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The cursor blinks. Blue on white. Blink. Blink.
“What are you going to say this week, Blaustein? Are you going to tell us a story about your kids? Or deconstruct a Hollywood movie? How are you going to keep it fresh?”
It’s a surprisingly annoying cursor. Poking at my insecurities. And yet I’m fond of it. (Him? Her?) It’s kept me company for years, and only now have I even realized it’s blue.
I guess I’m not that observant. Blink. Blink.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty fried at the moment. Yesterday, I drove to Santa Fe, then Albuquerque, then Santa Fe, then home. 6 hours and 250+ miles of Wild West road-tripping, all to drop off pictures for an exhibition, and shop for clothes along the way.
Everything I bought was either made in India or Bangladesh. Some items were extremely inexpensive, others more reasonably priced. But it all came from a sweatshop, or so I’d imagine. Normally, I don’t think very carefully about that. But I recently saw a John Oliver rant on the truth behind the international clothing industry.
It’s not pretty.
And I was left with a mental image of children stuck behind sewing machines. It’s dancing through my mind, just now, and igniting some serious guilt about my purchases.
As I’ve learned, and tried to share with you here, sometimes you just need to turn your head sideways to see something with a completely new perspective. It can make obvious things that were obscured, like dropping a pair of corrective lenses over your young son’s faulty eyes.
Today, I’m going to review a book unlike any I’ve covered. And I’m going to do it in a way that’s different from the manner in which you’re supposed to review such a book. Watch, as I break two rules at once.
It won’t hurt a bit.
“Photoshow” is a recent offering from Contrasto in Italy. It was edited by Alessandra Mauro, and contains interviews and essays that explore the history of the photographic exhibition. Yes, it’s a publication that attempts to corral a 3-dimensional experience into 2-dimensions, and compress nearly 200 years into a few hours of reading.
Or so I’d imagine. Because I didn’t read a word.
This is a book you’re supposed to read. It even included an interview with Quentin Bajac, the head curator at MoMA, whose opinions and expertise are certainly worth exploring. (I’m sure I’ll get to it one of these days..but not today.)
Rather than skipping a review, because I write about pictures, not words, I decided to open the book and look at the photos. Why not review this as a photobook, and acknowledge that many of you would likely enjoy the essays too?
Why not indeed?
It’s the rare publication that starts with pictures by Talbot and Daguerre, and ends up with a photo of Erik Kessel’s room installation of 24 hours worth of pictures from Flickr and Facebook. In fact, it may be the only such publication ever made.
We see a killer image by one of my favorites, Gustave le Gray, and a trio of pictures by Roger Fenton, including the classic that shows his mobile horse buggy/ photo studio. My long-time readers know how much I love Fenton, so that selection got my attention.
Marcel Duchamp’s famed urinal at Edward Steiglitz’s gallery? Installation shots from “The Family of Man?” Joseph Kosuth’s seminal three versions of a chair? All mashed up with Jeff Wall’s work and lots of work on walls?
Skip the words, and this is one cool book. Read the words, and you come out with more education than you started. Either way, it’s a win win.
I’m sure some of you will be shocked at my perceived laziness. That’s understandable. You’re not supposed to review a book without reading it. But you’re not supposed to support a system that enslaves children either, and we all seem tragically OK with that.
Bottom Line: Cool pictures, lots of words, and a heap of photo history
[by Jason Myers]
The first time I walked into a portfolio review in New York City, I was terrified. I wandered past a dozen or more of my peers who had their amazing books beautifully displayed on tables for two with decision-makers on the other side of the table. They seemed prepared, confident and incredibly talented. My whole life I always thought I was that person, yet on this day, what felt like the most important day in my creative life, I felt like a complete fraud.
When I left my former life in sales/marketing/management for a creative/freelance lifestyle I knew I had a very big learning curve to catch up on. I felt like I had some marginal talent with a camera, however I had no idea how to monetize or evaluate that talent. I knew how to network, work hard and leverage life experience in my favor. What I didn’t know was how to evaluate my own work and accept the realities of the creative world.
I had a beautiful custom made portfolio by Scott Mullenberg, the best printing I’ve seen by Push Dot Studio in Portland and a solid roster of clients showcased in the book curated by Amanda Sosa Stone, my Agency Access consultant. I “looked” the part. I had shot advertisement campaigns for BOSE and JBL, editorials for FORBES and Garden & Gun and was generating plenty of regional corporate work. I felt like this was the next step for my career and it was New York’s move.
I was overwhelmed by the incredible work of the photographers in this room. I felt like once my reviewers, art buyers and photo editors saw my work they would judge me like I was judging myself. While sitting in the room waiting for my meetings with the other photographers sharing their work, all I could think was, “what am I doing here?” The funny thing is…they were mostly thinking the same thing after seeing my work and the work of others. I felt like the compliments (and sometimes still do) were simply people being polite. It’s flattering but hard to accept when deep down it’s hard to be happy with my own work.
As creatives, we are always comparing ourselves to each other. We constantly judge ourselves based on the work we make, our gear, our lighting, our clients etc. We see people shooting for clients we want to work with and wonder “why not me?” We see the work of others and have no idea how they made it. We see the success of others and momentarily forget they spent years if not decades honing their craft. We all aspire to be successful whatever that truly means these days. Is it fame? Is it our legacy? Is it money or material things or is it simply enjoying the fact that we get to create things for a living? I’m leaning towards the latter.
There have only been a handful of assignments where I didn’t leave thinking I could have or should have done something different. I judge my own work and rarely see it as great. Its taken me some time to accept this is my new normal. Feeling I could have done something better and not being content makes me realize I am committed to getting better. It reminds me that there is always someone out there more talented and harder working. It makes me feel like a creative.
I think if you don’t ever have doubt about something you’re making whether it’s photographs, art, music or anything else you create – you might as well hang it up. Realize your clients are hiring you because they DO like your work. Your style suits their needs or captivates them and that is important to embrace. Know that you aren’t going to get every assignment from your current clients either. This stings and it’s something you have to accept. The times you plan everything out and absolutely nothing goes the way you planned will continue to happen. Accept it and keep moving forward.
I realize I will always be my own worst critic and I’m comfortable with that. I still feel like a fraud most of the time, but now realize I AM NOT. Feeling like a fraud and actually being one are two completely different things. Living in Nashville where there are so many creative people pushes me to keep moving forward. Surrounding yourself with other talented people is how the most successful companies and individuals get better. Embrace your fears, realize everyone else is experiencing them too and you’ll start enjoying your career more and making better work. Honesty and fear are the most valuable assets for any creative person to embrace in my opinion. Anything else is disingenuous to real creative growth.
Jason Myers is an award winning commercial advertising and editorial photographer based in Nashville, Tennessee. His work can be found at www.jasonmyersphoto.com
A great deal has been written in the past few days about Richard Prince and his appropriation of images that he found on Instagram. No one should be surprised at this – Prince has been stealing work for many years. It is interesting to note that he himself has an Instagram account, yet he posts no pictures.
If for some reason you’re not aware of this incident, please look here.
Images belonging to SuicideGirls were among those taken by Prince, and sold for $90,000 each. Their response? Produce their images at the same size that were exhibited by Prince and sell them for $90.00. A brilliant move and if only it would devalue those sold for $90,000, it would be even more brilliant, although I doubt that it will happen.
What will happen is that Prince will do this again. And if he should do it to you, do the only thing that makes sense. Turn him into your promo bitch.
As a former Art Producer, I have always been drawn to personal projects because they are the sole vision of the photographer and not an extension of an art director, photo editor, or graphic designer. This new column, “The Art of the Personal Project” will feature the personal projects of photographers using the Yodelist marketing database. You can read their blog at http://yodelist.wordpress.com. Projects are discovered online and submissions are not accepted.
Today’s featured photographer is: Jazzmine Beaulieu
How long have you been shooting?
5 years professionally
Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
After graduating High School, I attended the Hallmark Institute of photography where I was enrolled in a 10-month program focusing on the technical, business and artistic sides of photography. Upon graduation, I moved to NYC, where I immersed myself in the world of photography, galleries, Fine Art and Street Art, developing close relationships with a wide range of talented artists in these and other fields. My experiences both professionally and socially since moving to NY, have taught me many things applicable to my field, that I could never have learned in the classroom, so in a very real sense, I was formally educated and self-taught.
With this particular project, what was your inspiration to shoot it?
I had seen some images from India’s Holi Festival and was incredibly inspired by the otherworldly effect that the application of this substance had on those who used it and immediately decided that I wanted to use it as an element in my work. A Colourful Life was born by my desire to use the powder as an incongruously playful environment for 65yr plus women. The inevitability of aging is mostly discussed or illustrated with a sense of dread. I conceived this project as an opportunity to instead, celebrate it. To communicate the idea, that spirit, beauty and joy do not have to diminish with age and in fact it’s life’s experiences that make us all that much more vital. The images I captured wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without the brass of the women in them.
How many years have you been shooting this project before you decided to present it?
This came together fairly quickly. From concept to capture it was about 6 months.
How long do you spend on a personal project before deciding if it is working?
The answer to this question is always going to be specific to the project itself. In this instance, I somehow always believed that it would work right from the start but my confidence in it grew enormously as soon as I met with my team. Their shared enthusiasm helped reinforce my feeling that this was going to be something very special.
By the time we walked into the studio, the only production left to do was to set our stage and capture the narrative that played out on it. As soon as we captured the first image that was a direct manifestation of our collaborative efforts it was clear the shoot would be a success. As a photographer that moment is the drug. It’s a high that keeps you moving through the entire project. At that point, no matter what, it’s a winner.
Since shooting for your portfolio is different from personal work, how do you feel when the work is different?
Human connection is the most important element in my work. I love interacting with people, hearing their stories, telling them mine. Whether the project is for portfolio or an assigned production, my relationship to the people in my images is what drives me. My hope is, no matter the content, that my audience sees and more importantly feels that when viewing my work.
Have you ever posted your personal work on social media venues such as Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram or Facebook?
Absolutely. All the time. But mostly selective edits and behind the scene images to my shoots that are meant to be teasers to the galleries I post to my own website. I also love to post images from my social outings primarily because I love my life and enjoy sharing, but also because my social adventures are direct influences on my work.
If so, has the work ever gone viral and possibly with great press?
Facebook licensed a selfie I had taken of my best friend and I last year and that image did go viral. It received 328,000+ Likes and 6,000 shares.
Have you printed your personal projects for your marketing to reach potential clients?
I think nowadays, printed promotions need to be really special to get the desired attention of it’s audience and justify the cost for the photographer. I have sent very limited, personalized cards out, but this project will more then likely be the one that gets designed into a stunning package and mailed as an edition to a wider audience.
Photographer: Jazzmine Beaulieu
Creative Director: Megan Yanchitis
Powder Design: Lee Milby
Hair and Makeup: Stacy Skinner
Wardrobe Styling: Jess Mederos
Jazzmine Beaulieu (1984) was born in Lewiston, Maine to an artist mother and a musician father. After graduating high school, she attended Hallmark Institute of Photography, completing a ten-month curriculum focusing on the technical, business and artistic sides of photography. She graduated at the top of her class, receiving an award for “Best Overall Portfolio” and “Most Promising New Artist”.
After graduating, she moved to Brooklyn NY, where she currently resides. Since her graduation, she’s done many successful campaigns for a wide variety of clients, including: Virgin Atlantic, Easy Jet, Azo, Taleo, Culturelle, Estoven, Mega Bus and Facebook.
(She also does non-profit work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Cre8tive Youth*ink/ Art Without Walls).
Her latest project entitled, “A Colourful Life” was just premiered by Vanderbilt Republic at (Un)Scene an exhibition in NYC that was part of the Armory Arts Week.
Follow her on instragram @jazzminephoto
APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information believing that marketing should be driven by a brand and not specialty. Follow her on twitter at SuzanneSease.
[by Andrea Maurio]
Ever wonder how photo directors & photo editors are using social media these days to find talent? Do you want to hear about their preferences on receiving marketing materials? Curious if magazines have separate staff handling their social media? I was able to get the inside scoop from Playboy’s Photo Director & Multimedia Producer, Rebecca Horn Black and ESPN’s Photo Editor, Nick Galac.
AM: Do you have a preference on receiving email promos or print promos and do you have any “Do’s” & “Don’ts”?
Rebecca Horn Black: First preference would be email. I look and see if their work appears relevant before bothering to open. If you do send a print promo, it’s very important to have your contact info on the promo. Front is best! I don’t have time to search for someone I may never book.
Nick Galac: E-promos and print promos are both great to receive. The avenues for being exposed to new talent or a refresher on someone’s work you know or have worked with are always great. I enjoy receiving photographer newsletter promos the most, especially the ones that outline 3-5 recent projects they’ve shot and include a little brief/insight about the assignment, a few images of each and maybe a BTS photo. At the end of the newsletter they also mention some personal work they’ve been working on recently and some images of the personal work.
AM: Are there separate teams for social media that actually assign shoots for both still and motion for the magazine?
RHB: There are numerous departments including a social media team and separate digital team who commission original work. I always try to incorporate all mediums (video & BTS stills) to my shoots so most of what I produce lands online and across the brand. Sometimes even in other countries!
NG: There is an ESPN social team that handles the still and motion used on the ESPN Instagram feeds, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. The images and content generated for the print magazine are channeled through the social team onto the various platforms.
AM: Do you use social media such as Facebook or Instagram to find new talent photographers as well as follow photographers?
RHB: I use Instagram, a lot!
NG: I’d say 90% of the people I follow on Instagram are photographers, and some photographers I’ve started following just from getting a promo. It’s a great way to stay current with their work.
AM: Have you ever hired someone based on their Instagram posts?
RHB: Yes! I constantly look through Instagram for leads to new talent and to keep up with photographers whose work I’m well versed in. It’s a great tool.
NG: I can’t say its been based on their Instagram posts alone, but I’ve discovered new photographers through Instagram.
AM: What social media do you typically use for your job?
RHB: In addition to Instagram, I use Pinterest to get a vibe for someone’s style. It really depends on the assignment and what I’m trying to illustrate.
NG: Sometimes we will order an outtake or alternate photo (that won’t necessarily work for the story) for use solely on Instagram, or take behind-the-scenes photos at shoots for use on social platforms.
Have you used social media in an assignment recently and if so how? Was it a combo of shooting for print and Instagram or other social media within your company?
RHB: We had models shoot ‘selfies’ while we were shooting them, so that we could promote the magazine issue when the shoot comes out.
NG: It depends on the story and if it’s a sporting event, and if it’s an online or print story.
Much Gratitude goes out to both Rebecca Horn Black, Photo Director for Playboy and Nick Galac, Photo Editor for ESPN The Magazine for sharing their insider tips! If you want to follow Nick Galac on Instagram, his handle is @galac_. Check out Rebecca Horn Black’s Twitter at @RebeccaHBlack.
[by Angee Murray]
I call it a journey because there’s a lot of transformation that can occur over a short period of time while working on a new portfolio build. And for many that journey will never end.
Recently, I had the pleasure of working with Farrell Scott. Don’t you just love her name? It has a nice ring to it, but now it will also be associated with some great work. And in this business, a name people won’t forget is a good thing.
When I met Farrell, I could tell she knew where she wanted to go – she just didn’t know how to get there. Her love for food, spaces and travel were starting to develop but she wasn’t at a place where she could start marketing herself. We teamed up and defined who she is as a photographer, created her positioning statement that became her foundation of all the new work moving forward, and started shooting images that would round out her existing body of work.
She put in the time to create the images she needed to fill in the gaps while holding down a full-time job – impressive! We had some great success and Farrell finished the program with 30 new images to blend into the new website. She’s now ready to start marketing herself with a consistent brand, a fresh portfolio and some fantastic images.
I’m so proud of the work she was able to accomplish, so I decided to ask Farrell some questions and share her experience here.
AM: Where were you in your photography career before this new build?
FS: For eight years I was the in-house photographer and graphic designer for an industrial company doing a lot of location photography. Along the way I would pick the occasional architecture assignment. Once I left the company I continued doing industrial photography and my architecture business starting growing as well but I’d always had an interest in food, home/garden and travel photography. I finally got to the point where I really wanted to start doing that type of work and leave the other behind. I had some food/home and travel imagery but there wasn’t a strong consistent body of work yet.
AM: What was your biggest challenge in the process?
FS: Staying on task with deadlines we set while working full-time. You definitely need to treat this as if your consultant is a client that you are getting assignments from, completing work on time and as directed.
AM: In what ways do you think this experience helped you elevate your work?
FS: Each exercise along the way was vital in getting me to see and understand my own work in a new way. All the prep work and planning done before making an image was huge in helping the image be successful. I also remember thinking when I first was told what would be done throughout the program, “Oh, I could just do it on my own.” But the expertise, the objective eye and accountability of my consultant made an invaluable difference in what the outcome was because of everything I learned from her throughout the process.
AM: What was your most valuable take away you got from the Portfolio Build?
FS: A lot, but two things in particular – creating and using the vision statement and learning to create mood boards. Both of these had always been in my mind but it really changed for me when I was made to write it down. This process got me to focus even more on what I wanted to say, how I was going to say it and the steps to take to get there.
AM: Would you recommend working with a consultant for someone looking to build a portfolio?
FS: Absolutely! It was wonderful to have someone who I felt was a partner in what I was trying to accomplish. Being a sounding board, holding me accountable and truly caring about helping me succeed.
To see more of Farrell’s work, visit www.FarrellScott.com.
Prior to joining Agency Access, Angee Murray was an Art Producer at Saatchi & Saatchi L.A. Her 15+ years of working in advertising with high-profile artists has given her great insights into the type of work that stands out, how to make connections and how to nourish those relationships. She brings a keen eye and creative problem solving to the world of consulting. For more information on the products and services we offer, check out agencyaccess.com
During the 2008 Look3 Festival of the Photograph, we interviewed Mary Ellen Mark about her work. Here is the segment, which ran within a larger package during our festival coverage.
Heidi: How did this job come about for you?
Samuel: Years ago, I worked with Genome’s founding Editorial Director, Eric Celeste, while at American Airlines’ inflight, American Way. We always had a great working relationship during our time there, so he reached out about the Creative Director position when things were first getting off the ground.I jumped at the opportunity because I felt like it would be a chance to build something meaningful from the ground up, and had a lot of potential to become a great product.
Did you choose healthcare consciously as an editorial pursuit? It seems as though that would be a very solid career path. Smart.
Not healthcare specifically, but I’ve always had a personal interest in science, and looking back I’ve often gravitated towards projects which had a philanthropic element or could contribute something of real value for the audience. Not to draw a comparison to Tibor Kalman, but I always admired the editorial work he was able to do at Colors, and that sort of social consciousness has always been very appealing. There is a lot of promise in the field of genomics and personalized medicine for helping people with chronic diseases, so to be able to work on a magazine that can have real impact is great. The bonus is that from a design perspective, science and medicine have such a huge visual vocabulary to draw from.
Who publishes it and how many times a year does it come out?
Genome is a quarterly published by Big Science Media, and is the core product around which the media company is built. All of our content lives in both the print edition and online at genomemag.com. We’re in the process of closing our fifth issue (Summer 2015) right now.
How big is your staff?
Well, I am the entire art department if that says anything. It helps that we publish quarterly, and I occasionally bring on some outside help when needed. So yeah, we are a pretty lean operation — 5 in our Dallas office, our Editor-in-Chief in the Bay area, and we are growing our sales staff outside the Dallas area.
Are you also the Photo Director?
More or less. I do all of the research, assigning, editing and color work.I’d say the vast majority of our imagery is conceptual in nature, so there’s also a good deal of illustration in the book.
Medicine can a dry subject, what is your creative mantra to combat that?
Well, our writers and editors are great at making these topics accessible for a broad audience, which in turn makes my job a lot easier.If you look at the existing visual vernacular of genomics, you see a ton of glowing 3-d helixes, walls of ACGT text, scientists hard at work in the lab. My challenge is to try to avoid the clichés, and find a fresh way to speak to these topics.For the first issue, I wanted to see if we could do an entire issue without a single helix. We came close — I think there was exactly one. But it was a super smart solution by the Milan-based illustrator, Alessandro Gottardo.
How did the idea of the suit come about for the disease story?
We work out which story will be featured on the cover for each issue during editorial meetings. Usually it’s something with broad appeal — topics that affect everyone like family, technology, food, etc.
For this particular cover, I had to find a way to communicate disease inheritance that would be really immediate for the reader. The idea came up to bring something that’s usually hidden inside the body to the outside, so we ended up using clothing as the metaphor for inherited genetic traits, with the genetic mutation represented in orange. There’s this sort of anxiety around the idea of an inherited disease, because it’s lurking away inside your genetics, and the jarring patterns help to reinforce that anxiety.
I reached out to Randal Ford, because I knew he could execute the concept and bring something extra of his own to the project. A concept like this could go south pretty fast if it wasn’t executed really well. Randal brought on Gigantic Squid to help with the retouch and creating the patterns, and in the end, everyone did an awesome job of making a pretty weird idea come to life.
What’s the creative direction for the brand?
Our overarching goal is making complex science understandable and compelling for the lay audience. I’d say the creative direction is idea-driven and bold, sometimes a little experimental or whimsical but always approachable. Someone with an existing health condition doesn’t need to fight against the design in order to get to information that could potentially change their life.
Are you hamstrung at all by newsstand sales?
Genome is actually not on newsstands, and goes primarily to subscribers and point-of-care settings: doctor’s offices, hospitals, personalized medicine facilities. Anyone that’s interested can subscribe for free at genomemag.com/subscribe.
Who is your competition?
We were the first producer of content centered around genomics and personalized medicine, so we have a leg up in that sense, but a few more have come along recently. Front Line publishes a genomics magazine, and Cure is a cancer publication which occasionally touches on personalized medicine. Ultimately, our competition is any publication in the point-of-care setting, so everything from medical journals to newsweeklies.
If a photographer wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way?
A simple email or printed promo piece works just fine and we look at everything that comes through our door, digital or print. Submissions, messages, criticisms, whatever can be sent to art(at)genomemag.com.
[by Amanda Sosa Stone]
Recently, a dear friend who attended photography school but took her life in another direction asked me about getting back into the industry. I honestly didn’t know how to help her dust off the cobwebs and get back out there with so much new technology. So I did what I do best…I asked the experts. I went to three professional photographers who I knew would guide me in the right direction. Here are the insights they shared:
As I have said to emerging talent in the past, look up shooters in the area and go work with them. I suggest they work in all types of photography so they can determine which they really wanted to do. In this case, however, I would suggest seeking out the shooters that do the kind of work she likes.
Make a call — and when they don’t answer, follow up with an email. Make them an offer they can’t refuse.
I get calls (more often emails) from people, but unless I recognize the name or they have some referral name I don’t normally reply. I have my go-to people and it is rare I step outside that realm. When I do need a third assistant or PA, that’s when the newbies get an opportunity. I often call my assistants and ask their help in finding a second, third or fourth. She may want to contact her competition and offer to be an extra set of hands for them.
She may have better luck in the moving pictures industry as a PA or something like that. I believe ProductionHub is the place to add your listing.
ASMP has a “find an assistant” searchable database. I would review the assistants that are listed before trying to add myself. You will see poor examples of listings right next to impressive ones.
On the one hand, assisting gives you a first-hand account about how photographers, art directors and clients interact. On the other hand, it seems that once a crew sees you as an assistant, you will remain an assistant in their eyes for a long time.
When it comes to “learning the most recent technologies,” you’d be best off learning that stuff on your own. The Internet is all you really need. Each manufacturer of top photo gear (Broncolor, Profoto, Phase One, Matthew’s, Avenger and Kupo) has amazing websites. A ton of info is hidden there, and if you have more in-depth questions, you can contact the company’s tech department for answers.
All assistants should have a real interest in the tech stuff as photography is currently evolving rapidly. However, if you find yourself knowing more than the photographer about the flash duration, recycle time, or the max repetition flash sequence of the strobes being used on a job, your job as an assistant isn’t to educate the photographer in the middle of the shoot. Doing so makes them look bad in front of the client. Instead, the assistant should wait until the photographer asks for his/her opinion. Then the answer should be given discreetly.
Another great resource for learning and getting work is to go make friends with the local video grip and/or stills strobe rental houses. Offer to work for free one day. Show up early, have a “yes sir” attitude and be a go- getter. Show up on set dressed well but ready to work. In the case of us guys, too many assistants show up looking like bums with shitty beards and dirty clothes. Looking sharp, smelling good and being clean cut goes a long way! The same antics may work when approaching local photographers the assistant wants to work with.
Assistants need experience, so that means you may have to connect and do some low end jobs. One’s presentation, appearance, and ability to work long days is important. A lot of my work is corporate, so an older, well dressed assistant is of value. I can’t tell you how many assistants show up for a corporate job in shorts.
I am so appreciative of the knowledge these three pros shared. It’s a community like this that makes me love this industry. I hope you can take this information as a stepping-stone moving forward into your career of becoming a professional photographer or even a professional assistant.
This week, our friends at Agency Access are rounding out Wednesday’s Business as unUsual webinar, Estimating with Confidence, featuring art buyer, producer & Agency Access consultant Lynn Kyle, by offering their insights on breaking into the biz, building your portfolio, marketing your work and facing your first big portfolio review. Enjoy!
~Judy Herrmann, Editor
Jonathan Blaustein: Given the thickness of your Chicago accent, and the plethora of sports photos on your website, I have to ask… what do you think about Derrick Rose’s game-winning shot the other night?
Sandro Miller: The shot was absolutely, off-the-charts amazing. But unfortunately, the man down in Cleveland, Lebron James, answered right back yesterday. With the exact same shot, but from the side.
Both shots were amazing, but Derrick’s was just off-the-charts. He’s a killer basketball player. What I loved most about it was when he got into the arms of (Joachim) Noah, and there was no smile on his face, and he looked at the crowd and goes, “If you had any question if I was back, there you go.”
JB: Right. And he’s a local boy, isn’t he?
SM: Oh yeah, he’s local. He’s a Chicago boy. A South Side boy. He’s a really good kid. His Mom did a good job bringing those boys up in a very, very, very difficult neighborhood.
JB: Not only did he come up hard, but he lost essentially 3 seasons to injuries. You guys must be rooting for this dude on an almost-unprecedented level.
SM: You know, I think everyone in the league is. Even the other players are. He had three almost-career-ending injuries, so to see a kid like this, who plays the game so well, with so much honor… to see his career almost taken away, if you’re a basketball fan, you were rooting for D Rose to come back.
JB: And yet, when Lebron hit that shot yesterday, I imagine there might have been quite a few people choking on their Polish sausage sandwiches around the city.
SM: Arrgh. I was sitting here with my wife’s Mom, and all of her sisters, who are Moms. We had a big Mother’s Day feast over here, and when Lebron hit that shot, we just couldn’t believe it. But anytime Lebron gets the ball in his hand, you give him the rock, and he’s going to do something with it.
He’s the best in the game. And anything is possible.
JB: We’re talking about Chicago, and basketball, and everyone rooting for Derrick Rose.
JB: We’re talking about Lebron being the best. And, I bet you’re more familiar with Michael Jordan than I am. But this weekend, my sister-in-law was in town, and randomly asked if I thought there would ever be another athlete with the sort of dominating presence and cultural import that Michael Jordan had, back in the 90’s.
What do you think? Could there ever be another phenomenon like Michael Jordan?
SM: I worked with Michael a lot, back in the day. In fact, ESPN magazine had an issue that came out, a 12 page spread, and it was all about how much I had shot Michael Jordan, and these great pictures I had done.
I worked with Michael really closely, and he was first class in every way he presented himself. On the court and off the court. Michael was the essence of perfection in everything he did. There will never be anyone as competitive as Michael. He hated to lose. There was something in his blood.
Michael would beat an 8 year old kid in ping pong, just because he couldn’t stand to lose.
JB: (laughing) He’s trash an 8 year old kid? I love it.
SM: He would. His competitiveness was beyond, beyond, beyond. I don’t know if there’s ever going to be another Michael, but does there need to be?
JB: I’ve learned, over the years, that when you talk to people from Chicago, and you bring up Rahm Emmanuel, that he’s not a very popular figure. Could Michael Jordan be the Mayor of Chicago?
SM: Michael Jordan, in 1995-6, could have run for President and won. Could he run for Mayor today? (pause) No. Michael’s absent from Chicago. It’s a known fact he’s no longer a Chicagoan. He spends very little time here. You don’t see him at a Bulls game, at a playoff game.
Michael’s gone through some changes. He’s bitter about the NBA, and he’s bitter about Chicago. About how he was treated. So today, no, he couldn’t.
But Rahm is the boss man. You don’t run Chicago with kid gloves. You’ve got to have an iron fist. I don’t know if you heard, but Spike Lee is coming to town to make a movie called “Chiraq.”
JB: I didn’t hear that.
SM: Yeah, he’s comparing Chicago to Iraq. We’ve got a huge, huge gang problem here, and there are a lot of killings. Most of it is not in the news, it’s completely overlooked. We’ve got SWAT in town, and almost an army-load of police watching what’s going on in Chicago’s South Side and West Side.
It’s do or die. Spike Lee is going to put out a powerful message, and Rahm was against the name of the film. It’s pretty embarrassing, when you’re known as Chiraq. But I think Rahm’s doing a good job. He was just re-elected, and as with any Mayor, he’s done some things that aren’t popular.
But we’ve got 4 or 5 films being shot in Chicago right now, and we’ve got a lot of TV series too. There’s a lot of different things he’s doing that are really good for Chicago. And it’s an extremely clean city for its size.
George Lucas is doing a museum here. It’s a great place of culture. We’ve got something like 50 million tourists coming in each year now, because it’s got pizzazz. And great restaurants.
JB: Well, that’s the reaction I was expecting. Rahm is an Obama guy, and most people I talk to are fans of Obama. But whenever I asked Chicagoans about Rahm, they really hated him.
SM: I don’t know if they hate him. He’s a tough, badass guy. He wasn’t very popular when he closed down about 14 schools, but in the long run, it really was a good decision. They were only 1/3 full, and in terrible running condition. When you’re in a position like that, you have to make some really tough decisions.
I wouldn’t invite him for dinner…
JB: You have standards.
SM: Yeah. But he’s got a job to do, and it’s a big job. Filling Mayor Daley’s shoes wasn’t an easy thing to do, and Mayor Daley made a bunch of mistakes.
It’s a tough job, running Chicago. It’s not an easy city.
JB: Fair enough. But this is not a podcast, so only I get to hear the purity of your Chicago accent.
JB: That’s why we had to start with Chicago. But since we did, maybe we can pivot to photography. We’ll start at the beginning. How did you get into photography? Where did the bug come from?
SM: When I was about 16 years old, I picked up a copy of “American Photography” for the first time. I’m sure there was something very interesting on the cover, that made me pick up the issue, and I ran across two portraits by Irving Penn. I didn’t know who he was.
I saw a portrait of Picasso, and the French theater actress Celeste. Those two portraits changed my life. They were bold, gutsy, and very dramatic. There was a rawness to them.
I hadn’t heard of any of those three people, but two days later, I knew everything about all three of them, because the photographs were so powerful, they made me want to know more. That’s what a powerful portrait does: it stops you, it begs for you to ask questions, and you go research and you figure it out.
JB: After those few days, you thought, “This is what I want to do with my life?”
SM: No, it was after I saw those two portraits. I knew, sitting there on my bed. I didn’t have to do the research.
SM: I already knew.
JB: That was that.
SM: I knew that I wanted to create great, great portraits. I wanted to photograph and document people: to surround my life with people who were important, and had something to offer to the world.
With that said, some of my greatest portraits have been of people that are normal. People outside of my studio door that are so interesting, I need to put them in front of my camera.
JB: One minute, your life was on one trajectory, then you see a couple of photographs, and it changes the course of your life.
SM: I came from a small immigrant family. My mother came over on the boat. I was raised by a single mom from Italy, and she had very little education, so education was not on the top of our list.
We were what most people would consider poor back then. So there wasn’t that big push for a college education, and there was no culture in our home. So it was a huge fluke that I would become this internationally world-renowned photographer.
It wasn’t in the cards. We didn’t have the money to send me to the big photography schools, so I had to become self-taught. It’s kind of miraculous that I am where I am, coming where I came from.
I think that when one has something that moves them, that moves their heart, and they become passionate, you can do anything. I was ready to do whatever it would take to become a great photographer.
JB: So what did you do? I imagine the first move would be to get your hands on a camera.
SM: Yeah. It was a few months later that I bought a used Nikon F film camera, and I took a course in high school. Learning the basics. I had no idea what composition meant. Decisive moment. Contrast. It was all so foreign to me.
I learned from the bottom. But I started to collect photography books at 16, and today, I have close to 800. It was those books
that have become my education. The pictures became ingrained in my head.
I did a couple of semesters at a community college, and then got a job with a photographer, when I was 18. I worked for other photographers for about 5 years, and then I opened my own studio. That’s where it all began.
I started with small accounts of mostly catalogue work. 90% of it was product related. But I was taking pictures, and making money. I gave up a lot to become what I’ve become, because it’s not an 8-hour-a-day job.
It’s every single minute of your life, if you want to become great. I can’t tell you how many dates, how many concerts, dinners, events, happenings that I couldn’t make because I was working.
My work always came first. Besides my family, my work always came first.
JB: It takes a lot to push to the top. The athletes we talked about at the beginning are no different. That’s how you got here. But what about now? Where do you turn for inspiration?
SM: My inspiration still comes from books, magazines, poems, theater, music. Children’s drawings. It comes from everything in the world, because I walk with my eyes wide open. I look, and I take in everything: the way people wear their clothes, or their hair.
My mind is like a train, and there are so many projects that I’m working on, or are going to work on. It’s almost a slight, slight illness. It’s an addiction. I’m grateful for it, because it makes me who I am today.
If I wanted, there would be no stopping me until I was dead. But I have other things I’d like to do in my life, so I don’t know that photography will carry through to the end. I’m sure it will in some aspect, but there are other things I’d like to do with my life.
JB: Like what?
SM: Well, I would absolutely love to paint, and this is going to sound strange in an interview like this, but I love to golf. Writing poetry, and creating artwork is going to become important for me. Something creative will always be close to me, and I’m sure photography will always be the nucleus.
JB: How does one come to have a muse like John Malkovich?
SM: I started shooting John about 17 years ago, when he was an ensemble member at the great Steppenwolf Theater. I got a call to photograph the ensemble team to start working on their ad campaigns, playbills and marquees, and I’m still working with them today.
Along with John, they had Joan Allen, John Mahoney, Gary Sinise, and Martha Plimpton. The list just goes on. They’ve all been in big films.
SM: It was probably the greatest ensemble of any theater company in the world. The first time I got the call about John, I just couldn’t believe it. I’d always wanted to photograph Malkovich.
I was really prepared for John, because I always do my homework. I set up the shots, and everything was perfected. And no matter who you are, I treat everyone the same, and that’s with a tremendous amount of respect.
John came in, and I was who I am. Just very respectful. We chatted for a half an hour, and then went into our photo session. He loved the way I worked and presented myself. He understood that I really got the light.
He loved what we did together, as they were extremely powerful black and white shots. We walked out of there with a deep mutual respect. Over the years, John spent a lot of time in Chicago, and when he’d come in, we’d get together for another photo session.
He became my white piece of canvas. He became my muse.
JB: That’s crazy.
SM: Over the 17 years, John has never once said “No, I don’t like that idea, Sandro. I don’t want to participate.” Never once. He has gone with whatever I’ve asked him to do, sometimes with very little explanation of what I was thinking about. He’d sit down, listen to the idea, and then say “OK, let’s do it.”
All together, we’ve produced about 110 portraits, and had a grand time doing it.
The latest idea was my homage to the master photographers, called “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to the Masters.” What happened was, about 3.5 years ago, I came down with a Stage 4 cancer. It was very much on the edge whether I was going to make it or not.
JB: Oh my god. I had no idea.
SM: I had a lot of time to think about my career, my past and my future. There was a point where I began to think, why did I make it to where I’m at today? Where did it come from? Was it one certain person? It came to me that it was the great photographers of the past, the iconic images from the masters that would make my knees buckle.
That’s why I am who I am. I wanted to be great enough to make images that did the same things to other people what these images are doing to me.
So I picked the 40 images that moved me more than anything in the world, and I went to Malkovich with a selection of those. I got on an airplane, went to the South of France, where John lives, and he loved the idea. I could see his head was turning, because this was perfect. He’s a theater guy. He becomes other people all the time.
This was going to be his greatest challenge. Becoming Marilyn Monroe. Dorothea Lange’s migrant mother. Bette Davis. Alfred Hitchcock. Warhol. Capote. Hemingway.
The idea is very powerful. And we both knew that we had to do this to perfection. Because, done incorrectly, it could have become a laughingstock. We both knew it.
JB: It’s interesting, because you’re talking about it in an earnest, straightforward, serious way…
JB: …but the photographs themselves are almost the height of absurdity, because you played it so straight. Many of them are hilarious in their shockingness.
JB: But you’re not talking about this project as having had that kind of motivation?
SM: It was never to be a humorous project.
JB: It was NOT?
JB: You don’t see the humor in it?
SM: Yeah. How can you not, in seeing John Malkovich play Marilyn Monroe? I get that.
SM: And I don’t mind that it brings a smile to your face, or a giggle to your heart. But it wasn’t meant for people to bust out laughing. It wasn’t a comedy.
It was a serious thank you. “You guys are the greatest photographers, my Joe Dimaggios, my Babe Ruths, and thank you for what you did. I wish I could have done what you guys have done. Thank you.”
It had to be done with such seriousness, every single detail had to be perfect.
SM: Otherwise, it wasn’t going to work.
JB: Sure. I just went back and re-watched the scene on Youtube, just to remind myself, but the title of the project, “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich” comes from the Spike Jonze movie “Being John Malkovich.” The scene where he gets inside his own head, because other people have been getting inside his head. Just a classic.
SM: I thought very little about that film when I did this project with John. For me, it was so natural to use John. There was never a doubt about who I’d work with.
I love the film. Don’t get me wrong.
JB: Such a good movie.
SM: That film never crossed my mind. It wasn’t about the film. It was nothing more than to say thank you to the masters.
JB: But the success comes back to your muse relationship. People love this stuff.
SM: There’s no question the stars have aligned perfectly. The fact that I met him 17 years ago. The fact that it was John Malkovich, and not Sean Penn.
SM: Other than John, I think Sean Penn could have pulled it off.
JB: That’s hilarious. Can you imagine Sean Penn as the Arbus twins? That’s awesome.
SM: (laughing) It’s impossible. But all the stars aligned. I can’t overlook John’s generosity of the time and the willingness to do this project.
When I look back on the time, the effort, the research. The perfection I had asked from every single person. The cost of recreating it. And while I was getting sicker than a dog, while we were shooting it. I had put every ounce of energy, everything that Sandro had left in him went into that project.
At first, people said, “Ah, you did it all on the computer.” No it wasn’t done on the computer. That’s the ignorance of so many of the younger photographers. They think everything’s done on the computer.
Well, I’m old school. We do it the right way. In camera.
JB: You’re not just old school. You’re old school, and you’re from Chicago.
SM: You got it. (laughing) You got it.
JB: I’ve never done an interview with someone who mentioned in passing that they had been that ill with cancer. Are you OK?
SM: Yeah. I’m fine now. I had a Stage 4 neck and throat cancer. I was never a smoker. Never a big drinker. It’s just so odd that some of the healthiest people get sick. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. You have that cell or that gene in your body, and it finds some place to land, and does its damage.
It was tough. It was a really hard-core part of my life, and thank god my wife is very, very strong, and willing to do whatever it took to nurture me, and make sure I ate. What happens with neck and throat cancer is you just stop eating, because of the pain.
It’s one of those cancers that a lot of people don’t make it through. But I was very fortunate. I wasn’t ready. I gave everything. I never thought for a minute that I was going to die. It never crossed my mind, because I didn’t believe it was my time.
But sometimes, reality, and what we believe are two different things.
It changed the way I thought about a lot of things in my life. How much I give to my work. At one time, it was what consumed me, but as I said, I always found time for my family.
JB: You’re in remission? You’re going to be all right?
SM: It’s been three years now that the cancer is gone. I believe they say remission is after five years, if it’s completely gone. I’m sure you don’t hear me back here, but I’m drinking tons of water. What happens is you lose all of your saliva glands, so you’re constantly dry. I have to drink a ton of water.
You lose your taste buds. I lost almost 100% of my hearing in my left ear, because of the radiation. You have to treat it very aggressively, because you don’t want it to spread. You want to get it that first time. If it recurs, your chances of making it through that are slim.
SM: I saw my mother go through cancer, and she did it with such grace. I tried to follow the way my mother was, and not make everything about me, and my illness, but to make it about good things in life.
It was the biggest challenge of my life. In the end, what came out of it was all worth it for me. How I see my life, my work, my family. How I love every minute that I have here.
You’re never sure that it’s gone forever. It’s always in the back of your mind. Little things that happen in your body, and I think, Uh oh, it’s back.
It changes your life.
JB: It certainly explains the desire to play golf. I’ll say that much.
SM: (laughing) You’re so right. That’s exactly why there’s this strong desire to play golf. The golf course is a beautiful place. It’s always on some pretty gorgeous property. Out in the woods.
JB: It’s quiet.
SM: Watching birds or squirrels. Watching the deer run across the course. There’s just something about it. It’s very spiritual.
I’ve always been a very spiritual man. But now it’s probably become much more important in life. To see the little things that are so beautiful.
JB: Have you ever been to Santa Fe?
SM: Years ago, I did a little trip out West, and I stopped into Santa Fe. I was really moved by the mountains. The color of the Earth, and how beautiful it was. In the back of my mind, I thought that I would partially move out that way some day.
I’m leaving this Wednesday to head out to Palm Springs, which I know is not REAL close to Santa Fe.
JB: What’s a thousand miles between friends. Right, Sandro?
SM: Exactly. My wife and I both ride motorcycles, so we’re looking for a place to do more riding. Play golf. Still do photography, but live in a part of the country where there’s a whole different type of spirituality.
JB: That’s why I brought it up. We’re famous for it.
JB: This interview being sponsored by my friends at the Santa Fe Workshops. You’re going to be teaching a workshop there this summer?
SM: I am, and I’m very excited about it. It’s a lighting workshop. For 40 years, I’ve been working on lighting, and I think the Malkovich piece will show how I understand light, because I recreated the light of some 37 or 38 photographs.
Light is so important to creating an iconic image. I have so many different ways of lighting. If someone walks into my studio, I have an idea of how I want to light them, and in 10 minutes, it could change 180 degrees from how I end up lighting them.
So many people, when they look at their photographs, they don’t have any idea about lighting. So I’m hoping that I’m going to be able to take small, tight group and be very hands on with them, and share every bit of knowledge that I have about light.
We’ll bring it to another level.
JB: Most long-time photographers will say it takes a lifetime to understand light. The knowledge comes from experience, and comparison. And the light here in Northern New Mexico is pretty spectacular.
JB: How does one go about imparting your experience to others? How do you condense things that took you years to learn into a workshop? What’s your strategy for that.
SM: I’ll be bringing in 400 of my images to share with them, and a lot of books from my collection. I think I need to introduce people to other types of lighting, and that will get their curiosities going.
Each day, we’ll be working with different models. I’m going to pull out my bag of tricks, and show people 10 or 20 different ways to light people. I’ll show them contemporary light, and classic light.
We’ll talk about why I choose to use certain lights at certain times. I’m going to bring in 40 years of knowledge and share it over a 5 day period. I’m sure the people will walk away with a tremendous amount of knowledge.
Even if they walk away with 2 or 3 really great ideas for them to like, that’s 10 years of my life that they’re going to walk away with.
JB: Are you planning on doing anything exterior?
SM: Absolutely. We’ll see if they’re ready to get up at 4am, or if they’re going to be shooting those portraits at 9 or 10 at night. We’ll see how passionate these guys are.
SM: (laughing) I can go 14 hours a day if I have to.
JB: I’m glad we’re talking about this. You hear that, people? If you’re thinking about it, you better bring your A game.
This week, ASMP runs our final Business as unUsual of the season. Don’t miss this free webinar on pricing, negotiating and estimating for still and motion photographers!
Estimating with Confidence
with Art Buyer, Producer & Agency Access consultant Lynn Kyle
Wednesday May 27, 2015
1:00 – 2:30 pm eastern
You’ve made the connection, made an impression, and have been asked to quote on a project, but where do you start? These days, even the most experienced photographers seem to struggle with pricing their work, sussing out client needs and negotiating favorable fees. An experienced Art Buyer and Producer, Lynn Kyle will help you understand how to ask the right questions, come up with the right numbers and build lasting relationships as you navigate the maze of pricing and estimating. Join us for this special 90 minutes online webinar on pricing and estimating with plenty of time to get your questions answered. Register today!
This will be the last Business as unUsual of the season, but we have plenty of recorded sessions to keep you busy until we start back up in the Fall:
And those are just this season’s offerings! See even more insightful, informative and inspiring recordings at www.asmp.org/webinars.
“Mad Men” ended this week.
Did you see it? Were you dissatisfied? Personally, I like to imagine Matthew Weiner’s recurring nightmares about “The Sopranos” last episode, and its less-than-stellar reception.
Can’t you see him tossing and turning in a king-sized bed, replete with high-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets? Unconscious, with the Pacific Ocean shimmering out the window, he wonders how to live with himself if he fucks up the end of “Mad Men” the way David Chase faded to black.
He must have been a neurotic mess in the days/months/years leading up to Don Draper’s denouement. I’m certain of it. Because otherwise, he wouldn’t have over-thought things to the degree he did.
Ending the show with a meditating Jon Hamm’s beatific smile would have been just about perfect. The skeptical, stoic Don Draper, finally merging with the emo-boy Dick Whitman. The straight-laced beefcake, who looked Iconic in his 50’s hat, finally trusting in the Universe enough to go easy on himself.
That would have been a profound message about mankind’s ability to grow and change. (And woman-kind, of course.) But no. Matthew Weiner had to take it one step further, and ambiguously suggest that the momentary enlightenment was put directly in service of inventing that famous Coke commercial that we will all have stuck in our heads forEVER.
A classic bit of over-thinking, especially as he didn’t bother with the epilogue showing Don Draper’s triumphant return to pitch the idea. That would have made more sense, traditionally, than the half-done act of running the ad.
But then, most of us get in our own way, from time to time. We overcomplicate things. Normally, it’s better to keep it simple; to see your job as making the donuts, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. (What if we made the wheel square? Instead of round? We could build pyramids with this newfangled contraption.)
Today’s book does just that. (Keep it simple, that is.) Mike Slack’s “Shrubs of Death” had me at the title. I might have rushed past last week’s telling book cover, but this one grabbed me by my chakras and didn’t let go.
Shrubs of Death? How great is that?
And then, it delivered on its promise. We see a lot of shrubs. Each picture is cropped just right, to anthropomorphize a bit of shrubbery. (There’s a Monty Python joke in there somewhere. I’m sure of it.)
I giggled for the first few photos, and then started flipping more quickly. It was like a paper version of an animated gif. What would you call that? A flip-book? An analogue cartoon?
No matter. Halfway through, I thought to myself, “This is cute and witty, but honestly, Mike Slack could have shot this whole project in 25 minutes.”
I really thought that. I swear.
I even made puns in my mind about Mike being a Slacker, and making a book out of the experience just because he could. Then, the end notes claim that he did, in fact, shoot the entire group in one day. (The consistent light was a giveaway.) Apparently, he made the pictures at a cemetery in Indiana. (Hence the title.)
Let me be clear here. This is not a great book. And charging $32 for the thing requires some genuine hubris. But at least Mike Slack didn’t over-think anything.
He got a funny idea to shoot shrubs in a cemetery. Maybe he always thought it could be a book. And then he did it. The fact that I had it in my hands proves its existence.
Why am I highlighting it today, if I only like it ironically? Because art is in the making. We all have lots of ideas. But sometimes, it’s best to just get out there and make something. Anything.
The truth is harsh. No matter how smart you are, sometimes, you just need to photograph those shrubs… before you’re the one 6 feet under the ground.
Bottom Line: A funny little book that won’t change your life
[by Blake Discher]
Congratulations, you’re graduating! Over the years smarter people than myself have been good enough to share their wisdom with me. One admonished me to share my knowledge, here’s what I’ve got this morning, in bite-sized portions:
And one more thing… When I speak publicly, I start every presentation with this:
When I was five years old my mom always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down “happy.” They told me I didn’t understand the assignment and I told them they didn’t understand life.
That was written by John Lennon, I’ve always loved it.
Get out there.
A Detroit-based photographer and SEO consultant, Blake Discher realizes he has two ears and one mouth. He strives to use them in proportion.
As a former Art Producer, I have always been drawn to personal projects because they are the sole vision of the photographer and not an extension of an art director, photo editor, or graphic designer. This new column, “The Art of the Personal Project” will feature the personal projects of photographers using the Yodelist marketing database. You can read their blog at http://yodelist.wordpress.com. Projects are discovered online and submissions are not accepted.
Today’s featured photographer is: Mark Scott
How long have you been shooting?
We moved to Germany in the middle of my freshman year of high school – my Dad was in the Army. It could have been awful, but it wasn’t – the experience helped me become a photographer. I was fascinated with how different everything was and started taking pictures non-stop. I had a camera for several years before, but it was shooting around Europe that really got me started “seeing” the world in pictures. I’ve shot commercially now for about 25 years.
Are you self taught or photography school taught?
Originally self taught. In high school I packed a 35mm camera around everywhere. Shot tons of b&w, spent hours and hours in the darkroom on base, processing and printing pictures. My chemistry teacher, who was a photo geek, introduced me to the work of photographers like Cartier-Bresson and Andre Kertész. He liked to critique my pictures, always encouraging me to shoot more.
I took a community college photography program in Washington state learning basic technic, and then moved to L.A. to go to Art Center. But I never made it there. I was lucky to get a full-time assistant job with a successful lifestyle photographer who also had just come to L.A. Most of the work was ad campaigns for agencies in NY and Chicago. It was intense, but I was learning so much I decided postpone Art Center. Assisting is a job every young photographer should have for a while. We did everything in house from estimating to image delivery. Besides working as camera assistant on shoots, I was involved in production, casting, scouting, even sourcing props at the studios and prop houses. After that, I freelanced with a variety of out of town photographers shooting ad campaigns on the West Coast. I never went back to school.
With this particular project what was your inspiration to shoot it?
My first studio was on Melrose, right in the heart of the Melrose District. Melrose, which isn’t far from my home, is a magnet for creative people from all over the world. I’m pretty low key, and not much of a fashionista, but what I’ve always loved about Melrose are those people who do make bold personal statements with the way they look and dress. And combined with the creative street artists there’s always opportunity for pictures. That’s a good match for a social media project. There’s a great energy from street shooting, and I wanted to revisit Melrose as a project to share on social media.
How long have you been shooting this project before you decided to present it?
From day one I started putting this work out on Instagram. But when I started, there was really no project yet. I just shot and posted pictures. A few months later I started dopemelrose.com, an image blog using WordPress. I got great response, so I included DopeMelrose pictures in my printed portfolio, on my website and in the work I promote on Workbook. That section of the portfolio always sparks conversation.
Since shooting work for your portfolio is different from personal work how do you feel when the work is different?
That’s an interesting question, because the difference is a little blurry sometimes. Some of my personal work is shot for my portfolio. It’s the motivation and the approach that changes.
Exploring the world through the lens of a camera is such a great feeling of discovery. It’s what I fell in love with when I first started taking pictures and what motivates my personal work. I like to explore subjects that interest me – then observe, experiment and let the imagery evolve organically. I approach some projects like visual brainstorming … looking to find or create moments that are authentic, moments that tell a story or that have amazing light and composition. Personal work helps to hone my craft and is a great source of inspiration for my commercial work.
But of course the approach is different when I’m shooting portfolio pictures that are relevant to clients and brands I want to work with. DopeMelrose is much more serendipitous. Portfolio shoots are storyboarded with clear image goals in mind and production values more like assignments. I shoot lifestyle, so crew, talent, scouting, locations, permits, permissions, props and wardrobe are necessary when producing portfolio shoots.
How long do you spend on a personal project before deciding if it’s working?
How do you define “working?” Personal projects always work. Not because they always create awesome images but because the experience is fun, interesting and the process exercises creativity.
Have you ever posted your personal work on social media venues like Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram, or Facebook?
I started DopeMelrose to be an ongoing social media project using Instagram. Instagram has been key to this project because when I ask someone to participate, within a few seconds they have my Instagram up on their phone and they’re totally cool to shoot a quick portrait. I’m experimenting with shooting on an iPad, selecting the picture with the people and posting immediately. People love being part of the entire process. I just started posting to tumblr.
If so has the work every gone viral and possibly with great press?
Nothing like @thedress or “Charlie bit my finger”.
Have you ever printed your personal projects for marketing to potential clients?
Early in my career I marketed a personal project I shot on the American West to a handful of Western brands. That quickly led to years of work with the Martin Agency for Wrangler.
Pictures from that project – cowboy portraits, authentic relationship moments and the printing technic have also inspired other ads. It’s exciting to get layouts referencing personal work. Imagery from that project has also been licensed for a variety of companies, including a major U.S. liquor company promoting its brand in Eastern Europe.
One really exciting result of the American West project was that I was asked by an art buyer I had been working with to hang a show of my photographs in the halls of Ogilvy NY.
I shot and marketed that project for several years. It’s really amazing not only how much commercial work was the direct result of that one project but also how many amazing creatives I’ve gotten to know and collaborate with along the way.
I wanted to connect with the creative spirit and personal stories of the people who make Melrose what it is. Past generations have influenced this street with Punk, New Age, Goth. It will be fun to look back and see the social and creative influences of today’s generation.
Mark Scott is a lifestyle photographer based in Los Angeles. He specializes lifestyle, portraiture, sports and reportage. You can see his work at http://www.markscottphoto.com
APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information believing that marketing should be driven by a brand and not specialty. Follow her on twitter at SuzanneSease.
[by Richard Kelly]
Six recommendations for living a Creative Life:
1. Have something to say and develop that into a lifelong vision. If you don’t know what you want to say yet, then follow your curiosity – dabble in everything.
2. Be open-minded about your career and income stream. Look for unmet needs and follow those opportunities while looking ahead knowing that you will need to adapt sooner than you think.
3. Don’t define yourself by the tool you use or a technique that looks cool now, trends come and go.
4. Establish good business practices and know your business philosophy. Join a community of your peers and a smaller team that will hold you accountable.
5. Meet as many people as possible. The person who will help you the most may be someone you meet for just a brief moment in time.
6. Never stop learning and having fun.
Jonathan Blaustein: I just called you on the phone. We’re not Skyping. And I noticed that your phone number was 444-BOOK.
Paul Schiek: Yeah.
JB: Who did you have to bribe, as a book publisher, to get BOOK as your phone number? How much money did they make you pay?
PS: OK. Awesome first question, because I love these little details that most people don’t notice, or care about. A lot of people don’t have landlines anymore, and to me, a landline represents this classic way of doing business, so people can just call you at 444-BOOK.
It was sort of, I don’t want to say kitschy, but it was…
PS: I’ve had this long goal of being a business in the Oakland community, and that TBW would sponsor a Little League team. In the same way that Joe Schmo the plumber buys a Little League team their uniforms.
JB: (laughing) You’re gonna do that?
PS: That’s been a dream of mine for my publishing company. When I set up a landline, I said, “How much would it cost to have my number be 1-510-TBW-BOOK? But that was taken just numerically, by chance. So I just said well what about 444-BOOK?
They said it was available. So I said, “OK, how much is it going to cost to have that for the rest of my life, as my landline for my business.”
They were like, a one time charge of…$35.
JB: (laughing.) There it is. 35 bucks.
PS: So that’s the office phone number. In certain circumstances, it’s totally appropriate to tell people that’s the number. Sometimes, it’s goofy, and I just say the numbers 444-2665. But I like having it. It’s cool, and it references the workmanlike qualities that I like to instill in this company.
Some people get it, some people don’t.
JB: Listen, that was the fun first question. The next question is more traditional, but something that I’m really curious about. You’re a successful artist, as well as being a publisher. Why did you gravitate towards art to begin with?
PS: The short version is that I was out in the world, shooting a lot of bands that I would go see. I always had a camera with me, but I didn’t have an understanding of photography. I’d moved to California, and was working whatever menial jobs were possible, just to get by.
I was having a great time, away from a seemingly culturally oppressive environment where I grew up, in Wisconsin. At the time, for a 17 year old, it sure felt that way. Anything left or right of center was frowned upon. So I moved to California, and lived that lifestyle for a long time.
I made the decision that I was going to take something seriously. I think I was 26 at the time. I applied to one local art school, which at the time was California College of Arts and Crafts, but now it’s California College of Art.
JB: Right. They dropped the last C.
PS: Yeah, but when I was there it was CCAC. I got in, and it was an immediate life-changing experience. This isn’t my quote, but I became like the jock of art school. I would stay there 24 hours a day. I had no email account. I had never been on a computer, and here was a room filled with 25 computers, and you could do whatever you want on it.
I was blown away at the idea that I was encouraged to challenge things. It didn’t matter what I did at school. They were like, “Oh that’s interesting. Why did you choose to do that?”
That was extremely liberating and fascinating.
JB: Did you get to work with Larry Sultan?
PS: Yes, I worked with Larry my last year, but the whole time I was there I became really close with Jim Goldberg, and worked with him extensively. He’s 100% responsible for introducing me to photobooks and sparking that interest in me.
I worked with Larry, in 2005, but I didn’t become extremely close with him. He was a very influential person on my work there though. He was a extremely smart man, and someone I was very honored to have a opportunity to work under.
JB: In working with Larry Sultan and Jim Goldberg, you were introduced to super-star artists just as you were beginning your career. That must have been foundational for you?
PS: I knew that they were well-respected, and great artists, but I was just excited by what they were willing to offer up in terms of them being interesting people with interesting perspectives on things. I knew that they had books out, and I could go in a library and look at their book.
To me, that was something. That these guys, that I knew, that I could go sit one-on-one with, and talk about photography, I could also go in a library and, amongst these stacks of books, pull out a hardcover, coffee-table book with their images in it.
That amazed me. I’d never known people that had books out. You know? In a lot of ways, that inspired me to say, “I’m going to make a book.”
JB: And now, it’s 10 years later, and everybody’s got a book. That whole idea of it being a super-exclusive career marker, it seems like that mystique has been watered down a bit. Would you agree?
PS: I would agree with that. Yeah. Somewhat frustratingly, I agree with that. It bums me out a little bit, because I loved the exclusivity of it. It was this defining thing.
JB: Well, you can see everything from grumpy cats to gestating grandmas on the Internet, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great pictures there too, right?
JB: Well, in 2005, which is when I’m guessing you graduated, you decided to publish your own book. It’s a perfect segue. You were fascinated by books. You had professors who knew how to make them. And well, well before everyone was doing it, you said, “I’m going to make my own book.”
Is that how it happened?
PS: That’s exactly how it happened. The more intricate part of it was that part of our requirement to graduate is that we had to mount a show, and make a post card announcing it. We had to print and frame it ourselves.
That was what we had to do to graduate, and prove that we are photographers. To me, it was just absurd. No one knew who I was. I had friends who were on the East Coast, in the Mid West, and Down South. I wanted to share what I was doing in school with these photos, and it just made no sense to spend this money to print these large photographs and frame them.
No one was going to see it. No one was going to care. Then, I was going to have to sit on this product that I didn’t know what to do with, that no one wanted to buy.
It made a lot more sense to me that I would be a publisher, and I would make a book. Then, I could mail it to those people, and use it as a promotional tool. Et cetera, et cetera. I had asked for Jim and Larry’s blessing, to do the book instead of a show, and they said it was fine.
I should also say that at that point, I’d been making ‘zines for years.
PS: So the idea of a book to me was the next level ‘zine.
JB: I’m glad you pointed that out. It didn’t come from nowhere.
PS: No. I was looking at, and participating in these things that were happening alongside the music world. I’d collected and seen fan ‘zines for years. Ever since I was 13 years old in Wisconsin, I’d seen ‘zines. More importantly, I was buying and seeing records.
A lot of times, a record was hand-printed, and on a random, nothing label. It was just like a name. So I just applied all those same concepts to publishing a book. In my classes, people would say, “You can’t just say you’re going to make a book. You need a publisher.” So I’d be like, “Well, I’m the publisher.”
JB: (laughing) That’s awesome.
PS: They’d be like, “What does that mean? Who’s going to print it?” So I said, “I’ll print it.” Then they’d be like, “Well, you need a distributor.” And I’d say, “I’m the distributor.”
JB: (laughing) That’s rad. Oh my god.
PS: This, to me, was not foreign whatsoever.
PS: This was just how you made something that was yours, and you put it out in the world. For me, it wasn’t weird at all, but to some of the people I was studying with, they thought it was a circus sideshow. They said, “This dude says he’s going to have a book in a month for his senior thesis.”
To me it was just, I’ve got to get to work. I’ve got to figure this out. So that’s the way it worked out, and how I published what essentially was my first art book. It’s funny to call it a book. It was 4″x6″, and 40 pages, but I really did the best I could to challenge the materiality of what a ‘zine was, and to make a book out of it. To bring it into the feel of what a book is.
Really, I gave them away. I had a book release party at my friend’s little book/zine shop here. I said, “First 100 people get a free copy of the book.” That was just this technique for me to say, “There’s gonna be 500 people there.” Probably 30 people showed up. But on the flyer, I wrote first 100 people at the door get a free copy of the book.
That was just me trying to be funny, but it was also allowed me to believe in myself, in a strange way. So we screen-printed flyers, and had the party. It was what I’d seen other people do, having record release parties for their band.
You do it in this little space with 7 foot ceilings, and cram a bunch of people in, and hang up a few photos. It was cool, and it was fun, and it felt like mine.
I never played in band…
JB: I was just about to ask you that.
PS: No, I never played in bands, but I was around that, and was living with and knew people in bands. I watched how they operated, and ran little businesses. I never felt a part of that. I was always making photos of it, but was never a part of it.
I tried to apply those same techniques and understandings and operations to this new thing that I was starting, which was making books. I should also mention that at that point, I was becoming obsessive about photography. I was looking at everything I could get my hands on.
Spending as much time as possible either making photos, or printing photos. I was becoming really entrenched in it. While I was in school, I was making so much, but also working jobs, because I needed to pay rent and basic life needs.
So I really wasn’t able to focus, for a bunch of different reasons, on the reading assignments. I wasn’t really getting the History of Photography. After school is when I started to take a moment and go back to read. I really wanted to study the medium. I just wanted to be the kid who knew everything. I didn’t want anyone to be able to say to me, “Do you know those early daguerreotypes by blah blah blah?” and I’d have to say, “No, I don’t know it.”
I wanted to be able to say, “Yes, I know exactly what you’re talking about, and we can have a conversation about it right now.” I really wanted to be able to back up the decisions I was making. I was aware people would want to pigeon hole me and while in no way am I an intellectual, I wanted to at least be able to know the history of the medium to a T.
JB: Yeah, I had a buddy in school like that, back at UNM in the late 90’s. My friend Scott B. Davis looked like he worked in a record store, and he knew everything. He had the background.
I came to it at 23, so I didn’t have the background. Everyone would just look at him, and the eye-rolling was ridiculous. It was like, “How the fuck do you know that? I don’t know that. I wouldn’t even know how to learn that.”
So you were that guy.
PS: Here’s the thing I want to be clear about. I wanted to be that guy as a defense mechanism. I was insecure in the art world because I was really just a dirt bag from Wisconsin. I felt like this new world that I’d discovered, which was the art world, I was seen as the kid who could go to a house party, or a show, and make pictures of kids throwing up, or whatever. And I did make those photos!
But I was making tons of photos. I was shooting everything and later relying on the editing process to extract meaning and try to create new narratives. I was trying to use images as signposts. This was the time when VICE was doing their annual photo issue.
This style of photography was hyper-on-the-radar. You shoot with a point-and-shoot…flash at night. From my perspective it was a really exciting time for photography.
JB: Listen, I was living in Brooklyn when Ryan McGinley had that show at the Whitney. The whole Beautiful Losers thing.
PS: So you know exactly what I’m talking about. I wanted to be a part of the academia side of things also. I wanted to prove that I was deeply invested in this. That this wasn’t by chance, that I was working really hard at something.
It’s funny, but I haven’t thought about this work in a long time. I was shooting with a point-and-shoot, 35mm, but I would crop my photos like a 6×7, to give it a more formal quality. Larry was shooting with a 6×7, so I would take these 35mm photos, but then I cropped them so they had a snap-and-shoot aesthetic, but they were presented more formally.
JB: When you say crop it like a 6×7, you mean use that aspect ratio, so people would think it was made with a bigger camera?
PS: Exactly. Maybe it was grainy, or had a bright flash. Or it was in a situation where you wouldn’t use a big camera. But then the prints would look like something Larry would do. It would be more serious, not the snap-shot thing. Perhaps it was staged, that whole conversation of fact and fiction in photography.
I was trying to do both things; to be in two places with the work. I’m digressing…
JB: There’s no such thing in one of these interviews, man. You’re supposed to. That’s part of the deal, and why these are different from everyone else’s interviews.
We don’t stick to a script. We want to give the readers a chance to learn from your experience. People have their own big ideas, and don’t know where to go with it. Or they don’t feel like they have permission to just do it themselves.
I’ve done it in my career, and it’s always been helpful.
JB: Sometimes, you just have to self-declare. Like you said earlier, “I am a publisher,” and then you are one. We manifest these aspects of our personalities, and our careers, through hubris.
PS: That’s exactly right. That’s a main tenet of what I was privy to growing up. You say you’re a guitar player in a band, not because you either have a guitar, or you know how to play it, but because you do it. That can obviously translate into any facet in life. You determine it.
This is sounding corny, so I want to stop talking. Next question. I feel like I’m on a soap box now.
JB: You can stop right there, but I actually know what you’re talking about. Back in graduate school, I had a friend who asked me, “How do you get a show?” I said, “The easiest way to get a show is to make a show?” So he said, “How do you make a show?”
I said, if there are pictures on the wall, and people in the room to look at them, and they have wine in plastic cups in their hand, then you have a show.
PS: That’s right.
JB: He said, “Oh, it’s that easy?” So I said, “Watch. I’ll show you.” We had a beautiful apartment in Greenpoint, with white walls and hardwood floors, so I just did it. I invited my grad school buddies, and hung pictures, and there were some people there. Then, in the second show, there were more people there, and then in the third show, it was a wall-heaving jammer, and I thought that was great, until I had to clean up the next day.
PS: (laughing) Yeah.
JB: I had to mop up all the dried, stinky beer from my kitchen floor, and I thought, “OK, I think I’ve made my point.”
But a lot of people don’t necessarily give themselves permission to take risks, and let it hang out. I try to use these interviews as a way of giving people some confidence to do what they want to do, even if it’s not necessarily related to what you and I are talking about.
I’ll put myself on the soapbox, so you don’t have to be. How’s that?
JB: But back to the publishing. You made one book for yourself, and then a couple more, but then at some point, you decided that you were going to publish other artists. You must have woken up and said, “Well, I do have a company. And I might not have a Little League team under sponsorship yet, but this is no longer just for shits and giggles. This is a real thing.”
JB: And then you managed to cultivate relationships with some really successful artists. Can you walk me through the genesis of that, from doing your own work to publishing other artists, and selling books, and really trying to push the envelope?
PS: That is another example of form following function. I’d gotten out of school, I’d made that book “Good by Angels” as my senior thesis, and I wanted to do another book. By that point, I was making different photographs, and I wanted to show them again. But I still hadn’t cultivated a following, beyond my immediate friends, and I didn’t know how to reach a larger audience.
It was really just a practicality thing. I’d been studying with Jim, and he and I had become close, so I asked him, “Hey, I want to make another book. Would you also do a book with me?” He agreed to it, and I always think of it as him extending an olive branch to me, you know?
This is something I don’t normally talk about, but I feel comfortable talking with you about the business side of things.
JB: Sure. Thanks.
PS: I didn’t have any money. Big surprise. I had no money to print anything. So I developed this system where I said, “I’m going to make these four books. One’s going to be by Jim, and I got two other artists, and one will be mine. People are going to buy these books because Jim’s involved in it. And I’m going to force people to look at my own book.”
They’re going to have to buy my book, because they want to get Jim’s book. They’re only sold as a set. That’s going to be a way to expose my work to a larger audience, and also, more importantly, it’s going to secure some funds for me to pay for this thing.
Once Jim agreed to do it, I promoted it, and got some orders coming in, and I took that money and I developed a program where the books would come out individually over the course of the coming year. The reason that I did that was because it was an opportunity for me to make the money to produce them as they came out, to pay for production of the other books.
I took the money from the initial orders and go to the printer, pay them, and then go and pay the bindery. Then I’d have the first book, but people already paid for all four books. So I’d ship the first book to the customers, and then I’d start praying.
I’d be like, “Fuck. I need more orders.”
PS: Then I’d do more promotions, and more emails, and I’d ask some friends and tell them about it, and a couple of more orders would come in. You can see what I’m saying here.
JB: Yeah. It was a great hustle.
PS: Eventually, I got enough cash together, and I’d print book number two. And then I’d start praying again. And then repeat.
Finally, it got to my book, and I was shipping it out to my subscribers. I was like, “Wow. Here’s a subscriber in England, man. England! I’m shipping a book to England!”
JB: (laughing) Right.
PS: Anyway, I realized that I was doing something of value, and that I should continue pursuing it. That opened up opportunity, because I was cultivating a client list, and was able to print better books, because I could start relying on these people to order.
I was really trying to build an old school business, no different than a plumber. “Hey, you’re going to hire me, and I’m going to come in and provide excellent service, and give you and excellent product, and next time you need that again, you’re going to call me.”
That’s really what I believe in. It’s how I grew up.
JB: I was just going to say, this has to be a Mid-Western thing.
PS: Yeah, I’m from Wisconsin. 100%. And it’s really funny, because when I was there, I was miserable. I don’t know if you’ve experienced this. Did you grow up in New Mexico?
JB: I grew up in Jersey, man, so I can relate.
PS: Jersey. So you understand what I’m talking about.
PS: Because you have this dichotomy in your ethos and approach to things. The cultural differences, right?
PS: I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but when I was in Wisconsin, I really couldn’t appreciate it. This year’s really important for me, because it’s my 18th year in Oakland. So this year marks the same amount of time in Oakland as I was in Wisconsin.
It’s a strange feeling. Maybe that’s beside the point.
Now that I’m in California, steeped in the art world, I find there’s a lot things I don’t appreciate. Things I’m not in line with. When I break it down and look at it, it’s because of the way I was raised.
JB: Jersey gets a bad rap, and I couldn’t wait to get away, frankly. But one person’s “Bridge and Tunnel” is another person’s grounded, down-to-Earth, everyday American.
JB: I could see the Twin Towers from my town, but it was so different from New York City.
PS: That’s exactly right. Do you feel that now that you’re in New Mexico, which couldn’t be more different from where you’re from?
JB: It’s like what you were saying with your 18 and 18. My folks first brought me out here when I was 14, and they moved here permanently when I was still in college.
PS: Moved here, meaning New Mexico?
JB: Yeah. Taos. They still live here. So I’ve been around this place, on and off, for 27 years. This is home, and Jersey is the place that made me, that I still go visit occasionally.
In my own psyche, I don’t relate as an East Coaster so much.
PS: All my family is still in Wisconsin, and I go back to visit, so I’m still connected to it. I think about it a lot. And then I come back from these trips, and within four hours, I’m back in this liberal, hippie bubble that we live in in the Bay Area.
JB: The sun is shining, and the palm trees are swaying.
PS: Totally. And I find it comforting, and I love it. At the same time, so much of it is not in line with how I want my life. In a lot of ways, I create this environment for myself, like the phone number, that harks back and references this nostalgic America. I don’t know…
In a lot of ways, I’m antiquated, and still not in touch with the way things really are. But, whatever. It’s this weird world that I’ve created for myself. I assume it’s idealized in a lot of ways.
JB: Let’s go into that world a little bit. I’m looking at the “Subscription Series Number 1″ on your website, which I assume is the project we were just talking about, without naming it.
That’s the first time I see Mike Brodie’s name pop up on the website, and it was put out in 2006.
JB: I’m going to go ahead and assume that people will know who Mike is, without having to do a lot of backstory. I’ve reviewed his first book, by Twin Palms, and he’s had a ridiculous amount of success in the last few years.
How did you guys meet? How did you come to become friends and collaborators?
PS: I was introduced to Mike through a friend of ours: Monica. Mike would travel through Oakland, and Monica lived in a punk house that we’d go to and hang out at, they would have parties and shows there. He’d stayed there a couple of times, and she told me, “This kid comes through town, and he’s great. His name is Brodie, and he’s got all these Polaroids with him.”
At the time, I shot a lot of Polaroid stuff. It was natural, and that simple. There was a party at the house, I think it was actually Monica’s birthday. My good friend DV and I were there. We all just hung out, I remember I made a photo of Brodie that night with his dog Pucci. My wife recently put it in this special cabinet at home. Brodie looks like he’s 12 years old in the photo now!
I told him to bring some Polaroids next time he was in town, and he did, so we sat there and talked about them. He was showing me these Polaroids he was getting while he was traveling, and I was already becoming versed in the Fine Art world. I was hearing terms like “archiving,” because of school. You know?
PS: I was like, “Archiving. OK. Acid free.” I said to him, “OK, why don’t you send me these Polaroids, and I’ll archive them and for you, and catalogue them. Because I think these things are pretty incredible.”
He and I started hanging out. He was younger than me, and I had a little more knowledge than he did at the time, so I was kind of…
JB: Big brother?
PS: Maybe A little bit. Maybe like I could help this kid, in some way, because I was pretty sure he was going to get steam-rolled pretty soon. Based on how good these things are. That’s all.
He and I became pretty fast friends, so when he came through town, he’d stay with me. I enjoyed his stories.
There were other things happening. I got in a gallery around the same time, so I was really getting into the art world. I was seeing prices, and how important art became on the secondary market. Understanding and learning the habits of collectors.
When I was thinking about the stuff that Brodie was making, I thought there was probably an opportunity for us to collaborate a little more than just hanging out as friends, and looking at photos. He had no interest in the art world whatsoever, and I did, so I thought maybe he and I could work out some sort of system.
I could help oversee things, and help ensure that they were done properly. Not butchered.
JB: It’s come across in the interview that you have a good business mind, to go along with your work ethic. But if I understand things right, the creative collaboration worked both ways.
I’m pretty sure I remember from when I first reviewed your excellent book “Dead Men Don’t Look Like Me,” that Mike Brodie is the one who first found the pictures that became your art project. Is that right?
PS: That’s exactly right. At one point, he was traveling in Georgia, and was spending time in an abandoned prison. When you’re 23, it sounds really fun to go to an abandoned prison.
He found all these mug shots, and sent them back to me, and said, “You got to look at these. They’re incredible.” And I looked at them, and I thought they WERE incredible.
I don’t know if you’ve pulled this together, but I have a real interest in vernacular photography. I think a lot of people do at this point. I’m interested in found photography, and re-contextualizing images that were never intended to be seen in certain ways.
How history can re-shape the meaning of photographs. I love all that stuff. So this was really up my alley, and he knew that, so he sent them to me in a big, beat up box. My nature is to organize and archive, so I began immediately to put them into groups and categories, to make sense of it. Because there are hundreds and hundreds of them.
I made categories: Black guys, white guys, old guys, young guys. I wanted to make some sense of what he sent me. Eventually, I edited the images to become a book with the conceptual approach that I was choosing images with likeness to myself. That in an almost Becher-esque way, you could see all the images and get a generic idea of the Author. In this case, me.
JB: It’s funny, because you keep using the word archive, and the word we haven’t used yet is appropriation. I’m constantly surprised that the idea of appropriation is still as dangerous and edgy to some people as it seems to be. You know?
Richard Prince is held up as a god and a devil, depending on which side of the fence you sit. Is that something that you were thinking about at the time, with this work? You mentioned archiving and vernacular, so that makes me think maybe it wasn’t a conscious decision on your part to say, “I’m appropriating this. I’m taking it, and making it mine.”
PS: It’s interesting. Appropriation, in my mind, has a negative connotation to it. So I think earlier, I said re-contextualizing, which is another way of saying appropriating. I archived and organized, at first. Then afterwards, when I was making the book, it certainly can be argued that yeah, I appropriated those photos for my own artistic enjoyment.
I certainly did that.
JB: Yeah, I think you’re probably right that it’s seen as a pejorative term, but the process is so well-established within the tradition of art that I almost wonder whether we’re selling the word short.
Frankly, I had a different read when I saw the pictures as over-sized prints on the wall at Pier 24 than I did with the book. I much preferred the hand-held experience.
PS: Yeah. Books and prints have very little in common. They are very distinct and separate experiences to me.
JB: That’s why I wanted to talk to you about this. Aside from the word itself, do you think that it ought to still be controversial, in 2015, when people have been doing it successfully and intelligently for decades?
PS: I personally don’t see any problems with it. It’s a response to the appropriation that happens every day on the Internet. My personal belief is that we live in a time, for better or worse, where images are made, consumed, and used by everyone at all times.
We live in a borderless, fenceless, Wild, Wild West when it comes to images online. It sounds arrogant and pompous, because it is, but my job as an artist, as a person who thinks about and consumes photography at every level, as a person who attempts to contextualize images in our culture, my job is to use images any way that I feel is responsible and appropriate
There might be repercussions from that, but that’s a world we live in now. (pause.) Now I’m thinking about what I just said. Certainly, if there’s copyright on things, that’s a legal binder to an artist and complicates this whole conversation above my pay grade and expertise.
(pause.) Hey look, can we chalk it up and say I don’t know the answer. I’m just reacting. I’m doing what I do, and I don’t necessarily know the answer to your question.
JB: I wanted your opinion, and you gave it. It’s a great opportunity to talk with someone who’s working with that practice, and doing it well. How could I not want to touch on that in the interview?
But there are other things I’d like to talk about. Let’s jump back into photobook publishing, before our brains burn out.
The most recent thing that I saw, and reviewed, by TBW is the “Assignment Number 2″ project, with the Sugimoto and Misrach photos. The book made with a prisoner who had been held in solitary confinement in San Quentin prison. I’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about this.
JB: Both Rob and I thought this thing was really, really dynamite. Creative, smart, political, positive. You’ve been publishing for ten years, and now it seems like you’re in a place where you’re almost re-inventing what a photobook could be. Do you think that’s a fair statement?
PS: Well, yes. But also no, in the fact that I wish you had a copy of my first book, and it wasn’t much more than a bunch of glued together postcards. So I really have always had that idea that a photobook is not what we’re told a photobook is. How it’s experienced. The materiality of it.
A large portion of what I do with TBW are these limited editions. They’re objects in a way that’s interactive, and sculptural. I have parts that are machined by motorcycle builders. I’d like to hope that the work I’m doing with TBW is always questioning the format of books.
This particular project, “Assignment Number 2,” was just a great opportunity to explore and think about what this thing should be. It went through many different incarnations, in the design phase. That project was 3-something years in the making, and it was always talked about that it was going to be a book.
We just finally got to a point where it just was telling us it didn’t want to be a book. You’re photographing that yellow-hand-written paper against a black backdrop, so you can lay it out on a page. Then, against a white backdrop. Then, it’s against concrete, which will reference the idea of a prison cell.
Nothing’s working. It’s not feeling right. At some point you just say, “What we need to do is reprint it at scale, page for page. That’s the way it wants to be.” It needs the tactile, interactive experience, so that the person can get the sense of what this thing is.
So you come to that conclusion. It’s an organic, natural process when designing a project, where you say “OK, so if we have this yellow paper, we have 10 of them, and it looks exactly like his original paper, then how do we bind it into the hardcover book?”
It’s not enough pages. It’s not in signatures, so we can’t stitch it. We don’t want to staple the side of it.
JB: It’s a process.
PS: It’s a process and you have to trust the process. The real story is, I was going to FedEx, and I go to these really great ladies near my house, to drop off my packages. They’re these old school ladies that have this packing and shipping store. You know those stationary store type places?
PS: I went in and asked, “Anne, do you have any old clips?” Because everything in there is from the 70’s. Dead stock. I asked for clips for a binder folder, and she pulled out three different options.
So I had one of each, and one of them happened to have those old two-hole punches. So we mocked it up, and I said, “What if we just punched it two times, and put in a folder like this? Actually, that feels really good. That feels right. Let’s do that.”
Then, we’ve got into developing and aging this folder. That’s the process. I’m as excited these days about the design of these things. Coming up with those solutions.
For a lot of people, the dream is to be a photographer. You travel the world, you make photographs. And that’s it. You know this.
JB: I know this.
PS: 99% of what you do as a photographer is not photographing. The actual photographing, or working with photos, is very limited. Most of it is going to Fed Ex and trying to find the exact two hole punch.
So in the process of designing this, we wanted it to have this exterior feeling. Really grubby, dingy, worn out. And then the inside you open it up, and you have these perfect reproductions of Hiroshi Sugimoto and Richard Misrach photos.
How do you achieve that? We sampled out all these papers, and we found a manufacturer who did double-sided paper. One side uncoated, and the other with a gloss UV varnish.
That whole process: How does a viewer see this? How do they touch it? How do they open it? What’s the feeling they get when they slide it out of the package? If they open this flap first, what are they presented with?
There’s a whole process to looking at books. You know this as a reviewer. You look at them in a certain way, in a certain environment. Are you standing up, or are you sitting down? Are you drinking a beer, or are you not?
I take all these things into consideration. Who is my audience? How are they going to experience this? I love, love, love thinking about all those things.
JB: It comes across. I kind-of wanted to hear you say that stuff, because, in my experience, these things are never arbitrary. They can’t be.
PS: That’s right.
JB: When something works that well, I wanted to hear you talk about all the thought that goes into it. You must have learned quite a bit about process these last ten years, or am I assuming incorrectly?
PS: My process has never changed. Now, I’m balancing this thing where I have to run a business now. I know through your writing that you have kids too. I have a kid now.
Things change when there are real life issues that need to be dealt with, so I’ve had to make certain adjustments that I wouldn’t have made before.
It used to be, “Hey, I’m going to hand stamp all these covers, and if it takes me three weeks, all night long, I’m happy to do that.
And I thrived on that. But now, I can’t do that, because I have these other things that I have to pay attention to. I’ve had to make certain decisions, in production, and how to stream-line day-to-day business, to make it more efficient.
But I still am doing insane things that make no sense. Like hand-stamping that cover with the date, and the red tornado that you talked about.
PS: I’m not kidding when I say I tested that hand stamper 100 times, so that I learned when I stamped it, to twist it at the same time, so that it smudged. Lester, who runs the office, said, “Why are you stamping it twice?” I said, “I think, from a design perspective, it looks more interesting if the date is there, and then also there’s this weird red smudged date. As if the person who stamped it made a mistake.”
And he just looked at me like, “If you want to stamp it twice, go ahead.”
PS: So I was stamping it twice. Here’s the thing: the reason that I started hand stamping things is because on that first book I did, “Good by Angels” I didn’t have a budget to print a cover.
So I found a printer, and they were like, “Here’s what we’ll print for you. And if you want a 4 color cover printed, it’s this much more. If you want black and white, it’s this much more. I said, shit, I don’t have any money. So what I’m going to do is buy a rubber stamp with my title on it, and I’ll hand stamp them to save money.”
I had this book at the time, called “The Self-Publish Bible,” or something like that, and there was literally 10 commandments. One of them was, “Make sure that your title can be read from 10 feet away. Use a bright color, and bold font, so that when it’s on the shelf in the book store, people flock to it like a moth to a flame.”
I thought, this is insane. This book is not going to be in a book store, so that doesn’t apply to me whatsoever. So in an antagonistic approach, I did my cover black on black in a Old English font. You could just see it slightly reflecting in the sunlight, but I hand-stamped them all, and that became this thing that I’ve done ever since.
Each one is subtly different. Now I have the resources to print 4 color covers, and we did. On “Assignment Number 2,” all that weathered edging is printed 4 color. So all I had to do was make a stamp logo with the date, and print that on there too, and it would have eliminated me hand-stamping thousands of covers.
JB: You’re risking carpal tunnel syndrome for your creativity.
PS: (laughing) Exactly. But I was really driven to be able to provide something that was subtly unique to each person. I think it’s awesome that on the review copy you got, it looked like a tornado. Somebody else buys it, reads your review, and thinks, “Why doesn’t mine look like a tornado.” And then they say, “Oh shit, mine doesn’t look like a tornado because they’re different. Are these hand-stamped? Who on Earth would hand-stamp these? Why? What does it matter?”
Well, when you think of an institution like San Quentin prison, and you think of the office there, there’s some lady there who got the thing, and received it on July 18th and…stamped it. That’s why. You know what I’m saying? That’s why. Because that makes sense with what we’re trying to get across in that project.
I love all that stuff. I want to tell you one other thing, because I want you to understand why these things are in my head. I told you earlier that I would order records direct from record labels when I was younger.
PS: I ordered a record a long time ago, and it had a white booklet with the lyrics of the song. Some photographs. And really delicately placed on the sleeve, and some of the pages, were these perfect, black fingerprints. And, I thought, “Oh my god, this is the best design ever. Somebody subtly took fingerprints, scanned them, adjusted the levels, and printed these fingerprints to reference a ghost. Or a person of the past, flipping through.
It fell in line with the aesthetic of the band. It made sense. I thought, “This is brilliant design. I love it. Super-smart. Super-subtle. Super-beautiful and poetic.”
Well, flash forward 8 years, and I was having a hard time. I was pissed off at the world, needed some cash, and sold all my records. I quickly realized that was a mistake, and went on the hunt to buy back the records that were important.
I ordered that record again, and I open it up: no fingerprints. I was totally crushed, because I realized that there wasn’t a smart designer that designed this with these fingerprints. But I was also amazed that someone had flipped through the booklet, and it got slipped back into the pile and packaged, and my record was unique in that way.
PS: I thought I’d bring it up. Those nuances are so powerful, and I try to put that into the books that I make now. Whether or not anybody gets it, or cares, I don’t know.
But for me, it’s that important.
JB: Don’t they stay that about Apple? That their engineers always want the innards that nobody will ever see to be as elegant and efficient as the design is outside?
PS: I heard the story that Steve Jobs said, “This motherboard is cluttered, and has to be redone,” and someone said, “No one’s ever going to see it,” so he fired them.
JB: Urban legend.
PS: There’s a madness to it. An arrogance to it. But maybe a reason for it? I don’t know.
JB: I don’t believe these things are accidental. When people are willing to do the kinds of things that you’re talking about: take risks, stay true to themselves, meld the different parts of their personality into a holistic object, people can tell.
They might not be able to break it down in the specific way that you build it up, but it’s communicated properly, and they understand they’re looking at something powerful. Something that’s really well built.
When you break it down for the readers, you’re giving them an opportunity to think a bit about these ideas might impact their work, and their careers.
You talk about paying attention to the smallest details, and no one would know this, but our interview was briefly interrupted when my phone line went down. And I didn’t need to go back to check my email to find your phone number.
510-444-BOOK. It was embedded in my brain. Like it or not.
PS: Man, I like that!
JB: True story. And thanks so much for your time. We really appreciate it.
[by Jim Cavanaugh]
I am writing this to you from a perspective of having sat where you are sitting 40 years ago this month. You have completed your formal education and are looking forward to building a career as a professional photographer and image maker. You are full of enthusiasm and optimism as well as uncertainty and fear.
I could tell you that it takes hard work, perseverance, continuing education, business knowledge, brand building and more. (And it does.) But the single most important advice I can give you to help you get established and succeed is to find good mentors and become involved in the professional community. Good mentors and professional involvement will help you every step of the way, answer your questions and keep you from making costly mistakes.
There are two primary ways to accomplish this and both are deeply intertwined. First, join a professional trade association like ASMP. And by joining, I don’t mean just paying your dues. Get involved with the local chapter as well as the national association. Attend all of the local events. Participate on ASMP’s numerous forums and social media outlets. Take advantage of ASMP podcasts, webinars and on-line educational tools. Besides learning a great deal, you will also get to meet and know many well established photographers.
And that leads to the second most important step. Seek out work as a freelance assistant from all of the photographers you have now met with your involvement in ASMP. Established photographers hire who they know. And if they know you through ASMP, the chances are even better.
Freelance assisting will provide income as you work to get established. But it also provides outstanding real world experience on the business and production of still and motion assignments. And as you build these relationships, seek out the photographers who will be your mentors. They are the ones that will share all aspects of the production. They will be the ones who are vested in you and your professional development since you doing a better job helps them do a better job.
You will find many photographers who are happy to share their knowledge and experience with photographers just entering the profession. Because after all, they were once were you are now.
Jim Cavanaugh is an architectural & aerial photographer based in Buffalo, NY. He served as a Director of ASMP for 12 years and as the Society’s President.