Most of my life as a photographer has been to document public figures: statesmen, celebrities, professional athletes, and leaders of the world religions. This is important work because what your camera is doing is telling the story of history in the making in ways that words cannot. It takes a tight-lipped and trustworthy person who has excellent relationship skills, yet is unnoticed and doesn’t get in the way of the moment — a fly on the wall. You have to remain humble and not let the “power” faze you. They will pick up on it, and this will show in your pictures.
Many of my pictures from over the years have become fine art photography. There is an interest in street photography as fine art, which are pictures that illustrate a society or a culture. Though I try to tell a stronger story with my pictures and go deeper to transform a person with simple life moments that make a positive and lasting impression.
Most of you will not be in the position to photograph public people in private moments, but you may be in situations that call for you to be like a fly on the wall. The key to photographing people in this way is the element of waiting. I’ve mostly learned ( how to do ) this because I was born in an Italian Catholic family so my camera has found its way into photographing in churches. People here are deeply personal, reverent and holy, and its important to be sensitive yet understand that a click of the shutter in the right moment will tell a great story in the next decade or century. When I start walking around a church with my camera people will usually watch me, but then after some time I start to fall into the background and they forget I’m there. I then have their trust, and, it is at this moment their heart and Soul comes to life … An outward expression of their inner beliefs.
Back when I shot more film, my workhorse camera was the Nikon F3HP. It was important for my lenses to have a lot of glass ( I mostly used the 85mm f/1.4 ), which means they need to be really bright with a very wide aperture. Now that digital sensors see a lot more light this is a bit easier, but the rules are still the same to prevent motion and un-focussed pictures. You really need to be one with your camera and feel the light as your camera sees it. Sometimes I will be propped discreetly in a corner with my eye on a moment, and to capture it I’ll need to hold the camera at waist level. I may only get one shot so it will have to be right. You learn this by practicing it and making all the mistakes so that you know what not to do in the ‘real’ moment.
My present workhorse digital camera is the Pentax K-10D. It has a CCD sensor and rendering engine that collects the image as analog then converts it to digital. The results are images that look like film to me. This is how I want my images to look and feel, because I usually don’t post process any more than a slight tweak. I do most of the work ( composition, lighting, and exposure, etc.) in-camera through the viewfinder.
One of the great documentary photographers, Edward Steichen, whom I studied as a student at Columbia College Chicago, has said “ Photography is a major force in explaining man to man”. It is these words that really have made a lasting impression on every time I click the shutter. Humanity needs images that are examples of hope and goodness. Art is not a luxury, and my mission is to put a ‘smile’ on the walls of humanity.
Growing up as a Catholic it was impressed on me that many of the Catholic Saints were born with shortcomings and how they are recognized by the Church, through icons and illustrations, for transforming their shortcomings into virtues or goodness. Likewise, all of us possess goodness, and we need ‘fly on the wall’ examples in photography, and in art, to help each other make it though life.
About Frank J. Casella
I am Frank J. Casella, a Catholic man, husband and father, and an award winning photographer living in the Greater Chicago Area (USA). I have spent my lifetime perfecting how to make great photography, to put my audience where my subject is [ Pictures People Listen To ].
I was born and raised in a Family-Owned Business, photographed the Chicago ministry of the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, and was mentored by John H. White, Pulitzer Prize photographer.
Since 1988, my business specializes in producing and selling Fine Art Photography for personal and enterprise, as well as visual storytelling and print solutions for Catholic Organizations and Family-Owned Businesses.
My greatest reward, though, is when my artwork transforms a person from good intentions into right-action ~ simple life moments that make a positive and lasting impression.