John Walz

John Walz

Flying Men of Paris

by John Walz (United States)

I am from Toledo, Ohio and frequently say «I am not a wedding photographer I an a documentary photographer who frequently documents weddings. » I am an adjunct photography instructor at Owens Community College and the father of two daughters. I enjoy psychedelic cowboy music, and can often be found in the water, on the bike, or on the run training for triathlons.

Portfolio from the News Photography workshop with David Burnett, June 2014.

Written review by TAJ FORER,
Photographer and cofounder at Daylight Publishing

Dear John,

Thank you for the opportunity to spend some time with your photographs. For me, the two most successful aspects of this portfolio are a.) the formal qualities of the images and b.) the underlying narrative of the "flying men of Paris." I am very fond of image n°1 as it begins to tell the story of these men in a non-literal way. It is a very powerful beginning to the porfolio - excellent editorial / sequencing choice, I'm hooked from the start.

The formal qualities of light and shadow, line and negative space intersect to create a beautiful and poetic representation of the underlying story - just beautifully done - I am drawn into the almost mystical nature of these men and the allure surrounding them and their practice.

However, in many of the susequent images I find myself wanting more of the spark represented by the first photograph in this series - it is as if the straight, documentary images suck some of the vitality, or soul, out of the narrative of these men. Personally, I do not find myself interested in seeing them sitting on work-out bars, cracking jokes or doing pull-ups. I want to see them in action, abstracted, flying - the spirit of this story and these men is contagious yet most of the photographs are somewhat dull, descriptive or representational in a didactic manner. Having said this, you're onto something here that represents the potential for greatness and I wholeheartedly encourage deeper exploration.

Technically, the images are quite strong and the choice of format (toy camera), while prospectively gimmicky in many settings, works well within this context - particularly relative to my push for the use of abstraction and a deepened sense of visual storytelling. The plastic lenses, wide angle, inperfections would be particularly interesting to see at work capturing these men "in flight."

I do appreciate your intention to document these men in training with the hope / expectation that the photographs will serve a historic purpose in some museum archive - very cool - however, I believe that telling a more well-rounded or complex story about these men is vital to the portfolio's success. Without the knowledge of these men's plans, the viewer would have no idea that they are special or in any way distinguished from any other group of guys working out ina park together.

The contrast range of image n°8 stood out to me as being somewhat flat or gray, relative to the other images - the majority of which appear beautifully printed / captured. I particularly like the dappled sunlight and opportunities for open spots of more direct light - this environment does lend itself to some formally gorgeous moments.

But, again, what's happening within the frame of every picture outside the first, just doesn't grab me and I'm left hungry. The panoramic or wide-angle composition is nice - it gives an added sense of space or openness and the distortion contributes to the psychological "charging" of the image to further emphasize the mythology or perhaps, non-grounded (excuse the pun ;), aspirations of these men. I might suggest also trying one edit of just the panoramics to see if it sticks - mixed formats can be tricky to resolve across larger bodies of work. While photograph n°11 does occupy a place in the "representational" group of photographs that are not revelatory for me, it does do something powerful that I'd like to commend and point out.

Namely, it plays with two dynamics that I find to be wonderful and consistent with the power of the underlying story and how it might be communicated or examined by both you, the image-maker / storyteller and the viewer; a.) the photograph pulls the viewer beyond the edge of the frame and, b.) the photograph speaks to the relationship between these men but does so in a way that leaves plenty of room for the viewer's imagination.

Both of these attributes contribute to a very strong photograph. Technically, the photograph is also very strong - from clearly visible detail on the tip of the man's shoe basked in direct sunlight, to visible details at the base of the hedge-line, information is visible and a nice tonal balance is achieved throughout most of the photograph.

Again, while still quite "known", image n°12 does further the story and begins to get at a way of seeing these men "in action," that sets them apart from mere-mortals working out together in the park. The motion captured in subtle blur in the foreground (further emphasized by the focal length contributing to some added softness in the extreme foreground where the man's feet appear), occurs just where the sun begins to bleed into the frame, flaring slightly at the top edge of the picture - I really like this moment/portion of the image and from a minimalist perspective, it could be interesting to see what happens if a cropped image of just that portion of the frame were presented, along with others like it?

Perhaps a bit more poetic liscence in how you crop (both in-camera and while printing) could result in an emotive body of work drawn out of these traditional, staight / representational photos - just a thought - but one that gets at the dynamic or methodology that I would like more of from this portfolio.

And so, I leave it to you to take my comments or leave them but I hope if nothing else, they stimulate some ideas and push you to keep digging here on this project. As I mentioned, I think you are onto something but I think a traditional approach to representing it falls short of the project's potential. I look forward to the prospect of seeing this evolve.

Kind regards, Taj

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