November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Gene Lowinger / Photographer

121006_029_sep2© Gene Lowinger

Street scene in New York City

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

The World As I See It

on the streets of New York City

with Chuck Haupt, Photography/Layout Editor 

Gene Lowinger’s career began as a musician, transitioned to author, and then photographer whose work captures the faces of NYC, out on the streets….

* * *

Q: You had quite a career as a musician, fiddling with Bluegrass legend Bill Monroe. How did you develop your passion for photography?

A: In the 1980s I began to SCUBA dive and loved the underwater colors and shapes, so I bought a Nikonos V camera and strobe. The Nikonos 35mm lens was also good for land photography, so I photographed the exotic locations to which I traveled to do my diving. After developing a bad case of pneumonia with residual lung problems, I had to discontinue my diving. But I’d already been bitten by the photography bug. I took a few courses at the New School in NYC, including b/w darkroom. I had some inspiring teachers.

Q: How did you happen to concentrate on being a documentary street shooter over other styles of photography?

A: My darkroom teacher, Mario Cabrera, was a stringer for Associated Press and he talked a lot to me about photojournalism. His teacher, Ben Fernandez, who was the head of the photo department at New School, was a documentary photographer. Between the two of them they got me interested in documenting life and times. I did other types of photography also − landscape, nature, macro, etc., but it was documentary/photojournalism that really gave me goosebumps.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

Gene Lowinger / Streets Scenes from the streets of NYC

very cold day in New York

140405_319_sep2

Houston Street

121017_008_sep2

120913_013_sep2

West 14th Street

All photos © Gene Lowinger. Used with permission.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

Q: The tone of your black & white photographs is very rich. Why do you like it over color?

A: I originally shot color slide film – especially Kodachrome. But I really enjoyed the darkroom process of b/w (except for developing the film itself, which I really hated). Making the manipulations and seeing the prints come alive in the developer was very exciting. I try to create images that tell a story. When someone looks at my image I want them to see the story, not the pretty colors of the clothes or the scenery. With b/w I have much more control over how the viewer’s eye moves through the image. And I like the abstraction of using just tones of gray, black, and white for my work. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate others who work in color. B/W is just the way I see when I shoot.

Q: How do you decide who to photograph while on the street? Ever get confronted by a person after you photograph them? If so, how do you handle it?

A: I don’t think about it. When I’m out walking around I let my intuition take over. All the thinking is done beforehand. I have in the back of my mind the kinds of situations and/or subjects I want to shoot. I look for people with interesting expressions or interesting  juxtapositions with their environment. I try to catch interactions between two people. I’m usually pretty close to my subjects and I use wide to ultra-wide lenses – 35mm equivalents of 15mm, 21mm, 24mm, and 35mm. Rarely longer than that unless I’m doing a portrait or a performance. I’ve been confronted, but not often since I’m very unobtrusive (sneaky). When a person becomes confrontational I just keep walking. If they follow me I go into a store and they never follow. Sometimes when people have asked why I’m taking photos, I tell them I’m working for the FBI or NSA. That gets a chuckle and breaks the ice, then I can have a pleasant conversation with them. I give them my card which has my website and blogsite on it.

Q: What cameras do you shoot with? How do they help with your style of photography?

A: At first I used a Nikon D700. But when Fuji came out with the X-Pro1 I jumped on it. I love the optical viewfinder. The size of the camera and lenses make it easy to carry around for long street walks and they don’t draw attention like the big ‘howitzer’ Canons (get it?) and Nikons. I also like the Fuji X-T1 very much. It’s smaller than the X-Pro1, but doesn’t have the optical viewfinder. The amazing quality of the EVF makes up for that. And I especially like that everything I need to change or control on the fly is available to me on the top of the camera with analog dials. I can see in an instant how the camera is set and make changes if I need to. No menus to scroll through. I shoot with zooms and prime lenses, depending on my mood and the particular situation. The Fuji 10-24mm zoom is a wonderful lens that allows for great flexibility on the crowded streets of NYC. But it’s a relatively large lens, so sometimes I take my 14, 23, and 35mm lenses with me. But I don’t obsess about equipment.  Learning to work with what I have to get what I want is more important.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

Gene Lowinger / The Jewish Diaspora, NYC

140611_307_sep2

 140429_111_sep2

140611_089_sep2

130925_287_sep2

Crown Heights

House of Sages on East Broadway.

All photos © Gene Lowinger. Used with permission.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

Q: You spend a lot of time on the Lower East Side documenting the Jewish neighborhood. What do you hope to become of this project?

A: I began that project over 20 years ago as a self-exploration. I’ve expanded the scope of the project now to cover areas of Brooklyn, upstate New York, and New Jersey. I’ve had several shows of the work as it developed, and eventually I will try to get a book put together.

Q: Which photographers have and still do inspire you?

A: The two at the top of my list are W. Eugene Smith and Garry Winogrand. I’ve been looking at their work for many years and every time I revisit them I see something new. It’s like playing a great piece of music by Bach. I’ve studied his solo works for violin for over 50 years and every time I practice one of the pieces I see and hear new things in it. Beyond those two photographers, I really like Robert Frank, Walker Evans, all the FSA photographers, the New York Photo League. More modern photographers such as Tim Hetherington, Joao Silva and Greg Marinovich of the Bang Bang club.

Q: What more can we expect to see from your photography in the future?

A: The Lower East Side project has a ways to go yet. It’s expanded into much more than I originally thought, so there’s quite a bit of work to do with it. I hope to start traveling, especially to Israel, next year. It’s an oasis of development and growth in a part of the world that always seems to be falling apart and in conflict. I’ll probably always stay with b/w, but maybe experiment a bit with color.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

See more from Gene Lowinger at: 

www.genelowinger.com and genelowinger.blogspot.com

About the interviewer: 

Chuck Haupt is Photography/Layout Editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

This interview was conducted via email in October 2014.