Wednesday Lunch with David Travis

Wednesday Lunch with David Travis

August 16, 2019 0 By Cedric Fleming


[BACKGROUND CONVERSATION] [BELL DINGING] SPEAKER 1: Thank you. Thank you. Hello, everybody. Welcome to today’s
Wednesday lunch here at The Divinity School. I’m Karen Warren. I’m the Director of
Communications here, and I organized this series. I personally thank
you for being outside, and then coming
inside, and knowing you have to go back outside. [INAUDIBLE] Before we get
started, we’re going to do our usual
housekeeping announcement. So first, I want to thank
today’s chef, [? Izzy ?], for our– [APPLAUSE] This is like the perfect
comfort food for today. Thanks, guys. So since they spent all morning
preparing and serving you, we ask that you clean
up after yourself. We have garbage and
compost in the back. And we have a yellow
soapy bath, which is where all your utensils go. And if you could bring
your mugs to the back, that would be also helpful. I wanted to announce
that next– we should have the Google forms
set up for RSVPs going forward. This is our first
lunch of the year. Next week we’re going
to have Randall Blakey. He’s the Executive
Pastor of Lasalle Church. I’m missing a word in there but
I can’t remember what it is. So sign up for that. Sign up for all the
rest of our lunches. And if you can’t, if you don’t
know what I’m talking about, you’re not on our
email list or anything like that, come see me. I’ll get you some. Are there any community
announcements today? I think tomorrow there’s
a big concert band. AUDIENCE: Hey, [INAUDIBLE]. Just want to draw people’s
attention to– there’s an exhibit on Yiddish
printing in Chicago up on the third
floor of the library that was curated by Sunny
Yudkoff, the senior lecturer in Yiddish [INAUDIBLE]. And I’ll send out an
announcement [INAUDIBLE]. It’s pretty awesome. You should go see [INAUDIBLE]. SPEAKER 1: Sunny Yudkoff? AUDIENCE: Yeah. SPEAKER 1: Anyone else? Things that [INAUDIBLE],
do you know? AUDIENCE: Just a heads
up, class applications are due on February 8th to me. But an announcement went out
right before the winter break. I’ll probably send around a
reminder that that’s sent. And internal petitions for the
PhD program are due on Friday. I’m sure many of you
may know already. SPEAKER 1: OK
Well, then I’ll get to announcing our
guest for today. I’m really thrilled to be here. We found our way to our
lunch through a series of high capitulated events. So our guest for
today is David Travis. He’s a graduate of
the college 80/71. He’s an author and
a curator, and he’s a former chair of the Department
of Photography of the Art Institute of Chicago. He got his start by photography. He’s a photographic
editor of The Maroon. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] SPEAKER 1: –which only
exists online today, but– [INTERPOSING VOICES] So obviously, we have a
photographic component. David is going to be talking
about A Voyage of Discovery. So join me in welcoming him. [APPLAUSE] DAVID TRAVIS: Well, I am happy
to be here and happy to be fed. [INAUDIBLE] So thank
you again to the chef. [APPLAUSE] Made my day. I would be at home
writing an essay. You know how you eat then. It’s not good for you. So people, I think
what this is about, and we’ll know what it’s
about when we get in. I’d rather wander though. It’s not Rimbaud. We’re not in a drunken
boat or anything. But I teach now at
Columbia College, which is an art, media,
and performance school. Visual people who have
to write term papers? This can’t [INAUDIBLE]. But I say to them
without [INAUDIBLE], nobody gets an A here unless
I learn something from you. They go, huh? Well, they grew
up, and you have, in a different era than I did,
and different things happened. So remember one student, who
really had great questions. He said, how do
you go to a museum? [INAUDIBLE] He said, I ask because we
grew up playing video games and watching movies. We didn’t read books
or go to museums. And I thought, oh, boy. I have to learn to
teach differently. So I teach mostly
History of Photography. And so all these old
pictures are new to them. The new, I don’t
have it to show. The very first one
that it ever succeeded is this interesting,
strange picture. And I go on and on
about processes, and how [INAUDIBLE] embedded
it, and in this product had invented the first
internal combustion engine. And then they invented
photography from that? That’s GM and Kodak,
all the other. But they didn’t
capitalize on any of that. But after I was done,
one of my students said, you didn’t talk
about that as a picture. I said, he didn’t know he
was going to get a picture. Well, I want to know
about the architect. I said, they’re probably
16th Century French buildings in a courtyard. She said, no, the
one in the picture. I said, I dont’ see
any architecture. Well, there was a
big slanted roof, and some trees
nebulously back there. And when you looked
at it then, it looked exactly like an architect
at a drafting table like this. I said, oh, my god. I’ve been looking at
this for 40 years. All of my colleagues,
no one has ever mentioned there is a guy in
there, and you can’t unsee it. So the next class I
did a similar thing. And I said, so I know
you haven’t seen it. Look at it. What do you see? And the first guy in the
front row said, who’s the guy? And I said, see,
it’s invisible to me. So the smartest person in my
field is a good friend of mine. He said, oh, David,
because you only know– you only see what you know. So how would you
start seeing things you didn’t know visually, not
as subjects in the picture? How would you
reinvent a picture? He said, well, we know
how we learn academically. [INAUDIBLE] in
the middle of that and how you continue doing that. All right. Fine. It’s fine. [INAUDIBLE]. What about music? How do you get a melody? I’m a good audience,
but I’m not a musician. So that’s a mystery. Same with visual things,
same with being a good cook? How do you invent a recipe? Well, so that’s are you
on a board to discovery? I’ll give you a
little preamble here. This is one of my pictures I’ve
been taking on the lakefront. You might notice
it’s upside down. It’s way better that
way in this case. There’s a whole
history unwritten in the history of photography
about the upside down picture. I’ll do it someday. So I teach at Columbia. And I go there. And while I was going there,
just before class this was the scene out in the front. There were wonderful
shadows and highlights that shaded all over the
sidewalk from various windows as the sun glanced off of them. So the first thing I learned–
and I photograph her since I was in the moment. First thing I
learned in Columbia is I am getting
always too close. I need a wider angle. So now with our
cell phones– this is not a cell phone picutre–
we have a wide angle in there. And so when you look at
that, you see the picture. but that’s not your
whole wide angle vision. It’s very hard to see in
a very wide angle vision. So you see a little picture. That helps. So the other thing I learned was
not particularly at Columbia, is the bottom is always more
important if you flip it upside down than the top
because the top, your eye goes to the space. And then it’s still
there, but now look what the picture’s about. It’s about the light. So I said, I’m going
to follow light. That’s going to be
my primary subject. It’s good for
photography, right? Well, look at this. There’s the shadows. Now. I notice people walking. Note, I had never seen this
except in my [INAUDIBLE] or something where
everybody’s walking in. Look at these businesses men. They’re going to the Hilton. They are in total step. [INAUDIBLE] this. Look at the heels. They’re perfect. And I love this woman.
[INAUDIBLE] All right. I’m not doing that. And I thought, what is this? So I got this analytical
proof to the side. Well, the students
are not too bad at it. You got to stand out
there a long time to get into the rhythm. When people are walking
down the street together– and you’ll see this
later in the picture– they end up going in sync. Even if they’re
taller and shorter, they’re going at the same speed. They don’t know that. They don’t know. You can see it though. Now, they’re all kind
of independently. But the parents who come to
Columbia on the final week, they’re never in sync. So this is on Wabash. When the sun is
on the other side, I got to go up, not on
Michigan Avenue, but on Wabash. And there’s the parents
going from class to class. I love this. Look at those heels. You just don’t see this. And the heels, and
the guys foot here. Now, you got to take a
lot of these pictures. It will all work out. Across the street, [? Joan’s ?]
high school has a track team. Now, talk about being in stride. These are the two
fastest guys on the team. I could tell by watching. And so they’re going at
exactly the same speed. They’re like those those
businessmen, bam, bam, bam, bam. They’re not racing each other. They’re pacing each other. I said, that is weird. They’re sharing a leg too. So this is something
I’d never seen. I said, you learn in
photography because photography, this is the total
result of the picture. These are all digital. So it’s not like drawing where
well, you might be wandering. You’re trying to
take [INAUDIBLE]. When you’re writing
something, you’ll say, I’ll find the end to
this essay [INAUDIBLE]. I say write the end first,
start wherever you want. Connect. Nobody does that. But so if I can, hey,
I’m onto something here. I’m able to admit–
and some other people have said it to me privately,
great photographers here– sometimes you take a picture
that’s better than you. And you say, that’s mine. I own the stare. How do they think that. Well, sometimes,
to be honest, you can’t see everything
going that fast. So that’s why it’s good
to see the result. Now, you can see it in
my old day when we learned darkroom, [INAUDIBLE]
and developed the thing, I thought, OK. Well, that was a day, six hours
later, a day, a week later. Well, you can learn,
but it’s slower. So now, you just
look at the screen. Now, the screen, when you get
it bigger and it still works, you brag about it. So I go out on the back
of Lakefront Trail a lot. I’m a cyclist. I build bikes. And I was going to do a whole
theme on cycling, which I kind o started as a theme. And now I’m going for the light. I just stay on the
idea of the light. It’s the primary thing
about photography. Well, now you see people
are walking in stride. So I add that to mine. And I’ve got shadows, and this
beautiful, beautiful sculpture that’s going on is there. And then I just can’t stop. And I get this picture. And really I didn’t
think anything about it until I get it bigger. And I thought ponytails. Who would think that pony tails
are such a factor in making the picture anything at all? Mostly women. All right. Then one day it rained heavily. And there was a reflecting pool. And so oh, God. I’m going to get this camera. It’s really small. It’s only this big. This is the one. I’m taking all these pictures. And it’s a professional
point and shoot, $800. So I get the tree. And I get it– it’s
what I call a set cap. You just stay here
and let an event happen because a photographer
is also about timing. I’m not really photographing
the subject yet, all right? Although, come on. That’s good, huh? This guy comes down. I don’t even see the tights. I said, when he gets his
foot right there, I’m ready, and [MAKES CAMERA NOISE]. So I get home. And I take– I don’t
know– 50 or 100 that day. And I look at him and I
said, I didn’t see that. I didn’t see those tights. He was going way to fast. This is what we call a gift. I said, it’s happening
over and over again. So I said, the reflection,
that was natural, and I’ll see what I get. Well, then the next day
I go right back there, and all the water’s
gone, and it’s foggy. And this is not the light thing. So then I said, what does
the lighting situation allow you to do? Most people just want to– they
just deal with the subject. Journalists have to do, what you
go, whatever it is, you take. Do your best. I said, it’s good portraits. So because if everything
is crystal and clear, the tree is as emphasised in
much as sharpness of her face, and it gets lost. Happens all the time. You don’t even think
of it because you were looking at your friend,
and you photographed her. And then when you get
it, it looks great because they’re smiling. And then everything is coming
out of their hair and stuff like that. Who’s that photo bombing
them in the background. You don’t want to be photo
bombed by a tree like that. That’s great. That’s a good tree. Well, and look. They’re beautiful. So but I’m not going
to rely on fog. We don’t have a lot. So I get rid of that. So then I find this
little spot that I’ve been going by up
about three trees on the north of the
51st Street overpass. And it’s got a big
puddle in there because there’s a big hole that
they parked the street truck and dug out somehow because
if got stuck and made it deep. And I have my camera. This was a bigger camera. And I get there. And I said, oh, I got the
pool, nice, pool water. And the light is beautiful. And if you can see them, there
are three dragonflies in there. That’s just sharp ones. So I shoot at two thousandths
of a second so they’re frozen. That’s when we had
that infection of bugs. And at one time, if
they’re not in focus, they looked like spots. And I had spotted them. So here is this jogger
really tramming. She knows what she’s doing here. So I got it set where the
limbs are coming in pointing. I said, I want something in the
middle of this picture, please. Come on. Right? So I said, OK. I’ll time it so
people in the middle no matter what stride they’re
in because I’m only shooting one at a time. And then they knew. This woman shows up. I said, she’s
commanding the picture. She does not have
to be in the middle. Lady, you just do what you
want because this is terrific. But look. Her face is darkened out. There’s a line emphasizing
her posterior from her arms. One hand is in the light. One hand is dark. And all these things
are working out. I said, I’m not that good. I just said– but look
how it’s lined up. See if I can get his. Look at the tree limbs, right? I’m dead in the middle. And I’m not moving the camera. I said, this is it. I’m sticking here. So I get up really early
in the next morning, this in the afternoon. And I said, is it
going to work then? Bingo. The belt of Venus shows up. And I’m like, oh, my god. Have I got the axles
right on the horizon? I said, how am I doing this? I thought again, I’m
not giving this spot up. And then the next thing that
shows up, water bottles. Water bottles? Who does water bottles? I’m already the best
water bottle photographer. Because I don’t have that
gorgeous belt of Venus before sunrise luminosity. But it’s coming
through the bottle. And the clouds,
thought they’re heavy, it’s lighter than
everything else. So you get this [INAUDIBLE]. And you can’t do this with
your cell phone camera because you can’t control the
shutter speed aperture part. It will generalize and
take a really good picture. The clouds will
all be blasted out. The kid will be identifiable–
blah, blah, blah. And if you don’t do two
thousandths of a second, you don’t stop the spokes. So he wasn’t going that fast. Anyway, so thats– and
the clouds come back. And oh, here comes
a guy on skies. I said, come on. This is– so I didn’t
mean the subjects. But I’m not there
to do the subjects. I’m there to do the luminosity. So I’m thinking. That’s the basic thing. Well, you’ve got
to have an event. You need timing. I’ve been a journalist, kind of
photographer, to photographer. So I got it on the timing. So that’s fine. I get the timing. I get good at getting them
in the middle, stopping them. Sometimes they’re perfect. Sometimes they’re awkward. Even later in the
fall in the evening there’s no great
sun on the horizon. You get a gift too. She doesn’t even have to
have the ponytail come out in this case. You have colors. So it’s [? a calendar ?]
kind of event. [INAUDIBLE] And then the
beautiful dog shows up. I have been seeing
this dog all this time. And I said, I need that dog
to run right into my studio. I call it my studio. And I said, I’m
going to sit here. I don’t know this woman. But she’s very privy to me now
because she’s seen the pictures on [INAUDIBLE]. I post some of them there. This is the happiest
dog in the world. This woman is a marathon runner. So she’s serious. If she’s going North it takes
a good 40 minutes from her to come back at this speed. And because she does that,
she’s stays on the trail. And because she does that,
she gets in the studio. Otherwise, they’re down close
to the lake and the grass where dogs like to be,
and I can’t get them. So this happens. And eventually, I
say, does anybody know who this
woman– oh, it looks like somebody in my building. So we alert her
to these pictures. And she doesn’t contact
me, but she sees them. Now she’ll wave. But look at this. If you keep at it,
now this is later. The ponytail is
kind of a dog tail. [LAUGHTER] Where do you think
of this stuff? I said, well, you
just sit there. It comes to you. Here she is in
less of a profile. And yeah. But look. You have the face of the Indian,
the hair, the nice shadow. You got to work the light. This is not that dog. This is another really good dog. I have never seen
this dog again. I want this dog to come back. Really curly hair, I got
it in that sharp focus. It’s hard to focus
this situation, because if you focus on the
far trees or the horizon, that’s up there. If you focus up here,
it’s really close, and there’s nothing in
the picture on the picture before they arrive to focus
on, and with automatic cameras, troublesome. So I’ve been dealing with that. Don’t listen to what I say
when I’m doing it out there. But I also get the
giant schnauzer. [INAUDIBLE] I said,
what’s this kind of dog? She said, it’s a
giant schnauzer. I said, oh. But she’s also a
very active runner. And that dog looks
a little bit bigger compared to her because
of the wide angle lens. If you know with wide angle
lenses, things in the front are a little bit normally
bigger than our normal vision. All right. So I go out in the snow. Sometimes it’s just shoes. Everybody’s got these
fluorescent shoes now. And somebody said, you
could make money with Nike, or whoever does these shoes. Is that Nike? Yeah. The swoosh. Maybe. Now, I start writing
other things. I said, shoelaces
are really important. They show up because
they flop up and down. I got to get it in focus. Now I love this idea that
people– you can’t quite figure out– now, the two
big issues are closer. OK. But try to think of the two
forward legs as one guy. And then the other guy is
kind of crying like an angel, like this is really good. I’ve never seen a
picture like this one. This is what you do. At Columbia, the professors are
always saying work begets work. Just keep going. Pictures will help you. I said, well, I’m having
a great time out here. I went out for the light. What kind of picture does
that light permit me to do? Sihouettes, one thing. And then we find
out the silhouettes look like two people
hiking [INAUDIBLE]. Who thought this up? Now, this one I love, one
that’s very dark and gloomy. So that little white spot that’s
like a hail type of thing, that is creeping across the sky right
in the middle of my studio. And there’s hardly
anybody out there. And I thought that’s going to be
a wasted little spot of light. And then bingo. There you go. Look, what Cartier-Bresson
saw in the 1952 he called the decisive moment. Now, he hated that. I knew him very, very well
because my best friend in Paris was his niece. That’s how I got to
know him very well. And again, it gave
him a buzzword. And the whole
characteristic of him is to catch light at
the angle your looking. So before that
time in 1930, they tried to call that the
good moment, le bon moment, or the cathedral truth. That was good. But so how did I
take this picture? What do you think it is of? Somebody just walking there? [INAUDIBLE] [MUSIC PLAYING] Isn’t that cool? Well, I did that
because I have learned what’s the first mode on
the camera [INAUDIBLE] And so when people
go through there, I turn that on and watch. And then bang-o. That one had a
good picture in it. Oh, wow. Now, I had to turn it
on at a certain time and then it’s on its own. So if they miss their start or
something, I miss he picture. But then you have to have that. So this helps to
explain this creature. Are there two people there? There might me three. Somebody has their hands down. I love this thing. It’s jazz, jazz beats. Here are three
lady, young ladies with their grandson
and a handbag. This is a gift. She’s stepping right
into a puddle of light. And the ladies got–
there’s something, currently drinks in their bag. This is good. Where did these
pictures come from? So then I said, I’ve got
to get out of this spot. I can’t spend my whole
life sitting down there. So I moved 50 yards South. And the sun is coming up. And I said, oh, the
sun is coming up. It’s a different thing. I’m hiding behind a tree,
but the sun’s going around. And I lost this
guy going through, ensnared in the branches. And I thought oh,
that’s pretty good. Now, a month later, I
saw a guys stand there for 30 minutes in
that spot at sunrise. I said, you must have seen it. Or, I agree. People discover the
same thing all the time. And he didn’t come back. Now this is interesting here. So I’m moving around a
little bit, not too far. And this is an older guy
who’s still out there, probably this morning–
I didn’t go out this morning– who jogs as slow
as possible for about an hour. He’s the oldest guy out there. And anyway, I get him. He’s going so slow that he
just emerges from this tree. But I had taken it
earlier, this one. I thought oh, this
is interesting. Later, a famous
author said, I want to use this as an illustration
for my friend’s essay, or send it to her. They’re both famous writers. Rebecca Solnit is one
of them if you know her. She has 100 books. Because it was about a forest,
a water spirit of the laume, I think, in Lithuania. And Latvians have
this [INAUDIBLE]. And it’s about a murder. And the woman gets slaughtered. And she’s pissed that her
brother is the killer. And she turns her
daughters into trees. And so in Lithuania, a lot of
women are named after trees. I don’t know anyone’s named Box
Elder or anything like that. But Laurel, all kind of things. And I thought, oh, really? And she said, can I share this? I’m going to send it to her. And I said, yeah. Sure. Maybe it will be in a book. But [INAUDIBLE] picture. And if you were to give that
assignment to a photographer, just say I want you to
illustrate the water spirit, oh, we’ll figure something out. And we’ll get to this, I think. So when the sun comes up, then
you can do silhouettes still. But it’s almost
begging you to do the faces coming into the sun. So here I got one guy who
says hi to me every day. Now, happily, there’s more of
a picture than just hi, David. How are you doing? But you can start to see faces. This is a different thing,
photographing in public where the face shows, definitely. And then the other
thing is when they’re coming along the path
into the rising sun, you see the skyline. That’s great. But you also see these tree
shadows, the trunk shadow going diagonally there. Now, you get a
shadow on the fence. And then you get this woman. Her face has just
partly entered it. And one foot is in,
and one foot is out. Also a big deal for jogging,
the bottoms of the shoes are colored. It just takes over. I didn’t know that. Well, when I was their
age, I didn’t have that. Here’s two kids from [? UHI ?]. Now, if you get it
just right, the guy gets his shadow on the trunk. So as my students say,
street photography, where people’s faces
showing up, they call them creeper
because creepy guys date them paying for the thought. That didn’t show up in the ’60s. But this, you can’t
not take this picture. That’s gorgeous. Of even better, I got the
shadows of the tree here. Oh, I’m on a role here. So but if you’re there,
you’re suspicious. I’m standing there like this
for eight minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes taking
pictures of people. They don’t know what I’m doing Mostly they think, the studio
part, I’m doing the sky. Well, I have a lot
of sky pictures. I’m taking them. And that’s wonderful. I only met him once, but
this wonderful homeless guy who only speaks
some kind of Spanish is showing me that–
he’s talking to me, but I don’t understand anything. He says, I see. You’re doing this on– he knows. He’s aware of this. Everybody else
who’s jogging around is in their own world, which
is great for photography because you don’t get the
camera face unless they wave. So I’m looking down the path. They’re looking into the sun. And I’m like, oh,
this is golden. And now I have my
little track set. I’m leaned against the tree. I’m trying to get
everything lined up. And I turn around, and
[MIMICS FAST SOUND]. I said, oh, that was
behind me all the time? So I said, oh, this
is a harder picture to take because you got to get
this person the right size. You got to get a silhouette,
a ponytail always helps, you got to get that sun
from screaming in your lens. It’s generous out there. [INAUDIBLE] But half
the times I wake up and I only see the top half
of the sky out of my window at home, I say,
I’m not doing that. And there’s nothing out there. You can’t say that. You can’t say that
until you come back. I would have missed this. You don’t need any color. A long as there’s a
little color in there. And then the other
thing I discovered other than a super
ponytail– nobody is beating this thing– is
the phone on their sleeve so they can jog. It lights up. I have a very sensitive
camera, so I get it. So I’m teaching myself. Now, here is the picture that
everyone thinks I’ve taken. But I own this picture
because this is a red tailed hawk coming down. And there are people in here. But with that lens,
they’re very tiny. Now, I do wish I had a
telephoto for this hawk. He was there for about– I think
it’s the same one– for about a week and 10 days. And then he migrated elsewhere. One of the people– I meet these
people on the Lake Front Trail. And one of them
is a bird expert. His name is Raptor Hal. And I said, I think I saw
your peregrine falcon. He lives in a building nearby. And then he walked down
[INAUDIBLE] the day. He has this camera. And he sent me this beautiful
big picture of a red tail hawk. He said, David,
that’s your bird. So I said, thank you. I don’t know. Then I ended up a little
further by 9th Street late in the evening. If you would see
the original scan, it’s much, much darker, so the
light in some of this stuff. Then you get things like
[INAUDIBLE] pictures behind him. It’s a kid on a skateboard
with a cell phone, of course. I had a place for the
camera to be set up. I put it on a little,
tiny tripod, and I waited. There are three pathways
going South with this case. So I get one-third the
number of people, which you need a lot the way I work. And sometimes it’s just the
event of the storm blowing in. And you get that. So I’m looking at the light. And I tend to have
somebody in the picture. So I edit out bad ones. There’s a lot of misses. There’s this guy. This enchanted me for so
long because if you look up at his head, he’s got the
profile of Alfred Hitchcock. I said, I can never
do that again. I said, you don’t see
that when you take it. I said, I love this picture now. I used to think, oh, it’s
too vacant somewhere else. Forget it. So I’m learning this stuff. So I also do exhibits at the
environmental law and policy center. And we do things about the
environment, and conservation, and things like that. And I want to do why and
how we share a bike path. And so I’m looking. And it’s a totally
overcast day, no dynamics, and the luminosity. And I said, oh, I
got my bike here. I said, this is too artificial. And then I take people
running through. And then again, if
you taking the one guy as his two legs going backwards,
he’s stuck on the rim. And then in my studio, I
post these, some of them on my Facebook page. And my students go wild. And they make it spin around. And they do a Man
Ray thing on it. And oh, gosh,
[INAUDIBLE] gaudy things. But there’s this lady–
I had seen her recently– who always runs like this,
like she’s pulling the sun out of the horizon there. She always jogs like this. She is so happy. I thought– I’m not
making fun of it– this lady’s got
something going on here. So there are people
who will complain. They say, what are you doing? He’s taking pictures? And oh, god. We got into a long
argument about it. And I understand. There are people
who stalk people. There are battered
people in relationships, or there’s people
who have restraining orders against people
who are looking for them. They’re mostly women. And I understand this problem. So then we get
into the male gays. And I can’t win that argument. You’re already guilty. But the Lake Point Swimmers,
the Point Swimmers, they invite me to come
and photograph them. And I said, you’re little
heads in the water. It’s not going to be much. And look at this. This is gorgeous. This is my first time there. Perfect. She’s blessing the water? I don’t know what she’s doing. My god, this is fantastic. But I’m ready with
the silhouette idea. So I said, that’s
what’s going on. Nobody’s in the water yet. And then when they get in
there, they will be so tiny. Then I take this picture. Oh, my god. But it’s really this picture. I don’t get this. It looks like two people holding
something, and it’s this. I like to show the whole thing
because that first one is contained in here. But sometimes you
need to stay inside, especially in the portrait. You need to see the eyes first. But you always see
everything else. So these are recent ones. You see the snow and ice. Again, here’s a couple
who comes out every day. And they’re almost
always run in stride. But they just started to run. So they’re not quite in stride. And he’s already off the ground. He’s very energetic. She’ll catch up don’t worry. There’s the [INAUDIBLE]
dog, an off-leash dog. Oh, this dog never
is on the path. Now that it’s all salty,
he and his owner– his owner is right behind him. He loves to et him run wild. And he never bothers me. I’m down at muzzle level. There’s a couple dogs that
came close, let me say. But they were on leashes. And so and this looks
like the hind leg is up from the salt [INAUDIBLE]. There’s a whole series
of him going across. He’s really something of a dog. And then this, there are
these dalmatians that come up twice a day every day. They don’t always
come out all the way to the lake in this
frigid weather. But I love this one. It was very dark and dull. And I lightened up selectively. And it pops out just
right like that. So yesterday, I got
this one pretty nice. I went out there. I froze to death. And I thought nobody’s here. I’m standing there
for 20 minutes. No. Nobody’s coming. And then a cross
country team comes by. I said, oh, look at this light. And it’s gorgeous. Thank you. And these were all men. Those were women. And at that time, I set
the camera back down. And you see that pile of
snow, then they automatically became focused on the snow,
and they were out of focus. I earned the pictures. But I did give you a
little self-portrait. Here i am behind
two of my subjects. This woman is a
photographer too. I don’t know her. But I saw her on
a path that day. She had some serious
equipment in there. Mine’s down in the snow. And I’ve got a remote. You can do it by timing,
or there’s a light right next to me. So I thought if people aren’t
going to come out there, maybe I’m going to do these
boring self-portraits. But fortunately, my
subjects always save me. So that’s what I’m
doing out there. And it’s fun, and I’m making
real progress with it. As I said, how do you teach
yourself to take a picture you didn’t know existed. You got to do it. But the camera teaches
you back because you see the picture done. My mentor used to say, young
photographer who’s come in and say, I want you to
keep my photographs. And he said, well, if you were
drawing, or in the studio, and he had a model
with him, or something, I could see how he’d done it. In photographs, it’s too late. It’s done. You already finished. And he said, well
I want to hear. He says, well, if it’s
not good, what can you do? Well, nice picture, but these
pictures never come back. You have to just keep
them [INAUDIBLE]. Now, when you know that
shoelaces and water bottles, and ponytails
are important, you can look for
them, and then you can see what else goes on when
you finally get [INAUDIBLE]. So that’s it. [APPLAUSE] So I hope that you guys had
a fantastic [INAUDIBLE]. [LAUGHTER] They’re really
better in projection. I was all worried
about [INAUDIBLE]. So you have any
questions about this? Yeah? AUDIENCE: Do the
type of students at Columbia have to take
film and paper darkroom? DAVID TRAVIS: Now,
the main Photo I, Photo II courses are digital
because– no, no, I can– because they do teach darkroom,
chemical– wet darkroom. It’s more and more a niche idea. They still have to learn
how to do the thing manually and not on PROGRAF. But what happens– it’s
also a business decision. We get people from
art and design. We get people from fashion. We get people from editorial. We get people, all these
people, who will not need to make prints ever. And then, oh. So we doubled the number
of courses we teach. That was good for the
school, because now they’re full of non-photo majors. They may even have one
for not photo majors. Because I will print
some of these that I will show at some point. And that I still enjoy doing. But I know photographers,
I said, well, that’s only at 12 megabytes. How are you going
to make prints? They go, why would
I make prints? It’s all going
out to a magazine. So it’s a different world there. But you can manipulate these,
and saturation, density, darker, lighter,
all kinds of things much more than you
can chemically. AUDIENCE: You don’t have to
know how to dodge and burn. DAVID TRAVIS: Yeah. One of the dalmatians,
that was very intricate dodging and burning only,
just lightening the thing up and making the dog glow. I said, OK. Now that picture’s good. When I first saw that picture,
I said, I got nothing for today. I said, OK. The best thing I got is the feet
were framing the dog’s feet. I said, OK. That’s right. Let’s work on it. And then once the dog
popped out, I said, oh, god, that’s the picture. So sometimes you know
what a picture is. AUDIENCE: So just how
early did you go out there. DAVID TRAVIS: Depends on
when the sun comes in. The summer is hard for me. The summer is before 6:00. Now, it’s about
7:20, 7:12 maybe. But you want to get
there before, usually. But now, if it’s cold,
like today [INAUDIBLE]. I was doing [INAUDIBLE]. It’s just really cold. Your battery gets
weak in the cold. All kinds of things go wrong. But the camera still works. But when there’s not
many people there, you’re just taking
pictures of the sky. There’s not any purpose. I want an event. So yeah? AUDIENCE: Do you go every day? And when did you start? DAVID TRAVIS: Well, I haven’t
gone out there every day, but when it was more comfortable
and I was really on a roll, I would go four times
a week, sometimes both evening and [INAUDIBLE]. So that’s four hours at least. You got to put the time in. There’s that moment there
where you think you’re not getting anything new. And there’s a little panic. It’s not really a panic. It’s a searching. You’re not really lost. But that’s the time when
you’re available to look for something else. With the parameters you set–
it’s got to be soft light, there’s got to be a timing
element, blah, blah, blah. And sometimes you can’t find it,
or you move to a different spot and say, OK. I’m going to
cultivate this spot. Sometimes it will take
a week to figure out where to put the camera
because we want them to be silhouetted or profile often. There’s a lot of
demands after a while from your successful pictures. Because I can take lots of
good pictures, believe me. If I’m given an assignment,
I can get people’s faces so you can see. But you know, it’s a cluster
of things behind them. It’s not that ideal. But I’m looking to
invent a new picture. So once you get
really good at it, you keep doing the same
thing over and over again. And that’s what we
try to teach our kids. OK. You got to break that up. You can’t keep doing
what you’re good at. You’re at school. This is the time
to make mistakes. But since I’m not working
for anything, if I fail, I’m just full of myself
and say, OK, next. Always go out. I can tell you only
probably 10 times did I ever come back
with almost nothing. Sometimes I come back
and say, I didn’t know that was going to be there. You can’t know. But yeah. AUDIENCE: You’re switching your
focus from isolated subjects to luminosity. Do you think of yourself
as working within a bigger traditions or traditions? DAVID TRAVIS: Well,
there’s no tradition here because I’m a historian of
photography long in the tooth, and I know there are
no pictures like this. So it’s hard to say
there’s a tradition. I read about the
beginnings of what you would call the
decisive moments, which I call a set trap. Because [INAUDIBLE] in 1926,
I have two or three pictures were he’s standing on
the steps of Montmartre looking down at the shadows
of the ravens and everything. And he’s waiting for something
to happen on the street level. And there’s two
or three pictures. And one’s a zinger. And you tell from measuring
the shadow length, he’s there 15 minutes. Now, they’re not all identically
shot like my little studio, but I can read it. So he’s there, and he
has a camera that’s fairly very and portable. But it’s not a Leica yet. You can’t advance
the next frame. You’ve got to put it on
the little glass plate in. So he sees the opportunity,
and then he waits, like me. And then he gets
it, put it back. And he waits and waits. Eventually, they become
very fluid to do that. They do it. And the camera moves. And then with the Leica,
there was a film advance. It was at first a
knob that you turned. So he had 36 exposures in there,
really good lens to focus it. And Cartier-Bresson had a way
to look through the camera and wind it like that. That risks throwing a really
expensive camera on the ground. But he [INAUDIBLE]. And so you can
follow some action. You can get the
things like I do. Now with 4%, [INAUDIBLE]. So that’s better for us. But plug up a lot of
external hard drives with hundreds of
thousands of pictures that are useless because
of either side when it was happening. So that would be the
genre, street photography, or stop action. But as I said, I entered it
from the luminosity part. If you read all of
what Bresson wrote, he doesn’t talk
about light hardly at all because it’s
not going to, in a way, be a factor for him. But with [INAUDIBLE], one of the
great landscape photographers, it’s all about how light lays
on and mixes the landscape. In a slight [INAUDIBLE]. You got to be able to
just lay down and look up for an hour and [INAUDIBLE]. Well, they’re romantics. Any other question I can do? Do we have one more? SPEAKER 1: One more question. AUDIENCE: I had been a
huge fan of your work when you were curating [INAUDIBLE]. DAVID TRAVIS: Oh, my god. You go back. AUDIENCE: I didn’t have any
idea you were a photographer. And you speak so
passionately about this. Why do you do what you do? Some photographers
are obsessive. Some are searching. Why are you embarking
on this quest? DAVID TRAVIS:
Well, I don’t know. I always had the–
what do you call one of those intelligences,
mathematical intelligences. I came here as a mathematical. What I did was facial. I can see a pattern
of the picture. So that made my
photography entry easier. But then I got into the
history of photography because freelance is tough
when you get out of school. You work up connections. And I got a job right away. They [INAUDIBLE] hiring
someone like [INAUDIBLE]. But you couldn’t take
any courses in it. So everything was self taught. I studied with Joel Snyder,
who [INAUDIBLE] But I always had this passion
for taking them, And then when I was
a curator, I really can’t compete with
Bresson, [INAUDIBLE], Cartier-Bresson, Richard
Avedon, [INAUDIBLE] I mean, these guys
are something else. They change the way people see. And it was good. And I meet 10,000
people on my level. So you don’t want to compete. And I said, yeah. I’ll free myself
up and do it now. So I don’t know–
so far so good. Thank you for asking
your question. Oh, oops. I don’t know. One more. I’ll be brief. SPEAKER 1: OK. Be brief. Now, I have to be last. AUDIENCE: OK. So you mentioned that
most of the people who were passing on the trail
think that you’re photographing the horizon, and that some of
the women have come up to you and said that they’re
not cool with this. DAVID TRAVIS: Yeah. I get both kinds. AUDIENCE: OK. And then the students in your
class call them creeper photos. Why doesn’t that bother you? DAVID TRAVIS: It does
bother me because I’m trying to be empathetic. And there has been a long
back and forth, trolling, and stuff like that, people
who won’t let go of that idea. And you don’t have any
business doing that. You’re being rude. You don’t have the
right to do that. I said, no. If you look up the American
Civil Liberties Union page, it says you can only make
a case for privacy if there was an expectation of privacy. And a public park
doesn’t do that. I don’t want to be
an A-hole about it. But that’s why I
pose some of them so people can see
what I’m up to. Photographers have
always been suspicious. Now, there are
two great scandals in our age other than politics. One is Catholic priests. The other one is police. One of them involves only
photography that’s revealed it. So shouldn’t we say these
people have no business, not minding the police when they
see get out of here and get rid of that camera. Those are very brave
people because the police have acted with impunity until
video recording [INAUDIBLE]. And now we [INAUDIBLE]
but no one’s life’s exactly– because of those
dashcams, things like that. So I don’t take that
position that I’m doing that service to society. But if you’re not signed up
to have arts in your society, it’s not [INAUDIBLE]. So I take that position,
that I should be ruthless. There were only four people
that have ever objected. The one woman that came out and
used up all my good light time later saw the pictures. And she came up and then
apologized profusely. She said, I’m an artist too. One of the people
on the listserv offered me an exhibition. So they had backpedaled
when they see it. I said, OK. You posted then there
was an objection because you’re broadcasting it. If you don’t post it, everybody
thinks the worst of you. So nobody takes pictures
of people in secret. So that’s what I do. Also say that in
the course of a day you’re probably photographed
15 times that you don’t know. And those pictures
are controlled by nobody you know, nobody
who stands out there that you can talk to. And there are very little
security on those pictures. This target got hacked. It got hacked by China. Who’s taking all
those pictures of you? Oops. Security cameras. [INAUDIBLE]. And then we had no idea pictures
were taken, and who has them, and how they’re
going to use them. So I feel [INAUDIBLE]. But I do understand
that I can’t feel the way a woman on that path
feels if they’re jogging alone. I can’t. I’ve been robbed out there
when I was a student. [INAUDIBLE] And some of them said
they’d been robbed to. I knew a woman long,
long ago who was raped. And those are issues that
aren’t in my bloodstream. And I have to be polite
and respectful of them. But what do you do? You can’t have security 100%. So this idea that now we
know about pedophilia more. Now we know about people
stalking, of course. So that all gets
stuck [INAUDIBLE]. So it’s an issue. So I saw them because
I want people to know. That couple, that
beautiful couple looking at each
other in the shadow, I’m not going to take that
picture because their faces are showing? Uh-uh. Not me. I’m not that person. There are other
people who would. Sorry. SPEAKER 1: Well, I’d
like to thank you, David, for being
our guest today. [APPLAUSE] I found out about David’s work
through a Hyde Park listserv, where people were discussing the
random person out on the Lake Shore Path taking photographs. And I thought it was such
an interesting question here in my park where we’re a
really small community. So I wanted to see
what you were doing. I’d like to know. Is there a way that we can
see more of your photographs, or is there going to be
a new exhibition that we should know about? DAVID TRAVIS: Well, probably
at the Institute sometime. My son did a little
book once for Christmas. [INTERPOSING VOICES] But he did a beautiful job. And well, we’ll see. We’ll see. They could be somewhere. I put them on my Facebook page. Well, and then I
also put on the page what I’m thinking about
in many of the pictures. And the people like that. They say, oh, what
was this a picture of. I said, well, I am learning. I’m teaching myself. So but it’s true. Photographs are still a
very, very powerful thing. SPEAKER 1: So when there
is the next exhibition, you’ll let me know? DAVID TRAVIS: Oh, I’ll
let everybody know. Oh, I would love it. There might be one
down [INAUDIBLE] might do a two-person show
there with the [INAUDIBLE]. That would be good. SPEAKER 1: Thank you. DAVID TRAVIS: OK. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]