Friday, October 10, 2014

Q&A: Ira Block (Part 1)

Interview: Ira Block
By: Johnny Self

Foto Care's in-house blogger Johnny Self had the opportunity to have a one on one interview with the famous National Geographic photographer Ira Block in his Chelsea apartment . Because of Ira's worldwide adventures and over-all likeable personality, we chose him to be a showcased photographer on our Fotoblog. We hope you enjoy Ira's story as much as we enjoy seeing him.

Ira posing in front of his Nat. Geographic covers.
SELF: So, (Ira) you’re a photographer.  A world famous photographer at that. But, what else are you?
BLOCK: I’m interested in athletic endeavors. I go to the gym a lot to stay in shape. Hiking, Climbing, etc.
SELF: Can you find that stuff in NY?
BLOCK: Oh, well I can’t climb and hike much in NY. But I do a lot of running, lifting weights, cycling. So I do that. I’ve got a big interest in baseball.
SELF: Yankees fan?
BLOCK: Big Yankees fan.
SELF: Oh, I went to the Jeter Tribute!
BLOCK: You went to the game?
SELF: Well, I went to the tribute;  2 weeks before his last game.
BLOCK: Oh nice, well yeah so baseball and as a result of baseball, I’m working on a baseball project in Cuba.
SELF: So you really like sports.
BLOCK: Yeah, but I’m not a sports photographer. (laughs).  And my baseball stuff is not a lot of action involved, it’s more cultural. And that’s the idea, to do something about how baseball is such an integral part of the culture of Cuba.
SELF: So you were primarily more drawn to capture the culture, rather than a specific action shot?
BLOCK: Well, I am interested in the overall grass roots of baseball in Cuba. The people that are using baseball as their everyday life. Because, if I take a picture of somebody sliding into 2nd base, well.. that could be Cuba, that could be Chicago, that could be in NYC.
Ira's photo room, where he works and stores majority of all of his photographs.
I’m trying to capture more of how baseball infuses the culture.
SELF: I love that.  So even after you’ve planned a trip abroad, I bet there have still been times where it’s nothing like you expected it to be, right?
BLOCK: That’s always how it happens. You can plan it, do all the research,  and then when you get there; it’s different. Every time. It never runs the way you think it should run. Part of what I have to do is come into a situation that wasn’t planned the way you thought, and 
shift gears to work with what you have, and still tell that story with the pictures.  But the aesthetic of the story has to change on the spot. Because, I cant call up editors and say “Hey, its different”. I have to be able to work with what I got.

Ira celebrated his birthday abroad, and these are the moments he captured at his party.

SELF: At that point I guess you’re the fixer, right?
BLOCK: Yeah. We got to make things happen. Being a travel photographer, the logistics come first before you can snap the shutter.
SELF: When you fly out,  how much extra baggage are you taking?
BLOCK: What I carry with me depends on the job.  The cameras don’t take up that much room. I carry most of
them on the plane with me.  In one of these (points at bag)
SELF: What’s that?
BLOCK: Temba. It’s a Temba rolling case. Roadies. So the cameras fly with me, its great. But the lighting equipment, no way. They would have to be checked.
SELF: Right
BLOCK: More and more I can rent equipment wherever I go. This one time I was surprised on how much equipment I could rent in China. I think, I rented Profoto lights.
SELF: Oh, we love Profoto.
BLOCK: Yeah, well now you can rent Profoto in China.  I actually found a cinema rental house, where I was able to get c-stands, arms, modifiers, etc. 

Back in the day, film strips were stored in binders. Ira literally has 100's of them.
SELF: You must have an assistant with you, right?
BLOCK: Oh yeah.  If I’m doing a lot of lighting 
I’ll take a lighting assistant with me.
SELF: Wait, do you rent a car, too?
BLOCK: Yeah, some places I can rent a car and drive. Some places I can get a car and a driver.  Suddenly my crew becomes a production, which I don’t like for my editorial work.
SELF: It changes from being just one guy with a camera, to something larger, right?
BLOCK: Yeah. When I’m traveling I like to be smaller.
SELF: So you’re like a professional micro manager at this point, huh?
BLOCK: Yeah (laughs) and I like to say that, photographers like me are producers, directors and camera operators. We do everything. 
SELF: Impressive.

Time for a tea break.  See (part 2) of this Q&A 

on Friday, October 17, 2014

Tea time.