June 8th, 2012

Look3 Report: Stanley Greene on Luck, Film and Supporting Young Photographers

With equal measures of grace, humor, wisdom, and humility, photojournalist Stanley Greene regaled a packed house with tales from his storied career at the LOOK3 festival in Charlottesville last night.

Greene sat on stage at Charlottesville’s Paramount theater for a one-on-one interview with Jean-François Leroy, founder of the Visa pour L’Image photo festival in Perpignan, France. During the discussion, he talked about the trajectory of his career, his most recent project on the global impact of electronic waste, the moral imperative of supporting younger photographers, his objections to digital photography, and his new-found appreciation for the challenges of picture agencies, now that he’s the co-owner of one.

A central theme of many of Greene’s stories was the recurring role that chance has played throughout his career, in large and small ways.

“I honestly believe photography is 75 percent chance, and 25 percent skill,” he said in response to a question from an audience member toward the end of the talk. “In accidents, we really discover the magic of photography.” (He had been asked how he manages not to rewind exposed film rolls completely, which resulted in some serendipitous images on a roll he accidentally exposed three times.)

As Greene described it, much of his career has been a string of dumb luck stories from the start, when he became an assistant to the late, great W. Eugene Smith. Greene met Smith through his girlfriend, who happened to be one of Smith’s asistants. Greene recounted how he was sitting around with his friends one day, smoking cigarettes soaked in a hallucinogen. “We were out of it. He [Eugene Smith] came through the door dressed in black, and we thought he was God,” Greene said, eliciting a laugh from the audience.

One day Smith happened to develop a roll of film from his assistant’s camera. It was a roll that Greene had shot. Smith noticed it, and told his assistant, “That guy you introduced me to–I think he could take pictures.”

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