Ric Savid2018-05-04T11:14:59+00:00

Writing, Reading and Photography


Reading, Writing and Photography:  Or what I want to do in retirement


Like all the artist grantees, I’ve been blogging and posting (photos, in my case) for several months.  The assignment has forced me to write.  Writing makes me think.  Posting photos makes me shoot, which is  always a good start if you want to make a good image.  Together, posting photos and blogging has inadvertently led me to analyze my work.  In essence, the process of fulfilling the grantee requirements have reminded me why I photograph and have inspired me to work harder at the craft.

However, my 50-hour RN work week – sometimes devouring all seven days – left me with little time for shooting, darkroom printing and blogging.

(Blogging.  I hate that word .  To blog is to write. And writing is hard work.  Blogging sounds like disorganized chit chat.  I have difficulty with the almighty “BLOG.” Maybe I’m not loose enough.  Writing is personal and intimate, like a connected portraiture.  Blogging is a selfie posted on Facebook.)

Anyway, here’s what I’ve learned.  Perfectionism can trample productivity and creativity.  Perfectionism: a giant eyeball in the ceiling of my darkroom spying my printing.  There it is again, on my shoulder, staring at my computer screen as I type.  The eyeball will always be there.  It needs to be.  If  I’m not a little nervous about my work, it has no chance of being good.  The trick is not to let that Twilight Zone eyeball handcuff creativity and productivity while trying to complete a finished piece of work.

Oh yeah, and now my point;  I can’t wait to retire, to be able to loose myself  in the work of the moment. No cell phone interruptions.  Using my energy for important things .  Work when I want to, rest when I need to.  Of course, I will continue to see some patients.  Doing things for others gets me outside myself.  Well, now I’m blogging…blog, blog, blog.


People from the Past Speak

The Real Value of a Portrait

Caroline Morton-Hicks

For me, black and white portraits share an intimate moment.  They may be mysterious, but the viewer should be able to connect with the subject on the two-dimensional surface. For that to happen, both the viewer and the photograph must have an emotion.  In this way, the portrait has life, meaning and priceless value to loved ones.

But this can be sad, as when I look at the pictures on this page.  Both these people are dead; one from old age, the other murdered.

Caroline was an avid musician who played the trombone in local orchestras and bands.  I met her several years ago while working on a photographic commission.   She let me take photos of her posing with a  trombone, a clarinet and a flute.  None of it worked.  I knew it, she knew it.  We took a break.  She was raised in England, so we drank tea in her kitchen.

She was a witty person with a sense of humor.  I remember her making some wise crack about something, and the New York in me quickly returned the same.  That is the moment I made this photo.  I gave her small proofs of the “instrument poses,” which she let me know were “horrible.”  Nothing I didn’t know.  I may have given her a small proof of the above image, but am not sure.

Then, late last year she emailed me out of the blue about adopting a cat.  I replied “No thanks.”  I like dogs – more emotional.  After refusing the cat adoption, I thought I would enlarge this print, mat it and mail it to her.  The print was still sitting on my desk when I picked up the paper one morning from the driveway.   On the front page was an off-the-cuff smart phone snapshot of Caroline, trombone in hand sitting on a folding metal chair and smiling;  she had been shot to death in a desolate parking lot after a band practice one night.

I’m glad I met her and glad I have this photo.

Howard Kanter

Howard Kanter was 88 years old.  He lived alone in Tampa.  He survived the Battle of the Bulge in WW II.  He liked to paint.  That lighted painting of an Asian woman behind above him is his work.  This photograph was part of a Tampa photographic commission about diversity.

On Veterans’ Day in 2012, the Tampa Bay Times ran it’s usual war hero stories, and Howard’s story of fighting the Nazis along with a photo of him sitting on his porch appeared in the paper.  It mentioned he was Jewish.  That fit my diversity project parameters.  I’m Jewish, so I figured this was one of those times where it might help.  (More on that later in my upcoming book about working 20+ years in the construction industry in Pinellas County – The First Jew to make it as a Redneck in the South.)

We agreed to meet in his apartment.  There, his daughter and son-in-law made sure I was safe before they left.  Howard and I talked.  I began shooting.  We talked, I shot some more.  He seemed  incredibly alive.  I remember Howard asking me a lot of questions.  That made it easier to shoot him.  When I make a portrait of someone whom I don’t know, it’s hard to listen and ask questions that prove you are really listening.  Sure I’m listening, but I’m making a visual image of what’s radiating from the subject.  So if you asked me what questions he asked me and what we talked about, I have no memory there.  But I never forget the demeanor of the subject, the way the subject looked into the lens.

What I do remember is this:  we were hungry after the shoot, he wanted to take me to his favorite Chinese restaurant, and he insisted that he drive.  He had trusted me behind the camera.  Now it was my  turn to trust him behind the wheel of his vehicle.  And he insisted on picking up the tab.  His daughter later told me, he had a good time.  That made me feel good.  It’s too easy to be “taking” from someone when you’re photographing.  Photography is like life that way.  You need to give to get.

Within a week or two I emailed some thumbnails to Mr. Kanter and his daughter.  A few weeks after that, I saw his obituary in the paper.  He was in good health, so his death was a shock.  “My heart is broken,” his daughter told me over the phone. Howard never saw the enlarged 16- by 20-inch print of this image, nor did his daughter.  It’s hanging in the Clearwater YMCA with his obituary from the paper taped to the back.

Death is so permanent.  I’ve always been fascinated and frightened by it.  When I was about four or five, a relative died.  “You mean Uncle Izzy won’t smoke cigars in our house again – ever?”  My mother told me, “That’s death.   Everybody dies.”  I started crying:  “I don’t want to die!”  She held my head in her lap, trying to comfort me.  “Don’t worry, you’re not going to die for a long, long time.”

But the truth was out.  I am going to die.  At that time, I didn’t have words to express my feelings.  Being upset was my child way of saying, “That really sucks.”

Thank God for photos.  They can make death more painful, but I’m glad we have them.  I think I just “blog-vinced” myself that photos are special and important to me.






4 X 5: So Little Time, So Much Practice Needed

Still Having to Crop

Not much to say here, except stating the obvious; I need practice with the 4 x 5.

I need to shoot enough with it so that its use becomes second nature.  Practice setting it up quickly.  Practice calculating – in seconds – the correct exposure when the bellows is extended beyond infinity. Practice the sequence of focus, load the film, close the lens, set the lens aperture and time,remove the dark slide, shoot, put the dark slide back, then make sure you don’t do a double exposure on the same film. (Although my accidental double image of Lilli – see a previous blog – was a wonderful accident.)

The above does not even include loading film dust-free in the darkroom without scratching it and developing it without scratching it.

When all of the above is second nature, then I can concentrate completely on the human subjects in front of the lens.  At my present 4 x 5 skill level, I easily make mistakes if I am too engaged with the subject.

I’m lucky to have a patient granddaughter.  Rainna is closing in on 15, and she’s been my “model” since she was a baby.   She’s patient, and I don’t have to push her to pose.

The advantage of shooting loved ones is I don’t have to worry about failures – no pressure.  And at the very least I get failed images of loved ones.  Along with that, there is the memory of the time frame surrounding the making of the image.  I remember what I was doing and where I was for every photo made in my entire life.

As Rainna was in front of a black door, I cropped the image as an afterthought.  I slapped the wet image up against the spot-lighted Plexiglas in the darkroom. Using two L-shaped pieces of mat board, I played with the image, and below is what I came up with.


Mysterious Dog Portraits

Portraits of a Mysterious Dog

Okay, maybe I’m scrapping for images.  Pet photos.  But this can be a good thing.  With people portraits, I’ve always demanded tact sharp eyes staring at the viewer.  But neither of these photos have those qualities.  Instead, these off-the-cuff-what-the-heck images revealed the true nature of the dog despite my proclivity toward photographic rigidity.  One reward of non-conceptual photography is good luck.

Stella’s blurry silhouette above was shot quickly with the Leica despite my order to stay.  It hints at her shyness, and some indifference.

The image below was intended to be more pointed, a sharp portrait. I had awakened to see Stella staring at me.  Her eyes were intense and demanding.  She had that look dog eyes have when they want something;  sadness, hope, urgency and patience all at once.  The direct sun through the window above the headboard lit her curly hair.  I grabbed the loaded Hasselblad from the closet behind her, returned to the bed, and opened fire at with the lens wide open to blur everything except her.  Had I tried to move her closer to light her eyes I most likely would have lost the shot.  A trained doggy model she is not.

Weeks later, I was unimpressed when I put a loupe over the negative.  But the contact sheet revealed that balanced interplay of light and shadow that turns living color into abstract visual poetry. The bed bright bed sheet, wood floor and part of the wall are tamed by the shadows.

This image breaks my self-imposed “tack-sharp-eyes-staring-back-at-viewer rule.”  The rigid brain said don’t print it.  But the visceral me felt this balanced play of light and dark on the contact sheet that called to be print.  That the photo shows Stella’s personality –  she is intelligent, seemingly thinking all the time –  a just a bonus.



Sunlight through the Kitchen Window

Setting Sunlight on Smiling Jack

My daughter’s two-story, 19th-century wood-frame house has light entering it every which way.  There’s morning light, evening light, northern light in summer, southern light in winter. There’s diffuse light and direct light.  I have yet to explore it all.

On this occasion, I had been shooting my son-in-law with a medium format camera by diffuse northern light through a living-room window.  The tripod was set up; it was slow going.  I took a break and went for water in the kitchen.  There, Jack was chuckling while being  passed between his sisters like a football.  I was in the visual zone. I saw Jack’s half-lit giggling face; I saw (what I knew would be) out-of-focus light bulbs above a dining table in the background.  Click.  A moment in time stopped forever.

I was lucky.  With family, I keep the 35mm Leica rangefinder around my neck even while in the middle of using larger format cameras.  Maybe someday I will be able to keep it around my neck all the time, but with family no ridiculous, timid self-consciousness impedes me as it does out in “the world.”  (It’s not the 60s or 70s anymore.  Everyone is suspicious, scared of their own shadows. Although I haven’t heard news of anyone shot and killed by a camera yet.)

I’ve spent years photographing strangers.  Produced a lot of stilted shots that have filled the garbage, and have made some decent ones as well; they’ve made it to a show or in a magazine. I’ve had this dream to publish a book of these “portraits of strangers.”  I realize now that all those photographs, all that effort, all the hours refining prints in the darkroom – all of it – was mere training.  Now, perhaps I am more capable of making the important images – family photographs.  I know  they will be cherished the way photographs were meant to be.  Sounds corny, I know.  But one day, Jack’s  grandchildren will look at his photo – in a little frame on a wall – and wonder how their grandpa got so wrinkled up.

Setting Sunlight on Lillian


Finding Faces

La Mujer con el Papagayo

Serious sustained photography can become a sober examination of one’s mind. Quickly frame what you are innately drawn to – before thinking fogs everything – and patterns emerge. The inner conscious comes to light – literally. I’ve been a “hopeless romantic” since I was eight (the first time I saw Lynn Piccorello in second grade). I have a sense of humor. I relish peace and quiet, which for me requires organization. I tend to see the good in others. Photography has taught me all these things.

In a way, photographically I have been collecting people for years. But I’m shy approaching strangers, and it can be tiring, fake and outright useless trying to befriend them for an underlying purpose. That kind of portrait photography for me feels like an act of seduction. I have done better when the photographs happen. A subject wants their photo taken. There is a connection.

Hence, I have often found myself framing the inanimate depictions of humans. They pose unabashedly. They are never self-conscious. Like the stone sculpture of a woman with a parrot on her shoulder. She was six or so inches high, atop the bottom of a banister in Mexico and hidden by vegetation. Likewise, the display of a mannequin’s head aside a tie in a storefront window in southern Italy. With a camera in hand, I see things like this. I’m supposed to. At the very least, it’s good practice.

La Donna e la cravatta


The Two-Sided Mirror

The Invisible Photographer


In July, my wife Merla and I went spent a week at a bed and breakfast: a 19th-century two-story home overlooking a harbor in Maine. Wonderful to get out of the Florida heat. Even better to get away from the cell phone. As a home infusion nurse working 50 hours a week, my phone never stops. It wreaks havoc upon one’s time of focus and meditation. I long for retirement in the near future.

I was about to brush my teeth in the two-sided mirror attached to the bathroom wall when I saw this backward reflected image: the bright lamp, Merla’s face, the old colonial furniture, the geometric shapes of the walls and ceilings. All of it framed by the out-of-focus bathroom door frame at my back. I grabbed the Leica and shot. It was a rare moment – she never knew I took the photo. This image became a sweet memory of the peace we had reading in that room each evening. Photos expand the storage capacity of our brains. A single photo of a single moment – for better or worse – opens a multitude of memories.

What a contrast when I flipped the mirror over and made a self portrait using the close-up, concave side of the mirror. With facial features enlarged, the image depicts an intense, almost frightening, voyeuristic-like eyeball preying upon its victim. Photographing people can be both an aggressive and intrusive action.


The Fleeting Snapshot

The Candid Family Snapshot

The dusty shoe box stuffed with snapshots has gone the way of  the Rolodex.  Not me. I still use a Rolodex.  In 1995 – obviously before 9/11 –  our son was allowed to examine a cockpit.  I remember his seriousness and intense curiosity, and something told me to take a photo.  He was attentive as the pilot explained some of the dials and switches.  He never talked about becoming a pilot as a child, though he built some model planes, and we shot off rockets he built.

So when he became a jet pilot years later, I wanted a portrait of him.  But he doesn’t go for posed portraits.  Upon a visit to his apartment in North Carolina during part of his ongoing flight training, he reiterated, “No portraits, no posing.

The shot below was an ambush shot as he walked out of his bedroom before work one morning, dressed in his flight gear.  Obviously, it’s not posed.  I pulled these images out of the shoe box  to frame and put side by side with other family images. they tell a story that took 20 years to complete.




Lilli’s Double Image on 4 X 5

Lilli’s Double Image:  Vertical + Horizontal

This photo was an accident.  I loaded the first 4 x 5 film sheet horizontally, and shot.  Then I changed the rear ground glass from horizontal to vertical, but forgot to flip the film holder over to shoot on the second, unexposed negative.

“Papa, you used that side already,”  Lilli said, without breaking her pose. “No I didn’t,” I said.  She was right.  I was wrong.  I was concentrating on other camera settings.  She was staring straight at the camera and had seen my error. But I got lucky; my wrong resulted in an interesting image.  I probably couldn’t repeat this image if I tried.

It was only after the wet 8 x 10 print was slapped on the spot-lighted Plexiglass in the darkroom that I saw the potential.  I grabbed the L-shaped mat board pieces I use as croppers and slowly closed them in on the center of the print until my eye said stop.  I liked how the right angle of the arms formed a border around Lilli.  The shirt wrinkles in the horizontal image look like abstracted eyelashes over her visible left eye.  I think the graininess and contrast due to the over exposure give the image an intensity.


Laughing Dog

Rainna with Marty Laughing

Some 10 years ago, I shot my oldest granddaughter, Rainna, standing in front of dark shrubs in our yard. Now 14 years old, I recently asked her to pose in the same spot.   Like many teenagers, she is at that self-conscious age between puberty and adulthood. Perhaps she grabbed one of our dogs, a standard poodle named Marty, to share the spotlight and alleviate some of her own self-consciousness of the moment. Perhaps not. For she is also an animal lover who shares a strong bond with Marty.

What happened next was luck. (Although I have learned the more I shoot, the luckier I get! It is the law of all straight photography.)

So when Rainna squatted down with Marty in front of the same decade-old shrubs, I went with the flow. I was shooting medium format film (2-1/4″ square) and was focused on Rainna’s eyes when the dog yawned a moment before I clicked the shutter. The image was recorded the moment the dog’s jaw reached it’s apex and stopped moving, just as a ball thrown straight up is momentarily motionless before gravity pulls it back down.

The result was tack sharp dog molars in the plane of focus with my granddaughter’s eyes. Simultaneously, Rainna’s expression is one of contained laughter as she was keenly aware of the comedy occurring. A second earlier she had seen Marty starting to yawn out of the corner of her eye.

Obviously, this is not some deep mysterious image that answers some existential question. Rather, it is a light-hearted humorous snapshot deserving a permanent place in our family album.


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