Melvin Sokolsky

sokolsky quotes


I have always been fascinated by the way light can

change the mood and meaning of a situation.

As a boy, I remember my mother lighting a candle

after sunset and the excitement that I felt when

the mood of the room suddenly changed, bathing

her in the warm, gentle light. I would venture to

say the success of an image is based on the harmony

between the idea and the lighting. There is a

right light for everything. I do more lighting in the

twilight of waking up than when I’m taking

pictures. A rose, freshly observed, is sure to change

the face of photography

Ideas are not digital.

Melvin Sokolsky


Next to my bed I keep a notebook that I write in

sometimes while I’m half-awake, early in the

morning, when a dream has insinuated a place or

world I have never visited or seen. With my eyes

closed, I scribble into the notebook and then go

back to sleep.


I have always been attracted to everything

nature has to offer. I cannot think of any plant,

animal, or creature that inhabits this planet

that has not fascinated me. I have never thought

of any being in the universe as superior to

another. There is no living thing on earth that I

have seen that is more or less beautiful than

another, though it is true that I am attracted to

some of the inhabitants on Earth more than

others. As a photographer, I indulge my affinities

until I am ready to move on and explore new

challenges because I have visually exhausted my

vision on a given subject. I believe personal

affinities are genetic idiosyncrasies that are unique

to each individual. In my life, indulging my vision

has brought many surprises that I would have

never thought of consciously. It is this chemistry

that I believe is the creative force in all of us


When we look at an image that has a unique

presence, the usual question is ‘How was it made?’

I am less interested in the how and much more

interested in the what that inspired the image.

Many of the turn-of-the-century masters went into

the darkroom and coated their own glass plates

in order to create a personal palette. Today, most

photographers are limited to various manufactured

films that I characterize as the emulsion of

the day. When photographers gave up making

their own film emulsions and embraced commercially

manufactured films, the palette of some of

the greatest image makers had become somewhat

standardized at best. Even Steichen no longer

looked like Steichen. I have always been interested

in the palette of my images and have experimented

with many filmstocks and techniques to

create a personal palette. I have recently embraced

many of the productive tools that have evolved

with the computer and in the print-making arts.

I have no doubt these new tools will aid photographers

in the creation of personal images. Now

I do not have to accept the emulsions of the day

such as Velvia or Provia, when I can create Melvia

on the computer.


I believe taking someone’s portrait is an unspoken

conversation in a shared space where the sitter

and the maker reveal their being in a kind of silent

dance of escalating expectation. When

the fascination of the maker and the sitter inspires

empathy or antipathy, the portrait may be enlightening.

It is the mission of the viewer to decide

if the resulting image is transcendent.

We look at each other and dream about each

other, and those dreams never ever meet except

in the photograph.


I have always loved telling stories. Early in my

career, I found myself compelled to tell stories with

my pictures. Stories about people who breathe

and feel and suffer and dream. Stories that explore

and create different worlds within the world we

all live in.

paris 1965 : gesture

Reflecting on the past five years at the Bazaar,

I came to the conclusion that I wanted to spend

more time exploring simple themes. I wanted

a break from the complex collaboration it took to

shoot ideas that demanded complicated communication

with many crew members. I wanted to

explore how gesture influenced the psychological

being of a model on a simple background and could

be interpreted as a personal signature just as interesting

as any of my more elaborate ideas. I have

never been able to escape the allure of a new tool

or idea that could enhance or change the look of an

image. I came up with an idea that I called the

slowdown strobe. I developed a condenser unit that

connected between the light and the strobe pack

and slowed the lights down to 1/15 of a second. The

result was that hand gestures and movement

were blurred, leaving the rest of the image quite

sharp. The look was quite different than shooting

at a slow shutter speed in daylight. I was pleased

with the result; the gesture revealed the spirit of

both the performers and the fashion designers of

the clothes. The first half of 1965 Paris Collections

was shot in the studio and the second part on location

with Dorothea flying above the rooftops of Paris.