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I have a young student named Montanna. She grew up in the hinterlands of Virginia, but recently moved to the boonies of New Mexico. (Confused yet?)
Montanna often walks 5 miles to and from the bus stop, each way, if she wants to make it to school. She said her folks don’t always have enough gasoline to drive her up the dirt road. Other times, she stays with a neighbor who lives close to the highway.
Yes, we’re living 2014 out here.
New Mexico was just ranked 50th out of 50 states in poverty rate, which is nothing to brag about. The allure of the Wild West comes with a price, I’m afraid. And it’s often hardest on the youth.
Montanna is a committed and bright photographer, so I’d be surprised if she didn’t claw her way success. That type of hardship builds character. It etches itself into one’s countenance, like wrinkles on an orangutan’s face.
Co-incidentally, I saw Montanna staring back at me from a sheet of metal, just the other day.
We had an outdoor art festival here in Taos, last Friday evening. The Native American photographer Will Wilson set up a make-shift studio along the main street. A friend dragged me out at night to see it, which was the equivalent of Dracula venturing out in the daytime.
I bumped into several of my students waiting in line, and watched Mr. Wilson make Montanna’s portrait, using the wet plate collodion process. Then they disappeared into his tent/darkroom, along with the Project Runway contestant Patricia Michaels, who was having her picture made at the same time. (Unfortunately, Heidi Klum couldn’t make it.)
The trio emerged, a few minutes later, and Montanna beamed as she held her tin type for all to see. (Yes, it was dark out, but the bright flood lights more than made up for the black sky.) The portrait managed to capture her toughness, her freckles, and her determination.
I have to say, it was remarkable. These are young artists shooting with cell phones, so the old-school technique demonstrated the magic we all remember, back in the chemical days. It was a revelation for them.
The ubiquity of computerized photographs alters how we view historical processes. They become that much more precious, and the labor involved assumes added import. When everything is so easy, why make it harder on yourself?
It’s a fair question, and one that today’s book can help us answer. “On a Wet Bough” is a large, red hardcover by Keliy Anderson-Staley, released by the nascent publisher Waltz Books, in Indiana.
The artist, whom the end notes tell us was raised “off the grid,” has been making tin types for years. According to the text, we also learn she’s extremely prolific, which suggests she’s patient, hard-working, and perhaps a tad obsessed. (She’d probably be a perfect mentor for young Montanna, come to think of it.)
The book is filled with portraits, made in the style of the 19th Century. But these are not pictures we might confuse with olden days. They’re clearly contemporary.
The sitters stare seriously at the camera, with many a mad-dog look in their eyes. Others seem sad, some are contemplative. Did she tell them not to smile? How much time did she spend with each person? Was she trying to capture their individual souls, or is it more about her desire acquire a volume of personalities?
I was startled to see a few photo-world folks looking at me, like Brian Clamp, Doug DuBois, and Christian Patterson. It broke the illusion that these were all strangers, lacking histories I could easily access. I suppose that’s only an insider read, but surely she considered its impact on a certain type of viewer. (Especially as photographers are typical buyers of photobooks.)
Initially, I wasn’t as captivated as I expected to be. Perhaps it’s because the unique quality of the metal object is essentially lost, once it’s digitized and embedded in paper? That would make sense. Making a book destroys the inherent nature of the pictures.
But then I got to a couple of portraits of shirtless men rocking chest hair. What? The texture and the oddity brought me back into the moment. They were great pictures, but also added a touch of funk and originality that was theretofore lacking.
Next, we get to a section of dual portraits and group pictures that definitely had more zing. Why is that? Does Ms. Anderson-Staley have an easier time chatting when there are more people around? Is it just a coincidence?
Frankly, these types of pictures will always be compared with Julia Margaret Cameron. Fair or not, it’s going to happen. It gives me extra appreciation for Ms. Cameron’s relationship with her sitters, that allowed her to make pictures that really do haunt, two lifetimes later.
These pictures don’t rise to that level, but why should they? They’re from another time, and were cranked out by the hundreds. So I think that’s an inappropriate standard. Especially as this is an accomplished project in its own right.
In a book, seen in the LED glow of 2014, the pictures have a weight and a power I think you’ll appreciate. And they stand as a great reminder that hard work is often its own reward, as cheesy at that might sound in our “selfie-ish” era.
Bottom Line: Very-well-made book of old-school tin type portraits.
Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.
Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.
[by Richard Kelly]
For many years, professional photography was commissioned and paid for based on time or pages with no residual income going to the artist. The 1976 copyright act promised a new business model that shifted the ownership of commissioned work to the artist/creator. Licensing photography based on usage, when successfully executed was beneficial to both the commissioning client/licensee and to the photographer/licensor. Licensing usage worked reasonably well when advertising use was “known” and limited – by circulation, billboard space, ad pages, regions and shelf life. Clients only paid for the uses they needed.
Now entering its third decade, the digital revolution has changed that landscape for photographers and our clients. Shelf life is simultaneously short – because the newsfeed updates in seconds – and long, because the world wide web keeps growing in depth – there is no delete.
Although some countries block certain websites, it is called the World Wide Web for a reason – few uses today are limited by region as most clients and the print media they use have an online presence as well. In essence, there is no scarcity of media, and that has changed the traditional licensing business model for photography.
I am an early adopter and love to see how technology and media evolve. As a practicing commercial photographer, I have personally adapted and pivoted more times than I had ever anticipated that I would. In the past decade, I have been paying particular attention to the relationship between media and technology – particularly in how artists are going to be fairly compensated. There are cultural, economic and legal adjustments that need to be made to the business models and laws that we depend on for our livelihoods.
Industry observer Paul Melcher’s recent blog post about the value of photography to brands noted,“With the positioning of social media right into the center of people’s lives – and we know how much social media thrives on exchange of photos – it is suicidal for a brand not to have a strong photography strategy.” He suggests that, “…brands have realized that they need to shift from renting photographs to producing and owning them. Why ? Because if they own the images, they can extend their messaging far beyond the limitation of a paid campaign and reach deep inside social media.”
Speaking with brand managers, advertising creatives and photographers, it’s clear that this concept of ownership or unlimited licenses has been accelerating for the past handful of years. This change in business strategy on the part of brands that there will continue to be less secondary licensing and relicensing of content by photographers. “Fresh and New” content is the new new. As a result, the traditional licensing model is breaking down and needs retooling.
In photojournalism, where fees have stagnated for years and investment in long form photo essays have been zeroed out by publishers, photographers continue to create these projects by becoming the publishers themselves. The opportunities for self-publishing have never been better, but not every project can be crowd-funded, and likes on social media do not offset your production costs, let alone your overhead.
A new model must emerge, one that supports photographers outside of current copyright and licensing models. A compensation model that pays for stories and images that are “liked”, “shared” and “retweeted.” One that uses tracking analytics along with attribution. One that compensates artists fairly.
Join me and my guest Eugene Mopsik the executive director of ASMP, on Tuesday October 21 for ASMP’s evolution/revolution webinar where we’ll discuss Getting Paid: Compensation for Photographers in the 21st Century. Register today.
Richard Kelly is a photographer and Assoc. Professor of Photography based in Pittsburgh. A long time advocate for photographers, he wants to see his fellow photographers to “live long and prosper” (attribution: Spock) and to him that means with attribution and fair compensation. Follow him on twitter.
We emailed Art Buyers and Art Producers around the world asking them to submit names of established photographers who were keeping it fresh and up-and-comers who they are keeping their eye on. If you are an Art Buyer/Producer or an Art Director at an agency and want to submit a photographer anonymously for this column email: Suzanne.firstname.lastname@example.org
Anonymous Art Buyer: I nominate Jonathan Hanson as an established Baltimore portrait and music photographer for this column. He is always keeping it fresh by capturing the essence of the real people and urban culture- the charm- of Charm City. All the while, his images still show glimpses of universal human spirit in the subjects and polish of his portraits.
How many years have you been in business?
Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
I’m mostly self-taught. I feel fortunate photography is an intuitive process for me. I’ve learned the most through trusting my gut, knowing when to listen to others and pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. Facing new challenges is where the real learning takes place for me, that conflict gives life to my work.
Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to get into this business?
I took a trip to Amsterdam with two close friends around the same time I first became interested in photography. A few days into the trip, we were sitting in the courtyard of a café when I noticed a sunflower craning in the warm evening light. I walked over, carefully composed a photo, and as I hit the shutter, a gust of wind blew the sunflower out of frame. I cursed the wind and shot another frame. A few weeks later when I was looking through the film, my first major lesson in photography was staring back at me. The photo where the wind blew the sunflower was far better than what I had composed. I realized there is a crossroads where preparation, chance and being in the right place at the right time come together to create something special. I’ve been obsessed since.
How do you find your inspiration to be so fresh, push the envelope, stay true to yourself so that creative folks are noticing you and hiring you?
I think it’s really important to live in a community that inspires.
Baltimore has been the backbone of my work since moving here six years ago. The creative energy and abundance of eclectic subcultures offer a constant stream of original work I draw inspiration from.
Do you find that some creatives love your work but the client holds you back?
I tend to get a lot of creative freedom so if issues arise it’s usually with very restrictive editorial contracts that are a fight to get amended or can’t be amended at all. In these instances, I feel held back because the terms are meant to only benefit the hiring company and deny the photographer the opportunity to earn future income.
What are you doing to get your vision out to the buying audience?
I’ve had the most success showing a printed portfolio during meetings with creatives. The prints give the presentation life and dimension while encouraging people to linger over the work. Because of the sheer volume of photos online and the speediness we navigate through them, giving someone a print to hold creates a connection to the work that a digital screen can’t offer. I recently shot a series of projects for Johns Hopkins that were the result of passionately discussing my work over coffee and a stack of prints.
What is your advice for those who are showing what they think the buyers want to see?
A couple of years ago, I met with an art buyer and I brought my freshly printed book full of new work. She quickly pointed out a few images that honestly did not hold up against the others. On the train ride back, I thought about those images and why I made them. I made them to cater to what I thought a buyer wanted to see.
The personal connection needs to be present in the work to take on an authentic, original voice that will inspire people to hire you. This is a business only the passionate and driven can survive. You have to believe in what you do… otherwise, what’s the point?
Are you shooting for yourself and creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?
Personal projects are the foundation of my work. I’m currently shooting a street portrait series (These City Streets), a portrait series exploring androgyne and I just wrapped up a music video with musician, Al Rogers Jr. I’ve learned more through personal projects than I would through a formal education in photography. More important, each project is a way to reflect personally and question the way I see the world.
How often are you shooting new work?
I’m shooting new work every week either personal or commissioned.
Jonathan Hanson is a Baltimore based editorial and advertising photographer. Select clients include Adidas, Bank of America, Animal Planet, Der Spiegel ,Ebony Magazine, Essence, Fortune, Sports Illustrated and The Wall Street Journal.
Music, color and culture inspire much of his work. He credits early street photography for seducing him into being a photographer.
APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter fed with helpful marketing information. Follow her@SuzanneSease.