Find A Photographer Find An Assistant Join ASMP Join the Mailing List
 

Best of ASMP 2009


Brad Feinknopf had to act fast when offered a last minute trip to photograph rare Egyptian antiquities for a local US science center. Less than three weeks from departure, he prepared for this shoot of a lifetime by contacting two colleagues for advice. Once in the Valley of the Kings, Feinknopf and crew received rare access to work alone for an hour in each tomb, where photography is strictly forbidden, while thousands of tourists waited outside.

Brad Feinknopf

Website: http://www.feinknopf.com/

Project: Trip of a Lifetime to Egypt to photograph for Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science exhibition with a local US science center and resulting sponsorship.

All images in this article © Brad Feinknopf

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

BF: I assisted in New York City from 1986-1988. I returned to Columbus, first as an assistant and then as a photographer, and have been shooting there since.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

BF: According to my membership card, I’ve been a general member since 1995, but I am certain I was an associate member before that.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

BF: Architecture, Interiors, Corporate and Portraiture.

© Brad Feinknopf

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?

BF: My eyes. The camera is merely a tool.

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

BF: In his book The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell speaks of a 10,000-hours benchmark, which is a defining point in establishing expertise. I won’t go so far as to call myself an expert but, as son and grandson of architects, and after shooting architecture for nearly 20 years, I think I have certainly logged my 10,000 hours. I think my ability to see and understand a building, dissect its components and discern where the strong imagery lies is my strong suit, but this did not come without the investment of time.

© Brad Feinknopf

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.

BF: Technically the approach was rather straightforward. I went to Egypt with two Canon 1Ds bodies, one with a Canon 28mm-70mm lens and the other with a 70mm-200mm lens, which I did not remove so to keep the sensors free of dust. To expand on my image captures, some amazing work was done in post. In one tomb I had to photograph a mural from approximately 5 feet away, in sixteen segments, illuminated by a guard bouncing light into the tomb from a piece of cardboard wrapped in tin foil, and then the 16 shots were stitched back together to become a life size mural of a tomb that is not even open to the public!

© Brad Feinknopf

ASMP: Please tell us about your existing relationship with this museum. What kind of work had you done for them before you embarked on this project?

BF: The existing relationship is fantastic. The exhibition Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science opened May 30th and ran through Labor Day. This is accompanied by a photography exhibit, which features 30 of my photographs. Hopefully the photo exhibit will tour alongside the main show, which will travel to the other collaborative Science Centers for the next 7 to 8 years, at least (including Minneapolis, Boston, Los Angeles, Fort Worth and beyond). The Science Center has been extremely appreciative of my donation of time and has done everything in their power to see that I, too, get maximum exposure from the exhibition.

As an architectural photographer, I had done all the photography of their new facility designed by Japanese Architect Arata Isozaki, and I’ve continued to work with them on various projects at their new location.

© Brad Feinknopf

ASMP: Please describe the compensation package you negotiated to make this project worthwhile. What kind of sponsorship arrangement did you set up?

BF: The museum had a $9,000 budget for photography, plus they covered ALL of my travel expenses for the entire trip. Additionally, they provided exhibition space concurrent with the primary show for a photography exhibition featuring 30 of my images from Egypt. They also covered all costs for printing, framing and hanging my work (which will probably travel alongside to the Science Centers that request it). I have been credited conspicuously throughout and am receiving royalties from the postcards, note pads, pencils and other merchandise that utilizes my imagery.

© Brad Feinknopf

ASMP: You mention consulting with fellow ASMP members Jack Kucy and Sean Kernan in planning for your trip. What in particular made you seek them out and what kind of advice did they give you?

BF: I cannot thank Sean, and especially Jack, enough. They are what make the ASMP such a great, great organization. I had less than a month to prepare to go to a foreign land of which I had no experience, no language skills, no cultural understanding and no idea of the photographic challenges. Both were knowledgeable about Egypt and had their concerns about what I was trying to accomplish, not from a technical standpoint but regarding whether the Egyptian government and Antiquities officials would actually allow us to do what we were setting out to accomplish. Fortunately, the Science Center had their ducks in a row, and I know Jack was amazed at what I was allowed to shoot. Without their advice I would have been technically unprepared. I knew if I was technically prepared, I could do what needed to be accomplished. I will end where I started, I cannot thank Jack and Sean enough!

© Brad Feinknopf

ASMP: You describe this trip as “a life-changing experience.” Was there any one detail of your trip or your work in Egypt that had the most impact in this regard?

BF: People, People, People. Yes, it was amazing to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Yes, it was amazing to see the Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple, but it was the warmth and the kindness of the Egyptian people that really got to me. I actually enjoyed the communication barrier. Often communication with hand gestures and a smile rings truer on its own than when words get in the way. It was communication in its purest form. Additionally, nothing, and I mean nothing, happens in Egypt that does not involve tea. You have tea when you meet with the guards. You have tea when you are in the tomb. You have tea with the shop owner when you go into a shop to purchase something. Everything slows down and tea must come first.

© Brad Feinknopf

ASMP: Were there any particular resources that you found to be especially helpful once you arrived in Egypt? Do you have suggestions about resources other photographers should seek out when planning a trip of this nature?

BF: Unfortunately, no. I did not go expecting to have any resources and so I was prepared, and thus not looking for resources. What I will tell you, that anyone who goes to Egypt will tell you, is that you have to understand the word “baksheesh” or tip. Egypt is an extremely poor country and everything happens around the greasing of the palm. Everyone expects to be tipped and I do mean everyone. If you don’t understand that concept, you will need to learn it very, very quickly in Egypt.

© Brad Feinknopf

ASMP: Did you have any interaction with Egyptian photographers during your trip? If so, what was your impression of the professional business climate there?

BF: Unfortunately, no. The major reason I was hired was because the Science Center did not feel that any of the photographers they considered in Cairo could be hired with confidence, due to questions regarding their ability levels and language barriers. Originally, the Science Center considered having me review the Egyptian photographers Web sites to help determine who they should use, and then someone thought, “Why don’t we just ask Brad?”

© Brad Feinknopf

ASMP: Given the fact that you were working in a distant locale with such a short time to plan for your trip, were there any pieces of equipment or gadgets that you found lacking?

BF: Fortunately, no. An ASMP member and friend, Mark Steele, kindly loaned me some portable lighting. An ASMP associate member, my assistant Dustin Halleck, loaned me a smallish tripod and, with Jack Kucy’s advice, I was fairly well prepared.

ASMP: What aspects of technology were most indispensable to you during your time in Egypt? Were there any aspects of western technology not available to you, which were hard to live without?

BF: I would go into my hotel with outlet converters, step-down voltage converters, powerstrips, laptop, card readers, back up hard drives, hyperdrives, battery chargers and so on. I felt like a walking technology bank. It was less about what I did not have, than it was the fear of not having something. “What if I go to Egypt and the power fries my laptop, my batteries, and camera?” Fear can be a great motivator to making oneself overly prepared.

© Brad Feinknopf

ASMP: Did you have any issues with security during your travels or when you were shooting in these sites? If so how did you resolve them?

BF: We did not have any security problems while there, but if you are unfamiliar with that part of the world, it can easily be a rude awakening. I have been to Israel and Morocco before so I was not taken aback, but two armed guards with Uzis accompanied us, and everyone there is armed. No one would dare to draw a weapon because 30 people would have a bead on you before you could blink. The biggest problem I had was learning not to be so polite to those who target foreign tourists. I started off being polite and found myself on a camel I had no desire to be on. I quickly learned to say no and walk away.

ASMP: In hindsight, is there any aspect of planning or producing this project that you might do differently if you had this experience to do over again?

BF: Truthfully, I was very well prepared. I was extremely fortunate that the Science Center had really done their homework. We had excellent transportation, excellent Egyptogists, excellent security, excellent access. It was a dream job. If I were to do it again I cannot imagine it going as well as it did the first time.

© Brad Feinknopf

ASMP: Have you exhibited your work in museums in the past? Did this aspect of the project lead you to any new insights or discoveries about your work?

BF: Well, it was interesting. I had two masters: the museum’s need for specific imagery to supplement their exhibit, and the need to create some personal imagery for my photographic exhibit. One of the more interesting tasks was to take 360-degree views of a camel so a life size camel could be created for people to climb on in the exhibit. The end result can be seen at How To Make A Camel.

ASMP: Please describe how your images were exhibited and the preparation process. How much control did you have in how the images were exhibited or the look of the show?

BF: I selected the 30 images for the show and they are displayed in a fashion that I came up with conceptually. The images are riveted behind non-glare plexiglas sandwiched with brushed stainless steel. This allows the viewer to get very close to the image and, by not using glass, it allows the Science Center the durability needed for exhibition purposes. The show lines the corridor to the exhibition entrance and creates a nice tone as a precursor to the exhibit itself.

© Brad Feinknopf

ASMP: Has this project lead to other business contacts or potential marketing channels for your images? Are there any plans for your images to be included in things like books or licensing, either by the museum, other sources or directly yourself?

BF: The exhibit just opened so it is hard to know where this might lead. What I do know is that the main archeologist (who helped immensely in creating the content for the exhibit) came to the Grand Opening and was so impressed by my work he inquired if I would return to Egypt to shoot for his project the Lost City of the Pyramid Builders . Time will tell if that comes to be. We really wanted to create a book to accompany the exhibit but figured that we needed 10,000 copies, and the cost of $65,000 was cost prohibitive for the Science Center and myself. The exhibit will tour for 7 to 10 more years, so a book is not out of the question but it is certainly on hold for now.

© Brad Feinknopf

ASMP: Do you have any interest or plans to return to Egypt or to visit other foreign lands for projects of this nature in the future? Please elaborate.

BF: No plans but always an interest. There is so much to learn from traveling to other lands and experiencing other cultures. I think that this desire will always persist in me.

© Brad Feinknopf

A Few Other Stories

Responsibility:

On day one, I was dealing with the shock to your system that one is no longer in the United States and that you have arrived in a very different culture, with different customs, climate and etiquette.

On day two, I was at the Pyramids of Giza and all I could think was, “Wow, I am standing at the Pyramids of Giza.”

© Brad Feinknopf

But on day three, I had an epiphany. I have been given a tremendous opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but with that opportunity comes great responsibility. I am seeing first-hand what many of the people who attend the exhibit will never see first-hand and, even if they travel to Egypt, they will never be given the access to many of the closed tombs and sites to which I am being given access. Therefore, it is my obligation to those tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of people who may come to this exhibit to be their eyes and see for them at first hand, so they can see at second hand what amazing treasures exist in this great land of Egypt.

I relish the opportunity but understand the importance of what I am doing, and I want to make sure that when the job is done, that it is a job done well.

Photo Adventure In The Valley Of The Kings!

We were on Day 9 of this incredible expedition and we had been granted special access from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities to photograph three of the tombs at the Valley of the Kings. There are not many photographs of the tombs at the Valley of the Kings because photography is strictly forbidden and they rarely grant access. When we arrived at the Valley of the Kings, our Egyptologist knew the head guard, and he agreed to actually close each of the tombs we were to see for one hour apiece so we could photograph them. Keeping in mind that there are thousands of people who come to the Valley of the Kings every day, to close the tombs for an hour was incredible and out of the ordinary.

© Brad Feinknopf

The first tomb we visited was KV 9, the Tomb of Rameses VI. This tomb has been uncovered for a very long time — there’s even Greek and Roman graffiti on the walls in some places. It is filled with incredibly brilliant color decorations of religious iconography including the gods and goddesses. We were very excited about this — the photos were beautiful. At one point we asked if the color had been restored since it seemed impossible for it to have survived intact for so long, but our guide Ehab said this was all original and was just very well preserved. At the end of the long ramp down, there was an enormous stone sarcophagus — truly worthy of a king.

The second tomb we saw was a surprise. We had intended to visit Rameses III next, but it was so swamped with people that we could barely move through it. The temperature inside was probably 95 degrees Fahrenheit (you’d think the tombs would be cooler inside, but with all the people going through and the lack of air circulation, it’s like a sauna). Ehab suggested that instead we visit KV14, the tomb of Tausert, the royal wife of Sety II who became regent of Siptah and eventually the last ruler of the 19th Dynasty.

© Brad Feinknopf

The last tomb we saw was KV 34, the tomb of Thutmes III. Now the story gets interesting. After shooting for 3 hours on a SanDisk Extreme III 4 GB card, I did the final shot of the day. I was standing on a bridge, which connected the shaft to the burial chamber over a 50-foot drop. I was bracketing my exposures to make certain I had the correct exposure and my Canon knocked out two of the 3-shot bracket, filling up the 4 GB card. My initial thought was that the 2 captures would be fine, so lets wrap up and go. I then thought to myself that I had traveled all the way to Egypt to do this photography, so why risk any chance of not getting the shot? I had extra cards, so let’s switch out the cards. I opened the back of the camera and pressed the eject button (maybe a bit too hard) and the card shot out and fell 50 feet into the dark precipice with all the images from my entire time at the Valley of the Kings stored on it! I was frantic. I informed the group, and we shone a light borrowed from the expedition videographer into the precipice, so we could see the card. We immediately informed the guard at the tomb and were told, “In Egypt, whatever the problem, we will find a solution!” About 15 dreadful minutes passed, and then several men came back with a long rope which one of them wrapped several times around his waist. The others stood as if playing tug-of-war and carefully lowered him to the bottom. I watched fearfully as he wandered around the bottom of the pit, stepping within inches of the card several times. Despite the language barrier, he found our lost card, and they pulled him back up. Their generosity was overwhelming and deeply appreciated.

I now had my card back but had no idea if the 50-foot drop to the rocks would have affected its contents. The next few hours were arduous as we left the Valley of the Kings with no idea whether we had anything to show for our efforts. We traveled back to our hotel where I raced to my laptop to download the images (if they were even there). I am sure that it didn’t take long, although it seemed like an eternity while the images downloaded and I opened them up. After several grueling hours, I discovered that the SanDisk had held up and the images were intact!

I am eternally indebted to SanDisk for a fine product. One of the most incredible days of my life would have been lost to eternity had it not been for some very kind Egyptian guards at the Valley of the Kings and one very durable SanDisk Extreme III 4 GB card!