Robert Gerhardt, Visual Sociologist

October 11, 2010

Robert Gerhardt came to photography in a way few do. As a Sociology major with a concentration in Anthropology at the College of the Holy Cross, Gerhardt was not the typical art school photography student. Encouraged by his anthropology advisor, he took a photography course so he’d be able to document things during field research.

Harold Feinstein, a student of W. Eugene Smith, was my first photo teacher, and within ten minutes of the first class when he was showing us his photographs, I was hooked,” Gerhardt explains. He soon came to realize he could write endlessly about sociology and anthropology, “but a photograph says so much more than any writing can ever really do.”


©Robert Gerhardt


Gerhardt went on to receive an M.F.A. in Photography from the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. Working both between degrees and after his M.F.A., Gerhardt has worked at several major museums, photographing art work, which paid bills and continues to enable him to explore his true photographic love, street shooting.

Just as it’s not often you see a full-time photographer coming out of Sociology and Anthropology majors, it’s not often you see a substantial photographic project get kicked off because of a quote from a Henry Miller novel. The long passage, which is from Tropic of Capricorn, begins “But I saw a street called Myrtle Avenue, which runs from Borough Hall to Fresh Pond Road, and down this street no saint ever walked….” The passage inspired a project now in its third year, and almost didn’t happen. “I had just gotten Tropic of Capricorn out of the library on a whim, and I was looking for whatever my next project was going to be. I came across that passage,” Gerhardt explains. “It made me think, ‘I’ve got to check this place out.'”

Since Miller published the novel in 1938, areas of Myrtle Avenue have been both been changed and time has seemingly stood still. As any competent sociologist or anthropologist would, Gerhardt is chronicling what he’s found, often with brutal honesty. “Parts of it are drastically different [from the novel] and parts of it you think would never have changed,” he reports. “It goes from Hipsterville Central down by Fort Greene through some really bad parts, Bed‑Stuy and Bushwick, and that sort of picks up again once you get back to Ridgewood and Queens.”

What has remained unchanged for Gerhardt is his constant companion, his Sekonic L-508 meter. “It’s seven or eight years old. I always have it on me,” he says. “It’s always in my bag. As the light changes during the day—shade versus sun and all that kind of stuff—you sort of have to. I mean, you can use meters in cameras, but they’re never as good. For shooting, especially the building exteriors and stuff like that, you want to know what the range is. It’s very easy and quick to use, which I like. That spot meter function, is above and beyond I think, the greatest feature of it.”

While his day job consists of shooting in the studio all day, for his own work, Gerhardt is always moving and adapting to changing light conditions of the street. Typically shooting with black and white film, he is also working on a project shot in color on Manhattan’s 42nd Street and Times Square area. Many of the photos in this series are shot surreptitiously. “I do shoot from the hip a lot, mainly because I don’t want to disturb people. I try to shoot it unknown for the most part,” he says. For all his personal film work, he relies on just a few cameras. Previously he was shooting Leica M6s, but he now has a pair of Nikon F3s. He primarily shoots Ilford film, and prints on their paper, doing his own darkroom work.


©Robert Gerhardt


Another major project Gerhardt has undertaken has been his work documenting the Mae Tao Clinic, which offers free medical care to refugees and others crossing the border from Burma to Thailand. The things he saw and the images he captured changed his view of the world. “The first person I met when at the clinic, other than my translator, was a 24-year-old woman who and lost both of her legs to a landmine,” he recalls. “You meet somebody like that and you’re like, ‘this is a completely different world than where I’m coming from.'” Upon returning home, Gerhardt sent them CDs of all the images he shot.

Currently, Gerhardt has a show at Johnson State College in Johnson, Vermont until December 20th. On October 27th, he’ll be doing an artist lecture there, as well. His show will also travel to South Carolina in November and December. Syracuse, New York and Dayton, Ohio will have it in January and February. Next year’s dates also include the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana next fall.

In another documentary photography project, The Straphangers, Gerhardt shot in New York City subways for three years. During that time, even in post-September 11 New York, only one person spoke to him about his photography. It seems the disinterest of New York Subway riders was the perfect environment for Gerhardt to document essentially unseen. What remains is a series of images where virtually no subjects make eye contact with the lens. Workers are crammed into subway cars, each looking in different directions, each in their own world, yet pressed toe to toe. There are diverse faces which comprise the city, and their isolation stands in direct contrast to the density of the place they’ve chosen to live their lives. Gerhardt examines this unflinchingly. He has given us nothing less than an updating of Robert Frank’s vision of America.


©Robert Gerhardt


For his most recent project, Gerhardt has chosen to document a mosque and community center in Brooklyn, New York run by the Muslim American Society. He was given permission to photograph the mosque and meetings in an old catering hall after reading about their struggle to convert an old convent on Staten Island into a Muslim community center. These images remind us the United States is comprised mostly of immigrants and their descendants. He has photos of signs about Ramadan written in a schoolgirl’s careful hand, a young daughter in a hijab at prayers with her father, and a Muslim man in a plaid shirt with an American flag pin on the pocket. The photographs are moody, and his use of available light suits the subject matter perfectly: people continuing traditions of their ancestors in an unsure time.

In much of the body of photographic work Gerhardt has presented, he documents a United States unlike the one we were raised to believe in. Streets are devoid of traffic, restaurants are torn down, abandoned homes sit on the edge of woods, parks stand without grass, flags hang forlornly. Unfulfilled potential is an underlying message in much of his work’s subject matter.


©Robert Gerhardt


Rarely shooting in direct sunlight, Gerhardt’s platinum skies and grainy shading are apropos aesthetics for the psychology he is attempting to produce in each image. He meters and exposes his shots carefully, rarely accenting any particular part of his frames. The result of this approach tells us this is the way the world is, nothing is worthy enough on its own for attention, and almost everything is chaotic. He truly is a sociologist and anthropologist visually documenting these quirky humans found at the beginning of the 21st Century.

Robert Gerhardt Photography

Written by Ron Egatz

Video 4: Advanced Metering

October 6, 2010

Mark Wallace is back with the fourth and final Adorama video of a four-part series on metering. This installment focuses on using the Sekonic L-758DR, with Wallace demonstrating some advanced concepts of incident and reflective metering. He mounts his meter on a stand and positions it where he wants to check his strobes—a trick he often uses in the studio. He also explains how to use the meter with the zone system, and includes still images fully documenting different exposure settings.

Thanks for a great series and all the knowledge, Mark!

Don’t forget to check out Part 1Part 2 and Part 3 of this four part series.

After you’re done learning from one of the masters of metering, check out all the Sekonic meters to step up your game and nail your exposures in-camera, saving you countless hours trying to tweak them in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Sekonic Video ProFiles: Steve Sint

October 1, 2010

We’re delighted to introduce two things here on the Sekonic Blog. First off, a feature on our Web site called, “Video ProFiles.” Secondly, our first feature photographer in this series is Steve Sint, master Wedding Photographer.

Shooting these videos with Steve was a great experience. His professionalism, personal connection to his clients, technical chops and no-nonsense approach to the business of wedding photography is the clearly the result of his many years as a working pro. He knows his stuff, and we’re so glad he took time to share it with us, and you! Without further adieu, here are the two videos!

Video 3: Using a Light Meter

September 29, 2010

Mark Wallace is back with the third Adorama video of a four-part series on metering. This installment focuses on how to use a light meter. He breaks down the key elements of the “exposure triangle,” which are aperature value, shutter speed, and ISO. By entering any of two of the values into your light meter, the meter will produce the missing variable, enabling you to dial in the correct exposure on your camera.

Wallace demonstrates the Sekonic L-358 meter throughout, and explores the four different modes available on the meter: ambient mode, cordless flash mode, cord flash mode, and wireless flash radio triggering mode. He goes into detail on two modes, basic ambient metering and wireless triggering.

For ambient metering, he provides both outdoor location and indoor studio examples, along with many handy tips, such as a multitude of issues when positioning your meter in front of a model, and settings galore. Thanks for both the overview and the details, Mark!

Don’t forget to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this four part series.

After you’re done learning from one of the masters of metering, check out all the Sekonic meters to step up your game and nail your exposures in-camera, saving you countless hours trying to tweak them in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Wall-E & the Sekonic L-358, by Ernest Pagarigan

September 27, 2010

Shooter Ernest Pagarigan may have posted the the cutest shot of a Sekonic light meter ever. Don’t show this to your children, as they’re bound to ask you for a Sekonic L-358, along with the Wall-E action figure.

Hook up with Ernest on Facebook. He’s got quite a collection of gear you can peruse.

Emily Knudsen: From the Bomb Shelter to Restaurants

September 20, 2010

Not many photographers her age have as much film experience as Emily Knudsen, but she feels fortunate she does. Originally from Lebanon, Connecticut, it was in high school where she took a photography course, learned darkroom skills, and shot countless rolls of 35mm film. “I had a Pentax K1000, and that was my first real manual camera,” she says. “It was given to me by my father. It had been his and had been given to him by his father.”

Knudsen refers to her grandfather, the K1000’s original owner, as the spark of her interest in photography. In the 1950’s he had built a Cold War bomb shelter in his basement. This he later turned into a darkroom, where he developed film and printed. “That was a big hobby of his. It got traced down through my Dad and then to me,” she says.

©Emily Knudsen

Although she has since joined the digital revolution, Knudsen’s roots are firmly planted in her film origins. “This might sound kind of silly, but for me the one big attachment and the thing that really hooked me using that camera—and really getting into photography—was the feel of the shutter and advancing the film,” she explains. “I loved it, just that feeling. You had just completed the picture, you put the shutter down. Take your picture and you complete it by advancing the film. I loved that.”

Learning basic skills in her high school class, Knudsen then started looking for higher education opportunities in photography. “I went to get my senior pictures done and asked the photographer where she went to school,” she recalls. “She went to the Hallmark Institute of Photography. That’s how I got into rethinking Hallmark and it sounded perfect because it was such a short program and it was so intensive. It was all photography and, more importantly, not the photography, but the business end of it.”

©Emily Knudsen

Attending Hallmark right out of high school, Knudsen initially studied portraiture. Being a self-described people person, she thought this was the way to go. Eventually, she learned working on commercial assignments such as products was more to her liking, with food photography at the top of her list. “You’re there in the studio and you can take as much time as you want,” she says. “Pressure’s off, unless something’s melting. It’s just you and your subject, which can’t talk to you, or rush you or anything. I am very picky in just about every little detail. I really find myself liking that and just liking to have my own time and just working by myself and styling things the way I want them.”

After she built a general portfolio covering a range of photographic styles, Knudsen graduated and began working at a portrait studio. Her assignments included lots of babies, children and some families. She grew tired of this type of shooting, and eventually took an internship at The Improper Bostonian. Soon, she was photographing food again, more than she ever had in school. She was sent on location, which initially made her anxious, as she was used to studio lighting. Turning a challenge into an opportunity, she researched photography and food both online and in food magazines. Drawing inspiration from her research, she soon found her vehicle. “The more I looked at the food photography I liked,” she recalls, “it just looked like natural light.”

©Emily Knudsen

Blessed with an encouraging editor at The Improper, Knudsen quickly began forming her signature style. When on location at a restaurant, she will move dishes near a window to take advantage of natural light. “I usually mix a little bit of flash—I just bounce the tiniest bit of flash to fill in shadows, but I’m all about the natural light now,” she says. “I almost don’t know what I would do if I had to photograph food in the studio.”

Part of the appeal of working this way is the verisimilitude, according to Knudsen. Although this flies in the face of what most commercial photography is about in our age of heavily retouched hyper-real media, this young photographer has her reasons, and they are honest and full of integrity. “It seems more natural,” she explains. “It’s as it should be. That’s how you view food when you’re going to eat it. It’s a shame when you view food and it doesn’t look appetizing. It’s a shame.”

©Emily Knudsen

With her editor sending her to Boston’s better restaurants, Knudsen is fortunate in that the great culinary artists she’s documenting are all about presentation. Arming herself with a Canon EOS 5D and working with accomplished chefs, she rarely has to ask them to change things or use different dishes.

With her photographer grandfather deceased before seeing his granddaughter following in his footsteps, he would be proud. Knudsen knows how to make dishes look their best, and quickly builds strong rapports with chefs. “They’ve worked with photographers before,” she says. “They know what works. I put a lot of trust in them to prepare the food because they really do know what they’re doing.” That said, she does make small styling tweaks now and then, such as wiping something errant off a plate, but she largely lets the chefs present as they wish.

©Emily Knudsen

Coming from a film background, Knudsen relies on her early training and applies it to the digital world. “I am all about getting the shot right in camera,” she states. “That’s something I learned from film. You’ve got to get it right in camera. The flip side is that using a digital camera, you do have that ability to instantly view what you just took, so you really can get it right in camera. Obviously, metering is very important to me. I like to play around to see what works.”

Light metering is part of her approach, although her eye for food photography in natural light is very accurate. “The first time I ever used the meter was at Hallmark,” she says. “That’s where I learned it. That’s where I got my Sekonic L-758DR meter. It is a huge help. I use the meter more so when photographing people, when I’ve got my lights out and everything, but even on location, just to get that light right, I rely on my Sekonic. I’d rather just have the shot right and go home and tweak a few things and call it a day. I like being happy with what I have and knowing I was able to get it right in camera. I carry it around everywhere, and it’s always held up for me.”

©Emily Knudsen

For the times Knudsen does pull out strobes, she relies on Profoto gear. “I use them whenever I shoot people” she says. “I have the AcuteB 600R’s and I use mainly the three by four softboxes. I love those soft boxes. I also have a Beauty Dish which I use occasionally.” To fire off this gear, Knudsen uses PocketWizard Plus II units.

©Emily Knudsen

For the immediate future, Knudsen sees herself staying in Boston and learning more. Although she’s out of the bomb shelter darkroom, she still uses film now and then for personal projects. Her professional and impressive food photography is digital, and that’s where she’ll keep her focus. We don’t know where opportunity and career changes may take this young shooter, but we’d be happy to sit down to a plate of almost anything Knudsen has photographed. She makes it look that good.

Emily Knudsen Photography
Emily Knudsen Blog
Emily Knudsen on Twitter

Video 2: Exposure Compensation

September 15, 2010

Mark Wallace returns in this second Adorama video of a four-part series on metering. This installment focuses on exposure compensation. Watch Wallace demonstrate how cameras expose for 18% gray, whether shooting a solid black or solid white wall. He teaches us how to set exposure compensation to underexpose by two stops, making a black wall black. Conversely, he moves in the opposite direction by two stops to have a white wall correctly register as white.

Moving to practical applications of exposure compensation, he photographs a model wearing black against a black background, and white top against a white background.

In a great practical demonstration, Wallace also shows what’s going on via the LCD panel on the back of your camera while employing exposure compensation. Thanks for the demystification, Mark!

As a precursor, don’t forget to check out Part 1 of this four part series.

After you’re done learning from one of the masters of metering, check out all the Sekonic meters to step up your game and nail your exposures in-camera, saving you countless hours trying to tweak them in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Video 1: Understanding TTL

September 8, 2010

The unstoppable Mark Wallace is at it again! You can now see him in a series of four videos on light metering. He starts off the series detailing how your camera meters light in an attempt to get the correct exposure. TTL (through the lens) reflective metering and specific metering modes such as spot metering, partial metering, average metering, center weighted average metering, and matrix metering are covered.

Watch this space for upcoming breakdowns of the other videos in this informative series. As the series progresses, Wallace demonstrates how to rock like a pro with a light meter.

After you’re done learning from one of the masters of metering, check out all the Sekonic meters to step up your game and nail your exposures in-camera, saving you countless hours trying to tweak them in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Rebecca Guenther on Light Meters

August 27, 2010

Rebecca Guenther of M5A1 Photography has a video out entitled “How to Use Light Meters.” A photographer in Austin, Texas, Guenther was filmed by Todd Green.

For those of you looking for a very basic explanation of how to use a light meter from a very talented photographer, check out this video!

Guenther also has another great video which showcases some of her work and ideas about creative lighting.

Getting Real with Rachel Rebibo

August 25, 2010

Moving from New York to Paris six years ago, Rachel Rebibo has had image-making in her for a long time. Previously a resident of Washington, D.C. and New York, she now finds herself in sync with the European lifestyle, despite the byzantine maze of French paperwork she’s often required to navigate. Finding herself behind a camera since she was ten, this photographer is hitting her stride in a big way. Often carrying four cameras and a light meter in her handbag, she’s ready for any photographic happening. “I’m one of those chicks who rocks a really big purse,” she laughs.


©Rachel Rebibo


Women and their fashion accessories is something Rebibo knows a lot about. She loves to photograph women. In particular she has shot a woman named Julia, a professional makeup artist, in a wide variety of styles and locations. “I feel like the camera loves her. She can’t take a bad picture,” she says of her muse. The two became close friends after meeting as students. “I’m sort of addicted to taking her picture, I think she’s beautiful,” Rebibo says. You can see more of these images on her site.


©Rachel Rebibo


Not content to just photograph female models, Rebibo drove around the United States for a month and a half, creating images for her Americana series. Rebibo didn’t simply document landscapes, buildings, and still life studies. She also got to meet citizens who took her into their homes and fed her. She’s chronicled misspelled signs, trailer park life, bar-be-que joints, and taxidermy examples of two-headed mammals. Her images of this largely unseen yet common America are moody, sometimes disturbing, and partially askew. Her untypical camera angles and composition help emphasize a land and a people not wholly content or at peace.


©Rachel Rebibo


Estimating ninety percent of her fashion and commercial work is shot on film, Rebibo also shoots digitally. Not a fan of retouching, she proudly states, “I don’t use the healing brush and I don’t Liquify at all, ever.” Utilizing Photoshop to only color correct, tweak contrast, and eliminate dust, she says, “I refuse to deform women’s bodies. I don’t use the Liquify filter in Photoshop to make them thinner, make her boobs bigger, make their eyes pop, and then make their lips fuller. I just don’t do that.”


©Rachel Rebibo


Rebibo finds clients gravitating toward her film photos. “When people are looking at my book and they go, ‘I love this photo.’ Nine times out of ten, it’s a film photo,” she says. Because of this preference of paying customers, she finds the need for accuracy in her exposures to be even more critical. “In black and white and color printing—that’s when you really realize how important it is to expose correctly. When you’re trying to print, it’s not the same as what you can do in Photoshop. When you’re trying to print you really need a correctly exposed negative where you’ll spend hours and hours and hours trying to get the image you had in your head. Because of this, when I went to school it was required you had a light meter.”


©Rachel Rebibo


It’s an amorphous quality that a well-metered film photograph holds. “It’s just got something you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s not flat, like a digital photo, but there’s something else to it.”

“Something else” might just be the quality her photographs hold. She uses Profoto and Mamiya gear, but she’s especially keen on Sekonic meters. “I use my Sekonic light meter all the time,” she says. “It’s a beast. I wouldn’t mind at all telling people how much I love that product.”


©Rachel Rebibo


Using a Sekonic Zoom Master L-508, and it hasn’t failed her yet. “When people ask me advice about equipment and stuff, they always make remarks light meters are really expensive,” she explains. “My answer is they have always been expensive and they will always be expensive, but it’s possibly the most sound investment besides your heavy duty professional camera body because you use it forever. I think I’ve had my light meter for ten years. It’s held up the whole time for me. I’ve taken it all over. It’s been to Asia four or five times. It’s been across the United States. It’s been in rain and swamps and sand and all sorts of stuff. It’s slept with me in a tree house in Vietnam. It’s never, ever malfunctioned ever, it’s never had a problem.”


©Rachel Rebibo


Rebibo has strong feelings about the practical use of a meter by serious photographers. “I think people get too used to looking at the screen with digital photography, and I feel like that’s a big problem because you can’t look at the screen for exposure,” she says. “If you’re street shooting, you can sometimes get away with not using a light meter because you can sort of gaze, but in a studio I think it’s shameful to not use a light meter,” she laughs. “I think it should be illegal to not use a light meter in the studio.”

There is a clear method to why she feels so strongly. “Our studio teacher at the School of Visual Arts made us do these horrible exercises shooting white on white, reflective metal on white, reflective metal on black, and all those types of things to learn proper metering for products and clothes. If you’re shooting a white dress on a white background, looking at the screen is not going to guarantee you that you have the right detail in both.”


©Rachel Rebibo


Meters and film are not the only two tools Rebibo sees as superior for photographers. “Most digital prints become pretty yellow and gross within three years of printing, no matter what the manufacturers claim,” she says. “You need to print it again, but you don’t ever have a tangible item, a finished product in your hands the way you do when you have a set of negatives.” Referring to very professional labs, Rebibo has been dissatisfied with today’s prints, but doesn’t blame the labs. “It’s the materials they’re sold by manufacturers. Whereas for instance, fiber prints I printed myself in high school still look as crisp and as clear and as white and black as the day I printed them.”


©Rachel Rebibo


Rebibo shoots several Mamiya cameras, including a Mamiya C330, her very first medium format camera. “I dream of owning an RZ67,” she says, her goal being able to provide film-phobic clients with images from a digital back. A fan of natural light when shooting outside or on location, in the studio, Rebibo exclusively uses Profoto lighting gear. “I shoot really fast, even when I’m shooting film I can kill 30 rolls of film in 45 minutes without blinking an eye,” she says. “One time I was borrowing a friend’s studio, and I don’t remember what type of lights he had, but they definitely weren’t the most expensive professional lights, which is what I’ve been used to using. Every other shot was black because I was firing too fast and the recycle time wasn’t fast enough. I’d end up wasting so much film with black shots that it’s always worth it to just go with Profoto and then I know that won’t be a problem. I can go as fast as I want.”


©Rachel Rebibo


Leaning towards film and hand-printing her work, it’s not surprising to learn Rebibo’s overall goals in photography. “My philosophy of shooting is getting back to something real and honest,” she declares. “I think that’s probably where my attachment to film comes from. I don’t want to see a 15 year old girl selling me a pair of shoes that’s aimed for me when I’m 28, and then I don’t want for an agency to send me a 15 year old girl and then ask me to Photoshop out her bones because she weighs 90 pounds and almost fell over at the end of a ten hour shoot.”

What bothers her most about the state of commercial photography? It’s what today’s consumers don’t know. “They don’t realize every single image you see, from children on cereal boxes to every other image you see has been retouched. It’s been Liquified, it’s been airbrushed, and people are not conscious of that. I think it’s really dishonest. I definitely say my philosophy is getting back to something that’s real.”


©Rachel Rebibo


Rebibo won’t be offended if you say she operates from an photographic era in the past. “I’m sort of an old school thinker, I guess,” she says. “My favorite photographers are Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton and Herb Ritts and also Joel‑Peter Witkin on the very fine art side and they’re real photographers. They made their own photos and I think when you have a creative director and an art director that’s designed everything for you, you’re just someone who’s executing someone else’s idea and that’s not necessarily being a photographer. Photographers take pictures of everything they love—not just fashion, not just advertising, not just documentary, not just portraits, not just fine art.”

In the future, we won’t try to pin Rachel Rebibo down. We’ll watch whatever further developments come from the lenses of this photographer who has a vision no matter the subject matter at hand. Bonne nuit.


©Rachel Rebibo


Rachel Rebibo Photography
Rachel Rebibo on Behance Network

Written by Ron Egatz