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[by Tom Kennedy]
Failure is perhaps the most dreaded word in our vocabulary as professional creative people. To many, the word conjures up painful experiences and devastating losses. It equals loss of income, self respect, and reputation. It can mean a loss of self esteem and self confidence. And it can be paralyzing to creative impulses.
Like many things for the professional photographer, I would submit there is another way to look at failure and see it in a different light.
I prefer to see failure as an incredibly valuable trail marker on our life journey and path to mastery as creative people. Failure shows us how far we have come and how far we still have to go. Failure can mark the outer boundary of our known creative universe. It is the place where we meet the limits of our ability, knowledge, and experience as we attempt to do new things and push forward. Rather than being a feared expression of mistakes, we can look at failure as a signpost that says, “You need to learn this in order to grow.”
Failure is also a sign that we may need help from others with more experience, knowledge, and slightly different skills to transcend a momentary roadblock created by the experience we are currently seeing as a failure. Failure can be the moment that teaches us new lessons about perseverance, patience, humility, and gratitude for the presence of others in our lives.
Failure speaks to the idea of a need for Plan B’s and it can be the signal that we need to hone creative reflexes so that in a moment when confronting an unfamiliar problem, we can take a deep breath, center ourselves, and reach for that creative inspiration that will guide us to a solution. Without failure, we might not have the ability to stretch and remain limber enough to climb further up the creative mountains we all seek to climb.
I’ll grant that failure’s biggest downside is risking reputation and income in the face of an unforgiving client whose expectations weren’t met. Failure, in those circumstances, may mean saying simply, “I’m sorry you’re not happy. How can I make it right?”
To forestall failure is to have the wisdom to know in advance that you must always have contingency plans drawn up and potential obstacles accounted for as a kind of “safety net,” before embarking on an assignment. It makes sense to use past failures and stories of others’ failures as a kind of guide in that way.
I agree with other athletes, performing artists and coaches that “failure is the best teacher.” I have made many mistakes that could be deemed failures, but with sufficient introspection afterward, once the first flush of negative emotion has roared past, I have found new paths forward and had new doors of experience open up.
In particular, I have learned that I require certain values like honesty, open communication, and mutual respect to be present in a work relationship or I can’t get the creative oxygen I need to succeed. And I have come to measure success by how well I am helping others solve their problems and realize their objectives.
Without failure, I might not have been able to gain this insight and have this career ambition now as my primary focus. Failure has helped illuminate my career path more clearly and shown me the way forward. In short, it has made me mature and less self-centered. For that, I am grateful and now regard failure as a friend.
Tom Kennedy is an independent consultant coaching and mentoring individual photographers, while also working with various organizations to train individuals and teams on multimedia story creation, production, publication and distribution strategies for digital platforms, and enhancing creativity. He also regularly teaches at Universities and multimedia conferences. He has created, directed, and edited visual journalism projects that have earned Pulitzer Prizes, as well as EMMY, Peabody, and Edward R. Murrow awards. He can be reached at email@example.com
The topic of failure, which we covered here the last week of May, was so popular – and so important – that I decided it deserved a bit more time. This week, our contributors share further insights into the role of failure in a creative life. ~Judy Herrmann, Editor
You’re catching me at a bad time. It’s been an emotional couple of weeks, so my mojo is low, like a cheapskate’s gas tank. On top of that, I’m out of books again. So this is one of those columns where I’ve had to sift back through the rejects and find something interesting to say.
In the past, I’ve found these queries can lead to deep thoughts. Why is this book worth writing about now, when I felt otherwise the first two times I leafed through the pages? Maybe it’s not.
But each time I’ve done this, (seemingly always in summer,) I find that challenging my own notions has been a worthwhile endeavor. Why do we make judgements so quickly? How am I to maintain my position as your proxy, if I don’t push myself to reevaluate my own perspective?
In this case, the book in question is “The Return,” by Adrian Chesser, in collaboration with Timothy White Eagle. (Daylight) According to the end notes, a lot of VIP’s supported the production, so who am I to quibble with their taste?
My problem is that the photos look like Lucas Foglia and Mike Brodie’s pictures had explicit sex, and then 9 months later, Adrian Chesser’s images popped out. As there are many hippies involved, I’m sure someone ate the placenta.
But I’ve definitely learned it’s not fair to penalize an artist just because others are mining similar turf.
This book chronicles a set of lost-ish, lower-class, Caucasian wanderers who returned to living off the land in the mountains of Utah. (Like early hunter-gathering Native Americans.) We know the locale, as one photo shows a middle-aged woman reading the Deseret Times at Burger King. Apparently, says the book, even super-duper-hardcore-subcultures still have difficulty eschewing ALL the trappings of modernity.
These pictures are compelling: with many a dead animal used as trap bait or tree adornment. Even my beloved eagles have been harmed in the making of this new world, which is based so ironically upon the ashes of a cross-Continental society that these folks’ ancestors razed to take America.
I don’t doubt the artist’s fascination with his subjects; nor do I doubt you’ll find the jpegs below worth clicking through. Rather, I wonder why I can’t empathize with their plight? Am I too cocooned in my bourgeois existence to fathom feeling so disaffected by the 21st Century that I’d consider eating mice and sleeping in a teepee, forever?
Perhaps I am. But photographs are tricky beasts. They creep into our minds when we’re not looking.
I live in a place where if I drove 15 minutes, I could hang out with actual Native Americans, who still hunt Elk in their own protected mountains, and most definitely eat at McDonalds. Were I to drive 20 minutes further, I could dodge the rifle cracks that ring out on “the Mesa”; Taos’ own community of wingnut dropouts and water witches. They live with little, and I’m not sure they eat at Burger King.
What’s my point? Humans have found every way to live we can imagine. One woman’s abaya is another woman’s tattooed bare chest. (Boobs Sell Books℠) One man’s obsession with Lebron James is another’s love for Vladimir Putin. Honestly, who am I to judge?
Bottom Line: A window into a genuinely strange sub-culture
Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.
Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.
Carroll, also known as MEC, has been performing variations of her “Nothing” since 1996. In a piece titled Nothing from 2006, Carroll writes, describing the intention of her work:
“Works where/when nothing happens. Images of nothing – is it the activity? Nothingness. Doing Nothing?
Hybrid-minimalism, do nothing – Don’t explain – Don’t modify behavior – Make a performance: nothing.”
[by Pascal Depuhl]
Everyone of us has the exact same amount of time in a day. The difference is how we spend those 24 hours. Since we can’t buy more time, we need to leverage the time we’ve been given.
Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.
Do it right the first time. The Navy Seals have a saying: “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast” I love that. If you plan your productions or even a single photograph well and take your time, your work will run much smoother, than if you fly by the seat of your pants. Though you’ll spend more time on careful planning, that smoothness will save you time and nerves in the long run. “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” Save money by preparing and planning your time.
Others people’s time
Remember Danny DeVito in “Other People’s Money?” Here’s a time saving tip: use Others People’s Time (OPT). You already do this; you hire people to do the jobs that you don’t have the time to do, can’t do or don’t want to do. I can do everything my assistants can, but when I’m on set I don’t have the time to do everything. For instance, my time is better spent with the client than ingesting digital image files. If you can make more money shooting video than editing, hire an editor. If you could be landing a new client instead of creating 100 paths on your most recent product shoot, hire a retoucher. You can buy time for money.
A place for everything and everything in it’s place.
Keep stuff where you can find it – that goes for analog gear and digital files. I get frustrated with myself, when I waste time looking for a piece of gear or a file, because I did not put it where it belongs in the first place. Know where every piece of your gear lives. As an added benefit you’ll know that your ________ is missing, because its spot in your bag is empty when you’re packing up at the end of a shoot.
On the digital side of things invest is a good RAID. I bought my first one a few months ago (Synology makes a great product) and the five 4 TB HDs give me 16GB of redundant networked storage (the redundant part is where the missing 4TB went in case you were wondering). Add a great image/video catalog to the RAID and you can access all your images in a heartbeat. Stop wasting time and money by being organized.
Maybe you’ll agree with Louis Agassiz “I cannot afford to waste my time to make money.”
As a small photo and video production studio (i.E. one man band) Pascal Depuhl always look for ways to efficiently use his time. Want some more details about any of these ideas – reach out to Pascal on twitter @photosbydepuhl.
should I take this thing seriously?
Yes! Much like our stance on copyright, PPA takes the position that all intellectual property rights should be respected. Whether we like it or not, this patent has been issued, and photographers are encouraged to follow the law and to avoid replicating the process outlined in the Patent’s claims.
That being said, PPA is monitoring the situation to ensure that Amazon’s attempts to protect its patent do not overreach in ways that are detrimental to the photography profession as a whole. If you are contacted by Amazon or a law firm representing them with a cease and desist demand, please contact PPA’s Customer Services… immediately. PPA takes this matter very seriously and we will help where needed.
via PPA Today.
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 Michael Weschler. His signature style remains define and he is collaborative, supporting and enhancing the creative vision of any project he participates in. His numerous awards, active participation in industry activities and charitable initiatives, coupled with his passion for mentoring are a testament to what propel photography as an industry and an art.
How many years have you been in business?
Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
Well, I started shooting portraits of my friends when I was 8 and was always the kid with the camera. Later I learned to use photography as a tool to draw better, while studying architecture in college. When I switched majors to fine art, I also started working in a gallery, a photo lab, a camera store, and that all led to assisting professional photographers and shooting for them as an associate.
Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to get into this business?
My mentor was Jerry Burchfield, who used to hang out with Garry Winogrand & Robert Heineken. He helped to create the World’s Largest Photograph, by converting an airplane hanger into a pinhole camera, so he was a historical figure. Anyway, he introduced me to lots of people in the Arts, which opened a lot of doors for me, like shooting with the 20×24 Polaroid camera. He taught me how to make Photograms, which are camera-less photographs made by painting with light on Cibachrome in complete darkness. A couple of years before he died, we took a trip to the Amazon with the same boat Captain for the National Geographic expedition, and he always encouraged me to go further with my work.
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?
Because everyone is a photographer these days, in a way, I focus on making signature images that cut through the noise. Of course, that is easier said than done, but I’m always trying to raise the bar, so that I’m creating something fresh. When I recently shot Chuck Close for Architectural Digest, I knew I couldn’t do a picture of him anything like what he might do, close-up. My portrait of him in his studio was recently selected for the Communication Arts 2014 Photography Annual, so that was very validating. Trust your gut.
Do you find that some creatives love your work but the client holds you back?
It would be easy to say that, but the constraints you find working for others offer new challenges. With personal work, an artist can be selfish, and not be so concerned about pleasing other people’s tastes. However, making a marketable image that millions of people like is quite hard, so any informed input is often helpful to get you there. In the end, photography is very collaborative, whether it is yourself and one person, place or thing before your lens, or a team of sixty people helping produce a compelling campaign image.
What are you doing to get your vision out to the buying audience?
It’s hard to keep things under wraps these days, and one thing often leads to another. My agents and I share our updates often, so there’s continuous conversation. While some clients’ projects can be confidential, I’m always testing and shooting outtakes whenever I can. The way we share images has changed and we’re always concerned about the value and integrity of the work. We try to unveil a new image each month, one way or another.
What is your advice for those who are showing what they think the buyers want to see?
Buyers want to see that you can produce what they need, at a bare minimum, and then they want to see your personal work. They’re not going out on a limb for somebody who shoots a bunch of grainy black & white nudes, or just because they’re cool. You’ve got to learn how to show a balance of marketable pictures, as well.
Are you shooting for yourself and creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?
As my career progresses, I find myself shooting more for others, and less just for me. Because the level of production has increased, it becomes harder to let go, and just make a simple image that still fits with the larger body of work. When I’m able to just shoot and let go, I’m reminded of why I got into Photography in the first place. While these pictures often don’t become part of my portfolio, they are all part of the creative process and keep me in tune.
How often are you shooting new work?
Almost every day. Otherwise, I’m sorting out the details for the next project or the last one.
Michael Weschler Bio:
Michael Weschler started doing portraits of his friends at the age of seven with a Kodak 110 camera. After studying Architecture, he switched to Fine Art Photography at Cal State University & began showing his photographs, installations, and 20×24 Polaroids in galleries. Gaining experience assisting alongside high-profile photographers like Peggy Sirota, the larger assignments gave him the confidence to quickly rise as a renowned photographer in his own right. Known for capturing the detail, personality, and moment that make a photograph unforgettable, Michael is highly sought after to collaborate with other talented creatives. His Portrait work includes notable personalities: Richard Gere, Liam Neeson, Donatella Versace, Liev Schreiber, Don Cheadle, Isaac Mizrahi, LeAnn Rimes, Meredith Vieira, Carrie Underwood, Wolfgang Puck, John McEnroe, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus to name a few. His Editorial work has run in magazines such as GQ, Vogue, Architectural Digest, Oprah, Allure, Life, Newsweek, Stern, Men’s Health, Dwell, Food & Wine and more. He has worked collaboratively on many books and his pictures have been included in Photography textbooks, most notably, “Photography in Focus”. Michael has captured interiors for Giorgio Armani, Ferragammo, and Frederic Fekkai as well as The Gramercy Park Hotel, Grand Hyatt, Liberty Hotel & Hotel Carlton. His Portrait & Lifestyle work has also graced over 20 covers of magazines such as U.S. News & World Report, and he works frequently for such high profile newspapers as The New York Times. Recent Ad campaigns include Nestle, Johnson & Johnson, Marriot, Bank of America, The National Pork Board, National Car Rental, etc. His personal work has been exhibited in art galleries and museums from LA to NY to Paris, and he is a national board member of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). Recent photography awards include Communication Arts 2014 Photography Annual Winner, American Photography 2014, 6 Honorable Mentions in The International Photography Awards and Archive’s Top 200 Ad Photographers. He’s received grants to teach Photography from The California Arts Commission, and is currently a mentor for the Young Photographers Alliance. Michael also works with 2 charities in New York City that improve the lives of foster children: (HeartgalleryNYC.org & WeDeserveLoveToo.org) Michael has a studio in New York City, but travels frequently for shoots in Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, and around the world. Since he believes “getting the shot” requires fitness & movement, Michael trains as a triathlete managing to get 4 triathlons under his belt, while also enjoying tennis, hiking and yoga.
APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter fed with helpful marketing information. Follow her@SuzanneSease.
[by Kimberly Blom-Roemer]
Many of my clients are not in the same town or even state as the projects I photograph for them. So, for them to travel to the site the day I’m photographing it can become a huge expense. Being sensitive to their budget, I have developed a service that many clients appreciate.
After I completely stage a view, this includes lighting, furniture placement, decor placement, clean up/removal of distracting items, etc,. I place my cell phone into the same position as my camera, create a panorama of that view and send it to my client. This allows them to make any last minute tweaks, ensure the image is absolutely perfect and avoid potentially costly editing. They have the confidence that the image is exactly what they want – of course, after the “super secret post production” is performed!
Through everyday technology, I provide the confidence that, though they aren’t there on site, my clients know they will receive images that are absolutely perfect. All from a simple cell phone, everyone wins!
Kimberly Blom-Roemer is a Gulf Coast-based architectural and aerial photographer that loves hearing clients’ reactions to being able to see the images without the hassle of travel to the site.
[by Barry Schwartz]
I’m lazy, always looking for the easier way. Problem is, the easier way takes so much work to set up it can really stress me out. It’s an engagement with neuroses (it takes a lot of work to be neurotic!).
As far as clients go, my stress is not their problem; it’s all about them, as it should be. Here are a few tips that simplify my client’s lives, and my own:
Delivering Big Files:
Receiving big files can be a source of anxiety for clients. There are lots of ways to do this that involve disks and hard drives and third-party websites that allow you (often for free) to upload big files, give the client a link which they click on, leading to another link, maybe a login (maybe not), maybe a registration (maybe not), and then most of the time the files arrive in some form or another. Doesn’t matter how easy it seems from my end. If I can simplify that process for the client, why not? For me, that means two bits of software. (Why two? One is the backup for the other one.)
These are both for Macs: FileChute, which is free-standing, and CargoLifter, which becomes part of your email software. Both send your files into the cloud (Google Drive, Dropbox, your own server, and other clouds). Both provide you a link, which you send to your clients. The client clicks on the link and the files simply download to their computer with that one click. It’s a beautiful thing.
Bidding and negotiating are part of any entrepreneur’s gig. To reduce my own stress, my contracts are templates, including the terms & conditions, and the templates are bigger and more comprehensive than they need to be.
O man, you may say, that’s a drag… The deal is this: it’s far easier to take things away (like signature lines) than to add them. In the course of a few minutes, my contract template becomes an estimate, including removing language that does not apply to the type of project I’m bidding. If I get the job, I add things back (like signature lines) by copying-and-pasting from the original template. There are lots of software programs that do this kind of work, but I’m pretty comfortable with Word, so no biggie. And not much stress involved (discounting the ever-present sensation that I’m bidding too low or too high – but now we’re talking about my neuroses, and I’ve already addressed that).
Doing any kind of photography, Lightroom is my best friend. This should be no surprise: it is designed to be my BFF by Adobe because they spend so much time listening to what their own clients, photographers, need. (What a concept! Could we pass this gem of business logic on to my cable company?) Lightroom is designed to enable you to intuitively automate a remarkable number of processes while still producing high-quality work. Like, wow.
The unfortunate side-effect is I now feel more comfortable taking way more photos than I used to because it’s so much easier to edit large numbers of images. (Seems counterintuitive for a lazy person; perhaps I should write Adobe and ask them to back off making the software so good.) Clients love getting all those images to choose from, they feel like they get something extra every project. It is all about them.
When all my little efficiencies are all working smoothly, I save so much time being lazy that I get do all the other things that can’t be automated, like eating, sleeping, and walking the dog. So maybe I’ll hold off on calling Adobe on account of my dog; he doesn’t really care that much about software, anyway, and walking him always makes me less stressed.
Barry Schwartz is a photographer, writer, and designer in Los Angeles who tries to remember, like his dog, that life is not really about software, it’s about what the software makes possible.
Heidi: What specifically about Jamie’s work made you choose him for this project?
Freyda: I’m a huge fan of Jamie’s work. He can take an ordinary object and transform it into a work of art. His photos are deceptively simple and complex at the same time. In this case the subject matter wasn’t unique but the editor’s and writer’s take were and I wanted the photos to reflect that.
Can you take me through the creative process for this feature?
The process: Myself, Sarah and two art directors met with the story editor who went over, at that point, the story outline and any specific points she wanted to come through in the piece. We all brainstormed and came up with a few ideas. I talked to Jamie about it and he had more than a few great ideas of his own and sketched them out. From there Jamie and I both did some major drug research and then I brought Elizabeth Press, the prop stylist into the process.
I enjoyed the notes of drug addiction in the photos, what material did you use for the “sugar” in razor shot?
She found the perfect colored sugar for the blade shot so to answer your question that really is sugar. Jamie was set on using a glass spoon which was a great choice but we did lose one in the heating process. I never thought I’d want a razor blade hanging in my living room but it is just such a beautiful photo as are the rock candy and spoon. They’re the perfect visual interpretation of the story title, “Sweet and Vicious”.
Heidi: What’s your creative process like?
Jamie: I’m very curious in general, always watching, reading or listening to something. Making an effort to be conscious of my surroundings helps a great deal- (actually- I just made a picture inspired by a Chinese restaurant’s fish tank..!) I also do journaling, sensory deprivation- aka extended showering, and sketching.
You seem to work a lot with metaphors, what inspires your word play and how does that process unfold?
These photographs were made to accompany a story about the addictive/ harmful effects of sugar. And that’s where the sugar as addictive substance concept comes in. Most photography I am currently working on can be divided in three modes. One being product still life where I’m mainly focused on presenting and creating a mood around an object. The second is reportage, I’m very interested in artifacts. The other is a more illustrative kind of work that’s based on a concept or story. I approach these images much like a copywriter would. Looking for the succinct way of describing something in a powerful one or two word answer, this becomes a jumping off point for brainstorming. Also it was a great experience working with Freya, she gave me a balance of support and freedom to interpret this story.
What was the biggest challenge for the shoot?
One challenge in interpreting this concept was approaching the drug/substance metaphor without being to cheeky/ going over the top. For me it’s fascinating when a picture can say more by showing less. Another was creating a feeling of danger and seduction without being overly dark or gloomy (here we used color to strike a balance).
How did you get your start in photography?
I went to Parson’s in NYC and assisted several different photographers with various styles. Still life seemed to resonate with me mainly because I enjoy experimenting in the studio and the process overall.
That image has now become so iconic – but what drove its impact was the fact that people had seen the man standing in front of the tanks on TV, as well as footage of the violent crackdown the night before. The still photographs that a few of us took of that ‘tank man’ scene seemed unremarkable to me, because I was so far away on that balcony.
[by Todd Joyce]
One of my clients is a large law firm of about 160 lawyers. Their attorneys bill a minimum of $250 an hour in 6 minute increments. When we started the relationship, they were clear that we needed to be efficient with their time – wasting their attorneys’ time, cost the firm money. The most telling comment from the client? “If I can get my lawyers to come for the shoot.”
They wanted a portrait of each of their lawyers and periodically, they would need groups of lawyers for awards they had won, ads featuring certain specialties, etc. When these needs arose, some lawyers would be out of the office plus the group shots took so long that many lawyers wouldn’t commit the time – time that they could be billing – to come for the shoot. It’s easy to do the math: 30 minutes with 10 lawyers cost at least $1250 in billings… Ouch.
Their concern wasn’t what I was charging, it was what they weren’t charging. Time was money to them.
I suggested we photograph each lawyer standing on white in various poses: facing 1/4 right, straight on and 1/4 left, so that we could composite anyone in any size group as needed. We set it up to be as efficient as possible. Each lawyer came to an area at their firm to have a portrait done, then stepped over to be photographed on white before leaving.
Now, when a need arises, the client sends me a list of who needs to be in the shot and I composite them together in a custom group. 6, 8, 10, 12. it doesn’t matter. I select a pose that works within the grouping. It saves them time and money and I bill for composite time. They love it, since it’s so easy, takes no lawyer billing time and the grouping combinations are almost infinite. Here is a sample of the composite.
Todd Joyce captures people to help his clients sell things. See his new work at http://joycephotography.com