Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Eric Meola - Last Places On Earth
Eric Meola's highly personal book project is the result of a photographic odyssey that began long before digital cameras came on the scene.
Whatever the inspiration, part of the drive for the unique manner in which he photographed for the book came out of a six-week assignment of “precise” photography for Johnny Walker. Working on that job, it occurred to him that most of the time consumed by commercial photography was spent engaged in behind-the-scenes production, bidding and negotiating. He concluded he was making money, but losing time. Meola began to question the process. What if he used only available light? What if he made spontaneous images? What if he worked without an assistant and without a master plan in regions of the world he barely knew?
Through a fortuitous set of circumstances, Meola decided that he wanted to chance anything and question everything. His photographs would be driven by the physical energy of his moving and shooting rapidly without stopping to control light and composition. He'd set his Canon on automatic and simply take pictures. If he had a long exposure, he'd do his best to hold the lens steady. If he had an open aperture, he'd be mindful of the depth of field. He would, in fact, be working counter to a 20-year-old photography style that sought to perfect reality. After 20 years of making images shaped by his studio training, Meola's definition of perfection was expanding.
In 1996, Meola showed some spectacular Burma images to Kodak. Originally, he hoped Kodak would support what he saw as a book project, but in 1996, “book” was just another four-letter word. At the same time, Kodak was about to make some history. The company released a new ISO 100-series film designed to give photographers unprecedented control over their contrast and saturation. Up to that point, it had been all Kodachrome for Meola.
“The option to choose from a series of Kodak films and tailor my saturation was perfect for this project,” he recalls. Kodak enthusiastically gave him the green light to make the images, but anything regarding a book would be up to him.
Adds Meola, “Kodak gave me the best assignment of my life.”
To Go Digital Or Not To Go Digital
The project began before digital cameras and equipment surpassed film. The confluence of having a high enough resolution camera, computers that could handle processing the images and Photoshop software capable of working with large raw files is relatively recent. In 1995, it wasn't an option. Batteries, memory card capacities and general camera reliability are much better now than the temperamental equipment available at the time.
Says Meola, “Now all these issues have been resolved so I've completely made the switch to digital. But traveling to remote places in 1995 posed too many digital challenges. When you're working at what could be one of the 'last places on earth,' chances are there won't be access to AC power for extended periods of time; if you carry batteries, you still have to find a way to recharge them.”
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