Featured Member: Bela Molnar
Sometimes, the most interesting part of learning about a photographer is not the techniques they use or the gear they carry or even the images they create. But rather learning the story of how they came to be a photographer in the first place. In addition to being a talented photographer with a keen eye for composition, Bela Molnar’s photographic story is interesting all on its own. -J
Bela Molnar: Black and White Landscapes
Who are you and where do you live?
I’m a retired person living in Toronto Canada.
How (and when) did you get started in photography? In short, tell us the story of your photographic journey.
I was born in a big city, Budapest, the capital of Hungary. My parents, trying to find refuge during the 2nd world war fled to the countryside. This was my home until my teenage years when we moved back to the city of Budapest. In the countryside, wheat fields, corn fields and the forest was my playground. I had a lot of exercise walking to the nearest creek to play in the water, which was about 4-5 km away from our home. I enjoyed very much climbing trees in the forest and lying in the grass in the plains, watching nature. The countryside was a good teacher to me and I thank God for teaching me to appreciate nature through this. Art was one of my biggest interests at a very early age, which later broadened to other subjects, such as ancient history, geography, archeology, philosophy, astronomy and sciences. I tried to get into the art college, but eventually I ended up in an apprentice school. My parents lost everything in the war, therefore we were very poor. After finishing the apprentice college, in my free time I started high school, and later university. But art was still the thing I most desired to do. I studied art extensively by attending evening art classes. Although I ended up making a living as an electrical engineer, I always tried to return to my “first love” in my spare time. I worked in graphic, charcoal and oil painting mediums. As a result of this I even managed to get some exhibitions in Toronto.
I left Hungary, in the Communist era, and “emigrated” (illegally leaving the country) to Austria. After Austria my journey took me to Sweden and later to South Africa and finally to Canada, where I settled down. In the last twenty years, I started to get more and more involved in photography. I had practiced photography from a young age, just not very seriously.
For me art is an escape from the everyday life. Art is a motivating force, to get out from the city and into nature. After all, “Back to nature” we all one day are eventually going to go. Nature is beautiful, being that the prairie or the mountains, a bird, a creek, a lonely tree, and etc., etc. Nature is always honest, beautiful, let that be a volcano or an ocean wave that is washing away the shore lines. However, people are not as simple as nature. They have many, many shades, from the darkest black to the beautiful blue or red.
Going back to my biography, photography is my main hobby and a way of passing time lately. I don’t take photography as a documentary subject. Photography for me is another art form, in which I express myself, any way I like it. I believe, photography has no rules once you learned art and art as photography. Photo.net is a good place to learn, see beautiful work, and get good advise or critique to improve your photography.
Who (or what) have been your main photographic influences and inspirations?
Your Photo.net portfolio has many portrait images, many of which seem to strive to convey a story or emotion. How did you get started with this type of photography?
For photography, I admire many photographers. But, the closest to the style I enjoy painting and shooting is mainly landscape. Mostly black & white, just to mention one, Ansel Adams. However I try not to copy his work, regardless, sometime some people commenting on my images as “like Ansel”. Or sometime, some ridiculing me for the comment. I would rather like to be myself, learning form critics and improve and enjoy me work.
To explain myself more clearly, I like mostly the technique Ansel used in the darkroom, the bold and free visualization of an object and idea in his mind about the photography, as he manipulated those photographs, according to his pre-visualization. I like his approach to photography as another art form, like paintings, to manipulate the image for his desire, the visual effect, he wanted to see at the end.
Your Photo.net portfolio is primarily filled with landscape images, particularly B&W. How did you get started with that type photography?
As I already mentioned, I mostly painted landscapes in my earlier days, before photography. Photography I did in my very early age. But, not as an art form. Mostly for family, friend, occasionally landscape and close-up shots. Never seriously involved with photography. When I gave up painting, because the messy aspect of painting in a living-room or kitchen, not hawing a studio, I started to pick up the camera and get more serious. I had learned to use a darkroom when I was younger. So I built a darkroom of my own and started to get serious about photography around 30-35 years ago. In my younger days, I learned a lots of photographic and darkroom technic, the science of optic and cameras. I know in and out of a cameras and lenses, before I got my fist real camera, which was a Russian copy of the Leica, a Zorkij. Then I got more and more cameras, and became more involved with serious photography.
Explain how you see your body of work and what draws you to do the photography that you do?
Fist of all, I learned from a very early age to see nature. More than that, nature with all of its beautiful details, be they small or large. From a tiny fresh grown flower in the field to the large prairie to a giant mountain peak. A creek or a snowdrift, a single solitary tree, and many other subjects. I try to create images with content, a mood or other graphic effect, not just a pretty picture. In the beginning, I shot mostly B&W, developed and printed by myself. It is so easy now, in the digital age, you don’t have to spend you time in the dark smelling those chemicals. And now the process much exiting, you are able to see much more quickly what you have shot, edit them more easily and with more technical trickery then what we had in the darkroom in the past.
Have you ever worked as a professional photographer? If “no”, why not? Is it something you would like to do? If “yes”, do you wish you could do more of that work? What does it bring or take away from your photography?
I have never worked as professional photographer, nor as a professional painter. Both were hobbies. Yes, as I said, hobby. Fortunately I have had a different profession as my career. Art for me, has always been an enjoyment of my free time, and I never liked competition of any kind. I have enjoyed my hobby as photography greatly, and sharing with somebody whom my appreciate or enjoy some way my work, creations is great for me. I get a couple of exhibition, a group exhibition, of my painting, never a serious exhibition of my photographs. . My bread and butter comes from other way fortunately. To do more? I reaching the age when I’m able to do less and less, traveling is getting to tiresome for me. Not in the past of my life. I used to clime mountain, skiing all winter, and many other sport activity, today, just a nice walk around a park or where ever I go for shooting. Traveling is getting to tiring for me. I would never give up photography as long as I can move.
What do you enjoy most about photography?
I love being out in nature, just wandering through the beauty and power of nature, and to photograph of it as much as I can. When I see the subject, I see the details of the image I want to create in my mind. And then when I get home, I download the images and start the most important step of photography, the darkroom, creating the image you had in your mind. Then get a big smile, when I see the first print, or, sour face, and start again until I get what I visualized in my mind. I mostly like to see my big collection of prints, for me, the image on the screen is not a photograph. Seeing old prints, realizing, some of them in the earliest works, not as good as I thought on that time in content and technic, I can create better quality images today, in content and technic too.. You learn all the time, you never supposed to be fully satisfied with your work. Improvement is always possible, fine tuning you skills or your shooting technic and developing, editing your images.
What was the most recent photographic technique that you learned or mastered? And what is the next photographic technique that you would like to learn?
It is hard to explain that. I mostly using the old darkroom technic, dodging and burning, For B&W conversion, the “selective-color” menu, mixing or highlighting certain colors very useful feature in PS. It is like using different color filters in the enlarging machine, or the lenses to emphasize certain colors as a grey scale. The “patch tool” is an other useful menu for me. I use it very often, for various reason. Whatever I need is already there, using PS. CS5 only, which is just enough for me now.
What was the most recent piece of truly useful photographic equipment that you purchased? What is the next piece of equipment that you are looking to acquire?
For the first question, is a Nikon DF camera. Small and simple and I get slightly better quality images then the D4. Beside all the newest AF Nikon lenses I own, so is the old Nikon AI and AI-S lenses which I like them very much. Manual focus is not an issue for me, even with flying birds. I trained my reflexes, after many many years of shooting with manual cameras and manual lenses. I definitely need a new computer, image files are getting really large these day. And I shoot many subject in a panorama mode, many time multiple rows of pano shoots, stitched the together them in PS. Then the files are really big. Cameras and lenses? I would like to have a real rectilinear super-super wide angle lens, like the Canon new 11-24 mm f/4 rectilinear lens. It is my dream. Unfortunately the Nikon’s old 13 mm f 5.6 AI-S is for rich collectors only. I would prefer a prime 12, 11 or 10mm super wide lens from Nikon. One of my useful lens is an old AF-S 16-35mm f/2.8 ED. It goes everywhere all the time.
What is in your camera bag on a typical day?
Uh, this question is difficult. Most of the time I cary a big camera case (I have two of them ) in the car, the roller type, and 2 cameras in it, Somtimes the D3s and the D4, or the D3s and the DF. Nikon 16mm F3.5 old type full frame Fish Eye lens with build in filters. AF-S 14mm f/2.8ED, AF-S 16-35mm f/2.8 ED, my best of the best favorite, then the super sharp AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 and a 200mm f/4 AI-S, the old Nikkor-Q.C prime lens. ( 4 of them, Q.C Q, 2x 200mm f/4 AI-S ) For the bigger trip to somewhere, A Nikon 300mm f/4.5 ED AI-S and the 400mm f/5.6 ED AI-S is my favorites. I own the new AF-S 70-200 mm F/4, but I don’t like it. I don’t like to cary the back pack style camera bags. When I arrive to a certain destination, I get the cameras with the required lens on it, on my shoulder or in my hand. Or a small shoulder bag for an extra lens or two.
What is your typical downloading/storage/sorting/processing procedure? Where do you store/backup your images? What programs do you use for post-processing?
I use Photoshop CS5 full, or extended version only. I have 4 hard drive in my MAC, 1 for the programs and all related staff. and 3 HD, 3TB each for images only. I also haw several external LaCie hard drive, 1TB each, and occasionally transferring data to them. My secure storage is my printed images.
What words of advice or encouragement do you have for anyone just starting on their photographic journey?
Definitely, the first, to learn photography, the technicality of cameras and how lenses work, the ins and outs, before even buying a camera. Then look up all the photographers work, learn to “see” things, to see with the eye of a camera, and lens, learn art, visit art galleries to learn composition from the masters. A short seminar or lecture series would help too. Join a camera club, it gives you inspiration and motivation, for a certain limit. Try to figure out, what is you talent? Work on your own style, never copy anybody. Photography as an art form not a documentary recording, you can do anything with a basic negative image, digital negative as RAW, what ever in your visual mind and imagination. The images you creating has to have some content, drama, impact, story, mood etc. etc. Do not chase fame and popularity. It is misleading. Listen for advise and comments, but mostly listen to your own feeling to the subject, the work of art you like to create, not the one you want to copy. Snap shoots, social photography is an other mater, as family and girlfriend photos too.
A pretty picture is not necessary a good picture. It can be popular, but, not necessarily good. Your images on the screen are not photograph. Your photography is the print you manage to create. Digital images, even they are edited to the perfection are only 1’s and 0’s. They are a good negative for print. And the print is your real images, your photographs. In the film era, the film was your negative, and it lasted or last longer then any digital file. When you look images on Photo.net pages, try to see the image quality, composition, an effect on you, and spent more the a second on each images, and less concerned with the sharpness of the image. How much can a little image can show of the real quality of the image in the small format? When in the real size the image my be much better looking, including sharpness in full size, or mostly in printed form.
“The term, visualization refers to the entire emotional-mental process of creating a photograph, and as such, it is one of the most important concept in photography”. Ansel also emphasized that a photographer must first master the craft of photography – its “nuts and bolts” as he used to say – in order to successfully translate a visualization into a finished photograph.
A favorite image…
This image may not appeal to most of the people, it needs to be seen large, and printed large looks very nice to me. To me, because it was very difficult situation, almost mid day, summertime, at the Lake Ontario shores, lots of diffused and hash light right in-front and above my head. The exposure was critical to register all the shades, which was around a middle or light grey. What really get me to shoot this scenery is, the stillness of the air the almost stillness of the water, the big thin claud like a light curtain hanging above the lake and partly covering the sun. The slow travel of a sailboat by the inboard engine and the birds skimming the water, and the stillness of the whole place get my attention. So, I tried my best and get the shot. To get out all what I had seen, I worked a lot on the processing, dodging and burning, etc., to get what I wanted to see. Finally, I was very happy for the image I get, and printed framed, hanging with others on the walls of my hall.