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How did you get those amazing aerial shots?
I ended up taking a helicopter tour of Kauai, knowing it would be the most amazing way to see and photograph the island from a unique perspective. I specifically found a company that offered a doorless chopper to get the best photos I could. The experience was incredible and terrifying at the same time. I honestly found that looking through my lens made it feel less “real” but every time I would set my camera down I started freaking out. The pilot gets down within the canyons and directly over the rocky cliffs or huge ocean swells. Its really a surreal way see the crazy diverse mix of landscapes on such a small island.
What was your approach to this shoot, did you have a shot list?
I approached this shoot similar to any editorial project I shoot. I definitely come in excited with some initial ideas and knowing the magazines specific needs. I always leave room however for exploration and spontaneous shots as well…Always turn down every road that looks interesting, dont hesitate to talk with locals, etc…
With this being a big feature, we definitely talked about the shoot a lot before hand and went into it with a Shot List. I had never been to Kauai previously. Being brand new to an area is always a great advantage for me photography wise. Everything is new and exciting and none of the little details get missed or overlooked. With a place this incredible I know there is bound to be almost too many good small details. I did try to stay within the vein of the story though. With it being a story for their Food Issue, the specific dishes had to be chosen and bringing any necessary lighting/plates/etc.. was also planned ahead of time. Shooting food at night almost always needs to be lit. I wanted to light it yet have it still feeling fitting to the story that was mostly shot outdoors & natural.
Did you know the writer on this project?
I have yet to meet Chris personally however he also wrote the one other travel story I have shot for AFAR earlier last year. After that story (about Oregon Coastal foragers) he reached out to me via email expressing he loved how the story turned out. We have corresponded a few times and I hope to collaborate with him again. I think my aesthetic is a good fit for his stories and we definitely have a mutual respect. I was stoked to find out he was writing the Kauai piece.
What sort of direction did you get from the magazine?
The creative director Elizabeth Spiridakis Olson & Photo Director Tara Guertin are both amazing people. AFAR does a great job of planning, producing and scheduling yet also letting the photographer find your own vision and tell the story as you see it and experience it. They both had great ideas going into the shoot on locations, aesthetic, and other details. Elizabeth actually joined me during the food shoots and helped with specific plate styling. Its great to collaborate with people who are just as passionate and whose aesthetics and curation I respect.
Whose idea was it to ride a bike off the pier?
Technically Jim was only diving off the pier…not riding a bike off of it but he did have damn good form. I might of mis-worded that about the bike. He rode his cruiser bike onto the pier and then dove off a few times for us. I was taking some more classic environmental portraits at his restaurant Bar Acuda. We were pretty much finished up and he asked if we needed anything else. I mentioned “not unless you wanna go dive off the Hanalei Pier”. He answered right away “sure!” This made for more for some way more natural and cool shots of him. He truly is in his element on the island. (2 outtakes attached)
How was the food at Bar Acuda?
The food we had was awesome! You can really tell Jim uses the best local ingredients possible. Weekly trips to the farmers market/fish markets and sourcing as many things as he can that way. The islands climate can grow almost anything. As simple as it was the Local North Shore honeycomb with Humboldt Fog goat cheese and apple was one of my favorite things we tried. That honey smells and tastes like the islands flowers. I also have only good things to say about any of the sea food they serve. Seared Ono was especially memorable.
What made this story different from your other travel assignments?
This was a dream job! 100 percent. I have shot a lot of travel related stories around the Northwest where I live but I had never yet traveled somewhere so exotic and breathtaking for travel work. I think knowing it was a big feature and a huge opportunity pushed me to work harder than ever before. I was up before sunrise every day and really made the most of every minute on the island. Without sounding super cheesy, it really affirmed how much I love my job. Its a ton of work on a travel story. Running around hitting so many places but its always the most fun and exciting. Especially being somewhere you have never been and knowing the photos are going to accompany a great travel writers story. I don’t think I have ever been more excited to get home and scan through film/files than on this story.
How many shots did you get of the ocean before you got that beautiful opener?
Surprisingly not many. It was only our first morning of shooting..(we arrived the previous afternoon). My assistant Ron Harroll & I got up before dawn and just started driving around looking for interesting views and landscapes in the morning light. It wasn’t even a particularly scenic beach but we noticed the waves/water looked good in that light and we pulled over for a few quick shots. It ended up making a great opener.
When this post was first published on April 28, 2011, Tom Kennedy worked with ASMP as a keynote speaker for our SB3 conference and contributor to the ASMP Guide to New Markets in Photography. Today, he is ASMP’s Executive Director and his insights into the value of relationships and the importance of deep listening ring just as true. ~JH
[by Tom Kennedy]
SB3 was a wonderful tonic for what ails us currently as we struggle to live our dreams while making a living that meets our obligations. The positive energy that encircled the conference rooms in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago came directly from the deepest acts of encouragement and sharing that were going on.
One of my “aha moments” was realizing how precious such encounters are and yet how easily they can be created when people get together, free from fear and the pressure of the daily grind. The catalyzing power of the conference came directly from the sharing that was going on in each session. Rather than seeing each other as competitors and our business as a “zero sum” game, we were seeing each other as peers and contemporaries who could generously share experience, insights, and knowledge, thereby allowing all to carry away some kernels of wisdom that can be put to good use in the future. New information could be used as fuel to enlarge the opportunities for all.
Creating powerful visual stories that entertain, inform, and incite positive change in the world is a complicated task. It is sometimes hard to remember that our joy comes from being able to see purely and create powerful visual communication when we are all struggling so hard just to find the next client or assignment that can enable us to stay working.
Another “aha moment” for me came from listening to discussions about how to frame one’s business as providing solutions rather than a commodity. As most business people will say, long-term business relationships occur best when one is seen as being able to effectively listen and then solve another’s problems, thereby meeting their immediate needs. It requires an open mind, a generous heart, patience, a dose of humility, and the instinct to reach out to others as potential collaborators in order to frame and manage complex story-telling projects. I don’t think we have to be perfect in all we do business-wise. We just have to be authentic, kind, and purposeful listeners who then can figure out the best way to execute. Good things come from acting in that way and continually trying to understand and figure out smart ways to meet client needs.
While the world of visual communication and the landscape of media companies may be changing at a breakneck pace, the essential skills crucial for success still seem to involve fundamental human behaviors rooted in operating from wellsprings of personal passion, commitment, and positivity. It was good to see those traits being reaffirmed by all involved in putting on SB3 and to see how it was creating new clarity for many of those in attendance. Ultimately our ability to put things in context for others through our visual communication, depends on seeing things clearly ourselves.
Tom Kennedy attended all three SB3 conferences as a keynote speaker. Formerly with National Geographic and the Washington Post, he now serves [subsequently served] as the Alexia Chair for Documentary Photography at Syracuse University. http://kennedymedia.net
In the 7 years since ASMP launched the Strictly Business blog, we’ve published over 1600 posts. This week, we revisit posts from April 28 – May 1 2009 through 2013. While deciding which posts to share with you this week, I was struck by the depth and breadth of this collection and how well it has stood the test of time. I encourage you to read through our archives – by month, by author, or by topic – and experience the wealth of insights and information we have waiting just for you. ~Judy Herrmann, editor
Who printed it?
I had them printed at The Paper Chase Press, they came highly recommended from a long time agent friend.
Who designed it?
I designed the promos myself.
I see you added a touch of gold to the promo.
Yes, the gold is to represent honey and it’s thick card stock, so the sides of the cards have gold on them.
Who edited the images?
I edited the images with the intent of it telling a good story, like an editorial piece would. I wanted a close up of the honeybee so that you could identify with, and personalize the bee. Each image after pulled back a little more until it ultimately reveals the full story of the beekeeper. Here’s the complete gallery and written story.
How many did you make?
I did a total of 180 cards, and sent them out in pairs of 3, so 60 total.
How many times a year do you send out promos?
This was my first batch of promos to go out. Prior to this year, I was working full time at a studio, as the Director of Bookings, and was shooting on weekends and in my off hours, and didn’t have time to pursue additional work. I’m now 100% percent focused and plan to send out promos 3 times a year.
I recall seeing a remarkable video at one of SPD’s Unsung Heroes; Mathieu Young presented you.
It was a pleasant surprise to see that along with being a successful Director of Bookings, you were also a talented photographer with a deep interest in environmental awareness.
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Life in the 21st Century is a futile attempt to answer a set of unanswerable questions. (I’m sorry for the downer, but it’s true.) We’re faced with existential problems that lack easy, digestible solutions.
And yet, we persevere.
How do we reconcile the fact that we are not-so-slowly killing the Earth, but many of the radical things we might do to arrest the changes would likely slow our economy? Which would impact our competitiveness as a nation. And perhaps lead to unrest.
Of course, many people with the political power to enact change, here in the United States, don’t actually believe in science. Or at least they publicly disavow accrued knowledge, so that it doesn’t impede the steady progression of corporate cash into their campaign finance accounts.
I’m not nearly as cynical as it might appear, but honestly, it’s hard to see how we’re going to solve our environmental problems. Because they are inextricably linked to money, and as we all know, cash is king.
Even if, by some miracle, a corporation invents a device that scrubs carbon from the sky, how much do you think they’ll charge for that machine? Can you imagine? Rich countries get to “buy” a cleaner environment, and little Third World backwaters will be shit out of luck.
And yet, we persevere.
I’m musing, mostly because it’s Earth Day today. (We should all wear green, I’d think, but St. Patrick’s Day got there first.) But also because I just opened up “Critical Mass,” a book by German photographer Michael Danner, recently published by Keher Verlag.
This book falls squarely in the category of experiential, which my regular readers know is one of my favorite types of photobook. The pictures within are not drop-dead amazing, but they don’t need to be. Their formal structure screams German, as does the methodical nature of the project.
Mr. Danner photographed in 17 nuclear power facilities in Germany, and brought the results back out in a haz mat suit, I’d imagine. Of course, I thought of Homer Simpson, at times, and once of Thomas Demand’s amazing “Control Room,” but other than that, this book felt fresh to me.
It opens with a set of black and white archival images, which refer to protests in the past. I assume it’s protests against nuclear power plants, but there is no text in the beginning to corroborate. (That comes at the end.)
From there, we enter a world of color, though much of the exterior reality is drained of vibrance. Then we head to the entrances to the facilities. At that point, we realize that the book is segmented into “chapters,” which offer the repetition of showing us the same thing at different plants. (I couldn’t do it justice in the photos below, as I have spatial constraints.)
The entrance gates. The locker rooms. The haz mat suits. The cafeterias. The conference rooms. The gym. The gym?
We can imagine some nameless drone walking through the turnstiles, clocking in, grabbing a presumably free currywurst, changing in the locker room, suiting up, and then going about a “routine” that carries with it the risk of melting down a whole region of a prosperous country, and potentially polluting the air of an entire continent.
(Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Nuclear power provides near-boundless energy, without polluting the air, but the waste is beyond toxic. The Fukushima disaster, and Chernobyl before it, remind us that the economic cost of the megawatts can exceed what is written in a profit-loss ledger.
Do we have a choice about Nuclear Power? Or is it a necessity?
I have no idea. As I said at the outset, these questions bely easy answers.
Back to the book, and we finally move along the vent tubes into the reactors. Industrial-looking behemoths. How do they work? Fuck if I know. Uranium? Plutonium? The methane from aggregated rhino farts?
From there, we enter the bowels of the facilities. One long, dark tunnel after another. This was my favorite part, because the imagery was visceral and striking, as opposed to much of the book, which was clinical and intelligent, but not dynamic.
We finish with a bookended set of archival pictures of protests from back in the 20th C. An era when most people thought the Earth’s resources were limitless, and our political rivalries binary. Us or them. Capitalist or Communist. Good or bad. Black or white. Life or Death.
Bottom Line: A methodical, experiential look inside German nuclear power plants
[by Chris Winton-Stahle]
Personal work is an important part of continuing to grow as an artist and photographer. I have found that creative buyers are interested in hiring me based on the personal work that I create.
Though it’s important to have fun with personal work as an artist, this is no game! Personal work takes time, energy and money, so it’s important to find ways to fund these projects, and also make them profitable. Throughout the process, we should always consider how these images we create will be incorporated into our overall marketing plan and our company brand.
The saying is, “dress for the job you want”. As a commercial artist or a photographer, that means we must create for the jobs we want. Showing work that you’re excited about is often more valuable than showing tear sheets from projects you’ve been hired for!
One way that I have been able to produce a consistent amount of personal work is to incorporate these images into my marketing plan. That means always producing images for new updates on my website, blog material, e-promos and direct mail. This process keeps me growing as an artist, technically and conceptually, and provides a legitimate reason to “play”.
I have had some luck with selling prints of personally produced work. It’s an area that I’m still exploring and finding new avenues for. I have an e-commerce page on my website where I sell art prints that anyone can buy a print at an affordable price. Etsy.com is also a good online service where you can list your art for sale. If you have the time during a slow season, it might be a good option to rent space at an art festival to sell prints.
Getting your creative community involved in the projects your doing, “or want to do” is always a positive direction. Other artists in our industry such as designers, writers, models, stylists or art directors are often interested in creating exciting new work to use in their portfolios or when pitching a project. Connect with people in your area and express your interest in collaborating on self-produced portfolio projects. Bring a strong concept and a plan for its production to the table and you will most certainly find talented people who will play.
Most recently, I have arranged to host independently produced images I’ve created with the Rights Managed collection of a stock photography company. My goal is to generate a separate source of income that will pay for my time and production of self produced imagery as well as all of my company’s marketing expenses. The idea is for it to be a self-sustaining creative machine, allowing me to have an avenue for growth, creative freedom and a way to push my own boundaries as professional artist.
An important thing to keep in mind is that people hiring for our industry are often attracted to enthusiasm, positive energy and conceptual thought about the work we’re creating. They want to see who “YOU” are as a creator of art and how your vision or specific style may come into sync with their vision for their client. Have fun with the personal work you’re creating but always keep in mind that you’re a commercial artist and the work you create will be selling a brand or telling an important story. Find subjects that are exciting to you, envision the brands and dream clients that you want to attract and have fun creating projects that represent your specific brand as an artist.
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.
Jonathan Blaustein: You’re from Ireland. Is that right?
Andrew Hetherington: Correct. Yes.
JB: How far does a good accent take you?
AH: Good question. It certainly helped get my foot in the door and I have certainly laid it on thick at times to break the ice. Then sprinkle some irony, sarcasm and charm on top for the full Irish effect.
One has to use what one has. You know?
JB: Don’t hate the playa, hate the game. Right?
AH: We wouldn’t say that in Ireland. But…I guess, yeah.
JB: (laughing) There’s the sarcasm. I guess. Whatever.
AH: Let’s face it. It is partly a game, and how you choose to play it. I think you’ve got to use all the tools in the arsenal. Do you need to take good photographs? Absolutely, but what else sets you apart from the pack?
I recently photographed Conor McGregor the mixed martial arts fighter aka The Notorious AKA from Dublin here in New York for Esquire magazine. We hadn’t met before but he knew where I was from as soon as I spoke my first word. I said off the bat that I was a shite photographer and the only reason I was on the shoot was that I was Irish. Ice broken.
Doesn’t matter to me whether I am photographing a celebrity, a person in the street or a slice of bread I try to be as genuine and sincere as possible.
JB: You could not have set me up more perfectly for the next question. You used the word arsenal, I’m curious as to whether you’d agree that Arsenal Football Club are likely to beat the pants off of Liverpool this upcoming Saturday?
AH: I have a funny feeling they will, yes. They are the form team and we are lacking in world class players like Ozil and Sanchez in the middle of the park. So I expect us to get well-beaten, although secretly I hope we will win. Being a Liverpool supporter, naturally.
JB: That was not the answer I was expecting. The guy I interviewed last week (Dewi Lewis) was a Manchester United fan, and he was such a homer, he defended them to the death under all circumstances. So I thought I was going to get your goat, but instead, you were honest.
AH: Well, we are having a mixed season. The usual highs and lows. I’m very much a realist. We haven’t played particularly well against the big clubs. If we’d beaten Manchester United the weekend before last, I was hopeful we would make a charge for a Top 4 spot, but I don’t think we’ll get there. We are looking at 5th, and Tottenham and Southampton are nipping at our heels.
The dreamer in me thinks we can win the whole thing of course. I photographed the Liverpool owner, John Henry, right before the end of last season. We were both really optimistic, believing that we would do it. He hit me with some statistics he had run, being a statistically-minded owner, saying that we had a really good percentage chance of winning the league title. The shoot was right after the Manchester City game and the day after the Hillsborough documentary aired on ESPN. It was a very emotional session that one.
JB: Isn’t that the beauty of sports, no matter how you crunch the numbers, there’s no algorithm that can predict that Steven Gerard’s going to slip, or lose his mind and get red carded against Manchester United.
The two defining moments of the last 8 months of Liverpool football could not have been predicted by a computer on Earth. Isn’t that crazy?
AH: Yes, it’s a funny old game as the saying goes. Both events were gut wrenching. I couldn’t look at the UTD game. Already dreaming about next season at this stage.
JB: I only know you’re a Liverpool fan because I watched a video on your website called “Meet the Hetheringtons.” It’s awesome, and everyone who reads this interview should go watch it now.
Did you direct it? Who was the official “maker” of this video, which inter-spliced interviews with you and Tim Hetherington? Was that your baby, or collaborative?
AH: That was my idea. I’d always known of Tim.
One hoped that one was the only “Hetherington” photographer. If there were 20 Andrew Hetheringtons, how do you differentiate yourself from one another?
So I remember seeing Tim’s name in “Vanity Fair,” when I was getting my thing going, and just being in awe of his talent. Early on, in the first couple of years that I was getting into American photography, it was always alphabetical, so I would be before him.
I’d have some portrait, and Tim would have some Earth-shatteringly brilliant picture from Afghanistan, or whatever. It was inevitable we would meet one day, and the opportunity came at the New York Photo Festival, when that was going strong. We were introduced by a mutual friend, Jon Levy, who was at Foto8 at the time.
I had no idea what to expect. And then it turns out he’s literally larger then life in person, tall, handsome, engaging. The complete package. And I’m bald, and 5’8″.
He was the sweetest, most generous charismatic life force, and I figured I had to do something fun with him for the blog so the idea of the video popped into my head. He was totally game and on board, up for some fun. I shot video of him answering the questions. Through our conversation, we figured out that we had some stuff in common, like both being Liverpool supporters.
JB: That was what struck me. I never met the man. Just knowing his work, which was so life-and-death serious, I assumed he was a serious guy. But in the video, he had a wry smile on his face, and came across as funny and down-to-earth.
You’re confirming that he was a fun, cool dude?
AH: Yeah. People close to him hadn’t seen the video until after his death and were touched when they saw it.
We weren’t best friends, by any means.
JB: I understand.
AH: We were friendly. We did an event together for Resource Magazine, I think, out at Root Studios in Brooklyn, where they had a little film evening, inviting photographers who were dabbling in motion to showcase some material. They got in touch with me to show the “Meet the Hetheringtons” video, and in turn I put them in touch with Tim with a view to them screening his “Sleeping Soldiers” piece.
He agreed to have it shown, and showed up for the evening himself. I think he was working in Amsterdam, and managed to get back for the evening. The two of us are sitting there, and they show mine first, and then they show his right afterwards. They couldn’t have been more polar opposite content wise, but it was a fun.
A special moment I will treasure.
I’ll always be grateful to him for giving me that opportunity, and for spending a little time with me. He was definitely one of the greats. Talent, creativity and humanity just oozed from him. I had the utmost admiration for what he did, and who he was.
JB: Well, you’re really anticipating my question. This one sets up perfectly. Sure, you had some things in common, and were both Liverpool supporters. But you are Irish, and he was English.
Here’s the real question: Who are better drinkers, the Irish or the English? Who takes that one?
AH: (laughing) Oh wow. Can we have a score draw on that one?
JB: That’s a politically correct answer right there.
AH: Well, I mean, I have a lot of English friends and a lot of Irish friends. And what about the Scots? And the Welsh? I think on any good night, as in any good day on the pitch, anyone can play a blinder, getting back to the sporting analogies.
JB: OK. Fair enough. I asked the question, you answered it. You mentioned a few minutes ago that back in the day, you were a serious blogger. Let’s talk about that. There’s something I’m super curious about, and I’m sure you’ve been asked before.
What is the, or a, Jackanory? It sounds like a mythical animal.
AH: If you were Irish or English, you would know all about this. When we were kids in the 70’s, there was a children’s television show called “Jackanory,” where a celebrity, a writer, or a reader would basically read a story, from a book, on television. You don’t get any more high tech than that.
It became a slang term. What’s the Jackanory? means what’s the story?
I knew early on that something interesting was happening with the blogs. I wanted to be involved, and I wanted to figure out how to use this tool, partly for fear of getting left behind too (laughing).
The idea was to treat the blog as if it as my own online magazine, so it wouldn’t be Andrew Hetherington’s blog just about Andrew Hetherington. Whats The Jackanory? seemed like the perfect name. So I searched the URL, it was available and I bought it. And that was that.
JB: I expect that our readers will know who you are, and that you’re working like crazy for the biggest magazines, but how much of your current success would you attribute to the fact that you built a following, got name recognition, and people learned more about you through the blog? Do you think it had a significant impact on what came next?
AH: Yes. I really do. I’d been in the game a long time. I started off in Ireland, and began again in the US. In the late 90’s, I started shooting for magazines like “Cosmopolitan,” and “Mademoiselle.” Primarily doing fashion and beauty photographs, but mixing it up with portraiture and music photography.
Like a lot of young photographers, I thought I could do it all. After the tragedies of September 11th there was a period of uncertainty in the publishing world as companies circled the wagons unsure of the immediate future. A few of my clients closed up shop including “Mademoiselle” who would have been my biggest at the time. I also realized I had got as far as I could in the world of fashion photography.
I do appreciate the art. I think you have to live and breathe fashion to for the work to be genuine, and I was losing interest. Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to adapt, and change.
I saw the blog as a chance to be creative, to promote myself and also as a way to promote other people and work I liked. It was a great venue for me creativity because I could do little photo projects, little videos, little whatevers. If it didn’t work no worries, move on, next. It pushed me.
The timing was right too, because it was pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-Instagram. The feed was less cluttered. It was also a very exciting time, with bloggers like Alec Soth, or Rob here at A Photo Editor, the Bitter Photographer.
People in the photo industry started to use blogs to find photographers, look at work, information and so on.
JB: You’re talking about being adaptable, and being slightly ahead of the curve, by setting up a blog at the right time. I discovered the blogosphere in 2009, back when Jörg Colberg had a blog roll on Conscientious, and for me, that was what was going on. I used that as a portal, and found your blog that way.
AH: That’s what happened to me too. When I was working as an assistant, I worked a lot at rental studios. It was very social, and I got to meet other photographers and assistants at the studios or at the labs.
Then when you start to shoot, it becomes a little less social, but at the time there was a communal darkroom called Print Space where everyone went to make C-prints. That’s where I met just about everyone: established and young photographers.
With the advent of digital, naturally the darkroom wasn’t as heavily trafficked as before. So someone turned me on to Jörg’s blog one day too, and I went through the blogroll as well, and started clicking, and before you know it, I’d spent two days on these links.
JB: It was crazy.
AH: I said, “Wow.” Because this was what I was missing. I used to see all this new work, and prints before they were in magazines, at that darkroom. I missed that whole community thing, and with Jorg I discovered a new community online.
I was curious and I reached out to Jörg and said how much I liked what he had going on. As well as being a friendly email, there was a method to the madness, because I sent him the link to a photographer friend of mine whose work I knew he would enjoy.
I knew my work wasn’t for Jörg, but I said “Check this out. I think you might like it, and it may be something you could feature.” He posted it a few days later, and I said to my friend, “Hey, can you check your site visits?”
He did, and the numbers were phenomenal, and I thought, this is really something. Things are moving in a new direction.
JB: You had your finger on the pulse then. Good things happened. You’re in a prime position in the industry now, so let’s look forward a little bit. Do you ever think about what comes next?
If you were to theorize about what the industry landscape might look like in five years, what would you say?
AH: (laughing.) Wow. That’s a loaded question. I don’t know. Is it all going down the shitter? Who knows?
JB: Nobody KNOWS. That’s the whole point.
I’m putting you on the prognostication seat. You can choose to sit there, or you can choose to pass. That’s your choice.
AH: I might have to pass on this one, I always feel like I’m just beginning anyways. I like to think I am still emerging. But then someone said I was a veteran recently and I took umbrage (laughing) to that so a photographer friend said I was an emerging veteran and I liked that (laughing).
JB: Well, let’s go there then. When we’re starting out, I think we all have role models. People we admire and want to emulate. Who was that for you? Who do you look to and think, “Damn, I just love how they conduct themselves, or what their work looks like?”
AH: I admire anyone who’s had a long career, whether it be a photographer, an artist, a filmmaker. Anyone in the creative field. That’s all I want to do. There are so many one hit wonders. So many people who come and go.
Being an assistant, and working with a lot of photographers here in New York in the 90’s who had very established and lucrative careers, a lot of them have disappeared. You never know what curveball life or your career can’t throw you at any moment.
I try to take a very measured approach, and be cognizant of change. I try to adapt. I want to learn new things, because I don’t have all the answers, by any means.
I admire people who are in it for the long haul. You’ve got to hand it to the Rolling Stones. Even U2. You have to admire them. You can’t not. How many bands started when U2 did, and are no longer around. I am not a fan of their music by the way.
JB: Looking at your website, you shoot people, places and things. Even among celebrities, you’ve got the hot chef foodies, like Tony Bourdain. You’ve got actors, comedians, athletes. Anyone who knows photography understands that to do that kind of work, you’ve got to be good with people.
What are your go-to moves to put people at ease? Beyond presumably just being a grounded human being, what are your tricks to make people comfortable, when you don’t have a lot of time with them?
AH: I put the accent on thick, for starters (laughing).
JB: That’s why it was my first question! I’m no dummy, man.
AH: (laughing) I’m usually a bumbling idiot I think. I like to be engaged so I try to have a conversation, which might be detrimental, if you only have 30 seconds with somebody.
JB: Did Tony Bourdain actually eat the pig in the photo, when you were all done?
AH: So the Tony story was great, because I’m a big fan, and I like to cook. That one was for “People” magazine. Anyone who knows Anthony Bourdain will know that he’s had a colorful past, so the “People” angle was that he’d recently gotten married and had a young child.
This was the new, post-heroin Anthony Bourdain. Softer around the edges. So the magazine had arranged for me to scout his place in advance, which was great. I remember that it was a really wet day here in New York, and I got totally soaked.
He lives in Mid town, in one of those hi rise towers, and the door man sends me up, and I’m just drenched. I knock on the door, half expecting there to be an assistant or housekeeper to answer, and there’s Tony.
I was like, “Oh Shit!” I said to him, “What if this doesn’t go well? If I say the wrong thing now, will that scupper the shoot? Will you request somebody else?”
He was incredibly gracious, showed me around and when we came back to shoot a week later, he couldn’t have been more professional. He knows how it works, and said, “Let’s just do this,” so we got stuck in and did it.
At the end of the shoot, we hung around and ate pig, and he had a spread of cheeses, and we chilled out for a half an hour which is very unusual. And he was sweet enough to sign my copy of “Kitchen Confidential.”
Every now and again I’ll do the selfie thing or get something signed, but that’s always the furthest thing from my mind on the shoot.
JB: So the answer is that he ate the pig. He had to eat the pig. That was a given.
AH: Yes. That was a given.
JB: You’ve interviewed people. You know how this works. That’s why I led with the accent. In my mind, I imagined that it would go over well.
It puts people at ease, when you can be a bit self-deprecating. Not seem full of yourself. Do you see your job as putting people at ease, and getting them to feel relaxed and comfortable in your presence?
AH: Absolutely. I’m looking for a moment. I’m hoping that a moment’s going to happen at some stage, whether it be in someone’s office or on seamless. The more relaxed and comfortable they are with me the more likely that’s going to happen.
I like to keep things pretty simple technically, so I’m able to move around and react to whats happening in front of me.
I like to watch people when they’re doing what they do. That’s not always possible, but I encourage people, “If we weren’t here, what would you do? Or how would you sit in that chair?”
Obviously, once the camera comes out, people can become very self-aware and I have found that some of the best moments come when I am physically packing the camera in the bag, and I look around and say, “Hold on! That’s perfect!” So I bring the camera back out.
What was the question?
JB: Well, you got it. Don’t worry. The answer was good enough.
AH: (laughing) So I tend to ramble along like that. I know my assistants have problems understanding what I say sometimes. Maybe it’s the accent (laughing) not the mumbling or its a combo.
I do take the work seriously, but I try to have fun.
I’m fortunate to shoot regularly. When you’re working for a magazine or a commercial client, and there are time constraints, if you work once a month it’s very difficult when you get that one shoot, you’re totally invested. You’re nervous, and you over think it. It’s difficult.
But if you’re shooting regularly, for me anyways it’s so much looser and freer. The pictures come so much easier. If I have a bad day, I know I get to go again tomorrow, so some of the pressure is off, somewhat.
Will I beat myself up? Yes. Am I ever happy? No. But I do try to have no regrets after a shoot. If only I had done this or that or asked the subject if they would be willing to do such and such. So I always ask and if they say no that’s okay at least I asked.
JB: You’ve used the word creative several times, and we’re talking about portraiture. And about the fact that you’re out and about in the world.
This interview is being sponsored by the Santa Fe Workshops, because you’re going to be teaching a workshop there this summer called…Creative Environmental Portraiture.
AH: (simultaneously) Creative Environmental Portraiture.
JB: There you go. It’s what you do, and what we’ve been talking about. So we covered that, with respect to being a working photographer. But what about teaching? Is this something that’s in your wheelhouse? Do you do it a lot? Do you enjoy it?
AH: This the first time I’ve done something like this, so I’m really excited. I have done quite a bit of mentoring, which I thoroughly enjoyed, because it’s actually quite therapeutic. It gives me new ideas too.
Usually, it’s with photographers starting out, and we get into a dialogue, and I’m good for that, provided I have the time. I’ve learned just as much through these sessions.
With respect to the workshop, I’ve been brainstorming the curriculum. I value people’s time and money, so I am totally invested in making it worth their while on all levels.
JB: It’s a few months out, so I don’t expect you to have it all dialed in, but what do you think your students can expect to learn?
AH: All the things you don’t learn in photo school (laughing).
Participants will execute portrait assignments in various situations under real shoot conditions.
I have a lot of experience in the school of how to make something out of nothing and I’ll throw them the crazy curveballs that have been thrown at me over the years.
More often then not its these type of shoots are more about problem solving on your feet all the while having to create a compelling image no matter how shitty the location, weather or what not turns out.
Also, how do you work on developing a signature style, because I think that’s important, especially when you’re starting out. It’s important that the photo editors and art buyers can recognize your photographs. That’s definitely been important for me.
In the beginning, I thought I could do everything, and I’d go into meetings with photo editors with three or four different portfolios. While the work was decent, people were confused, because there wasn’t a single visual language.
The course will be the full immersive Hetherington experience, accent and all if that takes your fancy.
JB: Have you ever been to Santa Fe before, or is this going to be your first time?
AH: This is going to be my first time in Santa Fe too.
JB: What are you expecting out of New Mexico? Is it all informed by “Breaking Bad?”
AH: I have been to Albuquerque, so it is all informed by Albuquerque. Yes.
JB: How did I know? I’m mildly psychic. Because you’ve been so diplomatic the few times I tried to draw you out, I had a question where I was going to put you on the spot about Bill O’Reilly, but I won’t do that.
AH: Try me.
JB: Is he Satan?
AH: (laughing) (pause)
JB: You’re like, “Damn. He’s right. I do have to be diplomatic. I can’t answer that.”
AH: When you’re shooting someone like that, and you do not share their political beliefs, does that taint my approach? I have to say not.
JB: Of course. You’re a pro.
AH: I try to be even-keeled. But someone like that, he’s smart. He’s not going to fall into any visual traps. The image that ran in “Newsweek” was shot right before he taped his TV show.
The bane of a lot of these shoots is these guys end up getting caked in TV makeup, which really isn’t photo-friendly at all. So I liked the fact that he looked like weird made up old white guy.
JB: Regular people have a fascination with fame. That’s why fame exists, and why those famous people make so much money. When you do your job, you have to become inured to it. It doesn’t shake you up.
When you’re so used to shooting people like that, would you admit to having a bucket list? Is there anyone that you really want to photograph, and you’d get all excited about it? Obama? Rihanna?
AH: I don’t even care. I don’t.
AH: Nobody. I’m just happy to be anywhere with anyone. It’s not just the pictures it’s the life experience and the best have come from the most unexpected assignments.
The celebrity thing is not the be all and end all for me. And I don’t necessarily go out of my way to make people look attractive. My lighting is pretty in your face. I don’t come with a lot of bells and whistles.
I’ll be looking at stuff in magazines, or online, and think “I wish I could light like that guy. It’s just beautiful.” And then I’ve got to remind myself, “That’s not what you do.”
JB: I figured you were going to say that. But what if you got hired to shoot Putin? How would you deal with that?
AH: Well in my case it would be on camera flash and boom.
Platon has a great story of his shoot with Putin.
AH: I assisted Platon a little bit, so when I had to photograph Clinton, I emailed him, because I knew that he’d photographed him. I wanted to get his advice, which was stellar.
Basically, he said, “Be yourself. But be prepared. Be prepared. Be prepared. Be technically prepared. Make sure nothing will go wrong, technically, and if it does, make sure you have a backup to the backup to the backup. Be prepared and be yourself. Oh and enjoy the moment.”
I took his advice and made sure that if Plan A failed, Plan B would work, and that my assistants and I were all drilled. You realize that in a situation like that, the time you’re given is the time you’re going to be given.
There is no extra time. 10 minutes quickly becomes 5 minutes which can become 30 seconds in an instant.
In that case, the magazine had two scenarios they wanted covered in limited time, so I had to make sure that was possible. For me, it was a little harder too because he’s not going to pick his nose. Or bend over and scratch his bum. Or do anything wacky. In this case I knew going in that these pictures were going to be relatively straight forward and I was comfortable with that. It’s a photographic record of this man at this time in his life.
JB: I once saw a video with Platon discussing that shoot he did at the UN where he got something like 30 seconds with every world leader. It made me realize how little your average photographer knows about that level of cutthroat perfection.
AH: Platon is a great example of that. Delivering a telling iconic image in a signature way, in challenging situations. Not only do you need to be a talented photographer but you literally need to be a diplomat too to navigate all the stuff happening on the periphery.
JB: He’s got the accent too.
AH: He’s got the accent too. I learned a lot from him. Including how to exploit the accent (laughing).
JB: Well, I’m from Jersey, so I could always amp it up and pretend that I sound like Tony Soprano if I had to. But then again, I don’t do that kind of work.
If you don’t have an accent, you have to make one up, I suppose.
AH: But it still has to be genuine.
AH: I can’t have a funky haircut. But I do have an accent and a beard (laughing).
JB: There it is. It helps with the branding. But we’ve covered so much ground, why don’t we bring it back to the beginning. Since you’re going to be in New Mexico in the not-too-distant future, why don’t we have a friendly little wager on Saturday’s game.
How about we bet a pint on the Arsenal-Liverpool game?
JB: We’re going to end the interview on a wager.
AH: By the time the interview’s published, we’ll have a result.
JB: Exactly. Maybe we’ll do an editor’s note. (Editor’s note: Arsenal won the match, 4-1.)
AH: If Arsenal win, it’s an all expenses paid trip to Santa Fe. On me.
JB: OK. It’s on the record. Thanks again for doing the interview, and I hope all is well in NYC.
[by Irene Owsley]
I can’t remember the last time I showed my portfolio. There are so many other ways to get eyes on one’s work these days, although I don’t deny the powerful impact of face-to-face meetings with potential clients.
The value of pursuing personal projects is undeniable. These bodies of work allow the photographer to shine with authenticity, allowing their image-making to rise to the top in a world where everyone is a photographer. The talent and creativity of a photographer is often most evident in his or her personal work. And we’ve heard this a lot recently: it’s one’s VISION that’s the hook for potential clients – not just the technical acuity, informed business practices and flawless customer service that are a must.
But how do you find an audience for your personal work? Find out where your creative landscape intersects with others.
My friend and colleague, Hannele Lahti (former co-president of the ASMPDC chapter) is devoted to her rescue Boston Terriers, Annie, Murray and Ollie. She trained her camera on them, maybe innocently at first….and was led eventually by her keen affection for dogs to get involved with the Washington DC based non-profit, City Dogs Rescue. Over time, she developed a website specifically based on this work (in addition to her main website) and thus has created a whole new income stream for herself. And you’ve got to love her “Chewed” project.
In my case, the images I created over the twelve or so years that I was drawn to the banks and flows (as a kayaker) of the Potomac River have led to snowballing opportunities for me. It was work I was deeply drawn to producing, as I explored the wild places still left in the midst of a major metropolitan area. Turns out there are plenty of people in the DC area who care about the river as much as I do (no surprise). My work got noticed, purchased, collected. It’s being used creatively by a local river conservation organization (with remuneration to me). My pursuit of the wild in my backyard eventually led to wilderness artist residencies in Alaska, an image hanging in the Smithsonian’s current show Wilderness 50, and continued opportunities in Alaska.
I would go beyond just advocating for folIowing one’s passions. Being visually accomplished needs to go hand in hand with an eloquent, expressive, and confident articulation of one’s intent. Take it further than the elevator speech. In Art Without Compromise, author Wendy Richmond recalls this comment from an illustrator, “Each illustrator develops a language. Personal work increases the vocabulary for that language….” Refine. Refine. Refine. And learn to communicate what you care about.
A new permanent resident of New Mexico, photographer Irene Owsley is trying to establish herself in a totally new market. She’s connected with and already been a speaker for a local wilderness non-profit and is looking forward to working in two wilderness areas in Alaska this summer. But there’s no doubt she misses the Potomac.
Shoot Concept: Studio portraits of 6 professional talent
Licensing: Advertising and Collateral use of all images captured, in perpetuity
Shoot Days: 1
Photographer: Up-and-coming portrait photographer
Agency: Mid-sized, based in NYC
Client: Pharmaceutical manufacturer
Here’s the estimate:
Budget: Usually when I’m quoting on a job, I ask the art buyer if they’ve established a budget for the project. Not that I don’t know what things should cost, but if a client already knows how much money they have to spend, it allows me to concentrate on figuring out how to make the shoot work for that price rather than also trying to figure out what level of production they’re looking for. While the creative fee for the photographer will largely be determined by the usage, the production costs could be any amount of money. In this case, the client told me upfront that they had budgeted $40k for photography. My initial impression with that would be a little tight, but workable. They wanted to do eight individual portraits of professional talent on a simple background in a studio. After talking with the photographer and considering hair, makeup and wardrobe, and how much time we’d want with each subject, we decided we’d need two shoot days. But when I ran the numbers in my head, I was having trouble meeting that budget. So I proposed to the art buyer that we trim the number of subjects to six so we could do it in one day, which would save a lot on licensing fees, model fees and the other production costs. Luckily, since were we dealing with an experienced art buyer and an educated client, they recognized that as a reasonable trade-off. However, just a few days prior to the shoot, the client asked us to also quote the cost of adding back the two additional models and the second shoot day. After running the numbers on paper, It turned out that it would have increased the cost by about 50 percent, so they decided not to go that route.
Creative/Licensing: The pictures were intended for use on the company’s website, not to promote a specific drug, but rather to promote awareness of a particular illness, to educate the public and to encourage healthy living as a form of treatment. As altruistic as that sounds, ultimately, if a “patient” required medical treatment, the idea was that they would choose the pharmaceutical manufactured by the client. There’s no question that the usage was advertising, but the nature of that use was somewhat of a mitigating factor (in other words, mild downward pressure on the value). The client type (big pharma company) and their need for perpetual use of all images captured definitely pushed the value up. Sometimes clients want a license to use all the pictures captured rather than a limited number of selects. I’m always going to assign a premium to that compared to if the client just needed licensing for one image of each person (which was what they were likely to actually use). But since all the other pictures would be subtle variations on the first six, I was basically quoting on six images and only assigned a small premium for that additional licensing.
After “value engineering” the quote as much as possible, we landed on a creative/licensing fee of $12k and about $30k in production expenses. This exceeded the budget slightly, but because the agency wanted to include a second casting day and talent payroll service, which were both “luxuries” as far as we were concerned, and could have been eliminated, they agreed to cover those additional costs, and the estimate was approved.
Assistants: We only needed two assistants since there wasn’t much variation in lighting setups from one talent to the next.
Digital Tech: $500.00 covered the tech’s day rate. The photographer and tech were both OK working with the photographer’s laptop as opposed to renting a workstation/cart. That saved us quite a bit on the rentals side, since the typical cost for a workstation is about $700.00 – $1000.00.
Equipment: We discussed necessary file size with the agency and since they had no intention of producing big transit ads, we agreed that a medium format camera system would be overkill, which helped keep out equipment budget down. We ended up quoting for a few Profoto 7b kits, modifiers, soft boxes and stands, a DSLR camera system (the photographer would use their own as a backup), a handful of lenses and miscellaneous grip.
Producer: A producer is necessary on just about any advertising job. Whenever a photographer needs to manage more than their immediate crew, it’s a good idea to have a producer on hand. A photographer should focus on the creative and leave the talent, location, client, stylist, catering, parking and schedule concerns to the producer.
Studio Rental: This shoot was in a smaller market so there weren’t that many options available on the studio front. Luckily, the pick of the litter was open on the desired shoot date, so we quoted it at cost in our estimate and put a hold on the day.
Photographer Production Day, Casting and Talent: Since we needed talent capable of conveying very subtle emotion, rather than simply looking good on camera, it was important to hold a live casting (as opposed to simply casting from comp cards or online galleries). We included two pre-production days for the photographer to attend the casting to get a better sense for how each potential subject took direction. The agency set the talent rates, which were a bit leaner than we are usually comfortable with, so we were sure to let them know that the lesser rate would almost certainly limit the talent pool. We also mitigated it by putting together a schedule that minimized talent time on site. As it turned out, the pool seemed a bit light, but it was chock full of great options for us. It’s not unusual to use a separate payroll service to pay talent (and sometimes even crew). They also asked us to include an additional fee to cover the costs of paying the talent through a payroll service. Different states have different laws about when and how different types of workers get paid and what taxes and insurance are added to or deducted from those payments. So sometimes a client just wants the peace of mind of knowing that those obligations are being met and they won’t be hit with any unpleasant surprises later. So in addition to the 20% model agency fee, we paid a 25% premium to the payroll service.
Styling: The agency wanted a natural look. We brought on a sizable team to help keep us on schedule and included $250.00/talent for wardrobe.
Post Processing and Transfer: The agency would be handling all retouching, so we included a day for the photographer to do a quick pass on each select and adjust color, contrast, etc. Anything beyond raw adjustments would be the responsibility of the agency.
Catering and Misc: Even though we were running a pretty lean production, the catering budget was healthy, since catering really impacts the perception of a production. We also included $300.00 to cover parking, mileage and any other miscellaneous expenses that might pop up on the shoot or casting days.
If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating or producing a project, please give us a call at (610) 260-0200. We’re available to help with any and all pricing and negotiating needs—from small stock sales to big ad campaigns.
[by Pascal Depuhl]
Did you remember to list your photography business in the Yellow Pages this year? How about the last time you sent out a 4-color direct mail piece or FedEx’d your portfolio to a client? Probably around the same time you faxed that art director your estimate.
Today’s content driven marketing is about having your business found on Google, creating a successful social media presence and having a mobile friendly website. But even if you do all of these things well, there are thousands of photographers and other creatives, who are just as good as you – or even better.
How do you market your brand to make it stand out from the crowd?
Remarkable experiences, make it easy for people to talk about your brand.
“Marketing is making it easy for people to talk about my business.” noted Jared Bauman, co-founder of ShootDotEdit at a recent CreativeLive class called Content Marketing for Photographers. I mean that sounds nice, but wouldn’t it be awesome for people become so excited about your brand, that they could not stop talking about your business? Erin Yongren calls them ‘evangelists’ and says that “you create brand evangelists, by creating remarkable experiences for them.”
25 marketing hacks, you should try:
I successfully used these 25 hacks to market “On WIngs of Hope,” a documentary that began as a personal project. These hacks can also be used to market commissioned work, however they are much easier to pull off if the underlying project is a great story to begin with. Producing unique and memorable personal work and using these hacks to market it, has placed my motion work head and shoulders above that of my competition. Here’s the list:
Some of these are free, others require you to spend hundreds of dollars. Some are opportunities I chased for a long time, others are results of carefully fostered relationships. Some were hard fought, grueling campaigns, others were surprises that got turned into something special.
One thing they all have in common is that they support my desire to promote and expose my work to as many people as possible. They also illustrate how thinking outside the box of traditional marketing and having the willingness to work hard can make it happen.
What remarkable experience have you created about your brand, making it easy for your people to become evangelists for your photography business?
Pascal Depuhl loves finding marketing hacks to promote his work. Tell me what marketing hacks you’re using to successfully promote your business in the comments or on twitter. Use the hashtag #MarketingHacks and check out my weekly blog series: 25 Marketing Hacks that burn your brand in their brains! to explore the details of each one of these.
I had the good fortune of sitting down with legendary creative Douglas Busch who has an inspirational punch list of achievements. Doug is well known for his large BW photographic work shot with a cameras he designed and built under de Golden Busch banner : the finale being the world’s largest portable camera, “The SuperLarge™.” His photographic Silver Chloride and Amidol contact print work ranges from 8×10 to 40×60 presenting an imperfect world with the most graceful and honest eye. He still mixes his own chemistry from the 1900’s.
Little Rocky Glenn, PA 1982
You were an assistant to Al Weber, Morley Baer, and Ansel Adams, looking back what their biggest impact on you as a creative?
Al Weber taught me the basics from the Zone System, exposing film to the finished mounted photograph. Ansel taught me to see the beauty in all things, and Morley taught me about architectural photography and equipment. Al also taught me how to be a descent human being; to give all you have to help and teach people.
While working with those three you had developed a patent for a print washer only using a cup of water an hour, tell us about that.
This was the beginning of my concern for preserving and not wasting water. The planet will run out of water if we continue down the path we are on.
How much of a catalyst was The Mono Lake project for your sustainability work? I know the book was celebrated with a grand exhibition in 1979 that shared awareness about the water diversions to LA.
I saw that Mono Lake was being drained by LA, and I saw an opportunity to have an impact as a water advocate, a photographer and then later in my life as an architect Designer. Mono lake lead me down the path to sustainability, healthy housing and draught tolerant landscaping. I am now working on a self watering vertical hydroponic herb and vegetable growing system for the home; www.theFarminaBox.com
Your architecture firm recently presented a solar panel project to Malibu City Council which would be the first artful construction of a functional and sustainable building, is that right?
Yes, the project has a promising outlook to convert ugly solar into ART. The design and structural skeleton for these very cool new panels from Switzerland seem to oscillate as you move past the building and then curve up like a wave and turn into awnings for the windows giving the feeling of the rolling movement of the waves because the panels are tilted up at various angles to create a wave-like effect. The panels seem to move like the rhythm of the ocean. This is as much an ART piece as it is a functional net zero building. This approach to Solar has never been done before…ART and solar functionality…net zero.
How did this idea develop?
I’ve been in several meeting in that building and noticed the windows were hot to the touch, about 120 degrees and most offices had their blinds drawn to avoid the heat. This seemed like a great opportunity for Malibu to be a maverick in sustainability and forward thinking architectural design. “Malibu” as a brand has always tried to stay in the forefront of a wonderful living environment for their population while protecting the ocean and land. The hope being, Schools and other communities would come to see it as a work of art producing power, and protecting the environment choosing to go down an aesthetic path rather than most solar panel projects which are incredibly ugly and a blight on the environment. The solar system will reduce air conditioning costs and energy usage by protecting the façade from the heat of the sun. It will also be an educational tool for students to participate and see how the futurecan and should be for them through monitors showing the production and use of the sun’s power by us (including waste and vampire energy consumption).
One of the many things that stood out for me was the clarity and remarkable detail of just your proofs for the Zuma and Dark Zuma personal photographic project. Are you using one of your own SuperLarge™ lenses?
I shoot everything from 35mm to 12×20. This project has been going on for years. I started with the “Silent Waves” in the early 2000’s. Then in the last several years photographing Zuma as I walk my dogs on Zuma/Broad Beach.
Silent Waves Project
At some point you mentioned losing your visual eye and gravitated towards architecture, sustainability, healthy detoxing housing, and organic vertical gardening. What’s your best advice for anyone who feels they are in that same position?
I was making the same photographs. Different subjects but the same metaphor. I moved to Malibu to push my vision going from black and white contact prints to Color. The Silent Waves series has been shown and sold all over the world. They are the complete opposite of my prior 35 years of work. Color and a purposeful lack of detail…a 180 degree turn…just color as emotion. It did free up the vision but on my terms not what is popular and/or hip. I still tend to photograph very subtle images…not beat the viewer over the head…bringing them into a more intimate serene place.
You have an interesting idea for the printing of this book, tell us about it.
The idea for Zuma and Dark Zuma is to have some of the images in color, and then some of them in black and white using a blue filter. They take on an abstract nature when shot in black and white and become wonderful organic solitary personal images.
What’s the difference between your eye for photography and your eye for 3D architectural or sculptural work?
With photography you making decisions about what to include in the frame and what not to include in the frame, it’s all right there for you, with architecture and 3D design, it’s all begins visually in your head, goes to paper, then is built. It is a very rewarding process. Add in the sustainable net zero and detoxing healthy elements it is the way the future housing should be for all.
Is it hard to edit you own work?
Well there’s the editing part and then the sequencing. I like to put my work up on a wall and begin to make my selects, walking by daily and removing images as they no longer affect me emotionally. . My friend Sally Mann says it best, “location, location, location” in Real Estate holds the same meaning in photography…edit edit, edit. I also have some curators who often assist me in my editing and see other paths the imagery can go. Once I finish that process I may revisit some of the images I’ve pulled out simply to bridging images in a sequence for a show or book.
How hard is it for you to divide your eye between observational architectural work and fine art?
It’s fairly easy because I’m looking at things differently. My own design work calls on my architectural skills looking at details, traffic patterns, space volumns, and structure. Did I mention DETAILS. It’s invisioned as a holistic space and then I deconstruct it to every detail and then reassemble it, while the fine art is more of an expression of daily life and the found environment and the feelings that are aroused when I feel the place .
Car & Pepsi Machine 1986
Imperial Highway 1993
Propane Tank 1987
Denver I love you this much 1986
Black Forest 1981
Your book “In Plain Sight” is a wonderful early career retrospective of your work and exquisitely printed with a Japanese linen embossed cover, tri-tone printing and a dull and gloss varnish.
Yes. The book was designed by the talented book designer, Bill Sosin in Chicago and won the “Best book of the year from a small publisher” and each image had a gloss varnish in the blacks, along with a dull varnish surrounding the image which gives the white separation from the page. The images hold their integrity down to the finest detail.
One of the many wonderful things about my chats with Douglas is his true sincerity and his quite creative force that shines but never boasts; he simply shares what’s right in front of all us through his talented eye. His new book could include a collaboration with an lovely 87 years young female poet whose never expressed herself via images before. His architecture project is moving forward to next level meetings and hopefully will be approved by next month.
[by Gail Mooney]
I got into the business of photography as a means to an end. The “end” was to establish a career that would give me access to the life I wanted to live – exploring other lands and cultures. In essence I wanted a career that would allow me to pursue my interests and passion projects, and get paid for it.
I was very fortunate when I started out to shoot stories for Travel & Leisure Magazine under the art direction of Adrian Taylor. Adrian was not only encouraging, he gave me a lot of latitude in terms of utilizing my vision and how I saw the story. He hired photographers for their point of view – their perspective on the story. That’s far different than being hired to illustrate a manuscript. It was then I realized that my work was my passion and my passion was my work.
I can’t say that I have always been passionate about my commissioned work, but I usually have project ideas that I want to explore. It’s the ideas that just “won’t quit me” that I HAVE to go forward with regardless if I have someone’s validation. I don’t call them “personal projects” however, because somehow that implies there’s no money involved. I call them self-initiated projects with the very real intent of monetizing them.
My first multimedia project was The Delta Blues Musicians.
My end goal was to produce a multimedia exhibition consisting of prints and a short film. My project was sponsored by the Blue Earth Alliance and I was able to solicit grant money through their 501c3. I further monetized the project with print sales, books, ePubs and by licensing the images and video clips.
My biggest project to date has been a feature length documentary, Opening Our Eyes. I financed the film using airline miles, hotel points and two successful crowd-funding campaigns on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. The film has done better than just break-even, which is somewhat remarkable for a documentary. It also has had an intrinsic value by creating a tremendous amount of awareness for my subjects and their causes as well as for me as a photographer and filmmaker. The film’s trailer has been seen in over 150 countries and the film has been shown at more than 20 festivals taking top honor in 7 of them. I continue to monetize it through DVD sales, books, private screenings and licensing the imagery. But the true reward has been a sense of achievement and personal growth.
Tips for “personal work”
Gail Mooney is co-partner of Kelly/Mooney Productions in the New York metro area.
Our Wednesday Business as unUsual webinar with Doug Menuez on the platform he’s building around his Fearless Genius project was the inspiration behind this week‘s focus on taking personal projects beyond your portfolio.
Who printed it?
It was printed by Mirror NYC
Who designed it?
I designed it.
Who edited the images?
I edited the images, I tried to find an image that was interesting enough to make the inspiration boards of the people I want to shoot with.
How many did you make?
How many times a year do you send out promos?
This is actually the first printed promo I’ve ever sent out. I was an art director in a former life and used to get a lot of promos in the mail, I found you can’t avoid looking at a postcard, there’s nothing to open.
Where did you source the mushrooms?
The mushrooms are all from Provincetown, MA. My boyfriend and I were up there one weekend this fall and they were everywhere! We’d been up there the year before around the same time and were dazzled by the mushrooms then. I brought my camera this year and my crossed fingers that they would be out again because I knew I wanted to get some shots of them. We went out one afternoon in forest and the sand dunes and brought a basket and loaded it up with the mushrooms, then brought it back to the house and I just played for a few hours with different compositions. I like the more organic shots too, but there was something nice about the old school instructional chart feeling of the dark background and all the little guys lined up in rows. After I was done we put them out on the front stoop in a row, and the people walking by liked looking at them.
When I first heard Doug Menuez speak about his Fearless Genius project and the platform he’s building around it, I was struck by the magnitude of his vision for this body of work and his skill at partnering to build something so much larger than he could build alone.
Doug has taken all the traditional approaches – he’s published a monograph, exhibited the work internationally, given artist talks – but he’s not stopping there. Instead, he’s committed to building a platform around innovation – not just around his project but around the story that drove him to create them. And, the platform he’s envisioning goes beyond his photographs to include a documentary, ongoing interviews, television programming and more.
Even if you don’t have a personal project you’re trying to get out into the world, I urge you to take 60 minutes out of your life for a dose of information and inspiration that will have you looking at opportunities for your own career in new and exciting ways. Join us this Wednesday, 4/22 at 1:00 pm eastern. ~Judy Herrmann, editor
From Personal Project to Platform: The Story Behind Fearless Genius
with Doug Menuez
April 22, 2015
1:00 – 2:00 pm eastern
Additional Q&A at www.facebook.com/asmpnational til 2:30 pm eastern
For 15 years, Award-winning documentary photographer Doug Menuez was given exclusive behind-the-scenes access to document Steve Jobs and the greatest innovators of the digital revolution as they invented the technology that changed our world. Doug shares images from Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985-2000 while discussing his vision, strategies, experiences and challenges working with sponsors and partners to turn his eyewitness story into a cross-media platform, which includes a documentary, TV series, web destination, traveling exhibits and education programs to inspire the next generation of innovators. Register today!Don’t miss May’s BaU featuring Agency Access Consultant Lynn Kyle:
Estimating with Confidence
with Agency Access Consultant Lynn Kyle
May 27, 2015
1:00 – 2:30 pm eastern
Note: In anticipation of extra questions, we have scheduled a full 90 minutes for this live webinar. If you can’t stay for the full time, don’t worry – you can catch anything you miss in the recording.
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 extended online webinar on pricing and estimating with plenty of time to get your questions answered. Register now to reserve your spot!
Jonathan Blaustein: We could talk forever, as there are so many things I want to ask. But I want to hit some of the cogent points of your experience, and then work our way to NOMA.
You alluded to the fact that you did four years at Yale, and it was seminal, and you must have been good at your job because they gave you more and more responsibility the longer you were there. So then, I see that you were the Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I will put my nerd credentials on the table and say that museum is my favorite public space on god’s earth. The first time I heard that about you, I got googly eyes, for sure. “Oh My God, he worked at the Met!”
Russell Lord: (laughing.)
JB: What does it mean to be a fellow? Does that mean your job had a limited scope, or time horizon? What was that phase like for you, in addition to those specific logistical questions?
RL: The fellows program at the Met has two categories: pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellows. You apply when you are working on a dissertation, and ostensibly the Met pays you a lump sum of money to continue doing research, using their resources to do that research.
In order to be awarded a fellowship, it behooves you to be working on a topic that their collections are rich in, or have some effect on.
RL: They have a lot of really early photography material that I was interested in looking at. But perhaps even more importantly, they have this incredible History of Photography library. They have a copy of Daguerre’s manual, for example. I think they might even have an early copy of Talbot’s treatise, the one that I just described.
That’s why I was awarded the fellowship. It is a fixed duration position, for one year, and I got renewed for a second. Partly because I found, when I got there, that there was even more to learn from than I had ever anticipated. So I applied for the renewal, and received an extension.
JB: They brought you there as a scholar, basically?
RL: Yes. You were assigned to a home department, but I think if you say, “I want to work with the photography department,” they will bring someone from the photography department to evaluate your application. I had done research at the Met on other occasions, and I knew there was a lot there, so I made sure I listed specific things that I was interested in looking at.
Ultimately, when you get there, you might help out in the department from time to time, but you are there to work on your project. True to the rest of my career, I took on a lot more than that. I did get some amazing research done on my dissertation, and some writing too. I presented two chapters from my dissertation, one each year, in their fellow’s colloquium, that they put together.
There are about 50 fellows, spread throughout the Museum, on average, during any given year.
RL: But then, I also had the chance to work as the assistant curator on the “Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand” exhibition with Malcolm Daniel, who was the head of the department at the time.
JB: And he’s now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
RL: Right. He was a wonderful mentor. He had this project on the books when I arrived, but I came fresh from working with Hans Kraus, where I had helped present a re-creation of Alfred Stieglitz’s “Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession,” from 1905 and ’06, at the Winter Antiques Fair.
With Hans, for the gallery, we had the chance to produce as accurate a reproduction of the space as we could come up with. Down to having light fixtures fabricated, to replicate the ones that Edward Steichen had ordered, back in the day, for the gallery. So I was very familiar with that period of time, I had always been interested in Stieglitz and Steichen’s work, and when I arrived and Malcolm had this show, he thought I’d be the perfect person able to help out on the project.
So I did, and we had a great time working with a selection of some of the greatest masterpieces, from the Early 20th Century, that exist anywhere. In some cases, with Steichen’s and Strand’s work, they are one of two or three known prints of those images.
They’re incredibly rare things, so to have the opportunity to work with those is excellent.
JB: You were there, you were already getting paid, by a different department, and you made yourself available. Is that a part of how you’ve made the career that you have, by looking for additional opportunities? And maybe taking on more than your average bear, to build up your strengths, and see what you can create for yourself?
Or am I reaching here?
RL: No, I think that’s certainly true. I have to credit the people I’ve worked with for being incredibly generous with great things, and placing a lot of faith in my abilities to not screw them up, and to keep them great.
But I definitely have always jumped at chances to work with either great artists, or great mentors, or great individuals. I feel like I’ve been given a very high number of those opportunities, and have eagerly accepted them when possible.
JB: Well, it helps explain the glorious resume. But before we jump away, I just had one more quick question on this topic, as far as the fellowship goes, with respect to research and scholarship.
Do you think I may be able to sell anybody there on a fellowship about the impacts of marijuana on human consciousness, while hanging out in the Temple of Dendur?
RL: (laughing.) I think that it would be probably one of the most exciting proposals that they’ve read in a long time. Even if you achieve nothing more than to entertain the selection committee, it might be worth the proposal.
JB: Well, I’ll have to hit you up later for the specific PO Box.
RL: I’ll send you a link.
JB: It’s a city block, that building, so I’ll need to get it to the right office. Just to be clear, I’m not claiming to have ever done that, but I love the Temple of Dendur. And. obviously, you can only study it there…
RL: We can only imagine the wonderful advances that would come out of such an experiment.
JB: So much of what you’re trying to do in your scholarship is imagine the state of mind of somebody who lived almost 200 years ago.
It’s like you’re having conversations with the past. In my own mind, I imagine that you’ve created little personalities for these people, and have your own sense of who they were.
RL: Absolutely. One of the stories I like to tell is about Larry Schaaff, who is the great Talbot historian and scholar. He’s written many books and articles of infinite number, about Talbot and his work.
After years of devoting his life to Talbot, he has said, on more than one occasion something like, “I so respect what Talbot did, but I don’t think I would have liked him very much as a person.” Sir John Herschel, he thinks, would have been one of the most amazing people to sit down with.
And it’s true. Once you do get to know these figures and their work, and you read their writing, you learn things as personal as who they sued. Who tried to infringe upon their patent? How they responded publicly?
You do get a sense of whether they were mean, litigious, gracious, generous. And those things do start to form real people. And I think when you can get to that level, that’s really exciting.
I will hasten to add that it is all still a matter of conjecture, and opinion, in many ways. And we try to make that as informed as it can be. That’s the challenge. How close to that can you get?
JB: We’re building towards how you get tapped to lead a program into the 21st Century, at a major art museum in a major American city, at the age of, I’m guessing, 35? I know it was close to that.
RL: I think I was actually 34 when I started here.
JB: 34. There we go. I’m a journalist in this guise, so we’ll say, for the record, it was 34.
You worked at some world-class institutions, you studied at a super-high level, you got to understand the consciousness of the historical figures who built the medium in the 19th Century, and then at Yale, you got to work personally with Lions of the 20th Century: Emmet Gowin, Lewis Baltz, and Robert Adams.
Yet you seem grounded. You didn’t have a massive ego in your job interview down there in New Orleans? You managed to keep it in check?
RL: You know, there’s something interesting to being in an interview process when it is a matter of necessity, that you get a job. That was the case for me.
I had spent my time at the Met, and it was a fixed duration position, as we’d discussed. It was time for me to get something more permanent.
I couldn’t take out more student loans. I didn’t want to. It wasn’t a good idea. I needed to support myself, and my wife and I cast a pretty wide net. Strangely, there were a fair number of curatorial positions available that year, and I was particularly excited about this one because of the depth of the permanent collection, and because of where it was.
This is a very interesting, interesting place, and I was excited about the possibility of being here. I don’t remember much of the interview, because I remember just knowing that I needed to get this job.
I remember describing how one of the things that I really liked about potentially working here was that a lot of the issues that I think are in tight focus in New Orleans, and are locally specific, are globally significant.
Race. Religion. Our relationship with the natural world. All of those things are played out in a very prominent way, on a daily basis, here in New Orleans.
RL: I was thinking about how the local could be the global.
JB: There aren’t many cities, almost anywhere, of that size,
that punch above their weight, to that degree. Both in cultural prowess, and global recognition, I would say.
RL: I think you’re right. A lot of people around the world know this place, for good and bad reasons. But it’s a place that people pay attention to, and root for, in many ways.
It has an amazing history, which has been driven in large part by culture. It is the city’s export. So many wonderful photographers have come through here in the 19th, 20th, and 21st Centuries, and a lot of those photographers have ended up in our permanent collection.
Every day I’m surprised at what I find. It’s really a world-class collection, and I’m very lucky to be here to work with it.
JB: You mentioned the collection, and of course a big part of your job is caring for it, in addition to enlarging it. I read on NOMA’s website that the collection was started in 1970, which is apparently before many other institutions began collecting photography.
A statement like that reads dry on the screen, but as we both know, it’s always about people and agendas and money. I was curious, who got the idea? Who was the person who said, “As of now, I want to start buying photographic prints and donating them to the museum.” Or was the genesis inside the institution?
RL: It was John Bullard, the former Director, who retired about five years ago. He made the decision, in the early 1970’s, to begin collecting photography in a serious way. He did so because he recognized, very presciently, that it was an area in which they could compete with other museums, at the highest level.
The things were available, and they were largely affordable. He knew a lot of the people to contact to make sure he was looking at the best of what was around. Between 1970 and 1985, the museum acquired, almost entirely by purchase, about 5000 works that became the core of the collection.
JB: That’s quick work. How did he get it done?
RL: They were purchasing these things with a whole host of different kinds of funds, but there were two that have really stood out to me: the National Endowment for the Arts Acquisition Grants, which don’t exist in the same way now, and purchases from funds provided by the Women’s Volunteer Committee here at NOMA.
This was a group of women who supported the institution, gave funds, and I think that’s significant, because in some cases, that might be the gift of $100 here or there. But with $100 at that time, and this is an actual example, you could buy things like a great Andre Kertesz photo postcard-backed print, from the 1920’s in Paris.
John Bullard went out in ’73 and bought 19 of those little Andre Kertesz prints, and it was $1900. That was the total amount of the purchase. Today, they’re all treasures. They’re incredible things. I’ve already shown four or five of them in the 19 shows I’ve done here at the Museum.
It was a very smart decision on his part to do these things, and to think about photography in a very comprehensive way.
JB: It was practical.
JB: I was curious, because those things don’t start from nowhere. There has to be a reason.
JB: And now it is 2015, and you’ve had your three years. You’ve proven you’re a hard worker, and you’re writing catalogues until 2 in the morning, and then still finding time for scholarly articles as well. Which you mentioned to me in person, over a Sazerac in New Orleans.
RL: That’s right.
JB: So we talked about part of your job, which is absorbing dense information that is normally reserved for a specific group of academics. The other half of the equation is trying to get more people interested in elements of those concepts that can appeal to the masses. To art consumers, as opposed to academics.
JB: Now that you’re getting your first chance to look forward, how do you plan on doing that? What’s your strategy?
RL: We’ve established a three-tiered exhibition program for photography here. At the top are these big thematic, or monographic exhibitions, like the Edward Burtynsky show. Or even the Gordon Parks exhibition that we did here. Those are things that are, in large part, works that we don’t have here in the collection; that we’re bringing in as a loan show, or producing here and sending out elsewhere.
That’s an opportunity for us to present to the public things that we can’t show them from the permanent collection. We’re trying to select people or themes that we think are incredibly relevant or important to this community, and bring them in and give people a chance to see that material. And to learn about something that doesn’t exist here.
The second tier are what I’m calling my “Little Histories of Photography,” which take as their starting point one theme, and are based almost exclusively in the permanent collection. We start somewhere in the 1840’s, and we go up into the 21st Century. It’s a run through the History of Photography in about 70 or 80 works.
It usually looks at a very specific aspect of photography, and how it has been pervasive, from its origins to the present. The first show I did was called “What is a Photograph?” that looked at photographic media, and posed the question that you and I discussed at the very beginning.
How do we define photography? How can we wrap our head around this thing that seems so amorphous?
JB: So the show that I saw in December, “Photo Unrealism,” which looks at the Surrealist bent within photography, that would fit within that program?
RL: Yes, that’s the third one I’ve done in the “Little Histories of Photography” group. I want to keep doing that, and exploring our collection, because it gives me an opportunity to look at our collection in a new way. And to consider things that I think are important issues.
“Photo Unrealism,” for example, I’m hoping people will see it as a fun, quirky, kooky exhibition of very weird things. But on a slightly more serious note, I hope that people will also see that it directly confronts an assumption about photography that we all make: that it is a record-making medium. That it is a medium that takes things that are there, and presents them as rote information.
Because that is in many ways how we still see it. Of course, most artists don’t see it that way. But I want to show that throughout history, even from the earliest moments, that photography has always been a distortion, in some way. It’s a discussion that I wanted to have on the walls of the Museum.
The third tier is a series of small, very focused exhibitions, that happen in our smallest gallery space, which was recently created, and then newly endowed, for the presentation of works on paper. It’s the A. Charlotte Mann and Joshua Mann Pailet Gallery. It holds about 10-15 works, and it gives us the chance to do things like show Emmet Gowin’s undergraduate thesis project, “Concerning Alfred Stieglitz, and America, and Myself,” which I think you saw when you were here.
RL: In that gallery, we have these rotating exhibitions, mostly from the permanent collection, but not always, that either focus on someone specific, or explore a theme that I think is relevant. It’s also a space that is very easy to change quickly, so it gives us the chance, in the future I hope, to address topical issues in a very interesting way.
JB: As we said, you don’t have the traditional problems that people have elsewhere, as far as drawing people both to your city and to your institution. New Orleans has that inherent advantage.
So you don’t have to focus so much on building the numbers. You’re focusing more on having a very cohesive, specific vision that involves an element of teaching. Teaching the history, on one hand, and then extrapolating into global issues that you want to present to your community, and to the tourists who come through?
You translate for your viewers through the real meat of the job: mounting exhibitions, putting pictures on the wall, and letting people physically stand there, and think for themselves.
RL: Yeah. In my interest in communicating with the public, I always want to question whether we’re doing that in the right way. On a very fundamental level, I think one of the keys to that is just posing questions, and not trying to tell an audience what you think.
I usually try to create exhibitions that ask a question, even with “What is a Photograph?” the question is the title. And then I try explicitly not to answer them, but to give them as many examples as possible of something, so they can draw their own conclusions.
I think giving people the chance to explore themselves is perhaps one of the most meaningful Museum experiences that we can provide. To start thinking about why we should look at pictures, and how we look at pictures. Those are things that we try to inspire here.
It’s true, we don’t have the usual problem of attracting people to the city, however, I should say we are a Museum in City Park, which is a short drive from the French Quarter. It’s far enough that we are not on the classic tourist path, so one of our goals is to make sure we are creating programs that are exciting enough for people to leave the French Quarter, and come up here and spend some time in the park, and come to the Museum and Sculpture Garden. To make it a real destination for people that come visit the city.
JB: You just need to promise them beads, right?
RL: I think you’re right. We do have a big glass bead sculpture in the Sculpture Garden.
JB: I’m practicing for my role as a guest scholar on the NOMA think tank, circa 2019.
JB: I’m laying the groundwork. But let’s go there, with respect to building. You’re a young guy, you’ve taken on a big job, and are doing well at it.
Every institution has a board, and funders. We could talk about how much of your time is spent soliciting money. But I’m more curious on what your goal is for building. You’ve got a collection of a certain amount of photographs. You have an exhibition program.
Where do you see things going beyond where they currently are?
RL: We do have some significant holes in the collection. It is my goal to continue building the collection, and to try to strengthen the weaknesses. I’m largely focusing on the 19th Century, and post-1970.
Photography is much more expensive now, so that happens in a much slower way, but in my time here, we have had a number of really generous patrons who have given us money to buy things, in a big way, or incredible collectors give us fairly large collections of individual artist’s work.
The collection was about 9000 works when I arrived, and we’ve added almost 3000 works since then. An example of one of the big groups that we received was a set of prints by Debbie Fleming Caffery, who’s an important Louisiana-based photographer.
RL: She has gallery representation here, and in New York, and is in most major museum collections. We worked with one funder who gave us the money to purchase 100 of her prints, so that we would have the largest collection of her work in the country, which we thought was fitting.
In the end, when I made the selection with Debbie, we went and looked at every single print of every single image, and she helped me select the best prints that she still had. But we couldn’t get our selection down to less than 181, so she ended up essentially gifting the remaining prints, above the purchase price that we had agreed upon so that ended up being the final number.
We’re very happy to be able to have that kind of depth for an artist like Debbie Caffery, who’s been so important to this area, but is known internationally.
JB: You have your mission to inform the public, and you have your caretaker role, and those two intertwine on a daily basis.
RL: Absolutely. You’re dead on. Another thing I said in my job interview here is that another thing I think we need to accomplish, in the History of Photography, can only be accomplished with a three-pronged approach. The first is teaching, and I mean that very broadly, from lecturing in the Museum, to going out to Universities, to bringing classes in.
The second is writing: publishing books about our collection, and about photography. And finally Exhibitions: showing works, and making them available to people. I plan to continue building this department in all three of those directions.
We’d like to continue to publish things, hopefully at an even greater level. And to continue to produce exhibitions that are not only shown here, but allow me to work with colleagues at other institutions to put together exhibitions that can travel.
And then education. I think we have very strong ties, as an institution, to Tulane, Loyola, and UNO. But I’d like those to be even stronger, and perhaps even work on hosting more classes here at the Museum so that students can learn from the works in the collection directly.
JB: There are major institutions that do have schools built in, right?
RL: Yes. The Met has an implicit relationship with NYU, and the Art Institute of Chicago is also an art school. We are in a small enough city where it’s very easy for us to get back and forth between all these places, and I’m very interested in sharing our resources with the other educational institutions in the city.
JB: OK, you mentioned traveling exhibitions, and working with educational institutions. So I am going to put you on the spot here in about 30 seconds. There’s your warning.
Your Gordon Parks exhibition traveled to the University of Virginia, and may or may not still be on the wall. Is that right?
RL: It has come down, and just opened at Grinnell College in Iowa.
JB: You were interviewed by the school newspaper at the University of Virginia, which I found on Google. I couldn’t tell if it was a written Q&A, or an actual conversation like this, but the last line of the piece was the kind of thing that a student journalist would allow you to say at the end, and then follow with, “OK. Thanks so much for your time, Mr. Lord, I really appreciate it.”
But I’m not that guy, and that wasn’t my interview. And the last thing you said was, (and here’s where you’re going to get a little nervous,) as grandiose and philosophical a statement about photography as I’ve read in quite some time.
JB: So for the record, the question here is, please discuss. Here’s the quote: “Examining photography can tell us a lot about the motives, aspirations, and dreams of humanity.”
RL: (pause.) Is that the end of it.
JB: Yeah. That’s it.
RL: (laughing.) That is pretty bold.
RL: I think that may have been pulled from part of my essay in the Gordon Parks catalogue, in which I say we need to always critically examine projects, be they books, exhibitions, articles, or magazine portfolios. Because everything that we see is somebody’s selection, so we should always consider who’s doing the selecting for those things.
By that, I’m being self-critical. When I put up an exhibition, I really invite people to tell me what they think about it. Have I missed anything? What did I leave out? Those are important questions to me, because I’m sure that a lot of my opinions creep in. It’s not my job to show you what I think is great only, it’s my job to show you things that I think illustrate a complete history, in many ways.
We always need to consider that somebody is doing the selecting. These things are not just thrown up on the wall, in any kind of objective way. And I think we can learn a lot about ourselves, and about each other, if we critically examine the choices and selections of pictures and photographs.
That kind of a statement is driven very strongly by the Gordon Parks project, in which “Life” editors chose work from Gordon Parks’ selection in a controversial way. He made 1000 negatives, they chose 21. They distorted them, and embellished them, and darkened them in many cases. The story they told was very different from a story that could have been told.
In the exhibition, I tried to tell that other story. But I think this is a unique problem with photography, because it is perhaps the only medium in which a photograph can come into being long after it has come into being.
What I mean by that is, there is the moment of the creation of the negative, and then the print might not happen for another 20 or 30 years. So what does the distance between those two things mean, and how does it distort things, historically, to have that kind of disconnect?
Could you say that quote again one more time? Because I don’t know if I directly addressed it.
JB: Of course. It’s bold, and it’s thoughtful, which is why I’m only tongue-in-cheek making fun of you.
RL: Right. Right.
JB: I think it’s pretty idealistic, and that’s why I wanted to hear your thoughts further, while we’re nearing the end of the interview. Here you go: “Examining photography can tell us a lot about the motives, aspirations, and dreams of humanity.”
RL: Hmm. Hmm. Yeah. I think the other implied statement there is that I’ve become very interested in the ways in which photographs are increasingly replacing text as the predominant mode of communication and language. It’s certainly happening with people our age, and people younger than us.
I know in your blog posts, you include images and write about them, but not everyone does anymore. Sometimes you see these floating photo-streams, in which the images are the language. They are the text.
We need to think about that very seriously, because yes, people on Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, they are communicating. They are expressing their own ambitions, their own desires, in photographic form. We need to be very careful about how we do that, and it needs to become a very important component of general education, as we go forward.
Because there are limitations to what a photograph can communicate. In fact, it’s much more likely to communicate a lot more than we ever intended. And in a much more ambiguous way. I think that critically examining photographs is going to become an incredibly important component of education. Or it should. But it’s not, right now.
I’ll go back to a statement that one of my mentor’s made, which I’ve always held with me. He said, and I think it’s true, that the moment we are taught how to read, how to recognize letters and put them into words, that’s really the last moment in the US formal education system that we are taught how to look at something.
There is no component that says, “OK. You can read text. Now let’s learn how to read pictures.” Unless you take an Art History program, and I think that’s going to become crucial. We are falling behind in this idea of visual literacy, and I think it’s something that we should think about very strongly.
JB: I couldn’t agree more. It got me thinking, we all talk about photography, constantly. And it encompasses so much, but I sometimes feel that where the love, the passion, and the magic comes from, gets the short shrift. I think that’s implicit, that there’s a reason why people care so much about it.
But we often don’t dig into that question. That’s why I brought back that statement that you said.
RL: Ah. Interesting.
JB: It made me think a little bit. It’s almost like photography, the word, is a stand-in for reality. For life. Our obsession with this medium is almost like one collective metaphorical selfie.
The camera reproduces back for us what we’re experiencing, on this spinning ball out in Space-Time. And we can’t make sense of it, because nobody can make sense of it. It’s too big. It’s too grand, as a mammal with a limited lifespan, to understand everything.
So an easier way is to reflect it back, through the lens, and hold on to it. Photographs are talismen of this inexplicable experience we’re all going through, together, as humanity. And maybe we don’t appreciate it enough.
Someone like Emmet Gowin is out there on an island, talking about the magic, and I think that’s something that maybe we could all use a bit more of. In my mind, that’s where your quote took me.
And I wanted to see what it meant to you, upon further reflection.
RL: That’s an interesting way to take it, and something that, as usual, brings me back to the origins of photography. When it was much less clearly defined as a kind of information and record. When it was magic.
The inventors of photography were occasionally accused of dabbling in the dark arts. Or there was a lot of association with alchemy, because they put some chemicals together, and suddenly the world appears on a surface. It’s amazing.
Photographs are so common now that we’ve lost some of our wonder and amazement at their production. It’s also just so easy. We have them in our pockets. Thousands of them, on our phones or devices.
I do think it’s a magical thing. Photographic images can profoundly affect us. They can make us emotional. We have responses to them in ways that we don’t always have to text. And I think it’s important not to lose sight of that.
That’s definitely up there with reasons I became interested in this field. You see things that are profoundly affecting, and you want to understand that.
JB: Boom. There’s our end right there.
RL: I like it.
[by Francis Zera]
Once you’ve been in this business for a while, it sometimes happens that you find yourself in a creative rut. Fulfilling client requests and preferences keeps those clients happy and coming back for more, but can feel like you’re simply checking items off of a to-do list rather than genuinely creating something.
Creativity comes in myriad forms. We’ve all come across photographs that have made us feel like amateurs by comparison; other times the accolades heaped upon someone’s work seem undeserved. It’s all subjective, of course, but we are all content creators of some form or another, with the emphasis on creators.
So what to do when you get in a rut, start feeling creatively stagnant, like you’re a technician rather than an artist? Find a pet project, one that will allow your creative juices to run wild.
Through a series of chance meetings, and living in a metro area with four jet-capable airports in close proximity (they don’t call Seattle the Jet City for nothing), I started taking photos of aircraft for fun. And I found it really fun. And inspirational. I kept doing it, not caring to share the photos, just taking photos because they made me happy. I experimented with unusual angles, scouted some great vantage points, and joined a community of like-minded folks who think aircraft are akin to kinetic sculptures and worthy of documentation. I also discovered that I really like to fly, so much so that I’ve taken several lessons in both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
The collected experiences from that personal work (which I still avidly pursue) has led to numerous aerial assignments from both new and existing clients. Those assignments are fun, invigorating, and give me the opportunity to shape my clients’ concepts and creative goals, simply because I genuinely have something to offer.
Personal projects really can invigorate a career, lift you out of the creative doldrums, and rebuild confidence. What do you find yourself making photographs or videos of when there’s not an art director or client in sight? What things do you keep coming back to? In these things lie endless possibilities.
Francis Zera is a Seattle-based architectural and commercial photographer. He currently serves as education chair at ASMP Seattle/NW, teaches the business curriculum in the photography department at the Art Institute of Seattle, and holds an M.A. Ed. in adult education and training. You can check out his work at zeraphoto.com and follow him on twitter and on instagram.
Jonathan Blaustein: So what’s going on down there in New Orleans?
Russell Lord: We are trying to get all of our schedules organized for the next three years. I’ve been here for about three and a half years, and as soon as I got here, we put a bunch of stuff on the books. I’ve spent most of my time working on those things, and we’re finally caught up and planning for the future.
JB: You hit the ground running, and you’re catching your breath now, three plus years later?
RL: Pretty much. The first show that I did here, which we were already committed to doing, opened less than two months after I arrived. And the first show that I did in its entirety opened less than six months after I got here.
So it was a very quick pace. It’s nice to have a moment to catch your breath.
JB: Basically, you’re saying that at your first opening, the security guards didn’t want to let you past the velvet rope?
RL: (laughing) They were like, “Who’s this guy?”
JB: Who’s this guy?
RL: It’s true.
JB: They don’t say that anymore, I’m sure.
RL: No. I’m no stranger to being here late in the evening, especially with a young child, as you know. Sometimes, the most productive hours are right after their bedtime, and into the wee hours of the morning.
Since I live so close to the Museum, I often come back around 7:30, and work until Midnight. I get a lot of writing done, in the quiet hours.
JB: Well, you’ve already given us one of your secrets, and we’ve barely begun. To be honest, I don’t do that. At 7:30, when the kids go to bed, I turn on the TV and put my feet up. That’s my only break in the day.
RL: I do too, now. But for the past couple of years, that has not been my schedule. I’m grateful to have those moments, alone with my wife, where we’re just able to relax. Preferably with a little bit of bourbon.
For a while there, when I was writing the Gordon Parks book, and when I was writing the forthcoming “Photography at NOMA” catalogue, and the Burtynsky catalogue, those were all things that were written largely on weeknights, between 7pm and 2 o’clock in the morning.
JB: That means if we were to parse your texts carefully, we would probably see a hint of loopiness. The 1am loopies?
RL: I think so. Yeah. Though I did try to temper those with the 9am-the-next-day-check-and-balance.
JB: All right.
RL: Around 1:30 or 2 o’clock in the morning, you do feel pretty confident about everything you’ve just written.
RL: And then the next morning, you come in and wonder who was in your office the night before.
JB: That’s your friend Mr. Bourbon.
RL: (laughing.) Exactly.
JB: There’s a lot of stuff I want to talk about with you. I think you are almost perfectly primed to give our audience answers to a lot of questions that people have.
We hit the ground running, today, but I’d love to cycle back to some questions about how you got started, and perhaps jump around a bit as well.
RL: That sounds great to me.
JB: I’m sure I won’t get everything right, but your lineage looks something like this: James Madison University, then you worked at the Yale Art Gallery, you went to graduate school at the City University of New York, for your PhD, you worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and then you jumped to the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Am I at least mostly correct here?
RL: That’s all correct. The only thing that I will be precise about… you said it precisely correct, but I didn’t finish the PhD. I am, technically, A.B.D.
JB: I D.O.N.T. K.N.O.W. what A.B.D means.
RL: (laughing.) A.B.D is the status that means “All But Dissertation.” It seems to have achieved this pseudo-official status. It means that if you start a PhD program, and you don’t finish the PhD, you may have had an extra six or seven years of schooling that other people don’t, but there was nothing to add to the name.
The A.B.D. status defines someone who has gone through all the course-work in a graduate program, and then usually passed some sort of critical exam, which in our case is an Orals exam. It’s a crazy process where we develop three bibliographies.
One is in your focus area, which for me was 19th Century French and British photography. Another bibliography in your major area, which was the long 19th Century. And another in your related minor, which for me was late 18th and early 19th Century American art.
JB: And by bibliography, do you mean that you have to present a reading list of everything that you’ve read?
RL: Basically, you come up with a list of things, about a year and a half in advance, of what you are supposed to read. And you come up with these bibliographies in consultation with your thesis advisor, and a council of two other professors. At the Graduate Center, this is the way it works.
So I had three professors basically approving the lists that I came up with. And in the concentration area, I believe it was a 10 page bibliography. So we can calculate what that turns out to be in terms of numbers of books, or articles.
But it was substantial.
In the major area, it was about a 5 page bibliography. In the related minor, it was a list of artists that we were expected to be familiar with. You are then responsible to read as much of that as possible.
At a certain date, you show up at the Graduate Center, and go into a conference room with the professors, and they start showing you slides. You have to talk about them, and they ask you questions, in a very directed way, so you can pull in some of what you learned from doing the reading.
What is particularly challenging about this test, is that it is designed to test the depths of your knowledge. So they basically ask you questions about each pair of slides that they’re showing you, until you can’t answer a question. You leave each pair of slides having just incorrectly answered, or been unable to answer, the last question.
You go into the next pair feeling really bad about yourself.
JB: I was quiet for a really long time, and there are so many things I want to say here that my brain hurts.
JB: I don’t know what to say to that. It sounds like a kind of torture. As opposed to a productive and positive plan of exploration.
RL: It’s a very interesting thing, because I think a lot of people certainly don’t like it. And a lot of people are more adept at other parts of the PhD process. For me, I actually saw a lot of value in it.
It’s a rigorous test, but I really got into this field because I had a great desire to be able to communicate things about art and culture to to a fairly broad audience of people. And I’m always very excited at the most academic things out there.
I’m interested in what people are saying in small, focused, academic circles. I like absorbing that information. But I like even more trying to translate that information for people who would never come into contact with those circles otherwise.
So for me, reading things like all of TJ Clark’s books, or some of the more philosophical writings. Derrida’s work on Art History, for example. And thinking about how to translate that information, and spit it back out and relate it to work. Trying to focus in on those kernels of truth for great ideas, and then bring them back out.
That, to me, is a challenge, but it’s exciting, and I think it’s a responsibility that we all bear. Especially when we decide to go into the curatorial world, because you’re even more a public figure in this world.
JB: I didn’t mean to impugn the acquisition of knowledge…
RL: No, no. I totally knew where you were coming from.
JB: Good. Because we live in the world of the hyperlink, and establishing two years ahead of time, every single book, and only those books, that you will read… it would be like getting a PhD in Jazz and never getting the chance to improvise.
RL: Right. Right.
JB: It sounds a little hollow. But you made so many good points, beyond the little stuff I want to make fun of. Other people who go through that process do it to end up in Academia, and never really stray from a very tight knit community of hyper-experts.
JB: You knew all along that it was important to you to be able to take this knowledge down from the tower, and start talking to as many people as you could about what you love, and why you love it?
RL: Absolutely. I was aware that in academia, just to get through a PhD program, you are being taught by people who have chosen the academic route. So it’s always interesting negotiating or navigating how much you should make apparent what your goals really are.
However, I worked with several professors at the Graduate Center who were very excited at the fact that I was so committed and enthusiastic about working in the “object” world, and the Museum world.
What was exciting for me was that I got to become a nexus point for them as to where the two worlds might meet. I was just talking to Geoffrey Batchen recently, who was my advisor. He taught a class on 19th Century British photography, and at the time, I was working with Hans Kraus, and Hans let me bring a couple of really early Henneman and Talbot salt prints to class one day.
I remember Geoff saying recently that being in New York was a dream, as he’s since moved to New Zealand. He said, “It was a dream. I had great students, and how many places could you ever teach a class and have one of your students bring in Talbots and Hennemans.”
He was right. There was something really exciting to being in New York, and being surrounded by all these beautiful collections, but for me, there was something also very exciting about having people like Geoff Batchen training me, and being wholly supportive and understanding of what a museum can do, and what actual “object” study can do.
In addition to the book and the theoretical work.
JB: So even when you were immersed in that rigorous environment, you were already thinking about a connection point with a public audience.
I’m guessing it’s because you worked in a gallery environment at Yale. Does everything build upon itself? Or was there a seminal experience at some point in your career where you decided that was the direction you wanted to take?
RL: It was a lot of building upon the previous step, in most of the cases. But there were some defining moments.
When I got to Yale, I had a chance to work very closely with “objects.” I was hired as the Administrative Assistant in the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, and my responsibilities, on paper, were to be the department assistant. I would answer phones, do purchase orders, things like that. And also to take care of the collection.
JB: You were a desk jockey.
RL: Yes, but I would also pull works for study, and put them back. I ultimately ended up organizing classes. But then it moved far beyond that, to turn into a really wonderful opportunity where I got the chance to work with the Director, Jock Reynolds on a couple of exhibitions, and I co-ordinated the publication of Emmet Gowin’s “Aerial Photography” book.
Throughout that four year process, I realized what you can learn from looking at the “object,” and how much the physical qualities of the “object” can have a huge impact on even our theoretical understanding of it. Whatever we might think, or want to say in a general way, can often be upended by the physical properties of something itself.
JB: A print, for example.
RL: Right. So that quickly became a hallmark of my research: what the original “object” can tell us that a reproduction can’t. Ultimately, when I did decide to go to the PhD program, and I was thinking about what I wanted to write about, it started because I was interested in these weird physical objects, early photogravures, which it seemed like not much work had been done on.
And that proved to be true. No one had really explored why people were interested in photo-mechanical reproduction, from the very outset of photography. Nobody had really considered how pervasive
those attempts were. What my research tries to demonstrate is that photography has been written as a history of great images by great artists.
In the marketplace, we fetishize the unique version of each of those things. This is the best print because it looks, in this way, different from all the others. We play down its reproductive qualities, in favor of the uniqueness of the individual object. So the way the History of Photography has been written, to my mind, as I did my research, seemed to be at odds with its origins. Which were largely based in an interest in reproduction.
JB: How so?
RL: At least from Talbot’s perspective. And, even, perhaps, early on in Daguerre’s career, he was interested in the idea of reproducibility. And also the idea of hybridity. We tend to separate photography out as something different from anything else. In its earliest days, it was described as being hybrid. All the words people came up with to define it were themselves usually two roots from different fields, smashed together, like photo and graph.
I could list all the other kinds of names, like the heliograph, the heliogravure, the physototypephysautotype. But I’ll stop there. Niecephore Niepce himself has a page in his notebook where he describes a bunch of different combinations to describe what he’s trying to do. They all have these different roots, and it’s a wonderful exploration in lexicon.
JB: That would be fascinating to see.
RL: Beyond those kind of rhetorical devices, they were creating things that were, themselves, physically hybrid. Meaning, there was certainly a light-sensitive component to what they were doing, but it often resulted in an ink on paper print. Since I had this interest in looking at and showing “objects” to people, I started thinking,
“OK. If you are a person in France or England in the early 1840’s, and you keep hearing about photography, what are you actually seeing? How many people would have had the chance to see a Daguerreotype on display in a shop window, for example? How many people would have seen an actual salt print?”
One of my arguments in my thesis is that more people encountered photography in the photogravure, or photomechanical form, than they did in what wme call its pure form: The Daguerreotype or salt print. They saw prints in ink, produced after those other things, so for them, at a very early moment, there was a confusion as to what, exactly, photography was.
The word came to encompass all of these kinds of practices, and now of course it encompasses even more. It’s things on paper, or printed with ink, or on glass, or on metal. Now, photographs might have no physical, permanent form whatsoever. Things that might exist digitally, and affect and be seen by millions of people, but might never permanently exist.
JB: I couldn’t help but go to the digital world in my head.
It struck me almost immediately, when you were talking about what people encountered, versus what was fetishized… that is today. I think it’s a real problem that a lot of people scratch their heads at.
People’s obsession with the medium, has never been greater. In the last decade, we’ve minted a couple BILLION, or more, new photographers. Without exaggeration. But it seems like the interest, at least in the US, in well-crafted prints in a white frame, on a wall, the boutique aspect of unique objects, is fairly limited.
As you live in New Orleans, we can talk about how certain cultural meccas, at least, are outliers in that trend. I doubt you’ll disagree with me, and I’ll give you a chance.
It just seems like what you were fascinated by, at the onset of the medium, has never been truer than it is today. What’s your take on that?
RL: It’s absolutely true, and accurate, and I agree with that completely. It was, in many ways, an inspiration for my look into the origins. I was really curious about the debates we were having now, but much more succinctly than I just described it to you.
There were all these interesting symposia with titles like “Is Photography Over?” or “Is Photography Dead?”
JB: Right. Of course.
RL: In all of those cases, people usually failed to come up with what “It” is. What they were describing, and what it was that had died. Maybe there are some differences in the physicality of it.
It made me think about the same kind of debates that people were having at the origins of photography, and if you are going to define what it is that is different, let’s say you settle on a material explanation.
Photography was “this,” and now it is “this,” physically. But if you look back through the History of Photography, there’s never been only one kind of photography. There were Daguerreotypes at the same time as salt prints, and albumen prints. Photogravures. Platinum prints.
It’s always been a whole host of different kinds of material things. So why should we try to define photography in any kind of pure, material sense? It’s almost as if the only constant in its history has been change and transformation.
Perhaps, rather than declare things “dead,” or “over,” we should see the digital revolution, which is PROFOUND, as just another step in a constantly evolving field of image-making.
JB: Right. And maybe it’s always been constant that photography has been shunted to the side, or considered distinct from other expressions of art, and other forms of media?
RL: Yes. Absolutely. Again, I think that’s a function of its origins. People said it was “kind of” a form of drawing, but it was drawing that performed itself. There was no human needed. It was auto-genetic, or…
JB: It was science, really.
RL: Yeah. There’s a great thing about the way people describe the process of photography. I mean, Talbot himself published a wonderful book illustrated with actual photographs, called “The Pencil of Nature.” Here we have Nature with a capital “N,” drawing her own pictures. There’s no person needed.
That was certainly one of the key components of photography. People settled on the fact that there was no human intervention, and I think that ultimately gave rise to mistaken beliefs about its truth or accuracy.
But Talbot publishes a treatise, and the title is something like “On the art of photogenic drawing, or the process by which objects may be made to delineate themselves.”
JB: And right now, of course, you’re proving the inherent value of the 10 page bibliography. Because you did read your books, and you have assimilated your information.
JB: (laughing) If your teachers are reading this…
RL: I think that’s what’s interesting about it is that you need to absorb all this stuff, but your jazz analogy is a really interesting one. It’s almost as if you are a jazz musician who is asked to just internalize the whole history of music, and, in three hours, give an improvisation in which little references to these things come out. You know?
That’s ultimately what it is. They just want to hear how you speak about these things, and how you can package theory or critical statements in a way that relates it to what you’re looking at.
For me, I saw a lot of value in it, and I was really glad that I read a lot of those things. At the heart of it, I’m really just a total nerd. As you can tell.
JB: Everybody can tell now.
RL: (laughing.) And there were so many books that I never would have read that now are some of my favorite books in Art History. And I wouldn’t recommend them for everybody, but for me they were incredibly influential, and I loved the ideas. Thinking about re-staging those ideas, or engaging with them in a new way is something that I’ll probably be doing forever.
JB: People will only read this. We don’t do podcasts yet. But your passion is definitely jumping through the speaker. The readers will have to trust me that you’re fired up and ready to do.
RL: Good. Good.