Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With ... George Lange
April 21, 2014 12:00 AM
Photographer George Lange
By Patricia Sheridan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Photographer George Lange grew up in Squirrel Hill, and his idyllic childhood helped inform his photography from the beginning. A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, he worked for photographers Annie Leibovitz and Duane Michals before going out on his own. His photographs have appeared in Esquire, Glamour, O and The New York Times. He does all the photography for the TLC cable network. His most recent book is "The Unforgettable Photograph: 228 Ideas, Tips and Secrets for Taking the Best Pictures of Your Life." He lives in Boulder, Colo., with his wife and two children.
How do you feel about the fact that photos can be manipulated on the computer?
I love it! [Laughs.] Because now you can easily put out the pictures that you are actually seeing in your head. Before there were all these limitations with the technology. There is an app now that lets you choose any film style that was ever made and apply it to your pictures, which is so awesome. Before, you had to pick a film, and you were stuck with that. Now, I can look at a picture and say, "Do I want it a little warmer, a little cooler, a little more contrast?"
Do you ever feel that because you are always looking through the lens you are being robbed of the actual experience of just being there?
That's a really tricky dance that I think all of us are dealing with now. We have gone, in the last five or six years, from being event photographers and taking out our camera for birthdays or holidays or vacation to creating our personal histories every day with these amazing digital capture devices that we are carrying around. It has changed the way we use the camera, the way we think about pictures, and we haven't discussed it that much. What I have tried to talk about with the book is that we are all living extraordinary lives.
The photographs that we leave behind can be so rich if you just pay attention to the way you are doing it and what you are recording. I find that my friends are so much more interesting than their pictures. They are having these amazing experiences, and then they are showing me a picture of their dessert [laughing]. I want your pictures to reflect the way that you see the world, which is differently from the way that I see the world.
In the book, you also talk about how you have to move around to get a good shot, change the perspective.
Absolutely. I am going all over the room. I am never standing still. Memory is so cheap that you can take a lot more pictures. I use that freedom to explore the subject and explore different ways of seeing. It's what you are doing when you are living your life. You are feeling with all of your senses, and that is another thing that kind of gets lost in the process. We think photography is only about seeing, but I feel like all our other senses should be informing our photographs, too.
So do you think the "art" element of photography is more related to your eye or technical prowess?
I don't think it's either [laughing]. I think technical prowess is something you just develop with experience. The truth is the cameras we have now are so sophisticated that you can take amazing pictures without knowing very much technically at all. I feel like I can take amazing pictures with my eyes closed. I really believe that appreciating your life with all of your senses and realizing how special every day is and how special it is that we are together with people we love, that to me is art. I think that if you live a really creative, artful and sensitive life and appreciate all the things that happen every single day, your photography will be a document of that kind of life.
George, you sound like someone who has had a life-changing or near-death experience.
Really? That is really the way I was brought up. I had an incredibly joyous childhood. In my neighborhood there were no divorces. We would sleep at each others' houses. I had an amazing childhood, and when I went out in the world, I appreciated it more and more. When I look back at my career, I realize I have been trying to re-create the joy I had as a child. My mother still lives in the same house that I grew up in and that she grew up in. She has lived there since she was 4.
That is so Pittsburgh.
And she is so Pittsburgh. She is in her mid-80s, and she is living the biggest life in Pittsburgh you could imagine. She is in a film group and goes to every movie. She goes to every lecture. She is at every opera. She is exercising and volunteering, and the reports from Pittsburgh I get every day from her -- you feel like it is the most amazing place. I am an older dad and have these little children, 3 and 6, and when I bring them to Pittsburgh, between the Science Center, the Children's Museum and the sports and Kennywood and the parks, it's just amazing. If you asked me, "If you have to leave Boulder, where would you move?" I would say, "Pittsburgh would be top of the list."
With the camera phone so ubiquitous, what is the impact on privacy?
It is fine not to take the picture but just live in the moment of the experience. When it comes to places that are over photographed, I mean, let's just say Kennywood. If we photograph our experience at Kennywood, it is singular and powerful. If we photograph what the rides look like, well, who cares [laughing]? When I go to a Pirates game, I don't photograph the field. I am never going to look at that picture. But if I photograph my 6-year-old with his hand on his heart singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," that is really powerful.
It's like a picture of a sunset to me is so boring. It's about the most boring thing you can photograph. However, the light from a sunset is extraordinary. If you turn the camera around to look at the light on your friends and family looking at the sunset, that is the picture.
Are you judicious about what you actually print out?
I love prints and I love creating objects with pictures. I think we are spending way to much time staring at a screen. I mean, the whole idea that everything can be viewed on a screen. We are already spending eight hours a day looking at a screen, and if we come home and spend another four or five hours, we are missing out on all the good stuff.
Let's say you are at a rock concert, and everyone is taking pictures. I think it is fine to pull out your camera and take a couple of pictures. I don't think it is so fine to then sit there and share it. And then see what the reactions are and then write back to the reactions and never really experience the music. I think you should take your pictures and put your phone away. Go home, look at the pictures. Pick out the best one and then share it and have your whole sharing experience after the concert.
The idea is to have real experiences and for the photography to document it. I get paid to meet strangers every day and take their pictures. So photography has given me this key to meet the president of the United States, the head of Microsoft, all these celebrities and interesting people.
As the photographer with the camera, do you feel you have the power when you go to photograph these famous individuals?
I may have power, but it involves a lot of responsibility. The reason I have a long career at this is I really appreciate what the responsibility is. If you are photographing someone famous you have the ability, in certain situations, to derail their career. If they let you in their home or meet you in a studio, there is an understanding that you are going to respect the power that you have.
It never occurred to me to be afraid of someone. I mean, am I supposed to be afraid of Honey Boo-Boo? She is a 7-year-old, and I photograph her all the time. For President Obama, I wasn't afraid. I was excited. It was a thrill for me, growing up a good liberal in Squirrel Hill, to shake his hand and to see him become president. That was a big deal!
Everyone is important. I am looking for what makes us special. I am looking for that place where we are all connected. I am trying to share that and inspire the rest of us to appreciate that in our own lives and share our own experiences.
Patricia Sheridan: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2613. Follow her on Twitter @pasheridan.
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