It is with great joy and honor that I introduce to you today my Great Uncle, Marvin Seiger. My uncle Marvin is a wonderful man, full of life, and love, and wisdom. He is an incredible photographer and a true inspiration to me. It has been an absolute pleasure getting to know him better this past week through his stories and pictures. Here are the questions I asked him.
Tell us a little bit about yourself - where are you from?
I'm from Philly and spent my first 28 years there. I briefly attended Temple university at night and I also was on the original American Bandstand. I started out in retailing in the shoe department of Gimbels department store, the shoe part led me to the leather tanning end of the business. I became a leather marketer and have been in the style, marketing and management end since. I have made fashion and style presentations in 12 different countries, as well as appeared in dozens of tv talk shows. I have been a guest speaker in over 300 hundred sales meetings for companies like Doc Martens, Timberland, Tony Lama Boots, as well as spoke at various colleges. I am a past chairman of the INTNL leather show. One of my most cherished satellite positions was as an adjunct professor of marketing and style development at Pratt Institute, working with creative, young people was quite inspiring for me.
What kind of artist are you?
My " artistry " as such is mostly in conceptualizing and assessing a story within a situation, even in my professional business life. As an example in my photograph of the homeless " park friend ", we spoke for about 10 minutes and got acquainted before I took his photo, which in my opinion provided a sense of ease that I believe shows in his image, at least to me. It's just great when the photographer becomes part of the scenes environment. I also believe that the composition itself whether of a photo or of my marketing plans can trump technical aspects at times, of course those technical aspects are required to complete the picture in these times of digital!
When and how did you decide to become a photographer?
In 1953 my sister, your Grandma Janice gave me an Argus 75 camera for my Bar Mitzvah and the idea just " clicked ", and because we were so poor I was only allowed to take $12 of the money I received to buy a darkroom set. I set up the darkroom under the stairs leading to the basement. From that beginning I have never stopped in my quest to get the next prize winning image!
How long have you been a photographer?
Well now, that makes it exactly 60 years to the day and I'll keep doing it till I get it right! Up until two years ago I was still working in my own darkroom while simultaneously moving into digital, which I have now switched over to entirely.
Did you go to school to study photography or are you self taught?
Not any formal schooling but I have taken various workshops which were all helpful. In addition to some of the most reputable, professional instructors I've had, just being among others with the same goals provides very thoughtful, intermixed feedback that's the catalyst in becoming a " thinking " photographer as opposed to simply being a picture taker.
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
Oh boy, I've had all the good ones. Contax, Hasselblad and FUJI Medium Format. Currently I use a Cannon T31 and a Sony Nex6, a wonderful camera. Over time the most important thing I've learned is not necessarily the camera itself, it's the " glass ", the lens. When buying a camera that comes with a " kit " lens is not the very best quality it's because the are offering special pricing. They are of course capable for most people but its better to add individual high grade lenses that cost more, but if real sharp with the attendant contrast is your goal then these are the lenses that will take you there. My Nex 6 and it's kit lens is quite good but my extra lens A 1.8 50MM is sharper and allows additional contrast framing possibilities.
How would you describe your style?
Originally I was mostly interested in landscapes and such but eventually it morphed into cityscapes, then people, flowers, trees, desert growth, and then objects as mundane as old worn items such as rusted silver dinner wear, tools, slinky's, old shoes, ect. I also value the way the light addresses the object and especially portraiture's. It's the lighting and its tonalities that is the most important factor to dramatize pretty much every image.
What is the one photo you are most proud of and why?
There are at least 3, but lets say if I had to choose just one it would be " Now Where'd My Elephant Go " or sometimes also known as " Follow That Elephant ". It took place in the Serengeti of Tanzania during a safari. It was at the bottom of the collapsed floor of the Ngorongoro crater, now inhabited with many wild animals. We were following a family of cheetahs though this dried lake bed when I noticed these deep elephant tracks. This image has been published and had also won some awards. It is the framing and composition that make it so special, especially as it winds away in an asymmetrical pattern and seeming to vanish gradually to the top right corner. The driftwood almost seems to have been placed there purposely, but it was not, at least not by anything on this earth. Stopping our Landcruiser I cautiously hopped out, keeping in mind of the wild lions, cheetahs and elephants in the area to compose and take the picture. Knowing what I was standing in the midst of and what we had been following and then imagining what it must have looked like as the elephant trudged through was the thing that made me part of the image I took. It was that kind of ethereal feeling that was actually more exciting as I was seeing the actual animals first hand that made it a more personal situation beyond the actual photograph for me.
What inspires you when you are shooting?
I mostly think of the composition and or the framing and how best to utilize the existing available light. Those are the 2 key elements for me.
Who are a few of your favorite photographers?
Only a few years ago did I start including color, doing black and white almost exclusively. Black and white is the best way of using the light tonally and so my influences are Brett Weston for people, things that are natural in razor sharp tonals, Ralph Gibson for his dramatizing people and portions of an object with his use of light contrast. Michael Kenna for his softened, blended and harmonized tones on landscapes and cityscapes. Then there is Nick Brandt for his closeups of wild animals getting stark in-focus contrast without the use of telephoto lenses!
Are there any new projects you're working on at the moment?
My current project is organizing a collection of softened, toned images, using mostly black and white for a competition that I have been invited to participate in, at the North Valley Art League Gallery For International Juried Photography. The invite originated from photo's they saw from the Black and White Photography Magazine's online gallery which has a group of my work.
Do you have any advice you'd like to give to an aspiring photographer?
It's the art of seeing that will create the best work. Think of framing that can focus on a central part of the story that's not necessarily in the center of the frame and focalize on the lighting that dramatizes the main subject. Some of that of course can be done today in Photoshop but the stronger image will always come from the original composition that comes out of the camera.
*Photo credit: Marvin Seiger