CALIFORNIA LOVE, A Visual Mixtape
Featured photo in book, "Hot Cookie"
THE PICTORIAL LIST
Paul Kessel is a street photographer from New York City where he was born and has lived most of his life. With a previous career in clinical psychology, psychoanalysis and university teaching, Paul started his photography journey just before his 70th birthday, enrolling into photography classes at The International Center of Photography. Over the course of his studies he developed a strong interest in candid street photography. Now thirteen years later, Paul has been in over eighty group exhibitions, has had four solo shows, has won a number of awards and has had his work published.
Paul's style has evolved from asking people to photograph them, to candid portraits, to candid street scenes. He once was a competitive amateur golfer and he treats street photography as a sport, comparing the similarity to playing golf. "Usually a warm-up period is required, then some momentum is established, and there is a good shot among many forgettable ones."
Until the pandemic, Paul rarely missed a day of photographing. That has essentially stopped in recent months. He has partially satisfied his itchy shooting finger by doing a self-portrait project at home. But he is very eager to get back out shooting on the streets again.
Paul shares with us his photography series 'Hauptbahnhof', about the main train station in Frankfurt, Germany which is a major hub for travel in Europe. It is a place that Paul has spent a lot of time there and some of that time was personally meaningful to him. All his photographs are candid, each telling a story, isolating his subject among layers of commotion of the main train station.
Tell us more about your project 'Hauptbahnhof'.
Over the past fifty years, I have been to Frankfurt Germany almost yearly and I also lived in the city for two years. Of course, over all of that time, many life events occurred including highly emotional ones, particularly divorce and child custody issues. Countless times, I have passed through the main train station. It is called 'Hauptbahnof'. After I began candid street photography, about eight years ago, I became more aware of light and this venue has an interesting skylight. Because of that, I went there to photograph. I had no project in mind beyond photographing people that interested me and doing it fairly close up. Eventually, I had enough photos to think of it as a project.
You mentioned that you went unnoticed. How did you do go about achieving this?
My camera has a flip down back screen, and I looked down at it after I spotted a potential subject walking through or standing in decent light. I pretended I was fiddling with the camera.
What drew you to photography or is it something that you were always interested in?
I always owned a camera and had a latent interest in photography. However, it was put away in a drawer almost all of the time. There were relatively infrequent periods of photographing until I decided to pursue it seriously in 2008. The primary reason I began, is that my daughter started a career in photography at age 23. Her mother had an MFA degree in video and prior to her video interest, she studied photography in college and photographed my daughter a lot. My daughter eventually became a prop stylist and frequently works with photographers.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I am inspired by my enjoyment of the process, the quest for the elusive exceptional photograph, the sense of belonging to a community of street photographers, friendships with others pursuing the same goals as myself, and probably the hope of making enough good pictures to have a published book.
Is there anything you want to express through your photography? And what are some of the elements you always try to include in your photographs?
The aesthetics of light and composition coupled with a lifetime fascination of people and how they present themselves is sufficient. In more recent years, I have become more interested in how the photograph will look than the people in the photograph. Occasionally, a social issue may be part of what I am trying to express.
To read the full interview and see more photos featured in the story, please continue on: https://www.thepictorial-list.com/post/interview-paul-kessel
CANDID | Garry Winogrand once said: “Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed”. This quote coincide with the original motivation for this visual research. As he says, he is more interested in how the photograph will look than in the people he is photographing. People are primarily visual elements for a picture, and he observes their appearance, gestures, and how they interact with the background and the quality of light. All of this translates into a photograph, which has the peculiar feature of reflecting the author’s perspective. Conscious of the role chance and luck play when being in the field, Paul Kessel says that much of his observation is out of his full awareness. The photographs deployed in «Candid» are culled from various projects or are random shots representing well the original concept. The location is irrelevant: most are on the street, and some are at a beach setting. A few are devoid of people. All are candid.
COUNTRY | United States
BIO | Paul Kessel was born in New York City, where he has spent most of his life. He had a career in clinical psychology, psychoanalysis and university teaching. Just before his 70th birthday, he began taking photography classes at The International Center of Photography. He developed a strong interest in candid street photography. Now, thirteen years later, he has been in over eighty group exhibitions, has had four solo shows and has won several awards. Most recently he was the winner of the 2020 6th Annual Street Shooting Around the World Exhibition at the Los Angeles Center of Photography for best individual photograph.
He was a competitive amateur golfer for most of his life, and he treats street photography as a sport. Usually, a warm-up period is required, then some momentum is established, and there is a good shot among many forgettable ones. His style has evolved from asking people if he could photograph them on the street, to candid street scenes. Until the pandemic, he rarely missed a day of photographing. That has stopped in recent months, but he partially satisfied his itchy shooting finger by doing a self-portrait project at home. He is eager to be on the street again.
PHOTO PLACE GALLERY
Cover of PhotoPlace Gallery catalog for the “Finding Joy”
LITTLE BOX COLLECTIVE
The full text from the Instagram guest post by @dimitrimellos on the @littleboxcreative account is below:
"Hello, this is @dimitrimellos again, on my second day of this takover. Today I am presenting a great New York street photographer and dear friend of mine, Paul Kessel @streetskessel. Paul has the distinction of being a very active street photographer who is in his 80s, but it is not his age that makes his work so impressive. This is great street photography, and it would be valued as such no matter the photographer's age.
What makes this work even more impressive is that Paul only started photographing when he was 70 years old. He has self-published many books which are available on blurb, and his work has been exhibited widely and garnered many international awards, including being the 3rd place winner in this year's Lensculture street photography contest.
On a personal level, Paul is a warm person with a wonderful sense of humor, and a real youthfulness of spirit. He also remains very modest about his achievements. In his own words: "I treat street photography as a sport and I have yet to hit a homerun, a hole in one, or a 3-pointer from mid-court. It is the quest and the elusiveness of a truly good photograph that keeps me going." Check out more of Paul's great work on his instagram or website."
To see the original post: https://www.instagram.com/p/CCJM3g3H3M6/?igshid=1mm8no1v0zjeh
“It is hard to know if this is truly my favorite image because it has recently won a lot of awards and that may influence my opinion. The title is “Q Train”. I had spent the entire day at Coney Island (2019) with the hope of coming away with a decent photograph. At the end of the day, I realized I had nothing at all worthwhile. Feeling a bit frustrated, I entered the subway to return home. When I looked up from my seat, I saw that this mother with her two daughters, dressed alike and appearing to be Scandinavian had sat down directly opposite from me. I couldn’t believe my luck. I find it interesting that on several occasions, when I am done shooting for the day and headed home (more often walking), a good picture emerges. I believe that when I stop trying to get a good picture, the mental state of “not trying” and giving up for the day, contributes to this phenomenon.”
The Guardian featured several of the photographers recognized in the LensCulture Street Photography Awards 2020. The "Q Train" was among the photos they shared with their international readership.
To see the full story:
Street Photographers Foundation
After a career in clinical psychology and university teaching, I began photography late in life. (one-month shy of my 70th birthday). I always owned a camera before this time but rarely used it. In 2008 I started photography courses at The International Center of Photography in NYC and never stopped until ten years later. Originally, I was interested in portrait photography but discovered street photography and became immersed in it. I became a street photography workshop junkie and I feel that I have learned from some of the best. Now when I am outside, my camera is always with me and ready. I worked on projects for a number of years. All culminated in self-published “Blurb Books”. There are 18 of them. More recently, I shoot randomly with the hope of finding an interesting image. My random street photography is self-published in the Blurb Book, “Never the Final Edit, version 6”.
I have been in about 85 group exhibitions. Some are by invitation and most are from contests. In addition, I have had 3 solo shows at NYC Galleries. I have been a Finalist in the Miami Street Festival twice (2017 and 2018), the San Francisco Streetfoto Festival, the London Street Festival, and I was the winner of the most recent Los Angeles street contest (“Shooting Around the World_LACP 2020). I was a Lens Culture Street Finalist (2016, 2020) and won 3rd place award in 2020. I have also been the winner of a few other events, nationally and internationally.
I treat street photography as a sport and I have yet to hit a homerun, a hole in one, or a 3 pointer from mid court. It is the quest and the elusiveness of a truly good photograph that keeps me going.
About the Collection
The twenty pictures included here are mostly relatively recent and are not necessarily part of a particular project. Most of them are culled from a project I had worked on, but many are random photos in public places, typically the street but sometimes on the beach, subway, or elsewhere. Most of these photographs have appeared in exhibitions. Some may appear to be portraits but all twenty are candid. I prefer to photograph multi-layered street scenes, but I often settle for a candid portrait with a bit of context.
To see the full story:
"Sandstorm / Coney Island"
Featured in the FLORA AND FAUNA issue
American Photographer | Born: 1937
I began photography late in life. Previously, I had a career in clinical psychology and university teaching. My interest is candid street photography which I practice almost every day. I studied photography for ten years at the International Center of photography. I have self-published 18 books and have appeared in about 80 exhibitions, including 3 solo shows. I have been a Finalist 4 times in major street photography festivals. My work has been exhibited in Europe and Asia as well as the United States.
** Not all photos featured in the original article on 121 Clicks are included below. Click here to read the full story and see all images featured here: http://121clicks.com/interviews/paul-kessel-new-york-street-photographer
Paul Kessel is a passionate street photographer from New York City. He began photography in 2007 and from last seven years, he is doing candid street photography. Paul had a previous career as a clinical psychologist and university professor.
Just before his 70th birthday, Paul began taking photography courses at The International Center of Photography. He studied there for ten years. He developed a strong interest in candid street photography. He shoots on the street almost every day. Now, twelve years later, He has been in over forty group exhibitions, has had three solo shows, and have won a number of awards. Paul was a Finalist in the Miami Street Festival in 2017 and 2018 and Streetfoto San Francisco in 2018. Also, he won The Soho Photo Gallery National Competition. His work has been shown in Europe and Asia in addition to the United States.
Thanks, Paul for accepting our invite. Please read on…
Hi Paul, thank you for joining us here today! First of all, Could you please introduce yourself?
Thank you for finding and inviting me. I am flattered. I am from New York City. I have been doing candid photography on the street for about seven years. I began photography in 2007. Portraits were my original interest. I learned how to do studio portraits, moved on to portraits on the street, followed by candid street portraits, and then candid street scenes. I had a previous career as a clinical psychologist and university professor.
Please share some of your childhood memories towards the art?
I have owned a camera since about age twelve. I was always aware of photography as my father took family pictures and when I was old enough, I looked at pictures in Life and Look magazines. I “owned” a camera but rarely used it except in brief spurts until I became immersed in photography when I was almost seventy years old.
When did you start shooting and how did this love for photography happen?
I started shooting in a sustained way when I wandered into The International Center of Photography and registered for a beginning course. My motivation was vague and not strong at all. When I viewed a photograph that I took the second day of class (a reflection of myself in front of ICP), I was amazed. The picture included loads of elements that I was unaware of seeing myself. This ability of the camera to “see” things that I don’t see, was fascinating. That one picture got me going and I have been immersed in photography ever since that time. Of course, other factors contributed to my interest as well. That was twelve years ago. I took courses every semester for ten years at ICP as well as many street photography workshops elsewhere.
What makes a street or candid photography so special for you?
My interest in candid street photography probably has its roots in lots of time spent looking at people on the street during adolescence and early adulthood. I was very shy and for a period of time instead of dating and socializing, I would wander alone on the street and observe people, including a young woman that I wished I could meet.
Jumping ahead to my early phase of street photography when I asked permission to make portraits, I enjoyed my 1/250 second interactions and that included my very brief “dates” (some as long as 1/50 seconds). Later and until the current time, I scanned the street for people that interested me but there is no conversation. In fact, in spite of being only a few feet away, I was rarely seen. I much prefer people when they are unaware of being photographed.
Now, for me, people I see on the street are primarily visual elements for a photograph. I am more interested in how the photograph will look then I am in the people being photographed. I observe their appearance, gestures, expressions, and how they interact with the background and the quality of light. I am now more involved in photographing relationships among people in layered and dynamic street scenes. However, I often settle for a candid portrait with a bit of context. There is another major element that makes candid photography preferential. I miss playing a sport and street photography feels like a sport to me. Perhaps that is the primary reason why I enjoy candid photography.
What is a good photograph for you?
A good photograph for me ideally combines interesting content, structure, and light. Achieving any one of these elements is not difficult. To combine all three well is a rare feat. “Content “usually refers to a person or people that stand out in some way. “Structure” refers to filling the frame and doing it in a well-balanced manner where the composition leads the viewer’s eye to what counts most. This involves the color palate as well. The use of light contributes so much to the aesthetics of the photograph and can enhance or negate the other two elements. For myself, I also prefer a layered photograph from foreground to background.
Could you please share one or two photographs from your portfolio and the story behind it?
This photograph was made at a bus stop. I had an appointment unrelated to photography and as usual, my camera was with me and ready. It has reached the point where wearing a camera is as essential as wearing clothing. I feel naked without it. I noticed the pink cane and the other pink elements in the scene. I also thought that the woman seemed to carry the cane as a fashion accessory. Her appearance for various reasons stood out to me. I took her photo from a few different vantage points and settled into a position that seemed most compatible with the direction of the light.
Fortunately, I had plenty of time. I tried to separate the young woman from signs and people in the background and achieve some balance between the left and right sides of the frame. Because the people were waiting, I was able to attend to these things. Most often, it is a less than a fully conscious process. The photograph has flaws, but it achieves most of what I am after. It would have been better if the central subject was not looking at her phone and if the quality of light was more dramatic.
What do you do to keep motivated, and not lose your passion for photography?
I was told by Bruce Gilden that I am lucky that I began photography so late: otherwise I would be burned out by now. Street photography is characterized by frequent failures and occasional success. When I am in a slump, I try to remind myself that street photography involves an almost perpetual slump with a few delightful breaks. Nevertheless, I do find it hard to maintain positive feelings about my work. Getting into shows or exhibitions helps as does positive reinforcement from social media “likes”. I am aware that “like” usually means that I am liked and not so much my photograph. Most important though, the quest for a “good” picture keeps me going. As I previously stated, for me, what I do is a sport and failure is inherent in all sports and it makes success all the more enjoyable.
Which photographers have inspired you?
I have been inspired by many photographers. Henri Cartier-Bresson and Alex Webb immediately come to mind. If I could only find locations and find the right moment like Cartier-Bresson and make layered complex photographs in beautiful color like Webb! It makes me realize that I am only beginning. There are many teachers and photographer friends that have inspired me as well. I cannot mention them all. Likewise, there is a long list of well- known street photographers. I am not well-versed in the art world. I was discouraged to appreciate art as a child (for various reasons). I do recall though hanging prints of Bosch and Dali in my room. I loved the complexity of the paintings. I still like complex photographs and I often error in the direction of attempting to make my photos too complex without a specific central subject or indulging in too much irrelevant context.
What camera and lenses do you use the majority of the time?
I use a Sony A9 mirrorless full frame camera with a prime 35mm lens. I have sometimes used a Leica M10 with 35mm. I occasionally use a 28mm lens. I find it useful indoors in a crowd. 99% of the time I use a 35mm lens.
Any favorite photography books?
My favorite photography books are too many to mention. One relatively unknown one is “Letting Go of The Camera” by Brooks Jensen. Mostly, I look at books of street photography by the usual suspects and contemporaries.
What does Paul do when not behind the lens?
When I am not attempting to photograph, I often think about photography. I have become a bit of an Idiot Savant. I have a daughter. Spending time with her is by far, my favorite activity.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My daughter has turned out to be a fine person. If I have had anything to do with that, it is at the top of the list. Perhaps my second greatest achievement is reinventing myself into a photographer so late in life and going at it full bore. Achieving an entire new set of photographer friends is part of that.
Apart from photography, tell me about your hobbies and interests?
I currently have no other favorite hobbies. I do have other interests. Although I am no longer working as a psychologist, what makes people behave as they do still interest me.
Thanks again for providing 121 Clicks with this opportunity to interview you. Any final thoughts for our readers?
Thank you for your interest in me. The interview has made me think and attempt to express myself.
Not all photos featured in the original article on 121 Clicks are included below. Click here to read the full story and see all images featured here: http://121clicks.com/interviews/paul-kessel-new-york-street-photographer
42 pictures in Photographic Mercadillo (Portugal)
Curated by Jose Manuel Pinheiro
For more, visit the Facebook page @PhotographicMercadillo or visit:
INTERVIEW WITH PAUL KESSEL
2018 - 07 - 09
I am a man too old to begin street photography at the age of seventy-three but that is what I did after starting photography itself one month shy of my seventieth birthday three years earlier.
My father took pictures of me as a baby and up to my teenage years so I was always aware of photography. I was given a camera as a child, perhaps about age ten. I have saved a few of the childhood photos I took. I can recall using flashbulbs They became extremely hot and couldn’t be touched after igniting. My photos were not bad but I was definitely no Jacques Henri Lartigue (The French prodigy).
All of my life thereafter, I owned a camera and I would use it in spurts, often not taking a picture for many years. I never learned anything technical except to set the camera to F8 if shady and F11 if sunny. Somehow I managed to take indoor pictures of relatives and friends with a flash. In the 1960’s I dabbled in street photography for about a month. I did not think of it as street photography but as I look at a few old photos, I realize that is what I was doing. The very sparse intermittent photography continued until I pursued it seriously in 2007.
I had a career in clinical psychology and university teaching and in addition I was a serious competitive amateur golfer from age seventeen to seventy-one. I mention golf because I treat street photography as a sport and often compare it to golf.
After I retired and stopped playing golf as well, I have been immersed in photography. For ten years I took classes at the International Center of Photography every semester. In addition, I enrolled in many workshops and studied individually with a number of photographers. Fundamentally, for ten years I was a full time student. I have only recently shifted my identity to “photographer” in place of “photography student”.
Once I started focusing on street photography, I rarely go out without a camera. It has reached the point where if I don’t have a camera with me, I have a distinct feeling that something important is missing.
I was born in New York City and have been there most of my life. The vast majority of my pictures are from NYC. I have spent a lot of time in some of the usual venues for street photography including Coney Island, Fifth Avenue, Soho, and Williamsburg Brooklyn. In addition, I travel to Frankfurt Germany, San Francisco, and Miami every year. My photographs from these places usually culminate in projects that end up in the form of self-published books and inclusion in exhibitions.
I spend most of my waking hours (and frequent dreams) with street photography. Most days, I go out with the intention of shooting until late evening. If I am busy with other matters, I always have my camera with me to be sure I don’t miss anything that may turn up.
In Ernest Hemingway’s short novel, “The Old Man and The Sea”, the old man says: “My big fish must be somewhere” and “It is silly not to hope”. I feel like the old man and the street. I am pulled along by the hope of finding my big picture. Occasionally I come close and I am still hopeful.
It seems that for me, whenever I pursue something, I become totally involved and I am satisfied to do only that one thing. That is so with making candid photographs in public places. I do it because I have reached the point in life where that is what I do. The alluring goal of finding or making better pictures is all consuming. It is a sport that I play all of the time. I long for those rare times that I get “in the zone” where I easily see potential pictures and get them, undistracted by worry and other matters. I am aware that this sport is one of an almost perpetual “slump” because achieving an exceptional picture is so rare. On a day that I do achieve what for me, is a good picture, I love the feeling.
External factors pull me along also. Being accepted into a meaningful exhibition and being accepted by competent photographers, as a viable player are significant motivating factors too.
January 2018 Issue
It’s not easy to be a street photographer. It takes great concentration, split second instincts, and the ability to see many things at once. Photographer Paul Kessel has those abilities, as his work reflects layered seeing of tableaus of every day life–small moments of complexity that reveal one story after another and keep the eye moving. A native New Yorker, for the past decade Paul has traversed the city for hours each day in search of visual inspiration–he looks for light, for intimacy and the big picture. For this series, he concentrates on Coney Island and while the work feels very contemporary, it is steeped in the history of street photography of that region. Paul has recently opened an exhibition of this work, curated by Harvey Stein (who has his own legacy of making work in Coney Island) at the Umbrella Arts Gallery in New York City. The exhibition runs through September 30th.
Paul Kessel had a career in clinical psychology, psychoanalysis , and university teaching. Just before his seventieth birthday in 2008, he began taking classes at the International Center of Photography in New York City. He stayed for nine years, taking over fifty classes in addition to numerous workshops elsewhere and private consultations with a number of photographers. Since 2011 he has been immersed in street photography with over twenty group exhibits and three solo shows. He has won numerous awards including being named one of Lens Culture’s top 100 street photographers and Popular Photography featured his “True Believers” series in the June 2016 issue. He is the winner of a national competition and won jurors choice in an international competition.
Current exhibits include: winner of Juror’s choice PH21 Gallery, Budapest; group exhibit and publication South x Southeast Photo Gallery and Magazine, Georgia; Portals on PhotoPlaceGallery and recently Aviary curated by Paula Tognarelli, Director of The Griffin Museum, MA.
I began photography late in life when I wondered into The International Center of Photography in New York City in 2008. I stayed for nine years taking what may be a record number of classes, perhaps more then fifty. Additionally, I took numerous workshops elsewhere and studied privately with several photographers.
Previously I had a career in clinical psychology, psychoanalysis, and university teaching. I always had a camera and now and then over the years would take a few pictures but I knew nothing about photography or camera operation.
At some point I became interested and immersed in street photography and that is how I have been spending my time for at least six years. I began by asking permission to photograph people, moved into candid portraits, and now, candid street scenes. I use only a full frame 35mm lens.
I began entering contests and I have been in about twenty group exhibitions as well as having three solo shows. I won a national competition and juror’s choice in an international competition. My work was featured in Popular Photography a year before the demise of the magazine. I don’t think there is a connection between the two events.
– Paul Kessel
Paul Kessel: The Last Stop
Summer is coming to a close, but Paul Kessel memorializes New Yorker’s favorite summer wonderland, Coney Island in his new exhibition The Last Stop: Photographs of Coney Island. Opening on Thursday, September 7thand on view until September 30th, Kessel’s energetic street style photographs capture the excitement, commotion, and joy of the iconic amusement park.
Before Paul Kessel became a photographer, he was a clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst, and a university professor. Inspired by his classes at the International Center of Photography, he’s been a street photographer since 2008. Since then, he’s shown work in over 20 group exhibitions, winning many awards and publishing many of his images.
Many photographers take to the streets and boardwalk of Coney Island in attempt to capture the unique magic contained there. From Freak Shows to Mermaids, Tattoo Conventions to Burlesque shows, Coney Island is a welcoming oasis to those of us that live life on the fringe of society. People from all over the city flock here in the summer to ride rollercoasters, take a spin on the wonder wheel, and play a myriad of arcade games. The beach is free for all, and many soak up the sun, take a dip, and blast music on the beach while chowing down on Nathan’s Hotdogs. It is a photographer’s dream.
Kessel’s pictures display the commotion and elation of Coney Island in his crowded frames. Each image is brimming with a story; grinning children being dragged along by their mothers, rainbow haired rebels embracing their lovers, swarms of seagulls and the marching bands of Brooklyn. This body of work is a unique documentation of a unique place. Don’t miss it.
Paul Kessel: The Last Stop opens Thursday, September 7th from 6-8pm at the Umbrella Arts Gallery. The exhibition is on view until September 30th. Learn more here:
PRESS RELEASE: PAUL KESSEL’S
by Andrew Sweigart - Sep 2, 2017
Umbrella Arts Gallery in New York City’s East Village is about to unveil it’s second solo exhibition with Paul Kessel, who was named one of Lens Culture’s Top 100 Street Photographers 2016!
The Last Stop: Photographs of Coney Island, is the latest exhibition from Kessel, who’s True Believer series was featured in Popular Photography’s June 2016 issue. The exhibition is curated by Harvey Stein, Director of Photography at Umbrella Arts Gallery, award winning photographer and instructor at the International Center of Photography. Stein selected over 24 images for the exhibition covering several years of Kessel roving the storied boardwalk of Coney Island.
Kessel has worked all his life as a clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and university teacher. However, just before his 70th birthday in 2008, he began taking classes at the International Center of Photography. The native Manhattanite has been pursuing his passion for street non-stop from that point on. Since 2011 Kessel has been a street photographer with over 20 group exhibitions, winning numerous awards. Kessel’s current exhibits include: winner of Juror’s choice PH21 Gallery, Budapest; group exhibit and publication South x Southeast Photo Gallery and Magazine, Georgia; Portals on PhotoPlaceGallery and recently Aviary curated by Paula Tognarelli, Director of The Griffin Museum, MA.
“With camera in hand, Kessel spends about five hours daily traveling the streets of New York City in search of images. Sometimes it happens randomly, other times he will stake out an area that has the right elements of close proximity, multiple layers and captivating lighting. That moment when the elements align with a subtle context, he intuitively takes the shot. Kessel’s photographs often invite the viewer to engage in the experience of the image,” says Umbrella Arts in their exhibition announcement.
“I consider street photography a sport and not so much art. I am constantly longing for the big catch, the home run, the great round of golf. I know it is out there. Every day I want to get it. I almost never do but that desire keeps me going,” said Kessel in an interview on his site, https://www.paulkessel.com. Looking at Kessel’s galleries on his site proves the photographer wrong: he’s hit quite a few home runs in his short “career” shooting street!
Kessel brings high praise from some renowned photographers as well.
“Paul manages in his Coney Island photographs to capture spontaneous moments within an elegant composition that often provide the viewer with the emotional experiences of the subjects.”
Jeff Mermelstein said,
“Paul Kessel’s compassionate, dogged pursuit of his voice as a street photographer gives me great joy as I see sparks of clarity and beauty emerge.”
Elizabeth Avedon, Independent curator and correspondent for L’oeil de la Photographie, said,
“Paul Kessel, one of my favorite street photographers, chronicles situations that otherwise would be familiar scenes, bringing the viewer into the drama unfolding through his unique framing. His work reminds me just what I think photography is all about.”
Street photographer Michelle Rick sums up Kessel’s Coney Island work simply and accurately,
“Paul has a gift for photographing those magic Coney Island moments when energy, idiosyncrasy, and beauty collide.”
The Last Stop: Photographs of Coney Island opens Thursday, September 7 with a reception from 6-8 PM. The exhibition runs through September 30th. Umbrella Arts is located at 317 East 9th St, New York City and the hours are Thursday – Saturday, 1-6pm & by appointment.
Hi Paul thanks for doing this. Can you start off by telling us a (brief) story on your background and how you first picked up a camera?
I grew up in New York City and have lived here most of my life. My father took pictures of me as a baby and up to my teenage years so I was always aware of photography. I was given a camera while my age was barely in double digits and perhaps even earlier. I have saved a few photos I took while I was age nine. I can recall at that age using flash bulbs. They got extremely hot and couldn’t be touched after igniting. However, I definitely was no Jacques Henri Lartigue (The French photographer prodigy beginning at age seven.)
All of my life thereafter, I owned a camera and I would use it in spurts, often not taking a picture for many years. I never learned anything technical except to set the camera to F 8 if shady and F11 if sunny. Somehow I managed to take indoor photos with a flash. In the 1960’s I dabbled in street photography for a few months. I did not think of it as street photography but as I look at old photos, I realize that is what I was doing. The intermittent photography continued until I pursued it seriously starting in 2007, one month shy of my 70th birthday.
I had a career in clinical psychology, and university teaching and in addition I was a serious competitive amateur golfer from age 17-71. I mention golf because I treat street photography as a sport and often compare it to golf.
How has being a clinical psychologist helped in any way with your photography?
I am not sure if being a clinical psychologist has had a significant impact on my photography. I believe that I am more suited for photography then psychology and regret not beginning photography earlier and instead of psychology. (I find myself often confusing the two words, which have phonetic similarities). Almost all of my photography teachers have assumed that my psychology background informs my photography. I am interested in photographing people. That may be as far as it goes.
Since you’re retired, how often do you hit up the streets of NY? Or do you just bring your camera everywhere with you?
After I retired and stopped playing golf as well; I have been immersed in photography. I have had classes every semester at The International Center of Photography for ten years. Most of the classes were of ten-week duration. Altogether, I have had over fifty classes plus numerous workshops and consultations with a number of photographers. I began focusing on street photography about seven years ago and I rarely go out without a camera. Most days I have the intention to spend a good part of the day shooting. Other times, I carry the camera with me so as to be sure not to miss anything that may turn up. It has reached the point where if I don’t have a camera with me, I have a distinct feeling that something important is missing.
How do you have so much energy? Where can we get the fountain of youth potion?
Tim, you asked how I have so much energy. I don’t. I have to overcome lethargy every day and I am afraid that I am slowing down as age eighty is around the corner. However, I feel distinct unease if I go through a day without taking pictures.
Do you have a ritual before you head out?
I have no ritual or routine that I do before heading out. I use only a prime 35mm full frame lens so I have no equipment decisions to make. Maybe I do have a ritual each time. It occurs to me that I almost always consider bring a 28mm lens with me but then decide against it. It is strictly a weight issue. I try to travel as light as possible.
You’ve been shooting for 10 years and counting, what is it about street photography that keeps you wanting more?
As I said, I consider street photography a sport and not so much art. I am constantly longing for the big catch, the home run, the great round of golf. I know it is out there. Every day I want to get it. I almost never do but that desire keeps me going.
Looking back, what’s one subject or event would you document from the 60s-90s that really resonated with you and why?
I was there when the Woman’s movement began. I have a picture of Gloria Steinem in the first major Woman’s march on Fifth Avenue. I only shot on one day and have two photos. This was a major movement. I was at the right place at the right time and I only pressed the shutter twice (before I photographed the woman’s marches in response to Donald Trump’s election and policies.) That movement resonates with me and I missed my chance to be part of it and photograph it. However, photography was not really part of my life at that time.
Your photos that have exhibited and won in numerous festivals, were they captured off of instinct? Or did you just happen to point and shoot, and then realize afterwards you potentially have something when you were post processing them?
When I am shooting; it feels good to be working on a project. The project could be as simple as a place (e.g.: Coney Island or Williamsburg Brooklyn) or an event such as Fashion Week. I have had several such projects and they all culminate in a self-published book (I have about fifteen such books). When I have a project it feels like I have a job and a mission. My motivation and desire goes up. However, in recent years, more often then not, I am striving for random decent photographs. That is adequate for me but it doesn’t pump me up nearly as much as a more cohesive project.
When I achieve what for me is a good photograph, it comes about in various ways. Sometimes I see something out of the corner of my eye and without composing at all, or even clearly seeing what I am shooting, I luckily end up with something I like. In such instances, the picture finds me and I am alert enough to see it. In other instances, I may find a good spot with light that is favorable and a background that is pleasing. I hang around and look at the stage in front of me and wait until enough interesting elements enter the set. I am very aware of composition and the edges of the frame. These pictures are more made then taken. I know immediately if I have something decent and I can visualize the print. (I print all photos that have the potential to be good.). Perhaps my very best photos more often then not, are derived from a third approach. I may see an interesting person or an interesting scene. Then I may follow or wait until I am at a good vantage point. I then work the scene as much as possible by taking numerous shots from slightly different angles or distances. I keep shooting as long as possible and later in post processing and editing, I look for the best version of it.
Usually none of these three approaches or variations of them work. I have come to realize that really good pictures are rare and that it is within the nature of street photography to usually fail. I believe that a good street photographer may achieve five to ten exceptional photos a year if he or she is lucky. Unlike most other photography, factors beyond one’s control are operating that makes street photography particularly difficult. With experience and technical skill it becomes easy to go out and get loads of OK pictures. However, the really exceptional worthwhile photos are far and few between.
How would you describe your style within your photographs?
I have come to realize that my style may be a bit different then that of most street photographers. I see that the majority of street photographers working today are after a decisive moment that looks quirky or humorous. Further, most work is shown online. I am after a good-looking photograph that can be printed and hung. I too, admire an odd moment but I am equally or perhaps more interested in light and composition. This is both strength and a flaw as far as I can tell. Too often, my photos have good lighting, decent composition, but lack compelling content. A photographer friend has described some of my photos as all context and no content. I am as interested in context as much as content: perhaps too much so.
I looked at Alex Webb’s work for the first time about six years ago. I admire its complexity. I keep striving for pictures like his with multiple layers, disparate and compelling activities going on in the foreground, middle ground, and background. This is Ernest Hemingway’s Great White Marlin that I am after. I have never achieved it but I keep trying. If I fall short but still have a layered photograph, I am pleased. All to often, I have to settle for a candid portrait within good context and light. I am beginning to think that Alex Webb himself can rarely make “Alex Webb-like” photographs. The pictures with multiple activities and different activities within multiple layers probably are relatively rare for him too.
Almost all of my work is in color. I don’t view color as a distraction. The world is in color so why not show it? Yes, most of the history of photography and its great photographs are in black and white. However, technology has changed and color is now a more viable option.
Whose work do you admire?
I admire so many photographers. I would put, Alex Webb, Garry Winogrand, Joel Meyerowitz, and Robert Frank at or near the top of the list. These are some of the established “stars” There are so many good street photographers including a lot of younger people working today.
I ask everyone this question. If you could have one street photographer shoot your wedding who would it be?
I have no plans to marry so I cannot personalize the answer to this question. Immediately, Larry Fink pops to mind. His event flash photography is candid and he makes little attempt to glamorize anyone. I would prefer real expressions to posed and he would be good at that. I don’t seem to like too many posed pictures or “happy” smiling pictures.
Be a member of Magnum today or go back in time and document the 60s all the way until 2007 when you started shooting street.
The “right” answer to this question in to document the 60’s all the way until I started shooting street. However, if Magnum would want me, my need for prestige would overpower me and I would take that.
What’s one goal on your bucket list in relation to street photography?
One goal on my bucket list in relation to street photography would be something that is probably beyond my reach. I would love to have a published book of my best street photos.
Any personal street photography tips or advice you have to those out there?
I don’t have any advice that others more experienced and accomplished then myself have not already offered.
I do have a blog in my website about photography slumps. The gist of it is that it is in the nature of street photography to be in an almost a perpetual slump because truly good pictures are rare. In other words, a slump is not a slump. It is street photography. This applies to experienced street photographers. Too many inexperienced street photographers have little idea of what is a good photograph and they settle for too many mediocre pictures and show too many of them. Editing out all but the best is necessary. Show only your very best work. I need to take heed of that myself.
Check out Paul Kessel’s work below!
a. Blurb Books can be found in the “Books” section of my website.
b. To see all Blurb Books one can go to www.blurbbooks.com and search for Paul Kessel
TIM HUYNH PHOTOGRAPHY "Interview with New York Street Photographer Paul Kessel"
FABRIK Magazine, Fabrik Photography Awards
"On The Street: Showcasing Street Photography From Around The World"
Popular Photography " SHARE: My Project, DIVINE REFLECTION "
2017 GANYC APPLE AWARDS NOMINEE: PAUL KESSEL
by Derek Chan on Monday, 02/13/2017
Each year, GANYC proudly honors organizations and individuals that encourage and promote New York City tourism, culture and preservation, while supporting the work and contributions of professional New York City tour guides. The 2017 GANYC Apple Awards is coming up, on Monday, March 6, 2017. This year there are 44 nominees. Below, is an interview with one of them.
Nomination: Paul Kessel, Coney Island 10, Outstanding Achievement in New York City Photography (singular image, published October 1, 2015 - September 30, 2016)
New York-native Paul Kessel had another career spanning over 30 years as a clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and university professor. After taking a photography class in 2008, he began his more recent journey in the world of street photography. Another one of his photos, “Looking at Self, Times Square” (True Believers) was nominated for the 2016 GANYC Apple Awards for Outstanding Achievement in NYC Photography. There’s no place like home, and Paul is certainly right at home here in New York.
What is the main source of inspiration for your photography?
My daughter. She began a career in photography after graduating college (She is now a prop stylist). I am always trying to get a photograph that she may like. In addition, I am inspired by the great street photographers of the past and present. Internally, I am inspired by the relatively small possibility of getting an exceptional picture.
Please describe, briefly, what your process is like for creating your work?
I am out searching for pictures on the street as often as possible. I treat photography like a sport, aware that performance fluctuates depending on many factors. Some days, I get nothing worthwhile. Other days, I may save one or two pictures from 50-100 shots. I process them on the computer in Adobe Lightroom and print the better pictures at home.
What’s been a highlight of your work or a particular event or happenstance that has kept you motivated to continue doing it?
Anytime I get a significantly good picture, it keeps me going. I suppose one highlight has been an article about my work (a particular project) in Popular Photography Magazine. Another highlight was winning a national competition. I often feel that I cannot take any decent pictures, but the occasional success or accomplishment pushes me forward.
For our professional GANYC tour guide members, what things about your work might we share with the thousands of visitors to NYC we meet every year?
As a street photographer, I am out "touring" alone almost every day. The vast majority of my pictures were made in Manhattan. I also go to Williamsburg and Coney Island in Brooklyn a lot. My self-published books on Williamsburg, Fifth Avenue, Times Square, and the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, among other books, hopefully show what these places are like (with the emphasis on people and not the place, per se.) All books can be viewed on my website.
Favorite tour you've taken in NYC, or if you haven't taken a tour, where in NYC would you next like to have a tour (preferably led by one of our GANYC members)?
I think the only tour I have been on is the Circle Line (boat tour). I was very impressed by the knowledge as well as the style of presentation by the guide.
What is your favorite place in NYC and why?
Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My daughter lives there and wherever she lives, feels like home to me.
If you could be any one of the five NYC boroughs or a particular store/restaurant in NYC, what would you be and why?
In spite of Williamsburg feeling like home because of my daughter living there, I may choose Manhattan because I have lived there most of my life. I would not be a store or restaurant. I would be Central Park - in my opinion, the best part of NYC.
Interview online on: http://www.ganyc.org/blog/2017-ganyc-apple-awards-nominee-paul-kessel
It’s a dream we’ve all had, isn’t it? To fly? In an inspired group show curated by the Griffin Museum of Photography’s Paula Tognarelli, Aviary explores the free and the caged, the funny and felled, the genuine and fantastical world of birds. In a fitting salutation to springtime, more than sixty photographers take flights of fancy in the Griffin’s satellite gallery at Boston’s Lafayette City Center Passageway in Downtown Crossing, on view through July 14th, 2017. There will be a free public reception with some of the artists on Saturday, June 24th, 2017 from 4:30 – 6:00pm.
Wild birds are hard to catch, both physically and photographically, which makes “decisive moment” images exhilarating. Rick Ashley captures an astonishing sky full of starlings rising over Rome in a breathtaking and paradoxically minimalist composition while Paul Kessel’s street scene seizes upon a singular millisecond of fluttering pigeons, superbly framing three figures in an avian frolic.
Intriguing are the birds somewhat harder to see, obscured by windows, reflected in ground water or appearing as mere pinpoints in a vast terrain, imploring viewers to search more carefully for both subject and meaning... read the rest of the blog post by Elin Spring here.
Bedford + Bowery
"In the East Village, an Upper West Sider's Vision of "Williamsburg: Old & New"
Adobe Lightroom and Blurb Books