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The iPhone antics of Harry Sandler

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FOUR-RockiPhoneographer.jpg
  • iPhone photography by Harry Sandler

I don’t own an iPhone or an iPad, so my appreciation of Harry Sandler’s iPhone photography is pretty much that of an uninitiated admirer. Sandler isn’t just an iPhone photography expert, however, but also a retired music industry veteran with an impressive track record. He’s managed tours for Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, Billy Joel, Barbara Streisand and Jewel.

“I’ve spent 45 years as a tour manager, but I’ve always photographed since I was 8 years old,” the New York based Sandler told me when I first met him at the Renaissance Art & Design Gallery in Carmel on Friday night, May 20th.

Sandler’s taken advantage of his unparalleled access to rock stars to take photos of them throughout his long career, and recently he’s begun to digitize these images and edit them with software applications available on the iPad and iPad 2. (He began taking photographs with the iPhone around two or three years ago.)

The New York based Sandler describes himself as a “sort of a distant Hoosier,” having commuted back and forth to Indiana for twenty-five years. What brought him here was the job of working for John Mellencamp as tour manager.

Although Sandler had previously given iPhone photography demonstrations at the Renaissance Gallery (and he will again come in September), he was just hanging out for the John Paul Caponigro photography opening, which includes some of his own photography (see my review next week of this show).

But on Saturday morning, May 21, this retired 67-year-old music industry veteran was up bright and early to give an iPhone demonstration — iPhone-antics he called it — at the Apple Store, in the Fashion Mall at Keystone at the Crossing. At 8:00 a.m., before the mall had even opened, a queue of people had formed for the iPad 2, which the Apple Store apparently has had a hard time keeping in stock.

But there were about a dozen people on hand for Sandler’s demonstration as well.

The store was already busy as Sandler got started. At 8:15 a.m., there seemed to be as many blue-shirted staff on hand as there were customers, of which there were quite a few. Sandler was seated on a stool adjacent to a large flat screen on which he manipulated the imagery by means of an iPad 2 in front of his seated audience. He started off his demonstration with a little background.

In 1964, Sandler was released from the Army in San Francisco. There he discovered music “and a few other things we can’t really talk about.” Soon after, in New York City, he got a job in a photography-processing lab. He began moonlighting as a freelance photographer for magazines like Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone. Before long he was not just taking photos of famous rock stars, but managing their tours.

His job as a tour manager gave him unparalleled access to stars on stage with his camera. He’s accumulated many of his photographs in shoeboxes over the years. So he began digitizing his images and putting them on his iPad and using various applications to improve the ones where colors have faded or flattened over time.

He used as an example a photograph that he took in 1975; it shows all four original members of The Who standing shoulder to shoulder onstage. The colors in this original photo were not particularly bright and sparkling. So Sandler demonstrated how he added color into the original image with the help of iPad apps.

A number of photos that Sandler showed off, however, don’t really need any improvement at all. Take, for example, his black and white photo of Roger McGuinn (of Byrds fame) posing proudly with a brand new piece of technology, or at least it was back in the early 1970s. He was holding a cell phone nearly as big as his head to his ear.

Aside from his immersion in rock music, Sandler travels extensively and he’s used his iPhone to take photos of locations all over the world that are on his “bucket list.”

He demonstrated how he took certain digital pictures using a tripod of the exact same landscape at Death Valley at various times of the day and combining those images into one, using apps available on the iPad to get deeper, richer textures and shading.

All of these applications that he mentioned during his talk—AutoStitch, Pro HDR, True HDR and Filterstorm — sounded quite esoteric to me, as I was hearing these terms for the very first time.

But, in observing his dexterity manipulating his own images with these user-friendly programs, it occurred to me, and not for the first time, that digital technology has both diminished the learning curve and democratized photography. With digital cameras available on the market for a reasonable cost, it’s really now possible for anyone to take a decent photograph without a whole lot of knowledge of the medium.

But Sandler, as he was showing off a self-portrait of himself knee-deep in a murky Everglades swamp, suggested that taking a really great photograph still requires something extra. By stepping out into the water, he said, “you get to make images you can’t make if you don’t get off the boat.”

Don’t miss Harry Sandler’s next workshop in early September at the Renaissance Gallery. For more details, go to or call 317.506.8477. For more info on Harry Sandler.

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