Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Brian Lanker, 1947-2011

by JamesNYCApril 15. 2011 08:19

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Brian Lanker passed away yesterday in Eugene Or. after a battle with pancreatic Cancer.

I had the privilege of working with Brian Lanker many years ago as a young photo assistant in Boston.
He had come to Boston to photograph former White House butler Eugene Allen  who served for 34 years under 8 Presidents, from Truman to Reagan. At the time Brian's regular first assistant was Ray Ng.
Though I only worked with Brian and Ray on this one shoot it was one of those experiences that turns out to be a great personal and professional learning experience; and one of the many reasons why I have in my writings and workshops encouraged photo assistants to diversify and work with as many different types of photographers as they possibly can.

Brian was the first photographer I'd worked with that actually did any research about his subjects.
Previously photographers I'd worked with just showed up to a location or met their subject at a studio took their photographs with little to no conversation or interaction with the subject and walked away with "So-So" images..
I was to learn that Brian had read Mr. Allen's entire memoir during his travel time during the previous 36 hours.
This preparation allowed Brian the opportunity to relate to and interact with his subject, and discuss Mr. Allen's book and have him discuss some of his first hand experiences a great many of which never made it into Mr. Allen's book. (The only other time I would see this level of personal preparation would be a few years later when I worked with Mark Seliger.)
This behind the scenes information, the conversations, and life experience are what really made those early days of photo assisting great.
Working with Brian also taught me about Lighting.
It was this first time I'd worked with someone that didn't setup a dozen soft boxes and then wrestle with trying to control the light that would inevitably be bouncing all over the place. It is my recollection that Brian worked in a 'Subtractive process' rather than an additive process. Too often photographers will just add another light.

Brian on this shoot used Dynalites with grid sets and Cine foil. This made more work for the assistants because we were constantly adjusting the lights to hit the moving subject as Brian wanted; but it also gave Brian the ultimate control over his lighting and how the lighting would interact with his subject.
For those of you not familiar with Brians work consider doing a Google Images search or checking our his book: I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America

Credit - NPPA
Brian Lanker won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Photography for "Moment Of Life," a small black-and-white photography essay that captured Lynda [then Coburn] giving birth via the Lamaze method, which was a newsworthy development in the early 1970s. The photographer was 25 years old. Lynda was 29 and giving birth to her second child, Jacki. When the Coburns divorced, Lynda and Brian married on December 31, 1974.
View a short interview with Brian Lanker heree.

 

 

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