Jan 182011

D. I. E. &

“You can’t Use That!”

Openings are a great chance

for photographers to hang out,

wax poetica about images, &

compare their camera jewelry.

Both Craig and Misha shared

the stories behind their images

to a packed house last Thursday

night at the Leica Gallery.

Berlin Passout by Craig Semetko. Taken with a Leica MP and 50mm Summilux f 1.4.

D.I.E, what a way to live.

The snow from Tuesday was plowed and its puddles were frozen on every corner.  The wind picked up as the temperature dropped below freezing.  Walking across town, dodging the black ice patches, I was skeptical about the turn out for Thursday’s opening of “Unposed” and “Street Smart”.  Up the tiny elevator of 670 Broadway I found people spilling out of the Leica gallery.  Jackets hanging in the hallway, the crowd dropped their things and looked like they were here to stay.

Amsterdam by Craig Semetko taken with Leica MP & 35mm Summilux f 1.4.

Before I even had a chance to make the rounds I started chatting with photographer Craig Semetko about his work.  He is completely approachable and we dove right into the images.  He ran me through which pictures were shot with his MP and which ones had come from the M9 (both of which were around his neck).  Craig explained the body of work spans ten years of “…walking around with a camera.  Some days were better than others.”

Semetko’s primary source of inspiration comes from Henri Cartier-Bresson, and why not?  Bresson made a career out of wandering about, claiming he never knew how to properly travel or work for that matter.  In one of his many descriptions about photography he said:

“Photography appears to be an easy activity;

in fact it is a varied and ambiguous process

in which the only common denominator among

its practitioners is their instruments.”

Less Than Perfect Day by Craig Semetko taken with a Leica MP & 35mm Summilux f 1.4.

On the far wall was a picture of an elderly man walking past a statue, in a nearly matching pose.  In the garden behind the Louvre Semekto was having “one of those days.”  You know those days when the sky feels like its falling and the Photography Gods have extracted every last ounce of confidence from you.  Before cashing in his remaining chips, he saw a picture in progress. Craig described the scene as the last vestige of an otherwise worthless day of shooting.  As the man and his statuesque pose lined up for a second, he fired two shots and knew he was done.

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam by Craig Semetko taken with a Lieca MP & 35mm Summilux f 1.4.

Craig’s previous incarnation was as a comic writer.  This explains why he developed a philosophy on photography and named it D.I.E.  The gloomy acronym actually stands for Design, Information, and Emotion.  These are the three elements he combines in his work.  He admits that its easy to find one of the three and even two of the three, but he lives for the moments when all three come together.

Misha Erwitt & friends by Adam Marelli with a Leica M9 & 50mm Summicron f 2.0.

“You can’t Use That”

In the back of the gallery Misha Erwitt and his M7 were neatly tucked in the crowd.  Misha’s father, Elliott Erwitt, was entertaining the standard flock of young ladies who laughed lightly and smiled often at him.  It almost felt like being in their living room rather than an opening.

Elliot Erwitt holding court by Adam Marelli with Leica M9 & 50mm Summicron f 2.0.

This was the first time the images of “Street Sense” were all hung together.  When I asked Misha how many years of work were on the walls, he responded “Well I took that one when I was fourteen and that one over there was from last year…so I don’t know, ten years (heavy sarcasm).”  Doing the math, the work spans approximately forty two years.  Misha pictures are funny, but you will not burst out laughing.  It is the type of humor where you smirk and think “Man, people do some weird stuff.”

The work threads itself through the sidewalks of Manhattan to the boardwalks of Southern California.  Misha is a quiet observer.  He prefers to people watch in New York compared to California.  New York can be a difficult place to take pictures.  There are no shortage of images, but so many of them have been done before.  It’s a challenge to find a new view on the city, its people, and the weirdness that is New York.

But as a New York native, Misha has an edge.  When I asked him about a picture of a pilot flying over the skyline, I wondered “was he old enough to have taken that picture?”  He told me he was on assignment shooting a collection of World War II planes an ex-Navy pilot had in New Jersey.  On the ground the pilots hashed out a plan.  From take off to landing, everything would be choreographed.  He would shoot the sides of the plane, another shot head on, and a few more from above.  Misha said, ” The plan lasted about thirty seconds.  It was a mess.”  The bi-plane went one way, the fighter plane when the other.  After a half an hour of chasing each other around, Misha turned around and photographed the pilot of his plane.

Flying O'er Manhattan by Misha Erwitt taken with a Leica M7 and a 35mm Summicron f 2.0.

Back on the ground the pilot protest, “You can’t use that shot.  I’m getting divorced and my ex-wife can’t know where I am.”  Misha did not know how the pilot spent his time hiding out, but he said enough years have passed so he can finally use the picture.  I guess the city skyline in the background could have ended up as exhibit A, but instead captures a truly odd moment over the skies of Manhattan.

Photography comes in as many flavors as people.  For thousands of years we have not been able to capture the strange happenings of daily life.  It’s only been in the last hundred years that humor, in a freeze frame moment, has become part of our vocabulary.  And for every thousand moments which go unnoticed, it’s a treat to look through lenses of Craig and Misha at the scenes we might have missed.

Craig Semetko closing out the evening with a fellow Leica photographer by Adam Marelli, Leica M9 & 50mm Summicron f 2.0.

Lights Out

At eight o’clock the lights were flipped on and off.  It was time to pack up.  Misha held still for a picture and everyone said their good byes.  We shuffled towards the door, wrapped out scarves and put on our winter faces to combat the cold.  For those of you who could not make the opening the show runs until February 26th and is well worth a visit.

Leica Gallery located at 670 Broadway on the 5th floor. Look for the big banner.

The Leica Gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday from 12-6pm.

670 Broadway New York, NY.

I want thank Jay & Rose Deutch (Leica Gallery) for their warm reception on such a cold evening.

  2 Responses to “Craig Semetko + Misha Erwitt”

  1. Craig is an exceptional photographer and have talked to him through emails several times. A true gentlemen and a down to earth pro. His book “Unposed” sits in my collection with other greats like HCB, Helen Levitt, and Elliot Erwitt.

    • As far as I have seen, Craig really goes out of his way to talk to be available to people. Not every photographer is willing to answer questions about his work and photography in general. It sounds like he was very receptive to you too.

      Last week Craig was in NYC and we had a chance spend some time together. He is totally down to earth, no ego, pretense, or BS about him.

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