William “Tripp” Todman was born and raised in Los Angeles. He studied fine art at UCLA and his work has been shown at various galleries and museum curated exhibits, and is held in private collections. He currently resides in Downtown LA and shoots internationally. Here is the story of how he used his Leica to capture a series of images he posted on Fotopark.
Q: What camera and equipment do you generally use?
A: A Leica M9, Leica SF 24D flash, Summarit-M 35 mm f/2.5 lens, and occasionally an Elmarit-M 90 mm f/2.8 lens
Q: How would you describe your photography?
A: I imagine scenes, characters, and situations and try to shoot them in the most real way possible. I let things unfold once I say “go.” My work is initially influenced by me, but ultimately determined by whoever and whatever is around. My subjects make their own choices. It’s like taking pictures of clocks: I build them, wind them, and then let them tick.
Q: Were you a serious enthusiast before going pro? And what made you decide to go pro?
A: I was sucked into the world of photography when I started going to camera shops as a boy with my father. Making fine art/mixed media and film led to still photography; it was a personal challenge to use only a camera as my tool of expression.
Q: Did you have any formal education in photography, with a mentor, or were you self-taught? Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?
A: In high school I interned and later worked for South African rock ‘n’ roll photographer Norman Seeff. My biggest and earliest influence was ’90s music videos (Floria Sigismondi, Mark Romanek, Mark Pellington, Walter Stern, and Pierre Winther). The videos of the ’90s were imaginative and fresh, sincerely art for art’s sake. There wasn’t a derivative formula yet. Training and influences though are only a starting point. We self-teach ourselves every time we pick up the camera.
Q: In what genre or genres, if any, would you place your photos?
Q: How did you first become interested in Leica?
A: When I was a kid, my father shot with the Leica R-System, and later the M. From that moment I was hooked, and the M6 rangefinder was the first camera I learned how to use.
Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?
A: I like being very close, physically. I try to get closer each time.
Q: What is it about Fotopark that makes it stand out among the other photo-posting options available online?
A: Fotopark is a more welcoming and relaxed Internet environment compared to other photo options. It’s also geared towards Leica photographers, which I have found to be rare on the Internet.
Fotopark is a place where I can share my work before it’s released to my typical audience and peers. Most members of Fotopark shoot differently than I do. Having my work appreciated by artists practicing different styles is rewarding. When a photo gets attention on Fotopark by its international members, I know I have broken down genre barriers. In turn, I can see other styles of work I wouldn’t normally see in my creative circle
Q: What are some of the characteristics and features of the Leica M9, the Leica SF 24D flash, and the Summarit-M 35 mm f/2.5 and Elmarit-M 90 mmm f/2.8 lenses that you found especially useful in executing the images in this portfolio? Do you believe, as many have stated, that Leica lenses have a distinctive and identifiable way of capturing images—the so-called “Leica look”? And is that important to you?
A: A small, streamlined manual camera with virtually no unneeded/automated modes/functions fits into my personal construct. This makes it very easy to walk around/travel with and handle nimbly on the job. Moving quickly in the moment/scene is crucial to the way I work and I believe this affects the subjects in a positive way. Larger cameras change the dynamic by adding the element of having a camera in your face. I believe the super sharp, high-quality Leica optics in combination with the typical M photographer’s quiet approach is what determines the Leica look. Composing a picture in a rangefinder’s viewfinder provides a fresh element of surprise that’s unachievable with a digital or analog SLR. When you’re not actually looking through the lens, mental calculations, experience, and a little faith all come into play.
I like the wide angle of the 35 mm focal length as it closely mimics the human eye and captures a subject in the context of his/her environment. I shoot the longer 90 mm lens when I can’t physically get any closer to the subject or need to isolate a small section in a larger scene (i.e. commercial/product shot work). The flash is something I use 90% of the time. It gives the image punch and grit, like being there in real-life.
Q: You describe your work as essentially a creative interaction between you and your subjects, noting rather provocatively, “It’s like taking pictures of clocks. I build them, wind them, and then let them tick.” What is the nature of your creative process?
A: Some photos (commercial jobs) have predetermined settings, goals, and models. Other times I find myself with my camera in strange places or with people I am compelled to shoot. However both commercial and personal work carry on in the same way. I feel out the people/place and provide initial direction, then let the scene unfold.
Q: Since you were intrigued with photography from an early age, inspired by your father’s involvement, why did you find making the transition from working in “fine art/mixed media and film” to still photography to be “a personal challenge” and how did you evolve to the point of “using only a camera as my tool of expression”?
A: A photographic still is different than one that’s applied in art/mixed media or film because there’s no hiding behind anything. With mixed media, a photo is only part of a greater piece and that photo can then be further hidden in paint (real or digital). In (motion picture) film there’s so much going on every split second. The photographic element of one frame/clip will not solely determine the strength of the final product. Editing, coloring, sound, movement/motion, acting, context, special effects … all of that is going on at the same time and is competing in the shot.
Still photography with a virtually manual camera leaves me as an artist exposed. The photographer’s eye, discretion, and technical skill or lack thereof are evident right away. The simplicity of basic still photography was my re-education in art. Sometimes we need to go back to the basics and find future direction there.
Q: You said that your biggest and earliest influence was ‘90s music videos that you found “imaginative and fresh, sincerely art for art’s sake. There wasn’t a derivative formula yet.” This implies that an art form during the initial phases of its creation is somehow more authentic and inspirational than once it has been defined as a distinctive and identifiable genre. Do you agree, and why do you think this is so?
A: Every art movement ends because it becomes overdone, thus giving birth (or rebirth) to other/newer styles. Fresh minds chartering unknown territory is exciting and daring. There are no rules/formulae yet. I could have said the Renaissance or Art Nouveau was my influence, but I didn’t live through those times. In the ’90s, the video directors were my masters; maybe more for their pioneering and attitude than their actual work.
Q: “We self-teach every time we pick up the camera,” is a simple, eloquent statement that should probably be affixed to the camera bag of every aspiring creative photographer. Why do you think this is such an important concept, and how does in manifest for you personally?
A: True artists and craftsmen are curious by nature and always push themselves to develop new techniques, tackle new challenges, and perfect their art. Trial and error is my lifelong higher education.
Q: This black-and-white image of a buff, bearded young man lying in a bed evidently wearing an oxygen mask. What’s actually going on here, why did you present these images in black-and-white, and what were you thinking when you pressed the shutter release?
A: This is another example where the subject determined the choice of medium. I was on a shoot for an underwear line at his house in the Hollywood Hills and the breathing machine was next to his bed. He wears that mask every night to control sleep apnea. I find people’s private routines fascinating, and at times neurotic. When I shot that photo I was thinking: “How does he sleep with that thing pinching his nose? Doesn’t he get all tangled in those hoses? How does he sleep next to someone else with that on?” It looks like the making of bad dreams and suffocation. The lack of color removes the familiar and makes it more alien.
Q: Another surrealistic and somewhat enigmatic image shows a lithe young woman in sexy black underclothes seated at an old sewing machine under a detailed map of the United States with a white headless mannequin at the right-hand side of the frame. This is certainly an odd assemblage that, strictly speaking, doesn’t seem to convey any clear message other than creating a feeling of dissociation. What were you trying to convey by capturing this image and including it in this portfolio?
A: That room was just like that when I walked in. The moment I entered I noticed the US map and a child’s size Soviet Lenin flag on a stick. It felt like a Cold War sleeper cell. The young woman was actually trying on and posing in designer lingerie in front of the mirror. We spoke and I found out she could indeed sew. I felt compelled to take the photo, not knowing how it would turn out.
Q: How do you see your photography evolving over, say, the next three years of so, and do you plan to explore any other genres or subjects besides “situational candids.” Do you have any other projects in the works you can mention here?
A: At the moment I am focusing more on commercial campaigns and how to collaborate with brands and institutions. I believe they and I can work together to produce fresh work. As I face new creative challenges and my skill set evolves … who knows!
Q: How do you think that being born raised and currently residing in Los Angeles has influenced your work and career?
A: Los Angeles has always been home. Everything seems to pass through LA hard and fast: art, entertainment, people, trends. Everything hits LA with a sonic boom; then it’s gone before the rest of the country catches on. LA natives are born with a filter to sift through the overload while remaining relaxed. We also have the ability to naturally connect the disconnected, which is exactly how LA is: disconnected.
Thank your for your time, Tripp!
– Leica Internet Team
To see more of Tripp’s work, visit his website.