Our Town: WP photographer brings subjects into focus

Dr Tom Ferraro

As you realize by now, my weekly “Our Town” column always includes a single photograph of my subject.  

The photo is taken at the end of the interview and I refer to it as ‘the moment of truth’ in contrast to Cartier Bresson’s ‘decisive moment.’ 

Both the subject and I are smart enough to realize that there is truth to the old adage that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ And since this column is usually about eight hundred words it seems quite plausible that the photo is equal in worth to all those words and all the time it took to speak them and convert them into the article.  

The power and importance of the photo is also the reason why nearly every subject hesitates and often resists it. ‘No I’m too heavy’, ‘No I don’t look good today’, ‘No I don’t like the way I look in pictures.’  

They are quite happy to talk openly about almost anything with the awareness that I will be quoting them but put a camera in front of them and they grow silent and scared.

So in an effort to learn more about how to take good photos and put my weekly subjects at ease I went to a nationally recognized camera and photography  expert who also happens to have a studio on Willis Avenue in Williston Park. 

The studio is A Photographer’s Place, the address is 487 Willis just south of St Aidan’s and the owners name is Michael Horowitz.  

Michael’s family has been in the vision business for generations and his grandfather invented the corneal contact lens. Michael was given his first Kodak Brownie camera at age four and he has been shooting ever since. He was at first partners at Ken-Mar up the street and has been solo at this location since 2009. 

He is a professional photographer, gives private lessons, and produces fine prints for artists, interior designers, corporations and regular folks like you and me. And the place is a hangout for many talented photographers. On the day I interviewed him he was chatting with Art Inselsberger who is a famous photographer in his own right.

After my preliminary data gathering I was ready to get down to business.  So how do I go about setting up the shot? Do I include props? Do I include background details? Up until now all I do is stand them people up in front of me, say ‘smile’ and snap the shot.  

He immediately suggested that I go to the lowest F stop and create what he called ‘shallow depth of field.’ This means that the subject will be clearly in focus and the background will be slightly out of focus but clear enough so the viewer can see what is going on in the background. 

As an example he said I should have taken the pretty Suhwa Kim of Aroma Nails and placed her in front of her nail polish display and then placed her off center a little. Who knew these things??

I then asked Michael how to relax the subject. He told me to shoot them while they are working with their daily tools in hand. He said I could have taken my photo of the Village Gift and Flower Shop as they were making a bouquet of flowers. 

This all seems so obvious.  But that is always the way with wisdom. The simplest things are self-evident only after someone tells you about it. Before then it’s all a big mystery.

He could have gone on about many things but I stopped him in his tracks. My little brain can only handle a little input at a time so I left a happy man. 

I had discovered how to use depth of field and how to photograph the subjects in action.  At the end we talked about the proper philosophy to have when approaching a photograph. 

I know Bresson believed in his ‘decisive moment’ and that his philosophy was borrowed heavily from the wonderful little book Zen and the Art of Archery by the German philosopher Eugen Herrigel.  

As I walked back to my office I thought about what my photographic philosophy was.  What was my intent when photographing my subjects every week?  I realized right away that my only real desire is to elevate every man or woman, every mom or dad, and every shopkeeper to the status of hero.  So when I look back at the photos I’ve taken of Anthony Mucci or John Riley or James Barry and Aiden McGrath or Suhwa Kim I do see them as heroic in every way imaginable. Hopefully now with Mr. Horowitz’ help I can capture that heroism with a sharper focus and with more persuasion. And along the way maybe I will finally discover that ‘decisive moment’ that Henri Cartier Bresson made so famous. 


Share this Article