Monday, January 7, 2008
Karen Ballard - A Life Of Adventure
Photographer Karen Ballard has been at the very center of modern history, and she has the pictures to prove it. Her work has been defined by a passion for life.
There isn't a single avenue of photography for which reliable gear is more important than for photojournalism. There isn't a Samy's Camera in the middle of a war, so if your equipment breaks down, you need to be prepared. Ballard is a Canon convert, principally shooting with Canon Mark IIs, 5Ds and a variety of lenses for whatever occasions may arise.
She still carries her Rolleiflex and Leica, politely requesting hand checks of her film when passing through airport security. Ballard finds cases to be an ongoing struggle between portability and function, but she tends to stick with Pelican. Apple computers are all that she has ever used.
Digital has created much more work in terms of postproduction for Ballard, but with magazines and the Web turning to stock sales, she also has seen the Internet allow photographers to become much more visible as individuals. Her own Website points directly to Redux Pictures (www.reduxpictures.com), where more than 600 of her images are available.
Ballard's recent move to the world of production follows in the typical tradition of her successes. In 2003, she spent a six-week period photographing more than 120 portraits of American servicemen and women for a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced feature called Profiles from the Front Line.
She's in Lithuania, at the time of this article, shooting stills for an upcoming Edward Zwick film, director of Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai and Glory. Her first film, in true Ballard fashion, was a headlong jump straight into the big leagues with Steven Spielberg's film Munich.
“I am, above all, a people photographer,” she says. “That's what I do best, and I explore this in many ways. I'm as at ease photographing Steven Spielberg making a movie as I am hanging out with soldiers in Afghanistan.
“The transition to film [unit] work is really just another manifestation of expanding and exploring my own photography,” Ballard elaborates. “I live to take roads I haven't traveled. I was burned out on Washington politics, but was in no hurry to go back to Baghdad. I had thought about movie work for years and being a part of its creative process. When Steven Spielberg hired me for his film on the Olympic massacre, Munich, I was thrilled, knowing that this would be a different photographic challenge, and it's still in the realm of photojournalism. It's documentary work even though it's created through the vehicle of someone else's movie. Unit photography records this whole process and has allowed me to witness and shoot amazing talent in action.”
Ballard bristles a little when asked, after working in Afghanistan and Iraq, if the transition to movie-making is a sort of working vacation. “Are you kidding me?” she says. “Set photography is grueling, with long hours, night shoots, rain, snow, heat, bugs—all the elements, combined with questionable food and working 24/7 with, at times, 500 people, all of whom you should get along with.
“This past spring, I worked on the upcoming Rambo in Thailand with Sylvester Stallone, and we were shooting in the jungle at night in the rain and being devoured by mosquitoes and other unimaginable insects! At the end of those long days, however, good photos ended up being taken. Movie-making is another fascinating culture to observe.”
She finds other similarities, as well. As in journalistic work, people can be conscious of how they look, to a fault. Some of what Ballard feels might be her best work can end up on the cutting room floor because of an actor's right to final cut over images of themselves. She finds most of this easy to overcome through a little charm and a strong sense that she knows what she's doing. The biggest advantage for Ballard, on the other hand, is that the bullets aren't real.
To see more of Karen Ballard's work, visit www.karenballard.net.