Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Artist Focus: An Interview with Timothy R. Hall, photographer

Blast Furnace’s interview of photographer and former Area Foreman/Corrosion Technician/Technical Fieldman Tim Hall has been a long time in coming. We met in 2010 during a graduate school Pittsburgh field seminar, where Tim—then a Landscape Photography adjunct professor at Chatham University (where he also attended graduate school)—was our knowledgeable historian of and guide through his neighborhood, the Hill District, which was also author/playwright August Wilson's old stomping ground. At that time, Tim pointed out Z Best Barbeque Chicken & Ribs as a highly worthy eatery in the city, and finally, albeit more than three years later, we sat down for a very satisfying rib lunch to talk photography and other fascinations of the Hall kind.

Following is our interview with the very patient Tim Hall.

Where are your from originally? Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Hill District. In 7th grade I lived in Washington, PA and went to Chartiers-Houston Junior/Senior High School, then came back to Pittsburgh. Then I was in Baltimore [Maryland] and graduated from the same high school as 39th [U.S.] Vice-President, Spiro T. Agnew. It was a good high school. Then I moved back to the Hill, but I knew that there was a little more out there than what I experienced in here.

When I was younger I got interested in the world of amateur radio. [In fact,] my father insisted! As a "ham radio" operator, I got to do a lot of stuff. You learn a bit about electronics and a lot about communications, then you take a test that's part electronics, part learning International Morse Code. The [Federal Communications Commission] requires passing these graduate tests, and you could go from novice to general class and all the way up the line. As your ability to understand the electronics and regulations increases, you’re allowed to become a manager/station operator.

Electronics definitely interested me. My 12th grade high school science paper was on how to make an industrial grade ruby laser for Physics class, and I had a phone in my car in 1975. My dad and I put it together. It was pre-cell tower technology, but still way ahead of the game.

FOG BRIDGE: Homestead Grays Bridge by Timothy R. Hall

What made you start taking pictures?

My dad had a Canon way back in the day, I’m talking the late 1950’s, and it was a [Single Lens Reflex] camera. It was heavy and bulky as you can imagine, had an all glass lens, buttons and stuff. It was really complex-looking, considering most people at that time were doing Polaroids or Brownie Boxcameras. So if you're father is carrying this camera he's gonna ask you to do something with it. He'd develop his pictures at home in the Francis Street Projects, in a self-made darkroom on the third floor. I’d help with the tripod, would mount the camera. He’d say, "We're doing photography tonight,” and we’d be in the darkroom, rocking the [processing] trays back and forth making sure the liquid got on the paper. He used the [printing] tongs and everything.

FLOATING TULIPS by Timothy R. Hall
What kind of camera do you currently use, and what cameras have you used in the past?

I keep them all. At some point I’m gonna get rid of some of it. I'd like to go to a school and find a student who needs a camera and donate it. But the Canon [EOS] 60D does everything but make coffee.

Is there something about your visual challenges due to glaucoma that you feel contributes to better pictures or your unique sense of photography?

The ophthalmologist told me, 'You don't have binocular vision, the ability to focus on something so if you reach your hand out, you actually land on it. The way your eyes are working it's going to throw that off a bit. When you look at a picture, that same dynamic is going on with both eyes. You only have 20 percent sight left in your left eye. It's entirely possible that you take the pictures you do take now because of this.'

WELDER: CMU Water Project by Timothy R. Hall

Is there any specific artist or photographer who inspires you?

Gordon Parks. He was a black man who photographed black people in black situations: stresses, economics. He did a couple of movies. TheLearning Tree and Shaft were his motion pictures, but he did both motion film and stills.

Ansel Adams, for the creative part of it once he got the image. His format—his negatives—were huge. He'd get them in the darkroom and know just what to do to make those pictures what they were with chemistry (as opposed to digital). He had this big Chevy Suburban with a platform on the top to set up a tripod. He [and other photographers like him] warrants a good bit of study. Sometimes when people say I'm weird, I say I'm in good company because I can think of some [eccentric] people who are really good at photography and there was no doubt about.   

I ran into [photographer] James Nachtwey in graduate school. He lived a few blocks from the World Trade Center. He’s really dedicated and wants the world to know about the civilian side of what people [struggling all over the world] have to endure during warfare.

What do you find inspiring for shooting pictures?

The light play, everything that happens up to the point that you feel you need to have the image is like a work in progress. Then there's this magical time where you have to capture the picture, right where you want it to be, knowing that soon after that picture is going to go away, maybe forever. Also, walking a shot. You walk a couple paces to the left, then to the right do some elevation steps and [determine] which picture is going to tell the best story of the shot you plan to get. You gotta move around a little bit to try to find that. 


What was important to you about capturing the Three Rivers Stadium demolition on film?

I was on the construction/demolition project and there was a head manager down there who said, 'You do photography, maybe you ought to be taking documentary pictures of the Stadium.' It was one of those jobs where they basically could ask you to do anything. So, I went to Bernie's Photo Center on East Ohio Street [in Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood] and said, 'I need a 35-millimeter camera and a tripod, and I need it to not be new.' So one thing led to another and I ended up being the construction/demolition site photographer. I would take pictures every month, show the wiring and plumbing. I got the implosion of it and everything. First I was doing it [for legal purposes for the demo company]. Then I had to go over after the smoke cleared and take pictures of the new stadium [Heinz Field] because glass covered one side of it. I had to take pictures of cracked glass from flying stones [and debris] from the implosion. It was only 80 feet apart from Three Rivers and the new stadium. The damage from one was going to potentially affect the other.

For the implosion, I went to Stanwix Street to the fifth floor of a lawyers’ office, they let me come in their place at 6 AM that Sunday to take pictures of the implosion with a camera and shoot video of it through glass. It was like dominos. Believe me it was loud, we were just across the river from it.
The Rooney family has a picture that I took hanging in their office at [Heinz Field]. They commissioned a 16” x 20”.


Do you prefer posed or candid shots of people?

Candids. I don't like set-up shots. I’ve done weddings before. Doing a wedding is a learning experience. For something like that, I ask for a shot list of what [is wanted]. I try to get the people while they're still sober and still have on their ties! It means going table to table in ambient light, using a telephoto lens, and getting shots of people's faces.

IT'S ALL RELATIVE by Timothy R. Hall

What is your favorite location or subject to shoot?

I liked shooting Heinz Field. It’s my favorite collection of my own pictures. I like to take some really bread and butter shots and make them art.

Editors Note: Check out Tim’s Filmography on the Internet Movie Database at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4554907 and read Tim’s vision story at http://www.bvrspittsburgh.org/stories/timothy-r-hall-photographer. His official photography website is located at http://www.timothy-hall.com.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

1st Annual Chapbook Prize: And the WINNER IS...

After careful review and re-review of a group of very fine poetry manuscript finalists by contest judge and primo poet Heather McNaugher, we are pleased to announce Eric M.R. Webb of Burke, Virginia as the winner of Blast Furnace's First Annual Poetry Chapbook Competition 2014 for his collection, "How to Lose Faith." The First and Second Runners Up were the gifted B.D. Fischer and Coco Owen, respectively.

Eric M. R. Webb's poems have appeared at www.qarrtsiluni.com, in Thunderclap! magazine, in The Cossack Review, and most recently in Pea River Journal. He published two interviews in Barely South Review (2012 & 2013), and is editor of Nobs Review or No Bullshit Review (depending on the company, he says).

Eric's manuscript will be published by Blast Furnace and available for purchase in April 2015. Stay tuned over the stretch of months leading up to its printing to learn details about price and how to add a copy of his winning chapbook to your poetry collection.

A BIG THANK YOU and much gratitude to all of the talented writers who submitted their work for consideration, and CONGRATULATIONS, ERIC!