Thursday, December 20, 2012

Artist Focus: Josef Tornick, Photographer

Born in Brooklyn in 1950, Josef Tornick became passionate about photography as a teenager, photographing his neighborhoods of Coney Island and Manhattan, and a trip to Mexico. He continued taking pictures in college, using traditional darkroom techniques.

A self-taught photographer, he studies and loves the photography of Josef Sudek, Manuel Bravo, Flor Garduno, Paul Strand, Nancy Rexroth, Edouard Boubat, Willie Ronis, Russell Lee, Sebastiao Salgado, James Nachtway, David Michael Kennedy, and Keith Carter, among others, all of whom inspire his own work.

Blast Furnace first viewed Josef's work at a Santa Fe, New Mexico art fair this past Spring and recently interviewed him about his craft.

Sunday morning in Albuquerque, New Mexico. An old truck. Magic.
Chevrolet Dreams: Sunday morning in Albuquerque, New Mexico. An old truck. Magic. - JT
Talk about your experience with photography. When did you start, or how were you exposed to it? 

I first had a little brownie type camera when I was eight years old, and took some photos on a camping trip through Europe with my family. Then later, I acquired some folder type camera, I believe. I got more serious when I was a teenager in high school, and took some very interesting images in Mexico and around New York City. In college I took a few courses, and loved spending time in the school darkroom.

You have a collection, entitled "Through the Viewfinder." How are these visuals accomplished, and what equipment is utilized? 

This is a neat technique, which uses two cameras. The bottom camera is an old Twin-Lens Reflex, with a screen on the top to see the image. You can get them on eBay for $12 to $20, folks like the Anscoflex or Duaflex cardboard (or any material wood, foam board, etc.) tube to shield the light. You then use your regular camera, in my case digital, to take a photo of the screenpointing the camera lens into the tube. 

outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico
Big Desert Pottery: outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico - JT
How do you achieve stillness, particularly with creatures such as horses that dont typically stay still for long? Noted was that many of the "action" shots in your collection were taken using a Canon EOS 5D. Is this your go-to camera for action photography? 

I don't have the 5D any more, it was replaced by the Sony Alpha 900. Really just about any good camera nowadays can do action work. 

What computer software applications do you utilize to enhance some of your digital photographs? Do you also use 35 millimeter film or other roll film?

I use [Adobe] Lightroom, with presets sometimes, and Adobe Photoshop. Sometimes, I use Nik Silver Efex for an old-timey look. Haven't used [actual] film in a while. 

A good deal of your work is shot in New Mexico, but also in various European cities/countries: Avellino Province, and Nusco, Italy, Yorkshire Dales-United Kingdom (UK), Ireland. Talk about each region and what you appreciated about taking pictures in those varied environments.

Avellino and Nusco: The hardest shoot I've ever done. No tourists go to Avellino, hence no one spoke English. It was just difficult on every level. 

Yorkshire Dales: Great time, great scenery, fun all the way around, amazingly cold and windy in the higher parts. 

Ireland: Magical, and very nice to shoot. I love Ireland very much, especially the West coast, and The Burren. I feel very comfortable there. 

PhotoSecession1: My first roll with a new Holga and Polaroid back, using PolaPremium Type 100 Sepia film. scanned from the goopy negative, and a little judicious Photoshopping. - TJ
Do you have success selling your work? Where is it available for buyers to view and purchase? Any exhibits coming up?

Lately, I have had great success selling every weekend from May to October with the Santa Fe Society of Artists. We set up individual booths downtown on the weekendit is an art fair. For me, it is much better than the gallery route, which I have done before. Buyers can always contact me by email: 

Do you work in other mediums (i.e., painting, drawing, sculpting, etc.), or do you do any photo-journalism/writing that accompanies your pictures? 

I do write little stories which accompany some of my photos in the art fair, people love to read them as they peruse my little "pop-up gallery."

The Lumia" series of pictures, where you utilized a Panasonic DMC-G1, is very striking. What is this actually a photo of, and how were you able to achieve this series of themed images?

Lumia 3
It is a shot of paper flowers, shot in downtown Santa Fe. I just used a slow shutter speed, and moved the camera while l took the photo. Simple really. It is easy to experiment like that with digital, as you can see your results instantly, and make adjustments.

What do you do to keep things fresh? Do you find yourself taking on new photographic challenges and experiences often?

I like to try new things. I look at many images online, read articles, and plan new projects. I will be going to Bali soon as a change from all the UK and Ireland shooting I have done. I am ready to try lush foliage, striking temples, colorfully dressed people, etc. A different experience. My working title is "Spirit of Bali."

Your portraits are particularly moving. What would you say is the average number of shots on a typical outing you take that you feel are publishable”? When do you know the image is just right?

I am not a "machine gunner" style of shooter; I usually am a bit slower and make shots count. When I went to the Hebrides in 2004 for seven weeks I shot a total of 160 rolls of 12-exposure medium format film, and got many publishable shots. That's probably the amount a National Geographic shooter shoots in about three hours. it is just a matter of temperament, I think.

Do you take notes while photographing to keep track? If so, how do you go about logging the photos?

I take minimal notes. I rely on my memory. It is not the optimum way to do things, I will admit. Taking photos puts me in a sort of flow. Writing notes is a different head space for me. 

Table, Santa Fe, New Mexico: I'm pretty sure [this] was a straight shot, in a hotel lobby. I might have used a LensBaby. - JT
Among the many cameras you've used are a Sony DSLR-A900 and a Polaroid SX-70. What do you usually employ those two cameras for? Which of your many cameras is your go-to for just about any situation? 

I have sold the Polaroid as the film is no longer made, and The Impossible Project attempts to replicate it fall short for my purposes. I use the Sony sometimes, but my go-to cameras are my new Fuji X-E1, and Fuji X100. Easy to carry in a Domke bag, and superb image quality.

Nicholas at David Michael Kennedy's House
Your portraits render the subject as very natural rather than posed, even though the subject is posing. How do you go about setting up portrait shots?

I just use natural light, and it is really all about how you as a photographer relate to the subject. Most of it is non-verbal, and concerns the energy you project. It is a big topic, I think.

Josef Tornick's photography has been exhibited by Camera Obscura in Denver, Longmont Museum in Colorado, and is in permanent display at Museum Nan Eilean, South Uist, Hebrides, Scotland. He has won awards at Art of Photography in San Diego and was also chosen for a Portrait exhibition curated by Mary Ellen Mark. Josef's work has been acquired by the Santa Fe Museum of Fine Art. He currently lives in Santa Fe.


  1. A great post and lovely blog althogether. Keep up the wonderufl all that you do.

    1. Thanks, Karen! Really appreciate you reading BF. Miss you :)