Friday, January 16, 2009

Remembering Eddie Adams

On the set with Eddie Adams and Phyllis Schlafly.
(C)Bill Adler
Many years ago I had the opportunity to spend some time and study with one of the great photojournalists of the 20th century, Eddie Adams, who left us in 2004. He received the Pulitzer Prize for his chilling image of a Viet Cong guerilla summarily executed upon capture. All told, he won over 500 awards.
When I met him, he was becoming well known for his celebrity portraiture. He was using only a large soft box as the Key light, and black boards for a negative fill. This prevented the light from wrapping around the subject at close range and produced a window light effect with definable shadow quality. I had never seen the use of black boards and was intrigued with this scheme. It was always better to just watch him work than to ask a bunch of questions - which usually lead to an uncontrollable rath of fury. So, I just kept my mouth shut and learned by observation.
He also used a tripod, focused and then intentionally kept his head above the camera so as not to place any physical obstacle between himself and the subject. This created a sense of intimacy and trust, resulting in photographs that are revealing and honest. It was never about cameras or lighting or complex studio sets. It was all about interaction between Eddie and the subject. It was about creating a dynamic in which the capture became secondary.

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