Interview BPSOP & Cheryl Machat Dorskind
1. When did you first pick up a camera and do you remember your first picture?
I was intrigued by cameras as a young girl, as my dad traveled to Europe often and would bring home lots of cool gadgets. I remember the Minox 110S (early 1970s)—my dad said it was a spy camera; it fit in his shirt pocket and used tiny size film (110 – cassette).
I bought my first SLR when I was 16, having saved from babysitting and an after school job sorting envelopes by zip codes for Easter Seals mailings. I still have the camera — a Nikormat with a 105 mm f/2 lens.
I remember the first photo that hooked me and wrote about it in the introduction to The Art of Handpainting Photographs… I was 16 walking on the beach in Acapulco at sunset, mesmerized by the dramatic sherbet colored sky. I thought, “I want to photograph this.” I returned the following day at sunset and waited for the colors to explode.
That was the first time I planned a photo session and “composing and waiting” are now integral components of my photographic style.
- How long have you been shooting?
I have been photographing for over four decades.
- Why did you choose your particular specialty
I began my photography career handpainting photographs — a black and white photo did not say enough and the colors in a color photograph were too dominant. Additionally, back then, the color photographic process was not stable; the life of a color print was not predictable. With correctly processed black and white photography, I could guarantee an archival print. And so I learned to paint onto the surface of fiber gelatin photographs, using color (washes and layers of oil paints) to add narrative and tell my photographic story.
While the technique of handcoloring photographs is as old as photography itself and quite popular now in the digital forum, back in the 80’s, it was not prevalent. With determination, I mastered the materials (oils, brushes made of cotton and sticks) and ultimately wrote the book, The Art of Handpainting Photographs, which became a best seller; it sold in museums and is considered the comprehensive guide of hand coloring traditional photographs, which I coined “Photopaintings.”
When I had children, I turned my camera towards my daughters, and then her friends and before you knew it, I was a child photographer and created a bustling business of handpainting photographs of children and families. I live in the Hamptons, a perfect place to have a high-end portrait business where I could offer one-of-a-kind portraiture.
Presently, I am known for my personalized and artistic portrait style and continue with a high-end clientele creating wall-art as black and white or color Giclees.
- As one who believes there is no one location that could be ‘the favorite,’ can you tell us what are your top three destinations for
shooting? Is there somewhere you have NOT shot but you hope to shoot there one day?
It’s really wonderful living in the Hamptons. My favorite locations to photograph are my backyard, the local beach, and new and magical spots that I discover on bike rides and walks. That said, I also love hiking and photographing in the mountains of Central Oregon and Sedona, Arizona and Zermatt, Switzerland.
- Which, if any, photographers inspired you the most?
Margaret Bourke-White became one of the first photographers I admired. I was most drawn to her pioneering and daring spirit. Her unprecedented access to life events was a testament to her talent and self confidence.
I discovered Alfred Stieglitz, known as the father of fine-art photography in the US and read much of his enormous literary contributions (i.e. Camera Work) to the genre. He championed many artists and photographers including Georgia O’Keeffe (whom he married) and Edward Steichen who became curator of photographs at the Museum of Modern Art from 1947-1962.
I have a lot of respect for Minor White (profound educator) and Harry Callahan (Harry Callahan photographed his family and home environment for most of his career). Callahan became the director of the Rhode Island School of Design.
Henri Cartier Bresson’s prolific writings are rich with insights and motivations, echoing and fueling my passion as a photographer and an artist. Bresson coined the phrase “The Decisive Moment.”
“To me the camera is a sketchbook, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity. In order to “give meaning” to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what he frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, a discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry.”
~Henri Cartier Bresson
I was fortunate to know Allen Ginsberg (a photographer as well as the preeminent Beat poet), a friend of my husband. Allen and I spent a day together back in the 80’s at his apartment where he critiqued my work. Later that day, we photographed together in the East Village. Allen taught me many things that I have adopted into my workflow, such as always having a camera with me and using my camera as a sketchbook. Allen also helped me articulate why I was handpainting. I am deeply grateful for his probing and critical insights.
Cindy Sherman became a photographer of interest in the early 80’s and I began my own series of self-portraits thanks to her inspiration. Two of my self-portraits were used as book covers on Ann Beattie’s novels.
6) Where have you NOT shot but you hope to shoot there one day?
I would like to photograph in Alaska, Machu Picchu, Peru, and explore New Zealand.
- How do you create income from your work, e.g. gallery sales, stock, assignment, workshops, books etc.?
I derive income from commission work (portraits, photo restoration, interiors), Hamptons’ workshops (photo safaris and private classes), online teaching at BPSOP, College (I am an assistant professor and have even teaching at the college level for over 20 years) online mentoring through a program I developed called FAME (Fine Art Mentoring Expertise), exhibitions, and books (I have written three books, The Art of Handpainting Photographs, The Art Photographing Children, and my first and brand new eBook, Photographing Children Naturally.)
- What one thing fuels your photographic passion more than anything else?
Light and color, their essential play, fuel my photographic passion as well as my desire to share what I am seeing and experiencing.
- Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration through reading, watching movies, talking to friends, chatting on social media, taking MOOC classes, joining webinars, learning new software and most importantly teaching. As Dave Mathews says, “And when you give, you get the world.”
- Although it is for me personally, the least interesting, others I am sure want to know what camera system/equipment you use, Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji, Pentax. Do you have a favorite lens?
I use Canon gear for my pro work —I have a 5d M II and will buy the IV when it comes out this year. My go-to lens is the 24-105 f/4L mm lens. I also have a 70-200 f/4L and a 17-24 f/4L mm lens. I love my Black Rapid strap and Lowepro slim bag for walking around with my “pro” gear. I keep a Canon G15 in my purse as well as my iPhone 6.
Working in a business that has a gadget buying frenzy element, I use willpower and often remind myself that it is my vision that matters, not the camera. As Dorothea Lange says, “The camera teaches us to see without a camera.” Many of my photo friends are into the mirrorless cameras, but I have not found one that I would rather have than my purse size Canon G series or the Canon DSLR 5Ds. However, when I do make it to one of my travel dreams, I will probably buy a mirrorless camera and only pack one lens.
In addition to cameras, I have a few computers, iPads, and lots of software. I make it a point to stay up to date with the latest Adobe products and I even learned how to work with HTML5 coding.
- What, if any, advice do you have for our BPSOP members?
My advice to bpsop members is to photograph often and pay attention to what type of photography you like. What do you feel excited about? The act of capturing is very much the process of photography. If you are involved in the subject with your heart and mind, connected and absorbed—then there you go. That is your passion.
For more information, please visit my website, subscribe to my blog or join me for one of the classes I teach at BPSOP (All About Color, Photographing Children: Rising to the Challenge, and Painting Photos).