Thursday, June 14, 2007
Gerd Ludwig - At The Heart Of The Matter
Prominent photo journalist Gerd Ludwig embarks on a digital journey—and takes us with him
As I climbed the 64 steep steps to the front door of the large concrete house that looks more like a factory out of a Tim Burton movie, I noticed that nothing much had changed. I stopped for a second, breathing in the thin air, grumbled to myself about the stairs that crept up the side of the Hollywood Hills and kept climbing. Reaching the top, I opened the door, let myself in and took a look around. Same pictures on the wall, same furniture. I walked farther into the house, through the doorway to the studio, and that's when I noticed the difference: there's no film.
I worked for Gerd Ludwig a number of years ago as his studio manager and sometimes field mule, so I'm a little surprised by this. When I worked there, hundreds of slide boxes covered the six-foot-long light table, but today it serves as a temporary storage area for paper files.
“I really thought I was going to be one of the last dinosaurs,” admits Ludwig. “Until the Canon EOS-1Ds came out, I was still committed to film.” As one of National Geographic's most accomplished photographers and a Canon Explorer of Light, Ludwig has traveled the globe photographing some of the most interesting and remote areas on the planet.
Having worked with him, I know firsthand how organized and prepared he is before he heads out on assignments. When he was shooting film, he knew his camera like the back of his hand. The execution of his technical knowledge always was impressive to me, and I was fortunate to watch him work tirelessly on every project.
I remember when he switched from one camera manufacturer to another. He spent hours on his own and with a professional rep testing and learning the new system. Now, in his recent segue to digital, he's immersing himself in a new technique again.
“Until recently, going digital wasn't an option for the work that I do, especially at National Geographic,” says Ludwig. “The cameras didn't have the quality needed for high-end publications. Also, when you shoot for the Geographic, you automatically think about a possible exhibit of the story, which will require you to blow up your images to large sizes. This wasn't possible with an early-model digital camera. The technology just wasn't there.”