Each month, Bob profiles an exceptional mobile photographer currently producing notable work across a variety of subjects and employing a broad range of techniques. Some will be well known within the mobile photography world (exhibiting and selling their work), and others are gifted aficionados of the craft.
Alon’s world, as he finds it on the streets of Venice (California) is a glamorous one, but there are stars, luminous figures and strong personalities – some at the height of their youth, some bent by time. Susan Sontag has written that “to take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability.” If a photography is able to do that well, and honestly, in this day of easy cynicism and casual detachment, it has earned a place in our consciousness. Alon’s world consists of people who are on the streets for a moment, on their way somewhere else, but also those who live their lives there. Joseph Brodsky once wrote, of this city’s much older namesake, “Venice is a Penelope of a city, weaving her patterns by day and undoing them by night, with no Ulysses in sight. Only the sea.” These words apply as much to the Southern California city that Alon calls home as it does to the Italian metropolis of the same name, redolent with history.
For this month’s feature, I’ve chosen to highlight but a small portion of Alon’s range of street photography – to feature a single street address that has figured again and again in his work over the last ten years: 811 Ocean Front Walk in Venice. The photographer Walker Evans wanted his work to be “literate, authoritative and transcendent.” That may be too ambitious for our age, when the moral universe as Evans understood it in the 1930s no longer holds. No one demands that a photography be literate, or even authoritative (because everything these days is relative, and of course, we have Photoshop). But we can still ask that it be transcendent – that it take us to a place (perhaps literally) that we could not otherwise visit – evoking thought, humor or even bathos. Welcome to Alon’s world!
BW: Please share your educational and professional background.
AG: I studied for a BA in English literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. After not really finding a career for a few decades, I took some courses in copywriting and entered the world of advertising in my 40s. With the release of the iPhone, I developed an interest in photography and found some success as one of the pioneers in the world of iPhoneography. More recently, I enrolled in various photo workshops and began to take my newfound passion more seriously. I currently work as a copywriter for an ad agency and do photography on the side, selling my work as fine art and doing the occasional pro gig.
BW: How do you decide when to use the iPhone vs. your DSLR?
AG: My iPhone is absolutely my go-to camera for everyday shooting, while I break out my big boy cameras for professional jobs.
BW: What inspires you?
AG: Nothing gives me more pleasure than going out aimlessly into the world (most often on my bicycle) with the mission of uncovering and discovering the hidden wonder and aha moments that are everywhere at all times. Using my iPhone and my curiosity as master keys, I work with a mysterious combination of unfathomable instinct and sharp intent to unlock these little boxes of inspiration that contain the magical code that makes my head spin and my shutter click.
BW: Are there any specific design periods or artists who have an influence on your work?
AG: I’m more influenced by the environment I find myself in than any particular preconceived design ethic or by other artists. I sometimes recognize echoes of my style in the work of other artists and photographers who I greatly admire but I don’t consciously seek to integrate their worldview or aesthetic in my work. Of course, I have certainly learned so much from teachers, peers, social media and the content that is thrust at us daily as a side effect of our obsessive need to be connected.
BW: Let’s talk about the particular location (811 Ocean Front) that we’ve focused on for this feature – which is really only a small portion of your extensive street photography work. Yet the house in the background and the wall in the foreground – uniquely – are as much a character in the scene as are the people we see on the “stage” in front of them. Over how long of a period did you take these photos? What did you find so fascinating about this location? [Note: Except for the final photo, images in this interview are arranged chronologically in ascending order by date.]
AG: I’ve been photographing 811 Ocean Front Walk in Venice Beach for more than 10 years. Always evolving, this inspiring location has been my Venice muse since I started shooting there. There’s something wildly iconic about the ever-changing facade that provides an emblematic backdrop against which to spotlight the wild and wonderful characters who pass its walls–the percussionist on his way to the drum circle, the skateboarder with his dog at the height of lockdown, the graffiti cleanup crew pushing an overladen cart, the enigmatic dancer.
Waiting for interesting things to happen on this open stage has taught me what I like to think of as ‘photographic patience.’ And while I’m pretty confident I nailed my ultimate image of 811 in 2020, and I sometimes think it’s time to retire the location from my repertoire, something keeps me coming back for more.
BW: How has your work evolved over time?
AG: Creative evolution is everything but observing the process in hindsight can be a little scary. When I go back in time and see the images that Facebook serves up in the daily memory feature, I find myself perplexed. I can’t imagine why I thought anyone might find anything redeeming in many of these awful time capsules. It seems we evolve in our creativity and yesterday’s jewels can become today’s junk. I imagine my future self-seeing the images I make today and questioning my critical eye. Of course, it’s best to simply live and let live, and embrace the moment, which is after all, exactly what photography is all about.
BW: How would you describe your work in terms of style and/or approach?
AG: The act of creativity grounds me in the moment. Being able to enter the flow by stopping time is a magnificent gift. All the noise disappears and I’m left in communion with a vision served up by the world and seen only by me. I am then able to spend time with my capture of that vision in the post production process. Looking at that frozen moment, analyzing it, layering more creativity on top of it and then sharing it with the world, extends it and cements it as an unforgettable visceral memory that in effect marks and stretches time. When I see that image in the future, I am propelled back to its creation and I can vividly and magically relive that moment in time. And that’s the kind of reward all the money in the world can’t buy. That said, I’m essentially a colorful, quirky street photographer.
BW: Generally speaking, what are you trying to communicate with your work?
AG: The wonder, the humor and the diversity of things.
BW: You make very creative use of titling in your work – do you feel that this enhances the viewer’s experience of an image? How do you arrive at a title?
AG: My titles are an essential part of my vision providing what I like to think of as subtexts to the image. They also allow me to give expression to other aspects of my creativity. Usually, titling is almost an instinctive reaction that happens when I prepare to share an image. I look at the photograph, take a few seconds to react and go with the first thing that comes to mind.
BW: What sort of self-critical process do you go through when deciding whether or not to share a particular image?
AG: For me, this is the most difficult aspect of photography. As an artist who honed my craft in public, I think I have a tendency to over share. And being as prolific as I am, my heart is totally crooked about the thousands of images I’ve made that nobody sees. Just yesterday, I came up with an idea to maybe have a section on my website to house these. I’d have to label it something like Enter at Your Own Risk or Rabbit Hole or who knows what.
BW: What motivates your decision to choose black & white over color for a given image?
AG: This is sometimes a tough one for me. People know me for my color work, but every now and again, I shoot something that simply begs to be black and white. It’s not up to me, the image decides. Some of my favorite shots are black and white but they feel a bit like orphans.
BW: What iPhone apps do you use in your work?
AG: I shoot with the native iPhone camera and do post processing in Lightroom mobile. I used to use Snapseed exclusively, but because I have so many images, the app has become so slow as to render it unusable.
BW: Describe your editing process, in general terms.
AG: I get home from a shoot, and time permitting, I immediately begin the process. I look at each photo (there’s usually between 50 and 200 images) and either delete it or mark it as a favorite. I then bring all the favorites into Lightroom mobile.I go through a second process of elimination and do quick edits to my selects, which I then export to Photos and place in my A folder. (I have 18,000 images in there) I then choose my top 3 from the shoot and share on Facebook and sometimes Instagram. If there are others from the shoot that I want to share, I release them 1, 2 or 3 at a time over the coming days.
BW: What kinds of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
AG: Ride my bike. Shoot like a man possessed. Rinse and repeat. I also belong to an amazing street collective called Street L.A. We are an intrepid band of street photographers led by the inimitable Julia Dean and Daniel Sackheim. We meet and shoot once a week in various locations around Los Angeles. I’m the lone iPhoneographer in the group and I’m grateful they put up with me.
BW: In what other ways, besides photography, do you express your creativity?
AG: In my real life, I’m an advertising copywriter. And I’m a lapsed musician. I’m also somewhat creative in the kitchen. Is it wrong to say I totally love my own cooking?
BW: Where has been your work been exhibited? Have you won any iPhone photography or general photography awards?
AG: My work has been featured in solo shows in New York, Brentwood, Topanga Canyon and San Diego, as well as at the LA Art Show, HaleARTS in Santa Monica and the Los Angeles Center for Digital Arts. My photography has also appeared internationally in galleries in Canada, Italy, Portugal and Belgium.
In 2022 I was the overall winner of the MIRA Mobile Prize, an initiative of the MIRA FORUM gallery in Porto, Portugal that rewards and exhibits the best images captured and edited with mobile devices from the streets around the world. I also was runner up in the MPA Awards, placed 3rd in The Los Angeles Center of Photography’s Street Photography Around the World contest and received numerous honorable mentions in the IPPAs, MPAs, IPAs and MIRAs over the years.
BW: Talk a little bit about your two photography books – your most recent 365 project, and your COVID portrait book.
AG: During lockdown, I photographed Los Angelenos sheltering in place. (Physical distancing was maintained throughout.) I also wrote stories to accompany the photographs about each household documenting their experiences, feelings and thoughts about life during the pandemic. The subjects are a random sampling of people I’ve met during my thirty-five years in Los Angeles. I photographed rabbis, rock stars, a deaf activist from Compton, a soap opera star, a best-selling author, a Top Chef Masters TV personality, a homeless woman who lives on Ballona Creek, and dozens of other wonderfully interesting and diverse Angelenos. At the end of 2020, I self-published In Place | Portraits of a Pandemic a document of life during isolation.
From January 1st to December 31st of 2021, I immersed myself in a 365 project. The goal was simple. Make an image every day with my iPhone for a full year. The search for meaning in everyday life, and the revealing of what was previously hidden via images, evolved into a practice that trained me to be mindful and appreciate the simple things in my environment. I came away with a newfound appreciation for old places, discovered novel ways of seeing the familiar, and was witness to the revelation of the magic in the mundane. I self-published 365 Days in the Time of Corona shortly after completing the project.
BW: What advice would you have for someone aspiring to do street photography?
AG: Get out and shoot with whatever camera you have. Find people to shoot with and encourage you. Look for repeated patterns, strange juxtapositions, humor and anything else that tickles your imagination. Do it every day. Be self-critical but not overly so. Read, look, be curious.
BW: Have you been successful selling your work? What recommendations do you have for those who wish to do so as well?
AG: I have been lucky to have quite a bit of success selling my work but it’s really been a hodgepodge of unfocused self-promotion, bleary social media dabbling and blind good fortune. I wish I had a formula I could offer up but alas, salesmanship does not come naturally to me.
BW: What comes next for you creatively? Any upcoming plans in choice of approach, subject, etc.?
AG: I’m planning to continue my collaboration with illustrator artist extraordinaire Trevor Romain. We call our project Fresh Paint, a series of photography-meets-illustration thought provokers that flex reality, posit imaginative truths and bring a smile to the mind.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Bob Weil is a former marketing exec and practicing mixed media digital pictorialist living in Omaha, Nebraska. He has won numerous awards for his work and has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Canada, Italy and Portugal. He is a published author and teacher on digital art subjects with 2,400 students in 52 countries. Bob co-authored The Art of iPhone Photography with Nicki Fitz-Gerald for Rocky Nook Photography Books.
Every year we release four quarterly printed editions of FRAMES Magazine. Each issue contains 112 pages printed on the highest quality 140g uncoated paper. You receive the magazine delivered straight to your doorstep. We feature both established and emerging photographers of different genres. We pay very close attention to new, visually striking, thought-provoking imagery, while respecting the long-lasting tradition of photography in its purest incarnation.
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