerphoto.com
Preferred Social Network Account: www.facebook.com/bobfischer
What is your name?
When did you begin listening to The Candid Frame?
I started listening to the Candid Frame I think 5 years ago. I found the interviews to be the most interesting podcast I was subscribing to. There were a few I listened to regularly like Martin Bailey and the two fellows from Sydney but the CF was the most interesting because I could relate to it directly. I would listen to the questions of the interview and simultaneously listen to the answers and answer the questions myself obviously regarding my own photography.
How long have you been shooting and what inspired your interest in photography?
I started shooting in 1997. I began as a painter and always wanted to be a photo realist painter like Chuck Close or Richard Estes but I didn’t have the skill. I would do a lot of commission portrait work and I would go into the closets of my clients and dress them up and create scenarios, narratives that would fit them or fit whatever idea I had of them in my head. I had a very good friend Jamie Craig, who would photograph the clients for me. I would art direct the sessions and she would click the shutter. I always wanted to be a photographer but was insecure about when was the right time to click the shutter so I used her as my eyes and clicker. On a few occasions I was unable to go with her when she photographed my clients but she would always say, I know the Fischer Look and she would take the photos without my being there. It was interesting that although the quality was always in the photos, the content or joie de vivre was missing, there was something missing from the photos. Obviously that something missing was I, it was my connection with the models during the photo sessions that sucked the life out of them and put it on the film. This was during the time of film so I became quite adept at looking at proof shoots and using a loupe to find the best shots. Then I would collage the images to create the narrative. Just as an aside, when I began as a painter I always painted people and not being trained in school, (I have my degree in Psychology and wanted to be a therapist) I was very insecure about drawing and painting the human body because I didn’t know how to draw it so I would always use black and white photos: Hurrell, Avedon, Brassai, Irving Penn, et al. I trained my eye to look deeply into the black and would turn the photos in the light until I could see the different shades of black so I could see where the shapes were. Black and white photos were much easier to draw because the shadows were more clearly defined. I also loved working with kodaliths because of the absence of grey. So black and white is my favorite photography although I’m a colorist and love using color and the psychology of color in manipulating the viewer. In 1997 my partner and I went to the Amazon and when I returned I saw that the local college in Palm Springs was offering a photo 101 class for $39 so I decided “How could I go wrong”
I never learned how to develop film, that was too difficult but I did have a regular person who developed all my film and would give me proof sheet sand cut and load the negative sheets for me. I loved printing though, and I would work for hours in the dark room. I am still fascinated watching an image come up from a white sheet of paper. There is nothing sexier. I remember getting my first digital camera, a Fuji something or other and shooting everything in 72 dpi because I could get the most photos on the card. Eventually I took a basic digital class from the same college to learn about file sizes, types, etc. to do real photography with a Digital Rebel, my first digital SLR. It’s been magic ever since and I would never go back to painting much to the deep regret of many clients. Probably the most important thing I learned was from my mentor in Kalamazoo who was called the Nude photographer of Kazoo because I photographed female nudes. He taught me that a great portrait is a true collaboration between the photographer and the model; it is the lemniscates, the infinity of energy that flows back and forth from the photographer to the model to the photographer. That letting your model how the are doing, that they are giving you what you want, encourages the model to give you more about who they are, that they are active participant in the project, not merely a bowl of fruit.
Do you have a preferred genre or specialty of photography? Why?
I do love to photograph anything from landscapes to architectural but real love is shooting people. As I wrote, I have a degree in psychology and I have what I call a Dr. Doolittle thing with people, a true push me/pull you. I love people and I dislike people and I love photograph them. My mentor, the nude photographer of Kalamazoo, Jim Reigle taught me everything about shooting portraits. He told me that a great portrait is collaboration between the photographer and the model. That your subject has to trust you to give up to you who they are. Without portrait photography is empty. I am really good at getting to the heart of my models, I don’t do a lot of research about who they are and I don’t spend much time before the shoot talking to them but I do engage with them, being humorous, being real, and this allows me to relax my subjects and suck the life out of them. I am kind of like Dracula with a lens; I suck the life out of my subjects. Although is may sound crude and you probably wont be able to use this in print, I have always said that I crawl between the psychological legs of my models to get to the source of who they are.
What subject matter, themes, and ideas do you like to explore or inspire your photography? Why?
Although I have been interviewed and asked this question many times it always seems daunting to come up with an answer because what I shoot, the things I shoot, the themes of my work are quite varied. I love black and white and I love light. So although I love to shoot architectural and landscape I would have to say the main thrust in my work is the relationship between people to themselves, to their environment and to one another on all levels, i.e., psychological sociological, and psycho sexual. My work is very narrative because I love a good story, I love watching movies and great drama and great comedy. I love irony and the outrageous and ugly and horrible. Serial killers and Nazis fascinate me because of the absolute evil and the depths to which human beings can drop. I am always in love with the heights that human beings can attain. I discovered I was gay at 22 although I suppose I always knew I was gay, one always knows he or she is gay but we’ve learned to “as my friend once said” learned to screen out the P@@@y because we have to in order to survive or at least had to until recently. So there is a very gay angle to some of my work. Although I get embarrassed I love shooting nudes, male and female, and creating situations where sexuality and nudity are an integral part of the narrative, if that’s where I want to go that day. I’m fascinated by the near desperation that people go through to be even moderately unique and interesting: rings in there faces, Mohawks, clothes, and the endless stream of things people do to be special. I’m interested in people stuck within a certain decade because that’s the year they looked the best: Ruby Keeler, James Dean, etc. I love doing portraits; I love crawling inside of people to suck out the inside of who they really are. I love people and want to know everything I can about them.
I also love street photography and being on a live wire every second and the absolute rush I get when I see something, have the lens cover off, the camera turned on, and I get THAT Shot. It’s a jolt, it’s real, and it literally pushes me back when I get it. Street photography has taught me about the surprise of getting something in the camera that I never saw in front of me, at least not consciously. I have learned the utmost importance of the punctum in the perfect shot. That in that perfect shot there is one little thing without which the photo loses its power. I love the use of color and the psychology of color, or manipulating the viewer with color, of pushing them where I want them to go, to see what I want them to. I’m writing this but I don’t really feel like I’m saying all that I want to say. I love the absurd and the outrageous; I love the humanity of people, and love people at the fringes of society, the twisted and the perverse, and capturing their humanness. I have always felt that to take a photo of someone who looks outrageous, a punk with tattooed face and rings is easy, Helen Keller could shoot that just like shooting a sunset or a Frank Ghery building because it is the tats, the sunset, and the building that are interesting, not the photo My goal is to take a great photo of the most mundane and grey person and conversely photograph someone on the farthest edge and shoot them in a way that their humanness shines through. It’s all about being compassionate for my subjects, what ever that subject is at the moment I click the shutter.
It’s funny, really, and awesome (a word I rarely use) but when I’m out and see an extraordinary person, a Bob Fischer must have model I get quite agitated, I know I have to photograph that person. I’m quite shy but I also know that if I don’t go up to ask them to pose for me I will be losing something special. I will walk around until I get up my courage to go up and talk with them. Many times they say no, and although I’m disappointed, at least I ask. There are other times, when they say yes. I always assure them that I’m not a serial killer, I tell them why I need to have them, and then give them my card I know when I see someone extraordinary, be it on a bus, in the grocery store, I the movie theater, on the airplane, where ever, I know that I need them. Sometimes I can shoot them on the street where I can avoid having to talk to them, but, of course, when you ask someone to take their photo, it changes the demeanor, and most times I want that connection. I never let fear get in my way even though I’m scared shitless to ask them. I’m 64 so it obviously doesn’t get easier. My appearance generally helps because I have purple hair, I wear a lot of color, and I look like an “Artist” so I’m not that scary. I suppose Ted Bundy didn’t look scary either. I have been living in Marseille, France for the lat 3 months and asking to take someone’s photo is a bit daunting but my French has gotten better and my courage the same.
Above all, I look to infuse my work with a sense of humor and irony.
What creative or professional goals do you have for your photography?
When I was younger in my twenties I wanted to be famous and wealthy so I could just do my art, my painting. I had a rather outrageous life in Chicago doing everything I could to be famous with my artwork. I wasn’t willing, though, to go to new York, live out of garbage cans and be a waiter and suck up to be famous. I didn’t want it enough. I didn’t have luck, like Calvin Klein in an elevator, or someone else who gets discovered. I was in the press all the time in the 80’s in an era where being in the press was disdained with the serious art world. I went to Melbourne Australia in the 1990’s and was the subject of a documentary “Original Shtick” and although it made me famous it had nothing to do with my art, it was about me. I always wanted to be a celebrity photographer but unfortunately I’m not really good at making people look their best. I look for the crease, the wrinkle, the quirk, and the pieces of people that make them who they are with lighting to accentuate who they are. This doesn’t work well with portrait photography, wedding photography celebrity photography, etc. I shoot nudes of men with everything out unflattering, powerful, direct, and this doesn’t make for a wide client base. At 64 I don’t care, really, anymore. I have a comfortable life, I have funds to allow me to do nothing but what I want and I just love photography. I did go back to painting and decided that painting was too boring. I’m from Chicago so I like to get things done yesterday. Painting is too slow. I paint in the computer with Photoshop. I taught myself to use Photoshop skillfully and because I am a painter and not a photographer, I’m not concerned with getting a great photograph; I’m concerned with getting a GREAT Image. There s a huge difference. Although I do understand how to use my camera I wouldn’t fare well in a room of photographers because I use the camera intuitively and really have difficulty with F-stops and focal lengths. I have also done a lot of work on myself to get past the “Fame” thing. I just want to really enjoy my life, do great work, meet amazing people, and push the envelope as far as I can with my art, with my subjects, and with what I can get away with.
Do you have an interesting story or anecdote for one of the images you have submitted in your portfolio?
For many years I contributed to flickr and actually made friends with many of the photographers whose work I came to admire. There was one fellow who was the most amazing face painter I had ever encountered. Every day he would create these unbelievable works of art using his face and paint and cardboard and whatever he needed. He would then photograph himself and put his work on Flickr. Occasionally he would videotape himself making these creations. He lived in nowhere Indiana about 100 miles from Chicago. I was in Chicago and decided to visit him and have him create one of his amazing face paintings for me so that I could photograph him we had traded photos and he loved my work……………… I left on a Saturday morning to go to meet him. It was snowing and I remember it was very cold that day. I was excited and a little scared since I had no idea that he was or what he was, only that I loved what he did. His name is Haw Haw James. I rang the bell and this gigantically tall man opened the door and graciously invited me in. He was a former drag queen and now a born again religious fanatic who still loved doing drag and his face painting grew out of that profession. Thomas Kincaid, and religious icons filled his house with his paintings and crucifixes and paintings of Jesus and sparkling evening gowns, and art, and paintings on black velvet and much much more. I couldn’t believe what I had walked into. It was an amazing fantasy. I immediately started photographing him and his house. He told me that he decided to create a drag queen bunny rabbit and proceeded to sit at this amazing dressing table in a Joan Crawford dressing gown and heels and begins to put on his cardboard bunny ears. I started shooting. The light was weirdly skewed and kind of creepy. He added Chiclets for teeth and then went to his closet to pull out this amazing red satin dress and a bright yellow feather boa. There were feather boas all over the house. He held up his video camera and began to film himself and then uploaded the images to Flickr. We were talking and he asked me if I would like to meet his friend, Beverly who was sleeping in the bedroom. I was taken aback since I didn’t know there was anyone else there. “Sure, I’d love to meet her.” He told me that she had just had a mastectomy a month ago and might be rather shy about getting photographed. I always carry fabrics with me when I go to a session as props. I buy fabric from all over the world to use in my odalisque images and studio work. I had brought some black on black see through fabric with me. Beverly came out of the bedroom and we began talking. She told me that she would love to pose for me and I asked if she would pose nude for me. I did a series of images of her and her with James and then we went into the bedroom, which was painted a brilliant red, Chinese lamps around, and well, you can see the final photograph. It’s all about color and the yellow boa and the red walls, and the weirdness of the giant rabbit standing in the corner. The mastectomy is there but it isn’t blatantly obvious. It’s a rather bizarre take on the movie, “Harvey”. I’m not known for subtlety but I actually can be and sensitive as well. Only in this case the rabbit was real and he was standing in the corner in a red satin sequined ball gown.
Do you have any personal projects that you have or are working on that we would find of interest?
My husband was an amazing writer and poet. He died two years ago in March and the last 6 months of his life while he was dying I photographed the process of his death. It is not only a unique collection of images involving not only him but also strangers whom I invited to participate in the project to extend the range of the photography. After his death I went into a deep mourning period for a year and although I continued to do my photography I felt that the life had run out of my work. I was listless, lackluster, and quite a boring photographer. On the anniversary of his death I seemed to wake up out of a psychological coma and I came up with the idea of photographing the writers and poets of the Bay Area. The Bay Area, even before the Beats, was the seminal spot for poetry and writing in the US. I had been my husband Edward’s editor, and although I had read a great deal in college, I no longer read anything except for magazines and that was mostly for the pictures. Somehow doing a photographic essay of the writers of the bay area seems accessible. Although I would have loved to photograph serial killers on death row in Nigeria the writers seemed easier, more accessible, more in my league, and they all spoke a version of English. I met a man who I started dating and he was integrated into the writing community. He offered to funnel models too me. The bottom line of the project was that they would be portraits of writers in their homes, not their favorite cafes, or their offices but in their homes. I would do no research about these people prior to meeting them. I would only know their names. I was also concerned with making the collection non homogenous, i.e., not all white males. The quality or level of fame of the models was irrelevant because the equalizing factor in the project was simply, they were writers, published, unpublished, famous, non famous, young, old, black, white, Asian, et al. It was challenging to walk in cold and capture meaningful images that captured the souls of these creative people. This project would be a paean to Edward, my husband. I intend to produce a book of the collection and then use the book to expose the world to Edward Proffitt’s art. Setting up very clear parameters made the project easier. If the models refused to comply for whatever reason, well there were always more writers and poets. I shot in a myriad of locations, weird locations on the top of mountains and in the bowels of a former slaughterhouse in San Francisco, which was something out of Nightmare on Elm Street. The photography part of the project ended the day before I left for Marseilles, which was October 1st. 2013. I managed to shoot within the space of 4 months 80 subjects. One day I was sitting in front of the counter and I pulled all 360 processed and completed images into Iphoto and set up a slide show at 4 seconds per image. As the photographer I look at my work from shoot to shoot but I never really sit and look AT MY WORK. I put on Dave Brubeck and ran the slide show. It was mesmerizing. I had chills from just sitting and looking at what I had created over 4 months. The number, variety, and shape and size of the models, and the variety of the images overwhelmed me. Since they were all done without preplanning the images ran the gamut of all the various styles I use in my work, they were all different. It was mind blowing and thrilling. I hosted a party of twenty friends and colleagues and got them to agree to just sit and watch. The feedback was fabulous. The project “Listen Very Closely” is now going into its next phase of using kick-starter to raise funds to publish the book. This is my project when I return from Marseille on January 3rd.
What is your favorite piece of equipment, software or accessory that makes a difference in your photography? Why?
I have two favorite pieces of equipment, which pushed my work light years ahead. The first is a remote transmitter that fits into the hot shoe on the camera and my off camera flash. I'm a self-taught photographer and I knew nothing about off camera lighting and remote triggers. My friend is a professional wedding photographer and he gave me a simple lesson. I really used this lighting system when I did my "listen Very Closely" writer project. It actually made doing the project possible. I could assemble the light stand and alien bees light in 2 minutes, and just slide the remote into the hot shoe. It gave me total freedom of movement and the position able strobe head allowed me, when possible to point the light at the ceiling to get a soft even light. Any dramatic lighting and color I could screw with in Photoshop. The other piece of equipment is the software filter from alien skin "silver efex pro". Although there are a myriad ways of creating black and white images, this software not only mimics dozens of various film stocks but also allows for on point mini tweaks to make the image as perfect as possible. It is an invaluable tool.
Although I began with film, I love the speed and immediacy of digital. Photoshop is a given.
What tip or suggestion has best helped your development as a photographer? Why?
The most important tip I ever got was from my mentor, Jim Riegel. I met him in 1975 when I lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was a master at romancing people out of their clothes in front if his camera. But he was also brilliant at relaxing his models because of his schtick in the way he talked with them during the photo shoot. He told me that a great portrait is collaboration between the photographer and his model. Models naturally want to please the photographer, to give the camera what it wants. Models that pose in a vacuum have no barometer to tell them how they are doing. I've been in that situation where the photographer says nothing. One can't help but feeling anything but stupid. You keep asking, "Am I doing ok?”
Which episode of The Candid Frame photography podcast would you recommend to others? Why?
For me that is an impossible question. I have been listening to the podcast from close to the beginning of the series. I can't remember a specific one but I do come away each time with the universality of the birth and development of creativity, I.e., what artists/ photographers go thru in the process of devoting their craft. The struggle and frustration of learning new processes, the angst of producing and selling work in a fickle marketplace, and the joy of being in perfect synch when process and outcome come together. It is the inverse tenets of art that are energizing and inspiring, especially when I'm in a slump. And, Ibarionex, you have gotten much better at asking insightful and gnarly questions.
And although the questions don't include this I would have to say the only criticism I have is the uneven quality of the production, I.e., the physical quality of the way your subjects sound. Sometimes the sound quality is really off. It is apparent in the most recent episodes that you have solved that problem. The sound is even and clear.