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Last year, when I went to visit the Medium Festival of Photography, I practically leaked energy.
I stayed out drinking, chatted with every possible person, dispensed advice incessantly, and worked through my portfolio review breaks. Only then, when it was almost done, did I give a public lecture in which I bared my soul to a crowded room. (Yes, even more nakedly than I do here each week, if you can believe it.)
In the end, I had a bad series of interactions with a fellow artist, and labeled him a “dick” in this forum. Which almost cost me one of my best friends. Honestly, he stopped talking to me over it, though we’ve since patched things up.
I’m nothing if not adaptable, so I vowed to do it differently this year. Driving down the 405 from LA, where I had a day at the Getty that I’ll chronicle in an upcoming piece, I near-chanted to myself that I’d take it easy.
Chill, if you will.
There was plenty of time to think, as the traffic was thick as Thanksgiving gravy, despite the late hour. I didn’t arrive at the Lafayette Hotel until 9:30pm, which I assumed made me the last reviewer there. (I was wrong. The reviewer across the hall showed up at 3:30 am, and woke me with a closing door. Ironically, it turned out to be a friend, so I couldn’t be too mad. Thanks, Maren.)
Anyway, the plan worked out swimmingly, as I even managed some time in the blue pool one sunny afternoon. (When in SoCal, after all.) I hit the gym, took my quiet time, walked through the corridors with my head down, avoiding eye contact. Anything to make sure I had good, positive energy for the reviews, and that I came home able to work. (Rather than losing 2 weeks in a fog, as I’ve done before.)
Fortunately, I did get to see a nice variety of photography to share with you here. And I even get to use the word “dick” again, as it was tossed about with shocking abandon by the keynote lecturer, Duane Michals. I kid you not, that dude said “dick” at least 15 times within the first three minutes of his lecture.
He was playing a character called Dr. Duanus, and opened with a story about needing a penis reduction. I watched the crowd, and people were in various states of disbelief. He was like a cross between Larry David and Robin Williams. Not what you expect in a photography lecture.
I ought to give him a more fitting shout-out than that, though. Mr. Michals lecture was by far the most entertaining and enlightening I’ve yet heard. He was profane in a way that was endearing, rather than discomfiting, and also managed to show a large selection of his work. Pictures and words that gave the crowd energy, and permission to experiment.
Afterwards, at his book signing, people stood in line for at least an hour, or I should say lines. There were two, in opposite directions, that snaked throughout the entire hotel lobby. No lie. People couldn’t wait to take pictures with him, catch a moment, get a book signed. It was electric.
But back to the reviews, which were my main priority. (That, and eating at the many insanely-good-cheap-ethnic-restaurants within 5 blocks of the hotel. Thai? Check. Pizza? Check. Falafel? Check.)
I’m going to break this down into two articles, as I’ve done in the past. So that you can actually look at the photos without it all blending into infinity, like the great Pacific Ocean. I want to keep your attention crunchy, like a perfect fish taco. (OK. No more cheesy SoCal similes. I promise.)
In no particular order, let’s lead off with Samantha Geballe. She’s an artist working in the Los Angeles area, who’s studied with Aline Smithson. (Who just won Center’s Teaching Award. Well deserved, I’d say, as I’ve gotten to see her students’ work 2 years running.)
Samantha is a very large person, and gay. As such, she has to live squarely in the crosshairs of people’s prejudice. Twice. She presents as a very calm presence, but told me that things are chaotic on the inside. Her visceral, black and white self-portraits aim to channel her actual emotions. Powerful stuff.
Brian Van der Wetering is another of Aline’s charges. He works full-time for Epson, which means I now have a super-hookup for lots of swag. He already sent me a new 44″ photo printer, so you should be very jealous. (Just kidding. I’ve received nothing of the kind.)
Brian’s set-up photos were hilarious, and also a shade poignant. They share the sense of play and misbehavior of a ten year old who loves lighting his sister’s dolls’ heads aflame. They are well-made, but also well-thought-out. I thought they were pretty excellent.
Jane Szabo is also an LA-based artist. Her training is in other media, and she came to photography rather recently. She showed me three portfolios, and I could actually see her working it out, sequentially. The third project caught my eye, as she’d created non-functioning dresses for the camera, and I thought I’d share it here.
Notice the way it mashes up fashion, sculpture, installation and photography. She’s able to bring her various interests together into one artistic package. I particularly liked the way the pictures could almost be installation photos from an actual art exhibition, but are not. She utilizes the white space well.
Mike Sakasegawa has a full-time day job as well, as an engineer, I believe. He photographs his family, as we all do, but attempts to take the pictures beyond the average snapshot. He wants to communicate the sadness he feels at his children growing up, and the joy he relishes with each day.
The pictures resonated with me, despite the well-worn subject matter. We can all relate, which also helps an audience appreciate a project.
Adriene Hughes teaches at UCSD, so she didn’t even have to travel down the coast. Surprisingly, though, she showed me some pictures that were taken in my town of Taos. I did a double-take at first, exclaiming, “What the hell?” or some such.
Adriene made a performative project in which she always dressed up in her favorite deer head. Many of the pictures felt like documents of performance, rather than photographs made as original art objects. But there were more than a handful I really enjoyed, and the picture with the little dog sitting on the naked dude’s lap was simply priceless.
Finally, we come to Tetsu Kusu. He was hanging around the lobby when I came in that first night, and planned to volunteer for the festival. I craned my neck in all directions, looking to spy anyone I knew. Tetsu approached, and seemed to know who I was. He gave me regards from Miki Hasegawa, a photographer I profiled here after meeting her at Review Santa Fe.
It seems as if the Japanese photo crew is rather tight, and I guess my own “image” is out there on the Interweb enough that I will occasionally get noticed. (Down, ego, down.) Anyway, Tetsu and I spoke a few times over the weekend, and he showed me his pictures on his iPhone.
He’s currently traveling around the West Coast, sleeping on a surfboard in his car. He posts images each day on a password protected Tumblr, so the project is updated in realtime. There’s an edgy vibe to his portraits, so the whole thing made me think of a Japanese-surfer-on-the-road-Mike-Brodie-type-of-deal. Very cool.
Sayonara until next week.
Can you share the cover direction? It is always an animal portrait to set the magazine apart from others?
LS & AQ: As the first issue was coming together, we were defining the aesthetic of the magazine and looking for an image that was striking and would set us apart on the newsstand. It was an organic process, working with the art director, Sarah Gephart, and the editors to refine that vision. Richard Bailey’s rooster was one of many options we tried for the cover, but we knew the minute we saw it that it worked. He really is a handsome rooster! The great thing about having an animal on the cover of each issue is that it allows for many different audiences to identify with the magazine. Richard has shot every cover since then and these animal portraits have really come to define the visual identity of Modern Farmer.
Do you use your still life opportunities to off set or surprise the readers?
LS: It is great to be able to create a polished and poppy product shoot for a farming magazine where it’s so unexpected. It’s also an opportunity to work with talented set designers such as Angharad Bailey. Together with the great Tom Schierlitz she conceived a crisp and graphic story that brought a strong sense of design in sharp contrast to the environmental images running throughout the rest of the magazine.
As our contributors have pointed out this week, there is much to be said for the simple act of gratitude. Not just during Thanksgiving, but every day. In that spirit, I would like to thank you for your ongoing support of this blog, of ASMP and of this industry we all hold so dear.
Our heartfelt thanks to our readers for giving purpose to this work, to our contributors for selflessly sharing your hard-won knowledge and wisdom, and to our members – without you, none of this would be possible.
On behalf of all of us at ASMP, we wish you a wonderful holiday holiday weekend. We will return on Monday, December 1 with a week of posts on diversifying your income stream.
- Judy Herrmann, Editor
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[by Pascal Depuhl]
We are so busy in today’s society that we often don’t slow down to say thanks — although it’s the right thing to do. The kind thing to do. Mark Twain said that “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see” and thank you is the simplest form of kindness. A simple 2 words that cost you nothing and are worth their weight in gold.
But I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Your life is busy, hectic, crazy and where would you get, if you said “Thank You” to everyone, I mean that’s just a waste of time, right? And on top of that, in today’s world of 140 character, 6 sec videos and fleeting posts, what’s a “Thank You” even worth these days?
An experimental “Thank You”
Well, I did a little experiment on that this year. Thursdays have traditionally been #ThrowBackThursdays on Twitter, where one posts some goofy photo of oneself decades back; it’s good for a little smile and then you move on. Well I figured I’d institute #ThankYouThursdays, where every Thursday I go to all the new followers on my Twitter accounts (@photosbydepuhl and @moviesbydepuhl) and tweet a Thank You to each new followers.
It all started when I read Gary Vaynerchucks (@garyvee) book, The Thank You Economy, over last year’s Christmas Holidays and decided to send each of my followers a personal tweet, thanking them for following me on Twitter and wishing them a happy New Year. (You can read about this experiment a little more on the “2 words that blew up my Twitter feed“.)
I’ve been doing this for a year now – every Thursday first thing in the morning, I find the new followers I did not thank in last weeks #ThankYouThursday, write each a brief “Thank You” note and schedule them to tweet throughout the day.
Here’s what my Tweet Deck dashboard looks like on an average Thursday. Some Thursdays it’s a few people, some Thursdays, a few dozen. It takes me anywhere from 10 – 20 minutes to write and schedule the tweets:
Has it been worth it?
Well, first of all it’s the kind thing to do. Secondly I doubled my twitter followers on @photosbydepuhl this year — and most of those are real people that know I care and that care about my business. Many people tweeted me back, saying that they’ve never gotten a thank you for following from anyone. Ok, it’s Twitter and in the grand scheme of things it’s not life changing that I said thanks, but I want to remind you that it does not hurt you to show you’re grateful. Even if you take 140 characters to do so. Say thanks more often. You’ll be surprised what comes from it.
Thanks for listening.
Pascal Depuhl has been saying thanks every #ThankYouThursday on Twitter this year. Contact him on twitter @photosbydepuhl and he’ll be sure to “Thank You” on the following #ThankYouThursday. Make sure to include the hashtag #ASMP for a special shout out.
Jonathan Blaustein: I wanted to start out talking to you about Chicago, because you’re from there, and I know very little about the place.
But the more looked at your website, I wonder if you belong anywhere? Do you live out of a suitcase?
Richard Renaldi: No. You were looking at the Hotel Room pictures, I imagine. And maybe some of the “Crossing” project. I do travel a lot, but that project, (The Hotel Room portraits,) is 16 years worth of travel.
Some of it has been for work, and my partner and I are definitely travelers, not tourists, so we like to do some adventuring. But this year I do feel like I have been living out of a suitcase, because of being on the “Touching Strangers” train. I’ve been all over, promoting the book, exhibitions, and talks.
Home is New York, and North Eastern Pennsylvania. I did grow up in Chicago, but I left at 18 to go to school here in New York at NYU. I haven’t lived in Chicago since. I only go back to visit the family.
JB: You mentioned your partner, Seth, and the “Hotel Room Portraits” series, which most people probably don’t know about, features the two of you on at least 4 continents, by my count, perhaps more. There is so much to talk about here, and we’ll try to cover all of it. But you’ve referred to Seth as your partner, and given all the hubbub in the last couple of years, are you guys married, or are you going to get married?
RR: We’re not married, and we’ll probably eventually get married. But probably we’ll just do a City Hall thing, and then maybe have a party. I don’t see myself exchanging vows in a public declaration of our love.
But our commitment to each other is there, sixteen years together and the proof is in the pudding. I could say boyfriend. I like that word. But he’s not such a boy anymore, and boyfriend doesn’t necessarily describe the graying aspect. (laughs.)
Part of the intention of that project is also quantity. We started out a little half-assed about the discipline, surrounding when we would travel and take a picture. So the first few years, there are actually some that are missing.
When I got a better SLR camera and lens, around 2007, and started shooting digitally, I started thinking about the project more, we’ve been fastidious that every single time we go somewhere, we have to do one. Even if I don’t really want to do it, we always make sure we make a portrait.
As you can see, they run the gamut from pretty dumpy hotels to fancy. It’s important that there’s a class component to the work.
There is a range, from trashy motels to corporate midrange ones, and then the really fancy ones. Most of those were on a job I did for Microsoft, where I went to 18 countries, in 2007.
But also, there’s an architectural element. And there are cultural markers too. It becomes not just a portrait of us, and our intimacy, our aging, the transformation of our bodies, and my ink. By the design, and the interior spaces of these different rooms, you can tell something about the place.
There’s a lot there to keep it going. Layers to the work, which I find exciting.
JB: All I kept asking myself, which you already kind of answered, was how the hell can these guys afford to travel to this many countries on such a consistent basis? But I’m guessing from your answer, when you said you did a job for Microsoft, that you also do commercial work. Which I didn’t know.
RR: Not so much recently. But I have had some privileges, and used those as an opportunity to photograph and travel. I was fortunate to not be grounded to one place and having to always worry about my financial security. I’ve been able to up and go, and spend weeks at a time traveling through South East Asia.
Some of those trips were after the Microsoft job. We were in Taiwan, and went onwards afterwards. Last year, I went to print my book in Hong Kong, and we were going to take a trip to Thailand, but there was a coup. So I met Seth in Morocco.
JB: I saw that. And you were in Southern Spain too this year. And Canada.
RR: Yeah, we just drove up to Canada. I always wanted to see the Maritimes. I was teaching in Portland for a week, so Seth came up and met me. We met some friends and also went to an island in Maine called Vinyl Haven.
A lot of it is combined with work, or visiting family. We just like to travel.
RR: We try to do one big trip a year. We used to put our place on Airbnb, so when we went to Bolivia, Chile and Easter Island, that basically paid for the whole trip, renting our New York City apartment.
JB: I have a 7 year old. It was his birthday yesterday. When I told him I was going to interview you, he said I should ask you why the people had to be touching?
RR: What’s your son’s name?
RR: Theo? I like that name. Well, they had to touch because the concept was about connecting two strangers in a photograph. I’d been doing single portraits for many years, and I was shooting “See America By Bus,” about the people traveling across the country on Greyhound buses.
That was the first experience where I was making large format work. Consensual portraits of two people that didn’t know each other, in the same space. It added this new layer of complexity and challenge to making a portrait.
I had to get the permission and approval of two different sets of people to be in a picture together. And I really liked that, and thought there was something really rich there.
I was interested in the space between people, like in they city. You see a group of people, clustered together, and in that moment and space in time, they’re connected. Standing at a light, waiting to cross the street. Everyone looks like they’re together, because they’re in a group.
But they’re not. They don’t know each other. I wanted to link them.
Also, there was this desire to catalog, in the way August Sander catalogued people. I had this impulse to do that, but to mix and match. To take different types of people and put them together.
As the project progressed, I became as interested in people who looked like they belonged together. Similar types.
But I think the reason why they had to touch, to answer Theo’s question, is that I was really curious what the body language would look like. As I write in the essay, what would the physical vocabulary look like, when someone asks two strangers to do that.
JB: I think part of what people respond to is the disconnect between the concept and the reality. Everything looks so natural. Until you know what’s going on, you would never guess.
I didn’t think of it at the time, but its so transgressive, to touch strangers. Theo and I were in Denver a few weeks ago. In a coffee shop.
There was a guy, sitting at a table by himself, drawing. He had all these fancy colored pencils. Theo will talk to anybody, he’s got a very open personality, so he walks up to the guy and starts asking about his pictures. Then, he put his hand on the guy’s forearm. Immediately, I jumped, and said, “Theo, you can’t do that. You can’t touch strangers. You can talk to them, but you can’t just go up and touch people.”
I promise, it had nothing to do with your book. We hadn’t even scheduled the interview yet. But the idea was so powerful in my instinct, that you don’t do that.
I’m sure people want to hear the backstory about how you do it. How you convince people to put their hands on someone like that? How you get them to break that taboo that they probably don’t even realize is there?
RR: The further the distance gets from the project, the more I realize that other things were at work. There was definitely a bit of a dare, and a challenge to people.
“I dare you to transgress,” like you said, “your own boundaries.” To do things that we are told are not necessarily appropriate.
There is a challenge that is being placed onto my subjects. More recently, I’ve started thinking that there is a transference that’s happening, of what I might want to do to the person.
As I became more of a director, as these scenes of joining these people together played out, I realized that I needed to make more compelling pictures. People have a very conventional sense of touch, in general. If left to their own devices, they’re just going to hold hands. Or put their arm around each other.
They’re not going to get that intimate. I realized I needed to be more of a director, and construct the points of contact. What I now have come to see is sometimes, I’m transferring what I would want to do one of the subjects. By having the other subject do it.
There’s this one image of a woman who’s going through chemotherapy, and she looks sick. You can tell. She has these ortho shoes on.
JB: In Hawaii?
RR: Yeah, it’s in Oahu. I paired her with this other woman, who was on her honeymoon, and I had her caress her on the cheek. I think it was the second exposure I made. I know that’s how I felt.
I felt bad, and I would have wanted to do that. There is this emotional transference that I see in these pictures, from where I stand now.
There’s another with a sexy black guy and black girl, in Venice Beach. I really wanted to touch the guy. He was like a body-builder working out at the pit in Venice Beach. You know?
RR: I wanted to be really intimate. So what she did was what I wanted to do. I find that conversation interesting, because it’s newer for me. It’s come up lately, discussing the work at talks. I’ve started to see my own projections. What I would wish for, were I to have that freedom to touch someone.
JB: That’s the sequel, right?
RR: (laughing.) (pause.) I can’t be the “Touching Strangers” guy forever.
JB: (laughing.) Indeed. I feel you. It was tongue in cheek. I don’t think we do sequels in photography. It’s not Hollywood, right?
RR: It’s true. Maybe you can do B-sides?
JB: It’s great to see the way people have responded to it. I saw it on the wall, and then I saw the book.
RR: Did you see the show at Aperture?
JB: I did. I was in New York in April. That’s part of why I ended up reviewing the book. I don’t get excited by photography as often as I’d like, unfortunately. But that show grabbed me, so when I finally got my hands on the book, it was a perfect way to write about it.
But until I did a little research for this interview, I didn’t know that Aperture had done a Kickstarter to raise money for the book. You didn’t do a Kickstarter campaign, they did?
RR: That’s right.
JB: How does that work? Here at APE, it’s a conversation we have often. Where does the money come from? Who’s doing the raising? How much do you have to bring to the table?
So please don’t feel like I’m putting you on the spot, but Aperture raised $80,000 to publish your book.
JB: That’s crazy. Did they use it all? Isn’t it their job to raise money? How does this work?
RR: I just wanted them to publish it outright. They told me they had been approached by Kickstarter to partner with them. Kickstarter was interested in raising their own profile.
JB: They got to benefit from partnering with the Aperture brand, in a sense?
RR: That was the intent. And Aperture, as a non-profit, is always looking for funding. So they viewed this as a new source of funding, because they’re always begging for money. They do auctions and fundraisers. They saw this as another source for them.
For me, personally, I was not sure about going down that road. One reason is that if people know me, and know my background, they probably knew that I had the resources to have had my own publishing company, which was Charles Lane Press. Which you know about.
RR: Although it was very challenging, and in the end, I wasn’t able to continue and make it work.
JB: You’re using the past tense here. I had no idea that it was defunct.
RR: It’s not defunct, but it’s on extended, if not permanent, hiatus. We’re still selling our stock of inventory. So it’s not gone, and there could be the opportunity some day to re-engage with that.
JB: You started it to produce your own book, which was “Fall River Boys.” Is that right?
RR: That’s right. But we also produced 3 other books by 3 other photographers.
RR: Yes. Which I’m very proud of. It was a great accomplishment, and I think they were really fantastic books that were under-appreciated, actually.
JB: As a publisher, how did you go about selecting work to get behind?
RR: I was naive, so I got behind the work that I wanted to get behind. Not work that, from a financial standpoint, crunching the numbers, I knew I could sell this many books. And make this much back.
I really wasn’t interested in publishing someone that had already been published, and had many opportunities before them. And I wanted to work with people that I thought were doing really interesting things. To give the same opportunity to them that Aperture gave to me with my first book in 2006.
I wanted to be a curator, in a way. For my partner and me, this were our choices. What we were presenting. And I didn’t want to present someone that everyone knew. You know?
Which was what someone told me I should do, if I wanted to really make the company work.
JB: I’m just spitballing here, but that’s why people like Martin Parr, or Paul Graham…
RR: (laughing) I was just thinking of Martin Parr too.
JB: Right. That’s why they have seven books a year, because the companies know that if they work with an established brand…
RR: It’s what people want. Because they buy it. Or it’s what people know. It’s a combination of the two. It was really challenging.
But getting back to Kickstarter, that was one concern. And another concern was, “What if we don’t make it?” When we were having this conversation, I don’t think Indiegogo had its feet to the ground yet. So if you didn’t make your goal on Kickstarter, you didn’t get anything.
To alleviate that concern, Aperture set a really low bar.
JB: 10 Grand.
RR: Yeah. The book would have cost more to produce, for sure, but at that point, they were talking something very small. More like the size of that Tim Hetherington book, do you know it, “Infidel?”
JB: Not off the top of my head. I should have lied and said yes.
RR: Closer to 5.5″x7″ than 8.5″x11″, you know? A smaller trim size, and a smaller press run. The campaign launched after Aperture sent a videographer, and we made the video piece of me actually making a “Touching Strangers.”
They launched it in June, and they have a hefty marketing department behind them, where they can get the word out to a huge mailing list. People knew about the project, because I had been putting it out since 2007. I showed the series on Conscientious, and on David Bram’s site…
RR: Yeah. I think I had, over the years, built an audience. But we met the funding goal in three hours. It became this thing that had a life of its own, and we got a lot of attention. The New York Times did a piece while the campaign was still up.
Towards the end, CBS news contacted me and wanted to do a piece. I was anxious and nervous about that too. I thought they were going to paint it with a very sentimental brush. It was all about “Touching Strangers,” and they tailed me on a shoot. I pushed back really hard against where I thought he wanted to go.
It still goes there, but it’s OK that it goes there. There is, included, some of the tension and complexity. I was really pleased with how the final piece came out. The segment is called “On the Road,” it used to be with Charles Kuralt.
RR: Very Americana, heartfelt stories. The piece does arouse sentiment, but I don’t think that’s bad. Because the work does, you know?
I was actually in New Mexico, and it aired the day that CBS went offline in three of the biggest markets, because of a contract dispute.
JB: Oh my goodness.
RR: So people in New York and LA tried to tune in, and CBS was black on Time Warner cable systems, because Time Warner and CBS had a dispute which lasted a week. But in the fall, the piece got picked up by some of the news aggregating sites, like Reddit, and it went viral.
The Youtube video of that CBS piece ended up with 2 million views. It’s too bad that didn’t happen when the Kickstarter campaign was up. That just propelled it even further.
JB: But they wouldn’t have needed $800,000 to produce your book, right? 80 Grand, I would imagine, covered everything?
RR: It enabled them to make a bigger book, a higher press run, and covered the traveling exhibition.
JB: Do people now contact you? Do they want to be shot by Richard Renaldi? Is this developing a commission aspect to your career, or has that not happened yet?
RR: Last year, when the project went “viral,” an organization called Art Works, in Cincinnati, approached me. They have a partnership with Cincinnati Metro. They are generally a mural program, where they create murals all over Cincinnati.
With the Metro partnership, they place art works in the bus stops, in the big light box displays. They thought it would be great to bring “Touching Strangers” into that, and do a partnership with Cincinnati Metro. They commissioned me to make original “Touching Strangers” for the light boxes, to coincide with the Photo Focus photo festival, which opens this weekend.
I jumped at the chance, because for engaging the public, on a mass scale like that, the bus stop is perfect. And it comes full circle, because the idea came out of the “See America by Bus” series.
RR: As the time approached, to go make the pictures, I was actually dreading it, because I hadn’t shot “Touching Strangers” in a while. I was done with it, and it was hard to wrap my head around going back to do more. So I didn’t want to go.
But it was a commitment, and I ended up making some of the best pictures in the series. Really, it turned out to be a strong collection, the pictures from Cincinnati. Maybe we can include some of those.
JB: It would be cool to publish them. We’d love to show things that people haven’t seen.
RR: Honestly, beyond that, I was hoping that I would get another ad campaign some day. I had a great experience with that Microsoft job. It was kind of the job of a lifetime, I don’t know if that will ever happen again but I am certainly open to it.
JB: Well, those folks read this blog every day. So, who knows?
RR: I know, I know. I would love those folks to throw me into the mix again. On that Microsoft job, which spanned 18 countries, I really ended up enjoying the discipline, and it ended up making me a better photographer.
I had to think about other considerations, and photograph with someone else in mind. But I was really fortunate, because I had the artistic freedom to make the kind of images I wanted. In that project, it really looks like my work.
I’d really like that opportunity again.
JB: Well, we’re putting it out there, so we’ll see what happens.
JB: (laughing) I’m helping as much as I can.
RR: I was approached by Hanes, recently, to do people touching each other’s new Hanes soft-cotton blend T-shirt.
RR: So they wanted to basically co-opt “Touching Strangers.”
JB: Strangers Touching Michael Jordan.
RR: Basically. They wanted to sell underwear with my idea. And that didn’t appeal to me. I thought it wouldn’t respect the work I did on this project. But they thought it was the greatest idea in the world.
JB: Of course they did.
RR: They wanted to attach my name to it. I thought, “Maybe if I was anonymous, and it was a lot of money, I’d consider it.” But I pushed back pretty hard, and I never heard back.
JB: Earlier in the interview, you talked about a project in which you were photographing in bus stations, which are inherently transient, and you were taking Greyhounds and such. And with “Touching Strangers,” it’s right there in the title, that you don’t know these people.
How do you operate? Do you give people prints, when you take their picture? Do you ever stay in touch? Is this only a fleeting connection, or have any of these pictures led to relationships that have evolved over time?
RR: I don’t know if I like the word fleeting, but it was definitely a short-term relationship.
JB: Ephemeral? How’s that?
RR: Sure. There could have been a strong connection, but I haven’t done a project where I’ve followed someone for a long period of time. Where you get close to them.
My portraiture has been more about a place, or an idea, rather than the long story of someone’s life. Because of that, I haven’t gotten to be close friends with many of my subjects, per se.
Though “Touching Strangers” is the one exception, where I have had subsequent contact and conversations with some of the people in the pictures. That is largely due to a lot of the press that followed; they wanted to be connected with some of my subjects to interview them about the experience.
I became an intermediary, or a go-between, and I really enjoyed having the contact with them. I always send my a print or a jpeg, so I always get their contact information.
JB: It’s the perfect title, “Touching Strangers.” You have this incredible way of opening yourself up for your audience. In the book, you talk about the fact that you used to sneak out of your house in Chicago, when you were a teenager, and literally touch strangers.
That’s almost an encoded part of the title, though I suppose you have to read the statement to know that. There are different levels of ideas going on in this one project, wouldn’t you say?
RR: I would. It’s pretty layered, I think. Which is cool. There’s a personal part, and then the universal. It’s resonated with the viewers, and it’s an accessible idea.
Probably the most that I will ever have in my career. I don’t imagine subsequent series will reach as many people. I’ve really reached more people with this one series than most photographers ever do.
And that’s kind of cool. It’s an accessible idea, and so much of art is often intimidating to people. There is often this notion that you need to know something about art to understand it.
I think that’s a potential pitfall of art and photography, is that it can be so academic. I think it’s because photography is this reproducible thing, so there’s this drive to make it seem rare, because of the market.
There’s a preciousness attached to it, where photography is trying to make itself rare. Music and film aren’t like that. They’re for everyone. I think art would be better if it had a more accessible, mass appeal approach.
That doesn’t mean I created “Touching Strangers” to have mass appeal. It just happened to resonate.
[by Charles Gupton]
Creating time and emotional space to be thankful in the midst of a deep struggle — or even a time of emotional darkness — does not seem either intuitive or congruent with the over-riding fear of the moment.
However, I’ve come to believe that it is one of the most important and necessary actions we take during the times of discouragement we all, at one point or another, have to face.
And by action, I mean that being thankful, or showing gratitude, is an intentional, active process.
About three years ago, I was reading a magazine article about a woman who, in preparing for a divorce, had kept a daily log of the things her husband did wrong and the ways that he upset her. It occurred to me in that moment that if she’d instead kept a journal of everything her husband did right, and that she appreciated about him and her life, the story might’ve taken a different turn.
That day, I started a ‘gratitude’ journal where I write down every night as I’m going to bed at least three things that I am grateful for or that I did right that day. It has transformed my thinking.
This year has been the most tumultuous year that I can remember, in both the business and personal aspects of my life. But the process of acknowledging the good things that I’m grateful for each day has helped me go to sleep with a positive frame around each day, minimizing the stress and worry that almost certainly would have kept me from getting the sleep my mind and body needed.
It seems too simple. Too benign to have any significance.
But the daily habit – the process – of reflecting on the people in my life and the gifts that have flowed out of each day’s abundance has made a huge difference in how I approach my life. I find myself looking for what each opportunity offers rather than what it costs. I find myself anticipating good, so that I’ll have something good to write. And that, in itself, is something I’m grateful for.
Based in Raleigh, N.C., Charles uncovers stories that resonate, then tells them in three-minute films to engage clients for business on the web. You can connect with him at:
When I was young, a school year felt like a decade. Time moved like blue children’s goop, as it slithers out of its container. (Slurp, slurp, slide a millimeter, slurp, slurp.)
I’m well aware that this idea is far from new. That time moves more quickly as we age. I know it. You know it.
So why do I mention it now?
Because it will be Thanksgiving next week. We’ve already had snow here, and it’s dipped below 0 at night. Honestly, I’m not sure how this happened. Summer feels like it was just here; the moisture residue on the window pane, after you’ve breathed upon it.
In the last few years, I’ve finally figured out that a year is a natural cycle. Perhaps it’s connected to our planet’s journey around the sun. Perhaps not.
Who am I to conjecture?
But it most certainly does affect the way we feel. Nearing the end, rounding third base, if you will, we’re all exhausted. Worn out. Tired deep in our bones.
I’m sure you feel that way too. We all do. Thanksgiving offers the illusion of respite. Sure, we won’t have to work for a few days, but all that eating, socializing, and digesting takes energy few of us have to spare.
Then it’s a glamour-less push to Christmas break, where many of us will finally get a chance to unplug and recharge. To stop. To sit. To allow ourselves to regenerate for the new year.
What will we do in 2015? Will we try new things? Attempt to learn new skills? Push ourselves to defecate on what we already know, in the hopes that it might fertilize a new way of seeing?
Right. It wouldn’t be one of my book reviews if I didn’t leave you with at least one uncouth image. So consider the job done. But a book review it is, so let’s get to it.
Today, I want to highlight “Who Do You Love,” by John Gossage, recently published by Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. It is a strange production, to be sure, and its oddity is confirmed in an interview at the end, between Mr. Gossage and Darius Himes, the former director of the gallery.
I was genuinely unsure of what I was seeing, when I first perused. Why the cheap cardboard cover? Were these actual prints glued to the pages? I gently moved my fingernail along the edge, and found it was a smooth sheet of paper. Why the big tan borders, and the odd pieces of color?
Take a moment, read the captions, and you realize these are re-creations of actual assemblage pieces. They’re simulacra. Virtualizations of slightly 3-dimensional art that exists in the world. Not one more iteration of a digital file that can be done with what you please, including embossing it on a coffee cup.
As many of you know, I interviewed the artist here a couple of years ago. He was the funniest, most engaging, and perhaps even the most charismatic person I’ve interviewed yet. Brimming with energy and wit.
These pictures are quiet. Thoughtful. Subtle. Emotive like an almost finished cigarette. So very different from the man himself.
The aforementioned interview with Mr. Himes confirms that Mr. Gossage almost never ventures outside of the purely photographic. (Though the boxes he told us about, called, “Hey Fuckface,” if I recall, are likely another attempt.) These pieces were a deliberate challenge to what he knew of photography.
And experiment. A car crash, as he said.
I wasn’t sure if I liked them the first time through. On the second pass, I decided that I did. Especially as the little pieces of virtual colored paper begin to take form, to have personality, to make you think of art in general.
The photos too have a power to them, on repeated viewing. The hand, held up, like Stop. The X of the steel beams. The outright beauty of the shadow of a border fence over a Pacific beach.
Mr. Gossage admitted in our interview that he’s made a lot of books. Probably more than he could count, unless he had a CV handy. Many of us have still not made even one. (Myself included.)
I can’t imagine it’s that easy to use this type of forum for experimentation. Making a cardboard book that attempts to re-create the subversive spirit of a cardboard photo project. It takes guts, and the foreknowledge that some people will find it underdone.
Even the title, “Who Do You Love,” takes on an unexpected meaning as the opening page depicts lyrics from that 70’s song that you won’t get out of your head, once you realize what I’m talking about. (“I walked 47 miles of barbed wire…”)
Anyway. Enough for today. You get the point.
Me being me, you can be sure there will be more on “what we can expect for next year,” in the weeks to come. But let this be the start, before you’ve even had your first, sweet taste of tryptophan. I wish you much luck in exciting new ventures, should you have the stones to try reinvention in 2015.
Bottom Line: Cool, slightly crazy attempt to recreate assemblage art
Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.
Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.
[by Pascal Depuhl]
Be careful, personal work could kill your career!
Over the last few weeks I’ve hosted a couple discussions in various LinkedIn Groups asking “does personal work matter?” Predictably, many of the photographers who chimed in answered a resounding YES! We get to show our capabilities without the constraints of a client brief, art buyers love to see personal work, it’s satisfying, etc.
The answers that surprised me though came from the other side of the desk, from art directors, creative professionals, designers and editors from around the world:
“I can see how personal projects can become an obstacle.” - Creative Director, Serbia
“All personal work could seriously affect your commercial success.” - Marketing President, USA
“I have not hired someone, because of their personal work.” - Designer, Netherlands
Wait, what?!?! I thought personal work was always a good thing – something that would always benefit your career. “Be careful,” warns the US Marketing executive, “If your personal work is too provocative, it may leave the wrong or negative impression in a client’s mind.” This sentiment is echoed by another US branding director: “If [the personal work is] very offensive I would reconsider hiring the [artist].” And, what if you’ve done pro-bono work for a certain cause, that they feel strongly against? I hear it again and again: have two sites.
Personal work can make you a killing!
“No personal work to me is an indication of stagnation.” - Magazine editor, Germany
Now, to be fair, every single one of these people who hire us also said that personal work is critically important and that they love seeing it. “To me [personal work] matters quite a bit. (…) that’s where we most often have the chance to stretch our abilities, research new methods and test them” says a US director of marketing “pet projects may very well become tomorrow’s next big service!”
“Your personal work shows me what you’re really passionate about, and how creatively and independently you tackle such a self-chosen project. It tells me how you work conceptually. I also get a good idea about the style you prefer and you feel comfortable with.” adds the German magazine editor “Or how versatile you really are.”
Just remember that they assume you had unlimited time and resources to craft this piece of personal work so make sure it’s the perfect calling card for your brand.
Personal work is a two edged sword
Personal work is a must for today’s creative. Portfolio consultant Christina Force’s great blog post, 4 reasons to throw out your babies, shows how the fastest (and scariest) way to revamp your career is only show those images and projects that you would like to shoot, even if that means throwing out everything you’ve shot to this point.
The bottom line? Your personal work must be excellent, award winning, your highest caliber work. It must set you apart from the pack. It must show what you’re passionate about so you can stand behind it wholeheartedly. Take risks, be willing to fail, go for the impossible. Otherwise, your results will be average at best. And that really could kill your career.
Pascal Depuhl created a personal project that’s been wildly successful. “On Wings of Hope” just won another national award and continues to show his clients what his capabilities are in producing high quality, mind changing visual content. Contact him on twitter @photosbydepuhl and tell him your personal project success stories. He’ll also help you decide how to pick your next personal project and even offer ideas on how to finance the next piece of personal work.
We emailed Art Buyers and Art Producers around the world asking them to submit names of established photographers who were keeping it fresh and up-and-comers who they are keeping their eye on. If you are an Art Buyer/Producer or an Art Director at an agency and want to submit a photographer anonymously for this column email: Suzanne.firstname.lastname@example.org
Anonymous Art Buyer: I nominate Jennifer Whalen because I saw an old soul within an emerging talent. Jennifer has the eye, the skill and the production chops of a much more experienced shooter but has the fresh approach of someone seeing things with a new viewpoint. She absorbs information like a sponge and applies it to her work. She’s got what it takes to go the distance.
How many years have you been in business?
I have been pursuing commercial photography and video for about 2 years.
Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
I have a degree in both Journalism and Fine Art, but I am a self-taught photographer and videographer.
Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to get into this business?
I don’t find myself having one specific source of inspiration, but I’m always inspired by people who create something out of nothing. For example, my dad is a carpenter, so I grew up helping him and seeing his ideas develop into something tangible. It was a good foundation that helped me to realize, with heart and soul, I can turn my ideas into something rewarding and profitable.
How do you find your inspiration to be so fresh, push the envelope, stay true to yourself so that creative folks are noticing you and hiring you?
I don’t shoot to get noticed or hired; I shoot for myself and I am constantly searching for that special thing, that weird little moment of simplicity in movement or expression that speaks honesty and truth. I am always trying to be attentive and develop my sensitivity to the world when shooting. After doing that over-and-over again, I end up with a body of work that is constantly evolving. I have an all-or-nothing personality, which pushes me to take risks and put my whole self into my work. Taking risks is about reaching my fullest potential and never staying in my comfort zone. It means never being afraid to try a new idea. If it doesn’t work out in the end, that’s fine, at least I tried. For example, exploring video has made me a stronger still image storyteller and has strengthened my overall artistic vision. When I am shooting personal work, it’s all about leaving expectations at the door. That attitude gives me an open mind and allows me to build off of what I am seeing around me and appreciate the idiosyncrasies of the people I am photographing or filming. Just like with playing music, it’s about tuning into the rhythm of other people.
Do you find that some creatives love your work but the client holds you back?
There will always be times when the images that you and the AD love won’t make the final edit, whether it is due to composition of the photo or the overall satisfaction of everyone involved. When it happens, I don’t spend my energy on being angry or disappointed about that. The client chooses images based on what’s appropriate for their audience. It’s not about me; it’s about collaborating to get what is best for the client.
What are you doing to get your vision out to the buying audience?
I send personal emails, mailers and set-up meetings. A relationship can’t begin until you meet with people in person, so I am a big fan of getting myself in front of people.
What is your advice for those who are showing what they think the buyers want to see?
When I first started pursuing advertising, I spent a year building my commercial portfolio before pitching it. When I started testing, I was under the impression that creatives wanted to see a portfolio that looked like finished ads, so I took photos that resembled what I was seeing in the media. The problem was that it wasn’t my voice. I was creating work based on what I thought potential clients wanted to see. I was trying too hard to make something that had already been done before. Creatives don’t want to see a portfolio that looks like ads. I wished someone told me that earlier. Creatives want to see your unique vision and perspective of the world. I ended up eliminating about 90% of my portfolio and added a new set of images that showcased my voice and my point of view. At that moment, my work started to get noticed more and I was happier with what I was showing. My advice is to not worry about what you think others want to see. Make work that you like and showcase that with confidence.
Are you shooting for yourself and creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?
I am always shooting for myself, and if I’m not shooting, I’m thinking about how I want to shoot my next personal project. There will never be a point in my life when I stop shooting.
How often are you shooting new work?
I shoot a new project once a month, maybe more if time allows.
I’m a lifestyle photographer / videographer residing in Los Angeles. My approach is to capture life in motion – a feeling of realism. I live for storytelling, and my work embraces the world for its humor, spontaneity, and adventure. Whether it is trekking through a frozen waterfall or following adventurers into the heart of a rain forest, new experiences excite me. My passion toward collaboration fuels my momentum for each project. I stay inspired by my subjects’ charisma, idiosyncrasies, and the ability to connect with them in an authentic way. I have a degree in Journalism & Fine Art from the University of Minnesota, and have been a full time creative ever since. When I am not photographing, you may find me at my neighborhood’s diner enjoying pancakes for dinner.
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 founding 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 fed with helpful marketing information. Follow her@SuzanneSease.
[by Francis Zera]
Personal work is sometimes treated as a dirty little secret — these projects make a photographer’s heart happy but are often seen as everything from a detriment to the bottom line to a dalliance that uses time that could be better spent pursuing paying jobs.
To the contrary, personal projects should be the core of every working photographer’s body of work. Pursuing projects that satisfy one’s creative needs is never bad, so long as they’re kept in context with budgets and time constraints.
Some photographers have leveraged personal projects into connections and gigs with agencies that represent new genres, while others have created quite respectable bodies of artistic work.
To me, the true benefit of producing personal work (and including it in some form on one’s website) is its potential to build rapport with current and potential clients by demonstrating one’s passion for photography and willingness to explore new ground and push boundaries.
When interacting with clients, I get far more conversation starters from my personal portfolio than my professional one. While I’m certain that the photographs contained on my professional site reflect the sort of competency and vision they already expect, the personal gallery allows them insights into my personality, lets them tag along on my travels and creates opportunities for conversations beyond the immediate assignment.
Those conversations strengthen business relationships and build the rapport that’s so necessary when developing a mutually beneficial repeat-client relationship.
Francis Zera is a Seattle-based architectural and commercial photographer. He teaches the business curriculum in the photography department at the Art Institute of Seattle, and recently completed an M.A. Ed. in adult education and training. You can check out his work at zeraphoto.com and follow him on twitter. His personal-work social media feed can be seen on Instagram.
PDN: What kinds of changes to the industry had the biggest impact on your work as an agent?
JR: Before I answer, I should say that the governing principles remain the same. It’s a timeless dynamic, going door-to-door flogging stuff. There’s all sorts of nuance, but it only takes one bout of sitting in an advertising agency’s reception area surrounded by portfolios—waiting for the assistant art buyer to totter out and escort you to a conference room—to allay any doubt that there’s something fundamentally Willy Loman about the whole gig. That hasn’t changed. Nor has the fact that we need them more than they need us.
There were times I’d take some conference call, having stepped away from the dinner table at home; I’d be pacing about on the porch, gesticulating like a spastic cranefly, snorting, laughing too loud, spouting platitudes about “authenticity” and “shooting from the inside out.” Then I’d come back in and there’d be [my family] Juliette, Winnie and Dusty staring at me with half eaten meals and that collective “who the fuck are you?” look. Like the girls had just watched their dad dance on a bar in a Speedo for nachos.
Digital changed the landscape. Before the pixel, craft was still an elemental component of the narrative. A process that involved trusting strips of cellulose in a mysterious dark box was replaced by instant, impeccable rendering, in situ on vast monitors. The photographer’s role as sorcerer and custodian of the vision was diminished: The question “have we got it?” became redundant. Now it was the photographer asking the art director asking the client. Which is a big deal. Because the previous dialectic was that you engaged people who brought something to the party you couldn’t provide yourself. Like Magi, the “creatives” brought creativity; photographers, vision. By abdicating those responsibilities to the guy who’s paying, you’re undergoing a sort of self-inflicted castration. A culture of fear and sycophancy develops. Self-worth diminishes, because nobody really likes being a eunuch, even a well-paid one. There’s less currency in having a viewpoint. The answer to the question “What have you got to say?” drifts towards “What do you want me to say?” There’s reward in being generic, keeping one’s vision in one’s pocket. Trouble is, when your vision has spent too long in your pocket, sometimes you reach for it and it’s not there any more. Something Pavlovian sets in: the bell rings when it’s kibble-time and you drool on cue. Suddenly many jobs can be done by many people, photographers become more interchangeable, the question of “Why him over her?” shifts to ancillary aspects of the process; personality, speed, stamina, flexibility. And there’s profit in mutability; being able to gather several photographers under a single umbrella with a shared mandate makes you more flexible and attractive. But the corrosive byproduct is that the unique sniper’s eye of a Greg Miller, Chris Buck, James Smolka, Sian Kennedy becomes not only less relevant, but actually an obstacle. In shifting ground to garner a larger share of the mainstream, you risk losing identity, licking the hand that feeds you.
There were other strands that played into this shift. The “make it look like my niece could have shot it” esthetic; the bespoke corporate stock library with its emphasis on bulk delivery of cliché; endless emphasis on “aspirational” as a reaction to difficult economic times. Oh, and how about the Death of Print? Half the industry getting fired in a month and no sign of a magazine this side of Bulgaria. Loop back to the top. Add decimation and fear.
Read More: PDN Online.
[by Carolyn Potts]
Create personal work because it feeds both your creativity and your humanity. It’s a practice recommended for all photographers.
There’s also a strategic benefit for advertising and editorial photographers who regularly create personal work/self-assignments. You could end up becoming the next in-demand style leader/trendsetter. And, guess who gets to subsequently command higher fees when they create a new and marketable style that becomes hot?
Like most other reps I knew, I always loved representing the photographers who were always willing to create self-generated projects because we knew that eventually “creative lightning” would strike – something would come out of the photographer’s incubation that we would be able to market. It was exciting to see what they came up with and bring that work to the visionary art directors we knew who were ever-alert for a fresh photographic style to execute an ad concept. An award show or two later, and a whole trend would start.
Their careers would light on fire.
Two different photographers I repped (one, a still life shooter, the other, a lifestyle photographer) both came up with new photographic styles that hit the leading edge of a trend that lasted over two years. They both attracted national clients for their new styles; styles each had come up with through “fooling around” with lighting and processing. These new styles earned them the highest profile assignments and highest fees of their careers.
As always happens, soon the photographic landscape became glutted with imitators these hot, new styles. The supply exceeded the demand, fees receded, and, like a comet, the style faded out of fashion.
Meanwhile, the next big trend was already beginning to spark in the studios of those creative photographers who were never content to rest on their laurels. Those who were always willing to reinvent themselves. Those who made sure they booked time in their schedules to “fool around” with their imagery and processes and continually ask “what if…??”
Carolyn Potts, creative consultant, speaker, and former photo rep, is always on the lookout for the creative sparks that change the photographic landscape. She loves supporting those firestarters by showing them how to get more work. Find her at www.cpotts.com and http://bit.ly/FaceBookPottsConsulting and Google+
Heidi: Did Cosmopolitan commission this project or did you bring this idea forward?
Gabriela: This was a commissioned assignment for Cosmo and my first assignment for them. They contacted me in the summer of last year after seeing a story I had shot for Martha Stewart Living on the Kutztown Folk Festival. The first part of the rodeo shoot had a sort of similar, small-town fair vibe, which I think was a parallel. I was very fortunate to be teamed up with a writer, Kelly Williams Brown, who pitched the story to Cosmo and who became a good friend throughout the process.
How many days/weeks did it take to shoot this?
The shoot was split into three trips out West over five months. For the first trip, we went to Corvallis, OR, to the home of Nicole Schrock, who was Miss Rodeo Oregon and the main character of the story. We followed her around at home, on her family’s farm and the local county fair. The second trip started in Portland, OR, where Nicole was joined by five other state queens and we toured around Oregon for a week before arriving at the Pendleton Rodeo, one of the largest and most historic in the country. (Fun fact: At Pendleton, press is required to be in ‘rodeo wear’ meaning cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and appropriate western shirt, so I actually got a budget from Cosmo to purchase these items!) This was probably my favorite trip as it felt like I was just tagging along on a vacation with a group of awesome girls, plus I loved the reactions from walking around town with a gaggle of rodeo queens in tow. Lastly, we travelled to Las Vegas where the Miss Rodeo American competition takes place during the National Rodeo Finals, which is a huge event, cowboys everywhere!
What specifically does “expanded from an assignment” mean?
The story ran in the July issue this summer. Due to editorial constraints Kelly’s article was condensed into an intro for the photo essay and they published only a tiny portion the material that I had shot. Cosmo’s edit, understandably, was also very different than what I would show. Kelly and I talked a few weeks after it published and realized that we both had so much good material that we didn’t want it to go to waste and discussed how we could expand it. I knew I wanted to make a physical piece as a promo and I wanted for Kelly to share her full story in the way that she originally intended. The result was twofold: this promo book that highlights the photos with Kelly’s reporting interspersed throughout and a post on Medium with her full article and my photos. This was my first time working with Medium and while its geared toward text over imagery, it feels like it was the perfect place for our story to live. It was promoted by Medium, along with our outreach, and has been viewed over 21,000 times.
Was this promo a difficult edit? How many images were considered?
Yes! Isn’t every project difficult to edit? I shot over 4,000 images and there were probably around 250 that I handed into Cosmo and about 70 I was considering for the promo. One of the tricky things for me was choosing an image on the strength of the image versus the strength of the story. Unfortunately the last trip in Vegas, which was the grand culmination of everything — especially all the amazing sequined outfits — took place entirely under the fluorescent lights of the MGM Grand conference rooms. I had the least access to the girls, who were under constant chaperoned supervision. I knew it was important to show this in the story, but I didn’t feel they were the strongest images, so I only included two at the end to round out the story with the final shot of the newly crowned Miss Rodeo America. It’s not my favorite, but I felt like I needed that conclusion. There were also a few days on the second Oregon trip where the girls weren’t on queening duty and were just dressed in regular jeans and t-shirts. We shot guns, visited a saw mill and a cheese factory, went on a boat ride, and frolicked on Haystack Beach. A lot of the material I shot on those days just didn’t fit into the narrative, despite being some of my favorite shots.
The body of work has a great narrative arc, I loved the quote vs. captions. What made you decide to publish quotes?
I knew absolutely nothing about rodeo queens going into this story. I didn’t even know there was such an honor! The booklet was certainly to showcase the images and I knew it wasn’t the place where people would read a full article. But, I felt it would really enhance the experience by including a bit of context to the images that explains what its like being a rodeo queen for those who, like me, might not even understand the culture. I think this is a story that really benefits from hearing from the girls themselves.
Why the booklet, and not a foldout, magazine or cards…?
I’ve done post cards many times and recently did a promo poster this spring, but had never done a booklet. This might be the first body of work I have that falls nicely into such a linear narrative that making a book seemed logical. I have zero design background though and the idea of tackling a book project seemed very daunting. Luckily my husband is a designer and was immensely helpful in putting this together and it was an added bonus to be able to collaborate with him on this project. It was also a chance to try on-demand printing. We tried MagCloud and ultimately went with Smartpress, as they had better paper options. Both were great because I could order exact quantities, and can always order more.
Before you approach a multi day project, do you have an idea of it’s development or is it more organic ?
After the first trip out to Oregon, I came home so excited about the images. Nicole, the lead subject, was just wonderful to work with, as was her family who supported her all the way to Vegas. We had no idea if she was going to win the competition or not but she was perfect to be our main character in that she seemed to get along with everyone, certainly was considered a top contender and photographically was great in front of the lens. We actually got lucky in picking Nicole — the decision was mostly driven by Kelly, who lived in Oregon — because she ended up in third place out of twenty-seven girls in the competition . Projects definitely form more organically for me. I rarely set out with specific images I want to make. With so much material after only that first trip, I had a feeling I would end up with a body of work that I could develop beyond the assignment.
Are you constantly referring to images you’ve already shot and then looking for what needs to be added?
Not really. I usually just shoot and shoot and shoot and then pull out from there. I do wish I had been able to gain more access to the girls during the competition to round out the final stages of the story better, but I think I got enough. Were I to continue pursuing this project, of course I have in mind certain elements that I’d want to add. For example, there were talks at one point of shooting a seamstresses working on the gowns. With any project you could shoot forever and ever, but I think I’m done with this project for now. It was a wonderful opportunity to have all the access I received, and I feel like I told the story I want to tell.
What was your overall creative direction for this ( in your own body of work ) and from the magazine?
For the kind of stories I shoot, the type of direction I usually get is very broad and has me shooting a bit of everything. I love that kind of direction, or non-direction if you will, in that it leads me to shoot what I find most interesting. I rarely receive the type of assignment where there’s a shot already mapped out in someone’s mind and I’m there to execute it. This was no different. Of course there’s the schedule of events to follow but, outside of that, I was free to shoot anything and everything that caught my eye.
Are all the images in the promo unpublished?
There’s only one image (detail shot of Nicole’s Miss Rodeo Oregon chaps) from the promo booklet that was also used by Cosmo.
What was the most surprising element of this project?
Perhaps the fact that I was opened up to this whole new world that I didn’t even know existed. Did you know ‘queening,’ is used as a verb? And that hair curlers are an essential item to being a rodeo queen? This was a total cultural immersions for me from seeing parts of the country I’d never been, to attending my first rodeo, to shooting guns and bonding with girls outside of my social circle.
I am forever grateful to Cosmo and the photo department team who not only took a chance on me but really gave me the opportunity to dive deep into a subject matter, over a long period of time, and develop meaningful relationships.
How did this body of work force you to grow as a photographer?
One of the most important lessons from the this project was the power of collaboration and reporting. In this case I feel like having the quotes and the captions and being able to read Kelly’s full text really enhances the viewing experience of the images and adds another layer of understanding. I’m not a writer, nor do I feel I’m any good at it, yet from this experience I feel like I either need to push myself on the writing front or partner with other writers like Kelly who would be willing to dive deep into a project together.
[by Todd Joyce]
“Do what you love for a living and you’ll never work a day in your life.” vs “Do what you love for a living and you’ll grow to hate it.” How are you working to be sure that you aren’t going to end up hating what you do?
Exercise your creative spirit occasionally with personal projects. It’s important for you to grow and revitalize your energy. Do something that means something to you, too - a cause, something fun or creative that you have always wanted to do. Come up with a personal project – huge or small – and do it. Don’t be intimidated by the word project. It doesn’t have to be an epic 2 hour feature film. It can be a 30 second video or a special image that you enjoy or that challenges you. Do it regularly and often. Make a personal play date and keep it.
Get hired to play.
If you’re doing something you love, it will show in your work. And, there are clients out there who can see the energy in what you create and who will hire you to do exactly what you do well.
“Why aren’t I being hired to do that kind of work?” you ask. The simple answer is – if you’re not doing fun work with heart, then nobody’s going to hire you to do fun work with heart.
I do personal work all the time. I shoot video projects for things I care about and I shoot fun images that feed my creativity and show my capabilities. By incorporating that work into my portfolio, I get hired to produce the same kind of work. I play when I work for myself and I get hired to play by my clients.
Todd Joyce – See Todd’s playground here - and be sure to see his 30 day project, personal work and motion sections.
Cinematography is a strange blend of creative art and practical resourcefulness. Deakins is aware of this and, while striving for artistic relevance in his films, acknowledges that he sometimes needs to get out of the way and avoid favoring perfectionism over the realistic obstacles of a shoot.
He’s also quick to point out that his job is ultimately to serve the director and that the “art” of cinematography is meaningless when it doesn’t benefit the director’s vision.
It is this combination of attitudes that makes Deakins a voice of reason in cinematography circles. He’s such a capable artist who, at the core of it, is OK with releasing his “art” into the public — shortcomings and all.
Read more here: The Black and Blue.
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[by Chris Winton-Stahle]
Personal work has been a vital part of my creative process and my ability to stay relevant as an artist. As commercial assignment photographers, we often rely on the scope of a particular project or the vision of an art director to inspire our images. It is easy to lose sight of that burning passion we have to create for ourselves.
But, in meetings across the country, I’ve consistently seen that art buyers are more interested in seeing what I’m doing on my own than what I’ve done on assignment. Concept is everything! The people hiring want to see a unique style in your work and an understanding of how to develop strong conceptual imagery. In today’s ever-changing market of commercial photography, having a strong foundation of personal projects and a following for that work can be a game changer.
Here are a few key strategies I follow when creating new personal work:
Chris Winton-Stahle is an award-winning photographer and accomplished photo illustration artist who sees the camera as only half of his process in creating great imagery. Chris often pulls components from multiple images and CGI when creating his work for clients in advertising, magazines and entertainment.
With everything else we’ve all got on our plates, carving out time to pursue personal work can be tremendously challenging. This week, our contributors discuss the value of personal projects and the role personal work has played in their own careers. ~Judy Herrmann, editor
The rules are, there are no rules. I had to look that up on Google to see what film it came from. I would have bet “Hot Dog,” the movie. That classic ski comedy (with boobs, of course,) that came out in 1984.
If you have the same sort of 80’s nostalgia I do, or at least enjoy a giggle down memory lane, here’s a good link for you. The Chinese Downhill scene. Yup, that would have been my guess.
Google says it comes from “Grease,” though. Another piece of cinematic history. Apparently, it’s said in the buildup to the big car race, for which “Greased Lightning” was the foreshadowing. (Think of me what you will, but that was my favorite song when I was seven.)
Does it really matter who first said something as purely rational as that? The rules are…there are no rules. It’s like a Zen koan had sex with some of Sun Tzu’s war theory. (Hey now.)
What’s the point, though? It might as well apply to Capitalism, because, really, what else could explain our remorseless gutting of Planet Earth’s resources.
I’ll keep it light this week. It’s the only decent thing to do.
In the art world, which doesn’t always make sense in the photo world, you can make art any damn way you please. Want to serve food and call it art? Be my guest.
Or how about gardening as art? Go for it. Trim your hedges to your heart’s content.
Appropriation, you say? A fancy word for stealing other people’s shit? Fire away.
That last one has been, and will likely always be controversial. I interviewed Sam Abell a year or so ago, and he bluntly said that HE made Richard Prince’s most famous image. Because he did.
The art is in re-contextualizing, we’re told. I’ve done it myself, though my motivations were at least altruistic. Stealing from corporations and such. But this isn’t about me. (I swear.)
“The Night Climbers of Cambridge” is the book we’re going to look at today, and it fits the bill for witty and light. (God Bless the English.) The black velvet cover, with barely visible text, announced itself as a book I would enjoy. (Yes, I judged the book by its cover.)
You’ll love the photos, because, who wouldn’t? A bunch of college kids, way back in 1937, took to climbing buildings at various colleges in Cambridge. Apparently, it was an established tradition. I’m only surprised they didn’t dress up in women’s clothing first. (Cheeky devils.)
The photographer was named Noël Howard Symington, though he took the nom-de-guerre Whipplesnaith. (As my wife would say, “Of course he did.”) He and his buddies did stupid-young-man stuff, but they lit it and took pictures too. How positively 21stCenturyJackassian of them.
So what’s the trouble then? Why did I bother to introduce ideas of appropriation and give you that juicy link to “Hot Dog?” Because the book is credited to the artist Thomas Mailaender, who collaborated with the famed Archive of Modern Conflict.
That’s right, it’s his book, not Mr. Symnington’s. The latter artist retains copyright, but the former owns the archive. So it’s his book, and his “art,” in re-introducing it.
What say you on the matter?
Honestly, I think appropriation can be among the most powerful tools an artist has. I take this, I claim it, I change it, and I subvert its intent. I am rebel, hear me whinge.
But here, it’s just someone buying someone else’s stuff and then putting his name on it. I mean, sure, there could be other motivations. Perhaps I’ll get a politely worded email from The Archive of Modern Conflict telling me that I’ve got it all wrong.
So be it.
Otherwise, I have a hard time understanding why some artists need to put their name on other people’s stuff. Found objects? OK. Anonymous pictures discovered in a scary attic in Iowa? Maybe. Maybe.
But when you know who made something, calling it yours isn’t art. It’s lazy. Why not just show us what you like, make the book, but don’t put your name on it? They call those people curators, no?
Or better yet, do what Quentin Tarantino does. He let’s his buddies say “Quentin Tarantino Presents,” like he did with RZA’s mostly crappy kung fu film, “The Man with the Iron Fists.”
Thomas Mailender presents Noël Howard Symington. Clunky, sure, but at least it’s honest.
That’s my take anyway. As to the climbers? They’re awesome. Parkour before the trends. School prank with the whiff of possible death.
What’s not to like?
Bottom Line: Awesome photos of English college boys climbing pretty buildings
Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.
Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.
[by Tom Kennedy]
The world is going increasingly mobile. A slew of articles such as these posted by the PewResearch Internet Project and Reel SEO point to fascinating new usage patterns on various mobile platforms, particularly for the sharing of photos and the consumption of video. This shift has important implications for visual communicators.
1) How audiences consume media is changing.
Another article from the PewResearch Internet Project shows that people using mobile phones appear to be particularly focused on quick scans for information, and filling small bursts of time, such as waiting in line at a grocery store or for public transit to arrive.
According to TabTimes, tablets appear to be used primarily at home as a “second screen” companion to broadcast television or an entertainment device enabling time-shifted personal viewing of long-form video, broadcast shows, or movies.
PewResearch has found that both types of device are gaining rapidly on laptops and PC’s as a primary location for watching video.
2) Media creation must adapt to this change.
When considering content production, producers of video need to be looking simultaneously in two directions. First, smartphones are the ideal device for quick burst, short-form storytelling. Platforms like Vine are showing how clips of just a six-second duration can create an impression. Brands looking to make a distinctive point about a product or service have been using Vine also for its capacity to facilitate rapid social sharing.
Second, tablets are proving an ideal platform for longer-form video storytelling. Companies like Amazon and Netflix, looking for documentary-style storytelling or lower budget television show productions, are creating opportunities for visual storytellers that didn’t exist a few years ago. Tablets are proving an ideal device for streaming shows like “House of Cards,” “Alpha House,” or “Orange is the New Black.”
Smart visual communicators are mastering new tools and experimenting with aesthetic language to take full advantage of these platforms. I have been struck by how video on smartphones looks better if shot in a style reminiscent of silent films a century ago. Close-ups, supported by dramatic light, and color palette do very well as a signature visual style on smartphones. Tablets offer more cinematic flexibility like that associated with standard film production, with complex scenes, motion, and wide shots having more of a place in the visual vocabulary of creators.
3) Visual language is becoming central to describing one’s life.
Mobile devices also feature strongly in the rising use of visual images by amateur photographers as the basis for content sharing, and for youth as a primary place to express their feelings about the events, people, places and things most central to their life. I have been fascinated by the quick migration by young people from Facebook to Pinterest and Instagram as visual content sharing mechanisms. This has implications for professionals as visual language comes to rival text as a means of self-expression and apps enable new visual vernaculars to emerge.
4) This is just the beginning.
A peek at just a couple of forward looking articles from CNN and Onbile Group reveal an exciting future. It will be fascinating to watch how mobile technology morphs in the areas of augmented-reality displays that blend geo-located information screens with a view of the real world immediately in front of the viewer and how new forms of wearable technology will emerge to offer new ways of delivering information. As new technologies emerge, professional creators will need to pay attention to new visual communications trends and be ready to capitalize on them.
Tom Kennedy is an independent consultant coaching and mentoring individual photographers, while also working with various organizations to train individuals and teams on multimedia story creation, production, publication and distribution strategies for digital platforms, and enhancing creativity. He also regularly teaches at Universities and multimedia conferences. He has created, directed, and edited visual journalism projects that have earned Pulitzer Prizes, as well as EMMY, Peabody, and Edward R. Murrow awards. He can be reached at email@example.com.