By Jimmy Steinfeldt
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 10/4/17 –
Jimmy Steinfeldt: How often do you clean your lens?
George DuBose: Everytime I use my camera, which is not so often these days. My Hasselblad lenses have the problem that the grease inside the lens gets dry and stiff from lack of use and the shutter speeds go all to hell. I have put a lens in the oven at 100°F for 30 minutes and that makes the grease softer and the shutter speeds are more accurate.
JS: What photographers influenced you?
GD: That’s easy. Yousef Karsch of Ottawa. His portraits of presidents and Winston Churchill in particular inspired me to become a photographer.
JS: Who else influenced your photography?
GD: I also admired the work of Phillipe Halsman and was going to be his assistant, but he died before we could work together. Phillipe made some amazing photos of Dali and Hitchcock that influenced my art direction.
And then there was Ansel Adams and Minor White whose techniques in shooting and printing influenced my work with my fine art prints.
Chip Simons, a colleague of mine, and I had similar styles when working in color. Chip and I like to use unusual lighting techniques and bright colors. Chip has a technique where his assistants wear black, hold hand-held strobes with colored filters and with the subject in a dark room, the assistants pop the flashes all around the subject and Chip records this with a time exposure. I have “stolen” that technique on an occasion or two.
Another photographer whose technique I have “borrowed” was Ira Cohen. Ira was an old hippy, a photographer and poet. In the 60s, he would line a small room with DuPont’s Mylar® film and then shoot Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and others in this room of warped reflections. Ira’s cover for the Spirit album “The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus” had images that looked like the view was on LSD. I used that technique with the Mylar® with many group photos, most notably, the cover of the Ramones “Mondo Bizarro”. I got to meet Ira when Joey wanted Ira to shoot the cover, but Johnny wanted me to shoot the cover. Johnny always got what he wanted and to make Ira feel better, I bought a print of his Hendrix in the Mylar® chamber for $1500 and gave him a special thanks and credit on the album sleeve.
I became friends with Ira and would often give him rolls of Mylar® when he was too poor to buy it himself. Sadly, Ira Cohen is no longer with us.
JS: What cameras are you shooting with these days?
GD: Rarely do I have a client who understands the quality of analog photography, but when I have a client that wants a grainy B&W image or I am definitely shooting for a square format, I use a Hasselblad or my Canon F1. Most of my work is with a Canon EOS-1 Ds. Or my little Nikon Coolpix that is waterproof.
JS: What was your first camera?
GD: Minolta SRT-101. It was stolen and I switched to Canons. My grandfather had a Kodak Autographic that used 128 film and people could “sign” the film backing paper through a slot in the back of the camera and the signature would appear on the negative as well. The film was too hard to get in the 60s and probably impossible today. Still have that camera.
I am not a technology freak when it comes to cameras. I shoot with a Paxette 35mm camera with a leaf shutter and I used to use a Bessamatic that also had interchangeable lenses and in-the-lens shutters. I liked to use a strobe outside and with these leaf shutter cameras it was possible to knock the daylight way down and have the subject illuminated by the strobe, making for a dramatic sky and strong colors.
JS: Is there a camera you always wanted but never got?
GD: I wanted a 30mm fisheye for Hasselblad, but never got one. Rented them when I needed to, but today…no one wants to pay for film and processing. Quality has been forgotten and replaced by simplicity.
JS: Did you ever do stills for movies?
GD: Once. It was waiting around all day until the art director or the director stopped filming and would ask for some continuity shots. I found that totally boring.
JS: What are you concentrating on now?
GD: I am writing, designing and self-publishing books that contain my photos and the back stories of the shootings. I worked with the Ramones for 12 years and produced many album and single sleeves for them. A large part of my work was with Hip-Hop artists. Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force, Run DMC, Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane, XCLAN, Kool G. Rap, The Notorious B.I.G. and many others. I shot The Notorious B.I.G. in his ‘hood when he was 19 and the producer of Biggie’s first single needed a photo for the sleeve of a radio station’s compilation vinyl. It was Biggie’s first photo shooting with a professional photographer. I got to shoot the REAL B.I.G. before he broke out.
I also shot what is believed to be the third concert that Madonna made. In 1981, I was contacted by Camille Barbone, who I didn’t know and she asked me if I would go to a club in Roslyn, Long Island, NY and photograph the singer of the band performing there. Just the singer, not the band. During the break between sets, I went back stage and introduced myself to her. I was giving her a little encouraging pep talk and Camille, Madonna’s manager, heard me talking to her and threw me out of the dressing room.
Decades later, I was contacted by the publisher of the Encyclopedia Madonnica, Matthew Rettenmund, who asked to see my “unpublished” Madonna images from that early concert in Roslyn. I told him I had scanned the images I liked and could send him those, but he insisted on seeing everything. I told him he would have to pay me to scan all the film again with a better scanner. In the end, I saw photos that were much better than I had thought and that led me to make a book with ALL the photos, even the blurry ones when she was moving to fast. I don’t think any photographer in his right mind would make a book from every image at a single concert.
JS: Is there anyone you’d like to photograph that you never photographed?
GD: Not really. The B-52s were my favorite band of all time. That was my first cover as well, from a self-commissioned photo shoot. I got to work with Tom Waits, Madonna and the Ramones. I have a great career and am quite satisfied with what I accomplished.
JS: What advice would you have for a young person who wants to pursue photography as a career?
GD: Educate yourself about analog and digital techniques for film and digital cameras, apprentice yourself to a professional for some time and then assist other professional photographers. Build your portfolio with a commercial aspect, fashion (do test shootings with models, hair and makeup artists and fashion stylists), still life, autos, sports, whatever is your liking. If you want to proceed in the fashion industry, take your fashion portfolio and go to Milan and work for the fashion magazines there. Once you have a substantial portfolio of tear sheets or printed pieces, go to London, Paris or New York and work for fashion magazines there. Then you can move into fashion catalogs or advertising. Where the money is…
JS: What’s next for George DuBose?
GD: I have already started a series of books with outtakes from my album cover shoots and the stories behind the concepts and executions. I have my Ramones book in five languages, my Madonna book in four languages, my big Hip-Hop book is only in English as Hip-Hop fans around the world probably speak English. I am currently working on a book about NY nightlife in the late 70s and early 80s featuring the Mudd Club, which was my favorite of all the clubs, I am going to do a book of my shots of Tom Waits from two different shootings with him, a book about my work with the B-52s, my first album cover. I will do a big book with all the rock artists I worked with and a book about the European Hip-Hop artists that I worked with since I relocated to Europe.
I am currently focussing on selling prints from my archives and organizing exhibitions of my work and other photographers. I am creating box set that contain a book about the artist, five 11 x 14 prints in an archival storage box and sell it all for quite a discount from single print purchases.
Here in Europe, artists get more respect than in the US. 2016 was the 40th anniversary of the release of the first Ramones’ LP and I collected photographs from Bob Gruen, Jenny Lens, Monte Melnick, their tour manager, Warren Cohen, one of their roadies and a whole collection of press photos from the Italian Ramones fan club. I printed over 70 photos in 20 x 24″ format, tore the edges and taped the prints to the walls of 15 different venues across Italy, Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands and have a Spanish exhibit of this PopUp exhibit. After having an all Ramones exhibit of my photos in 2013 and having the young fans (punks) steal the prints in the middle of the exhibit, I decided to just let the fans liberate the prints from the 15 shows I did.
When I started in the photography business, I fell into the music side which was great as I love music and am a frustrated guitar player. Vinyl album covers were king, I fell into graphic design almost by accident, but found I had a talent for that as well as photography. Cassettes came and then CDs. People often ask me if I miss doing vinyl covers, but when a photographer/art director can design a CD package with a 24 page booklet, it kind of makes up for the loss of the 12″ format.
I found myself being the art director creating concepts or collaborating on the concept with the artist, executing the photo session while staying faithful to the concept and then designing the package with respect for the photography. I never forget that when I create a package for an artist, it is the artist’s cover on the artist’s music. Not mine. I want the artist to be happy. I can choose to include their cover in my portfolio or not, but the artists have to live with it for the rest of their lives.
Being a music fan and a record collector, my main goal when creating a package is to make the cover look like the music sounds. If the front cover is cool enough, a buyer will pick it up to have a closer look and that is half way to the sale.
Today, so many bands just don’t seem to consider their image or have concepts for their covers, but when they are uploading their singles to iTunes, all they need is a 1 x 1″ thumbnail of the “cover”. Not much of a concept is needed for that.
To learn more about George DuBose http://www.george-dubose.com/