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Aline Smithson is a photographer, writer, teacher, and the publisher of the popular photography blog Lenscratch.
Jonathan Blaustein: Looking over your website, one of the things that popped up a few times is that you were born and raised in LA. A couple of blocks off of Hollywood and Vine. Is that right?
Aline Smithson: Yup.
JB: Well, we certainly don’t need to date you, or ask how old you are, because my mamma taught me better…
AS: God bless you.
JB: I write about LA a lot, and visit when I can. I think it’s got a mythology that people around the world are captivated by.
How do you view the place now, and how do you think it’s changed over time?
AS: I actually lived in New York for a long time. I had a whole other career, so I’ve actually seen Los Angeles in two incarnations. I left LA when I was 18, and didn’t go back for about 15 or 17 years.
Growing up, I lived in a very cool neighborhood called Silver Lake, which is now the Brooklyn-hipster community of LA.
It was that way when I grew up: a community of artists, and very ethnically diverse. Beck and Leonardo DiCaprio went to my high school, so I was in good company. Not at the same time I was there unfortunately…
JB: Did they have craft butchers and pickle shops on every corner back then too? As I might imagine they have now?
AS: No. (laughing.) It’s not that kind of community. We’re car centric in LA, so we don’t have things like that. We just go to Whole Foods.
I grew up in this great, nurturing, artistic community. Then I went off to art school, and moved to New York, where I met my husband and had my first child. Then we moved back to LA, and I was sure it would be a short stint, because I swore I would never return. I was a New Yorker by then.
I had my second child while my husband was in grad school, and we decided it was too hard to move back with two kids and live in Manhattan. So we stayed, and it took me a long time to fall back in love with this place. But I have.
What I found interesting when I returned was the influx of whole new communities. Koreatown did not exist, when I was growing up.
JB: As big as it is now, it didn’t even exist?
AS: No. The Asian communities are so much larger. The Persian community, which has now sort of taken over Beverly Hills, did not exist when I was growing up either.
It’s a much more ethnically rich city, and that makes it exciting. Our food choices are truly spectacular. Downtown has completely transformed as well–Photo LA and Art LA were held there. It’s a thriving place to explore, and a great place to shoot.
JB: Your bio says you worked in the fashion industry in your time in New York. What did you do?
AS: I moved to New York to be a painter, doing large abstract oils, and got a job in an art gallery. But I had also grown up with an interest in sewing and fashion. I spent a lot of time on the couch reading fashion magazines, and imagining that lifestyle.
After about a year of working in the gallery, I got very disenchanted. The gallerist that I worked for was very shady. He ended up murdering someone three weeks after I left.
JB: Get out.
AS: Yes, it was called the “Leather Mask Murder.” He was deeply into drugs, and into the gay bar scene, and he had sex with a young, Norwegian fashion student. He put a leather head mask (with no holes) over his head to feel what it was like to have sex with someone who was dying.
They could not convict him, but they got him on tax evasion charges. That’s who I worked for. I had a really bad taste in my mouth about the gallery world, from that one experience.
AS: It was eye-opening, because that gallery drew really famous people. I would show work to Diana Ross and Steve Martin and the movers and shakers from all different worlds. I learned so much about NYC in that year.
After that, I got a job putting together fashion shows, even though I had no background in it. And then I traveled around the US and put on shows in different cities. I did that for about a year, through Vogue Patterns, and then they asked me to be their fabric editor. All of this with no background.
JB: So how did it happen?
AS: I’m just a hard worker. I’d grown up sewing, so I knew a lot about fabric. Then I became the fashion editor for not just Vogue Patterns, but also Vogue Knitting. Ultimately, I was responsible for 19 publications a year, and went on all the shoots, and had to learn on the job.
What was unique was that every single day was creative. I picked out all the fabrics for the clothing, worked with the dressmakers, the art director, the accessory editors, hired the models and hair and make-up artists.
Then we made it all come together on the set, and the art director and I had to edit all the film. I did it for 10 years. I worked a lot with Patrick Demarchelier, Mario Testino and many others, and even once with Horst. Just amazing photographers. I learned a lot about working with people from them.
We went on a lot of exotic trips. I know I’m kind of rambling here.
JB: It’s a good story.
AS: For me, though, the job that has influenced me the most was waitressing. I did it all through college. That ability to see the one table, and what they need, but also to see the eight tables in the section, it teaches you to see the minute and the big picture at the same time. And it teaches you how to work with people.
When I applied that to the fashion editor job, it made a huge difference. For instance, we would travel to far flung places where we would not be able to find any accessories or that last minute item. So, before we left, at night, I would lie in bed and imagine the different outfits we were taking. I’d imagine every possible thing I needed to bring, so we were prepared.
It was a fantastic job, and then my husband and I moved to Los Angeles so he could pursue a masters degree in architecture. It was really hard give up a job where you have so much creative expression.
JB: Not that I would ask you to dish, but did you have any personal contact with Anna Wintour? Was she your buddy?
AS: No. Even though Vogue Patterns was at one time associated with Vogue Magazine, it wasn’t in the same building. Though I did interview at Vogue when I first moved to New York, and it was right out of “Devil Wears Prada.” People were raking me up and down.
I have to tell you this story. I went to college in Santa Barbara, so I was not coming with to New York with a suitcase of Chanel suits. I didn’t even own a coat when I arrived. I made one dress for myself. A beautiful Givenchy green silk dress. I wore it to my interview, and they loved it, and asked me back for a second interview.
But it was the only dress I had.
JB: (laughing.) I can see where this is going.
AS: Right. I had to wear it again.
JB: Oh no.
AS: So of course they said, “You’re wearing the same dress as last time.” They remembered.
JB: Of course they did.
AS: And I didn’t get the job. But that’s what gives you character. Going through these things.
JB: While you were working in fashion, were you also taking pictures for fun? Snapshots?
AS: I never considered being a photographer. I was a painter. After we moved to LA, and my kids got a little older, I decided to go back to school and get my degree in fashion design. I went to Otis Parsons, at night and on the weekends. Then, the day I graduated, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
I realized it was way too much about business, and not creativity. I didn’t know what to do with myself, and went into a funk. I decided to take a photography class to learn how to use my camera better, and at the end of that class, the instructor told me I should start showing my work.
I hadn’t put it together. My father was a photographer; we had a darkroom in our basement. My uncle was a travel photographer. And I stood right next to the camera with some of the most amazing fashion photographers. As an editor, you have to see what they see.
I had been surrounded by photography all my life, and yet never considered it as my path. But as soon as I got that camera in my hands, that was it. I never looked back.
JB: I think we all have some version of that Aha moment. But let’s jump ahead a bit. Our readers are by now familiar with my thoughts about the 21st Century Hustle. And you seem to embody that right now.
You’re publish the popular blog Lenscratch, you teach, you make and show your work, and you’re a Mom. I was going to ask how you came to that, but you already described the progression for us. It sounds like you’ve always had multiple talents and interests, and the gumption to go for it.
So this current version of musical chairs is not so different for you?
AS: Yeah, I feel like I’ve always been a multi-tasker. I’m not someone who can just sit down and watch TV. I’m doing five other things at once. But trust me, I AM watching TV while I’m doing them.
I don’t come from any formal education, photographically. So part this journey, for me, especially with Lenscratch, is educating myself. What makes my blog different, maybe, is that I’m really looking at it as someone who is still so excited about photography and wants to figure out why people make the work that they make.
I’m not bringing the intellectual, MFA point of view about the analysis of photography. I just write about work in simple language.
JB: (laughing.) I hate those intellectual MFA types. They’re the worst. (pause.) Shit. Wait a second. I am one of those guys.
You’re answering my questions before I’m asking them, which is not the way it’s supposed to work. I was just about to ask how you came to found Lenscratch. It’s a very popular blog, where you show a different photographer’s work every day.
How many years has this been going on?
AS: Almost seven years.
JB: Almost seven years. Every day.
AS: Every day.
JB: That sounds like a lot of work.
AS: Hell yes. I’ve developed a muscle. It’s really helped me write. I write quickly now. A lot of students will send me their statements, and I can whip out the edit in ten minutes.
I’m getting to the point where I need to shift. I want spend more time on my photography. I want to put that role first.
I don’t want to get off topic, but I’ve noticed lately how quickly people are churning out new work. As a reviewer for Critical Mass, when I see a new body of work from someone every year, and sometimes two or three a year, I wonder if that project has had time to percolate.
JB: You make a good point. It’s crossed my mind a bit lately. A new body of work becomes a product line. Just like, back in the day, when the car companies would totally change the design of each car every year.
At some point, the hustle does begin to take away from the contemplative, creative practice that art is supposed to be about. We’re all working so hard to pay the bills, and still have time to make art, it’s very easy to lose sight of what you’re talking about.
If you’re always thinking about the next marketing campaign, it stands to reason you might have less time to think about how to make the pictures better, and what your process means to you.
AS: Frankly, I haven’t been pushing my work out for about two years. Maybe I needed that time to reboot. A lot of my work is conceptual and you can’t churn that out quickly.
We all love to make work. That’s the high that we get from this journey. The making of the work is the reward, not anything else.
As you get further along in your career, have your museum show, and meet the traditional goals one seeks as a photographer, it doesn’t feel like what you think it’s going to feel like. It’s just another marker. And when the fanfare dies down, you realize you have to start from square one again.
The true thing that gives you the high is the making of the work in the first place. I think that’s why people push work out so quickly. Creating work is a joyous thing.
JB: It’s really easy to forget why we fell in love with the process. We think acclaim was the goal. Social media makes that part worse too. We’ve become so accustomed to the instant gratification. And signs of popularity.
AS: Some of the major players, they’re not on Facebook and tweeting. They’re busy making work.
AS: And I think about all the time we waste on social media that we could fold back into our journey. I’m really re-thinking it.
JB: I’m trying to build structure in the way I use the tools. I think they’re brilliant. But I also think they’re addictive, so I’m trying to find some structure to limit that pull. I began to feel like the monkey tapping at the lever all day to get the peanut.
AS: That’s a great description.
JB: Thanks. Tap. Tap. Tap. I don’t want to do that anymore.
With all the things you do that we’ve talked about, I want to focus on the teaching a bit. This interview is being sponsored by the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, and you’re giving a workshop there this March.
Could we talk a bit about your teaching philosophy? What do you think are some of the key elements of being a great educator?
AS: I’ll give you a little history on my teaching career. Never in a million years did I think I’d be a teacher, though my mother and sister were teachers.
I used to have two great fears in my life: snakes, and public speaking. About 13 years ago, I went to a portfolio review with Julia Dean, who has a photography school in LA. She was there, along with the photo editor of the LA Times.
I was working alone in the darkroom, at that time. I had two or three photo friends, and no real photo community, beyond the darkroom. About a month later, Julia called me up and asked me to teach her toy camera classes, because that’s how I was working back then.
I told her I was too afraid to stand up there in front of people, and she said, “I’ll teach with you. I’ll help you.” So I went to the doctor, and asked if there was a pill for the fear of public speaking, and he said yes.
JB: (laughing.) It’s called Valium.
AS: No. It’s called Inderal. It’s a beta blocker.
JB: I was kidding. You’re serious?
AS: Yes. If you ever have to give a lecture, and you’re a little panicky, it’s called Inderal. It’s a beta blocker that keeps your heart beating at a regular pace. You can get scared, but you can’t panic.
It really helped me. I started out teaching toy camera classes, and then realized that no one was teaching anything about the journey of the photographer, at least in Los Angeles.
I began to teach things like how to navigate the fine art world, and learning from the mistakes that we make. Those classes helped build a fine art community in Los Angeles, and now I am so lucky to have a huge community of photo friends, many who have taken my classes. I work hard at keeping us all connected.
When the Santa Fe Workshops asked me to teach for them three years ago, I realized it was an opportunity to combine several of those classes into something titled “The Big Picture“. I help photographers become more visually sophisticated, give them a tool belt of ideas for making imagery, and then put it all into context of how to shape work and launch it into the fine art market.
Students finish the class having written their statement, bio, and are working on a resume. I try to answer every question a photographer has about the complex world of navigating the fine art market. And it’s in a very safe, nurturing environment for anyone at any point on their journey.
You asked about my philosophy as a teacher?
AS: When I was in art school I had some crippling critiques, that I can still remember. I decided I was never going to be the kind of teacher that devastates students. I really teach with enthusiasm and the idea of possibility. I look at every student, no matter how unsophisticated the work, and believe they have the potential to make amazing work.
I’ve seen it happen in my classes, right in front of me. The work they bring in initially is something they been doing in a vacuum. Then they see the bigger picture, figure out other ways of working, mine their own lives for subject matter, and then, all of a sudden, incredible work begins to emerge.
JB: You encourage them, I imagine, to mine their own lives. You say it like it’s an afterthought. But for so many people, when they first start out, they’re doing it for entertainment. For diversion. We all know how exciting it is when you first learn you can “rectangularize” the world.
That initial impulse can only carry one so far, before you need to become willing to inject yourself into it. To learn the self-criticality that is so necessary to improve.
You’ve explained that you’re positive and supportive. But what are your tricks for getting people to have the bravery to look at themselves, and then to share?
AS: I create a safe environment, where I don’t say anything negative. Instead I show them something different. There’s a way to guide someone without annihilating them, and that’s the way I work.
I feel like a photo-therapist. I know that sounds crazy, but…
JB: No. I love it. I’m not going to steal it, but I love it.
AS: Sometimes, I feel like the photo whisperer too. When I do portfolio reviews, I ask photographers to tell me their life story before I look at their work. Because I want to know what brought them to make the work they’re doing. Sometimes, I’ll see a connection to their life that they don’t even see themselves.
It’s the recognition of why they’re making the visual choices that they’re making. I also think I’m just very personal.
JB: Looking at your work, two words that kept popping up for me. Family and history. You’ve photographed your daughter extensively, and a project about your mother was recently featured on Lens.
Do you feel a connection with the past? Or am I over-reaching?
AS: It’s interesting. Because I came to photography later in life, I look backwards as easily as I look forward. When you’re in your twenties, you’re always looking forward. I’m in a position where I’m considering life in a different way. That just comes with age.
I think I would be a much more irreverent, edgy photographer if I was in my twenties right now. You get an attitude in art school that you are the next great thing and like to challenge the norm. But now I have more wisdom and an understanding of humanity.
I’m not so flippant. We’re so quick to judge the things we don’t understand. With Lenscratch, I often find that when I don’t like work, I force myself to spend more time with it, so I can understand it.
JB: (pause.) The quiet moments don’t show up so well in the transcript, but you definitely shut me up there for a moment.
It’s something I probably need to work on. In my role as critic, in parallel to being an artist, I’ve probably become a bit comfortable in the seat of judgement.
AS: That’s something I find really obnoxious in photography today. The quick judgement.
JB: Did you just call me obnoxious? Or can we assume you mean other people?
AS: No, no. There is a lot of photo crap out there. Fine. Judge it. But I try to slow down in that judgement, and try not to make it public. That’s just me. If I don’t like something, I don’t put it out into the world. Being an artist is a tough road, and criticism is subjective.
JB: I do have a hard time sorting out how you juggle all of it, but you have an active exhibition record as well. Do you have any shows coming up?
AS: Yes, I have a show coming up in May at the Davis Orton Gallery in New York. And I’ve got some group shows coming up in LA, Palm Springs and San Francisco. I might have a solo show in Paris this year.
JB: We’ve been talking a lot about slowing down, and being more contemplative. One word that hasn’t come up yet is patience, which I’m still learning. People can’t see the video of you, obviously, but you project an aura of calm. Almost equanimity. Do you feel like patience is a strength for you?
AS: Jonathan, that’s such a brilliant observation. Because I feel like I was always the last one to get asked to dance or picked for the team. I’ve had to be patient in life, but I also don’t have huge expectations. I’m always thrilled when something happens for me, but I’m OK when it doesn’t. I’m not waiting for recognition. I just want to make more photographs.
This week on Lenscratch, I posted all about work that’s 30 years old. I think it’s really interesting that these photographers are getting their moment in the sun now. Three of the photographers I featured are 2013 Critical Mass winners, and for two of them, it’s work that was made in the 70′s and 80′s.
If that’s not patience, I don’t know what is.
[by Jenna Close]
I usually take a few different steps when following up on an estimate. First, I place a phone call to my contact within a few minutes of sending them the estimate. If they answer the phone, I offer to walk through the estimate with them and answer any questions they may have. This is a great way to establish a connection with the person while demonstrating your professionalism, vision and stellar customer service. I make a particular point to do this if I haven’t spoken to my contact on the phone before this point.
If they don’t answer the phone, I will give them a few days to return my call or email me verifying receipt, etc. If I don’t hear anything I send a follow up email 2-3 days later with a short note offering to answer questions or provide further explanation. Usually, one of these methods will result in some sort of communication about the job.
The key here is to be persistent in a way that is helpful and well meaning. If I do not get the job and the reason is unclear, I may politely ask the person why. I always thank them for considering me and let them know I’d be happy to work with them in the future. I then make sure they, or the relevant person in charge, are added to my contact list.
I have always had trouble understanding why people drop off the face of the earth, especially after a rapport has been established. In my own experience I appreciate a “Thank you but we’ve decided to go with someone else” note. I don’t always get one however, and if all my follow-up efforts still result in radio silence, I forgive the social slight (after all, I may not really understand the reasons behind it) and make a point to consistently include the courtesy of a response in my own business dealings.
Jenna Close co-owns P2 Photography with Jon Held. They take turns calling potential clients, since neither of them enjoys talking on the phone.
Editor’s have to think beyond themselves. Their primary motivation has to be to help others grow, to tell stories and make systems work – outside of their egos. Editors have to be able to conceive of and communicate ideas that are about things outside themselves. Photographers, on the other hand, for the most part have to be so self involved that they can envelop what they photograph from a completely personal perspective. The more dimensional a person who makes pictures is, the more dimensional her photographs will be, the more they will connect with a subject. We are the photographs we make, they are us.
via APAD blog.
[by Kat Dalager]
What happens after a photographer is selected can be a mystery to those waiting to hear about a decision. If you’ve ever wondered why you don’t hear a peep after providing an estimate, please read on…
No One Wants to be the Bad Guy
One of the most difficult things for art buyers/producers to do is to tell a photographer that they didn’t get the job. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, and this is one reason that photographers don’t hear from buyers when they didn’t get the job. I’m not justifying rudeness because I think it’s very unprofessional of a buyer not to inform all potential shooters of the selection decision, but some people have a hard time being the bad guy.
Ouch! Why Would I Subject Myself to Torture?
Another reason photographers may not hear back about not being selected is that buyers may be gun shy based on the poor behavior of photographers they’ve informed in the past. I’ve been in situations in which the photographer flew off the handle and demanded to know exactly why they weren’t selected and who was selected, then went into a tirade about how they were the best person for the project. It’s great to know they’re passionate about what they do, but this behavior can be perceived as abusive. I’ve also had photographers contact the photographer who did get the job and give them the third degree about low-balling, even though that was not the case.
Not to be Harsh, But…
I wish I could say that there’s always time for courtesy, but that simply isn’t the case. Your project is not the only project the buyer is working on and time is usually at a premium. It would be nice, but they don’t owe you an explanation nor are they responsible for educating you on how to conduct your business. Organizations like ASMP are in place for just that reason. And, no, I am not paid to endorse them, but I am an advocate of ASMP because I believe that it’s every photographer’s responsibility to be in control of their own destiny. Cluelessness is not an excuse for poor business practice.
Kat Dalager’s been an art producer since the dawn of time – which means she has a lot to talk about. Hopefully some of it makes sense.
You work hard to develop a great estimate, you submit it, and then what? This week, we’ve asked our contributors to address following up on estimates.
Of course, following up is just one piece of the puzzle. Make sure your estimates are built to win. Register for ASMP’s Business as unUsual webinar, The Art of the Estimate, featuring our very own Kat Dalager – Wednesday, February 19, from 1:00 – 2:00 pm eastern.
by Bill Cramer
While I’ve shot my share of assignments for name-brand publications over the years, I’ve enjoyed working for niche magazines just as much. IEEE Spectrum is one that you won’t find on any magazine rack unless you happen to be standing in an engineering school library. Published monthly by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, they have 380,000 readers. My dad was one of those readers. He was an electrical engineer (you can’t spell geek without “E.E.”). He thought enough of the magazine that we transported stacks and stacks of them to California when we moved there in the 70′s (then back to PA four years later). So, I always have a little extra sense of purpose when I get to shoot for them.
I recently got a call from their photo editor, Randi Silberman Klett, to make some pictures for their annual “Dream Jobs” issue. She asked me to photograph a guy named Simon Hager, who runs a program for high school students in Philadelphia called The Sustainability Workshop. Most of his work focuses on teaching kids how to build electric cars. Even though I had shot assignments for Spectrum before, it was time for a new contract. Some magazines have contracts that last indefinitely. Others send out a new contract with each assignment. Spectrum prefers to renew their contract with their photographers each year.
Here’s a look at it:
Here are my comments:
1) Photographer Responsibilities. They set up a purchase order with a budget that you’ll never reach. It says $40k here, but I’ve never billed them for more than a few thousand dollars a year.
2) Rights Granted to IEEE.
a) First worldwide publication rights in any form. Theirs exclusively for 90 days from first publication, non-exclusive after that. This implies to me that they can use the pictures in subsequent editions of the magazine without additional fee. That’s not ideal, but it’s unlikely enough that I decided it wasn’t worth fighting for.
b) Use of the pictures in the context of the magazine, to promote Spectrum, as well as use of my likeness. If I was famous, I would probably want to get paid for that. But I’m not.
c) Use in article reprints only after agreeing on a separate fee. Many photographers underestimate the value of article reprints. But I’ve sold enough to know that they are generally worth more (sometimes much more) than the original assignment. Though some magazines try to bundle those rights into the shoot fee, it makes more sense to separate them.
d) Electronic use is included. Fine.
e) Photographer retains copyright. Naturally.
3) Compensation. 600.00/day vs. space. Historically, it’s been customary for magazines to structure their fees in terms of a day rate against space. This way, the photographer makes a nominal fee for one or two small pictures, and the fee automatically scales up when the magazine uses more or bigger pictures or if they use one on the cover. It’s an elegant system for magazines, who don’t always know in advance how they’re going to use the pictures. In this case, Spectrum is agreeing to pay 600.00/day at a minimum. If your picture appears a full-page or larger, you get an extra 200.00. And if it shows up on the cover, you get an additional 1200.00. I like that they’re paying for space, but the wording is a little vague. Do you get paid the same amount if your picture runs one full-page or two full-pages?
4) Expenses. You’re an independent contractor. You’re going to provide receipts to get reimbursed for expenses. Sure.
5) Timing and Form of Submission. You’re going to turn in your photos on time. Of course.
6) Warranties. You made the pictures and they aren’t obscene. Okay.
7) Indemnification. You agree to pay for Spectrum’s attorney’s fees if you do anything to get them sued. This sounds pretty scary, but then you read further and discover that the limit of your liability is the amount of the assignment fee. I think that’s very reasonable. In an ideal world, they would likewise indemnify the photographer in cases where they do something to get the photographer sued.
8) Termination. They can terminate an assignment at any time, though they’ll pay you some or all of your fee depending on how much work you have put in on the project. Fine.
9) IEEE is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Nice to know.
10) Entire Agreement. Okay.
Overall, I think it’s a pretty fair contract. I give it “two thumbs up!”
I shot the assignment. Simon and his students were super-cooperative and photogenic. Their workshop turnout out to be a big, old warehouse that provided a great backdrop for the photos and there were tons of props to work with. If only every assignment was this easy! Here’s the web gallery.
Randi loved the pictures. She used one for the opener, across nearly two full-pages (I didn’t make the cover – rats!) She also used a second picture about a half-page. Here’s how it looked in the magazine:
I was thrilled with the display, plus it was nice to know that there would be some extra space rate. But looking at the contract, I couldn’t figure out what it should be. I emailed Randi and she told me to bill her 800.00 for the big picture and 600.00 for the small one. I saw the logic that the big picture was “…used at a full page or greater ($200 additional).” Meaning that it was the 600.00 day rate plus an extra 200.00 for that first picture being big. But as far as I can tell, the 600.00 for the second picture was arbitrary. Not that I’m complaining, I think it’s fair. (After all, I’m the one who signed an ambiguous contract.) If we were counting space in a more typical fashion, thinking in terms of 600.00/day vs. 600.00/page, I would count about 1100.00 for the opener (nearly 2 pages at 600.00) and 400.00 for the additional picture (about 2/3 of 600.00), resulting in 1500.00 rather than 1400.00. But what’s 100.00 between friends? I was happy with the fee. (I probably would have asked for more clarification ahead of time if it wasn’t a client that I didn’t know and trust.)
My expenses were pretty typical. One assistant at 250.00. Web gallery at 300.00. Strobe rental at 300.00. Two file preps at 25.00, and mileage. I bought my assistant lunch, but I usually don’t bill meals unless it’s a full-day assignment. Here’s my invoice:
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ASMP Members save $80 – $100 on the full e-Learning course:
Your Business in Focus:
How to Get Out of the Way and Grow Your Business
featuring Rick Snyder, Certified EMyth Business Coach
Developed specifically for professional still & motion photographers and related creative professionals this integrated series of four 60 minute interactive online webinars uses the time-tested strategies outlined in The EMyth Revisited (the 5th best-selling business book of all time) to teach you how to
Classes meet online:
February 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th
2:00 – 3:00 pm EST / 11:00 am – 12:00 pm PST
Recordings will also be available for all course registrants.
Learn more and register at www.asmp.org/e-learning/focus
The Art of the Estimate
1:00 – 2:00 pm eastern / 10:00 – 11:00 pacific
Plus additional Q&A on ASMP’s Facebook page
An experienced Art Producer, who has worked on both sides of the table, Kat Dalager knows exactly what makes or breaks an estimate. Our conversation will focus on the estimating process – from the questions you should ask before developing your numbers to presenting your estimate and following up, you’ll learn how to build an estimate that will convince the client that you’re the right photographer for the job.
There are stories that we forget and then there are stories that we talk about. These are the ones that grab you, shake you awake, make you see the world in an entirely new way. These stories – the remarkable ones – have the power to inspire, to move people, to effect change on a large scale.
The good news? The secret to telling these kinds of stories doesn’t lie in fancy cameras or tools, but within you, the filmmaker. Storytelling with Heart is designed to share a set of approaches that you can empower you in bringing a story to life like you never have before.
February 27 – March 1, 2014
Texas Photo Roundup
ASMP members enjoy additional discounts
ASMP is a major sponsor of the Texas Photo Roundup. Co-produced by ASMP’s Austin/San Antonio Chapter, I love Texas Photo and the Austin Center for Photography, the Roundup features workshops, panel discussions, portfolio reviews and more!
ASMP Members save $100 on registration.
February 27 – March 6, 2014
WPPI Conference & Expo
Las Vegas, Nevada
WPPI Conference+Expo is the premier industry event for photographers and image-makers specializing in the creative and business aspects of wedding and portrait photography. ASMP is proud to sponsor 2 important sessions at WPPI:
You, Amplified: Standing Out in the Attention Economy
with Colleen Wainwright
Tuesday, March 4 • 6:30 – 8:00 pm
Earning a Living in a World where Everyone has a Camera
with Judy Herrmann
Wednesday, March 5 – 3:00–4:30pm
ASMP Members Save 10% on Registration
April 27 – May 2, 2014
Palm Springs Photo Festival
Palm Springs, CA
The Palm Springs Photo Festival is dedicated to providing a rich program intended to inspire, educate and instill or reignite passion for the art and commerce of photography. Enjoy portfolio reviews, workshops and seminars with some of the best and brightest in the industry, including our very own Peter Krogh who wiill deliver programs on Lightroom and Digital Asset Management.
I was just watching the oddest film. It’s a Western called “Paint Your Wagon, made in 1969. The movie features two of the best faux-cowboys who ever lived: Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin.
What’s strange about that, you ask? Fair question. Two infamous tough guys in a Western. That’s what most people would call normal.
Except this Western was also a musical. And both of those badasses were singing their hearts out. Can I get a WTF? (Though one might rightly mention it’s not much weirder than Russell Crowe belting melodies as Javert in the film version of Les Mis. Maybe he salvaged his performance, but I couldn’t make it past 15 minutes.)
Where was I? Right. Clint and Lee. At one point, early on, Lee Marvin admits to having melancholy. Which seems like an olden-days code word for depression. But I can see how they would have preferred the former moniker, as it has a sense of romance to it.
Lee Marvin was telling Clint that solitary mountain men, on certain cold, wet days, could get lonesome in a way that was more like a disease. It hit home, as I’d seen those same weary eyes just this morning, as I drove my son up the hill to school.
We haven’t had much snow here in Taos lately. It’s been discomfiting, but also pleasurable, to bask in the 48 degree days, flush with sun. Until yesterday. When a sorry-gray-haze descended from the North. It’s cold now in a way that makes you sad. No two ways about it.
I tried to explain that to my son, but, as he’s only 6, he was dubious. He blamed it on the fact that he didn’t like his substitute kindergarten teacher. But I knew better. He merely had a case of melancholy. (As do I, at the moment. Truth be told.)
Which is why “The Non-Conformists,” a new Aperture book by Martin Parr, is perfect to share with you today. It will allow me to disseminate some bleary sorrow around the planet tomorrow, when this article will be published. (Does that make me a wintry-grinch? An emo-scrooge?)
The book, which features a fair bit of well-written text by the artist’s wife, Susie Parr, was made in and around the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge in the North of England. Now, I don’t know if the East Midlands counts as the North of England…but if it does, I can personally verify that it’s the bleakest, coldest place I’ve ever been. So these photos made a lot of sense to me today.
The project should be super-interesting to you, as it was made in the mid-70′s, very early in Mr. Parr’s career. In fact, you may never have seen these pictures before. And they do capture the idealistic spirit of the youthful eye, I’d say. They’re nostalgic, and almost sentimental. The scathing wit and prodigious use of color, for which Mr. Parr is so-well-known, had not yet emerged in his style.
The pictures are stark, yes, but they’re very respectful. Mr. and Mrs. Parr, who were not-yet-married at the time, spent a year or so documenting the parts of the local culture they were sure would soon disappear. Things like a family-run mine, a cinema with a projector run on carbon, and a beautiful brick chapel in Crimsworth Dean, that has since been converted, we are told, into a private residence.
The pictures are really good, for the most part, and a few are downright brilliant. An early image, just before the title page, shows a man perched one-footed on the top of a step-ladder, mending a door frame. If I were to ever select a photograph as perfect, this might be the one.
Later, we see a traveling hairdresser, and two white mice adorning a man’s hand, as a part of a “mouse show.” (Obviously. Hasn’t everyone been to a mouse show before? Not me. I just kill the bastards whenever I get the chance.)
Back in the day, when I was growing up, schools used to be into making time capsules. You know, burying something in the ground to be dug up at a later date. That’s what this book feels like to me. More than anything, it’s an effort at cultural preservation.
Now you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve got to tend to my fire, and think up some other ways to put a smile on my face. Since I’ve just passed along the melancholy to you, I’m beginning to feel better already.
Bottom Line: Some fascinating, early B&W work by Martin Parr
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]
I have been talking a lot about failure lately. Since I was a young reader at the Ellwood City Public Library, I was curious about why people create. I read about Edison, Westinghouse and Ford – the American inventors of the industrial age. The one lesson that resonates with me today was that they all practiced failure. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas A. Edison
Those same library shelves revealed to me the photography books of Smith, Evans, Bourke – White and Strand. Even these masters of the camera encountered failure as part of their process. Photographer and ASMP member, W. Eugene Smith writes of one of his most celebrated bodies of work, the Pittsburgh Project, “Pittsburgh, to me, is a failure…the main problem, I think, is that there is no end to such a subject as Pittsburgh and no way to finish it.”
Having been on this journey with my camera for most of my life, there have been the expected proverbial forks in the road. As much as I understood failure as a part of the creative process and, believe me, I embraced failure and overcoming failure as my great teacher. In the grand scheme of my life and career, I feared failure.
A few weeks ago, during an interview for a newspaper story abut the work I do as an educator at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, I spoke of preparing my students for the craft of professional photography: “And don’t be afraid to take risks. ‘I can teach much more in a failed moment then in a successful one,’ [Kelly] says. ‘I often will encourage students to keep pushing their work until it hurts. Most of the growth as an artist occurs when you take risks beyond your comfort zone.’”
Loosely based on a philosophy that my mentor, Art Kane, photographer and ASMP Member, had passed on to me during editing sessions in a darkened room with a carousel and a clicker advance. Watching him set aside technically good pictures for pictures that were a combination of serendipity meets brilliance. Searching for a moment, not just a composition, he would say “if it doesn’t make your gut hurt a bit it probably isn’t right” or “it’s expected but not special.”
I had made a promise to myself that this year I was going to fail more often by pushing my students and myself past our comfort zones. I felt that I needed to go to the place that would make my gut tighten up. So it was refreshing to read yesterday a wonderful interview with Stephen Mayes (someone to whom I look to for the bigger picture as it relates to photography and everything that means.) who observed, “I would go further to say that failure must become an essential part of all our work; if you’re not failing it means you’re working in a comfort zone and as the visual world changes at breakneck speed, to live in a comfort zone is itself a failure!” read the rest of the interview here.
Here is to failing often and producing something great.
Richard Kelly is a photographer and educator looking for serendipity and brilliance in Pittsburgh.
While it’s a magnificent outlet for all of us to share the way we see the world and all that, Instagram is mostly a gigantic contest to see who’s the best at being a lying liar pants. If you can make a dog look good in Mayfair, if you can make a sunset look like a Picasso when it’s doused in Brannan, all of a sudden, you’re a professional fucking photographer. And that’s really, really insulting to photographers.
I’m excited to be attending the Texas Photo Roundup this year to interview Andy Anderson about his career and moderate a panel on social media for photographers. Andy’s also leading a workshop if you want to get even more insight from him. Information below:
Saturday, March 1 / 10:30am – 12:00pm Location: Long Center Kodosky Donor Lounge Join Rob Haggart, award-winning photo editor and founder of popular photography blog APhotoEditor.com, and Andy Anderson, acclaimed commercial and editorial photographer, for a frank one-on-one conversation. Andy and Rob will talk about Andy’s career, how he got his start, the challenges he’s faced, how he stays true to his vision and more. Q&A to follow. REGISTER HERE Or purchase an All Access Pass to all the morning talks and presentations
Thursday, February 27 / 9-6pm Friday, February 28 / 9-5pm Location: Whitebox Studio REGISTER HERE Join commercial and editorial photographer Andy Anderson for a unique 2-day workshop. One of the hardest situations a photographer can experience is staying true to one’s own personal style in the face of a commercial assignment where photo editors, art directors or account planners are all focusing on their objectives for a shoot. Making sure you are not just taking orders from these people — but instead bringing your own personal style and vision to life in the context of the assignment — is the ultimate goal. This is what we will work together to achieve over the course of this workshop.
[by Paul Oemig]
A small child takes a piece of paper, a couple markers and crayons, and begins to draw a picture. He struggles, tongue-biting, his hand slipping occasionally, but finally completes the drawing to his liking; he adds a few words below. It’s crude: a corner has been torn, the colors don’t mesh, the figures are disproportionate, and the handwriting is messy at best.
He waddles up to his mother tugging on her leg, and says with an excited smile, he has something to give her. Much to her surprise, the child pulls from behind his back that primitive picture, a drawing of the two hugging with the words “I love you.” A tear in the mother’s eye, they embrace.
As people who create, we spend vast amounts of time and energy, years even, developing our technique. In the process we work hard, striving to construct work that looks on par with our professional peers, and for every stroke we make to be ever more perfect. Eventually we achieve that goal: a masterful craft of accuracy. It’s a great feeling. But the reality is, while it’s essential to have a sense of accuracy, accuracy is not the point. We just need enough accuracy and craft to make our point.
Sure, that child must have had enough technical ability to put pen to paper, to spell accurately, and draw figures that resembled himself and his mother. But was it that technique which moved his mother to tears?
No, it was that child’s art — the emotion, the thought, and experience that young boy personally gifted to someone he deeply cared about. That’s what connects people. Not the craft that carries it.
As photographers, it’s not about histograms, 3-1 lighting ratios, angles of incidence, or even aesthetics (though these things and others are important). It’s about powerfully reaching someone and using whatever kind of craft is necessary to do that.
Curator and scholar Okakura Kakuzō commented over a hundred years ago: “It is rather the soul than the hand, the man than the technique, which appeals to us, — the more human the call the deeper is our response.”
And once you’ve realized that; it’s time to become a child again.
Paul Oemig is a Milwaukee-based creative and self-taught photographer who still occasionally makes his mother crudely drawn love notes. He welcomes your story and comments at email@example.com and @pauloemig.
Social media is impacting our work in so many ways it’s hard to know how to pinpoint any single aspect of the changes that we’re experiencing. But fundamentally, everything has changed with the emergence of a visually sophisticated population that uses imagery as easily as conversation to exchange ideas and to express themselves.
Professional Photographer Webcast Episode 6
Topic: Using Social Media To Market Your Photography
When: Today at 2:00 EST
Where: Here on aphotoeditor.com and Google +
Suzanne Sease and I will be joined by Mat Szwajkos who is the Associate Director of Content Production at Possible. Suzanne as you may know comes from the Art Buying side of the business with many years of experience working at Advertising Agencies. Mat is a professional photographer who now works with brands on social media campaigns that are visual. He’ll help us understand how you can market your work to agencies with social media and how brands need influencers who can make great pictures.
If you have any questions you can email me before the webcast firstname.lastname@example.org (Note: you will remain anonymous on the webcast, I will not share your identity with anyone) or during the webcast you can ask them on Google+.
You can see our previous episodes over on the APE Google+ page (here).
[by Barry Schwartz]
The annual induction of Jazz Masters took place a couple of weeks ago, an award given by the National Endowment for the Arts. The New York Times relayed some of the speech given by inductee 68-year-old saxophonist and composer Anthony Braxton: “Even today, I refer to myself as a professional student of music,” he said. “I’m not interested in the finished product. I’m interested in the best job I can do at the moment.”
Later in the evening, another awardee, Keith Jarrett, expanded on what it means to engage in the endless process of educating yourself: “but you are still zero until you let go of what holds you back. My job, in my opinion, is to let it out, but I don’t believe that there are any rules.” And later: “I don’t believe there are masters, I believe there are students.”
Jazz, which is sometimes misunderstood to be mostly about improvisation, is totally dependent on a hidden world of intense critical thinking, never-ending sessions practicing scales, and listening as hard to what everyone else around you is playing as what you’re playing yourself.
There are hidden aspects buttressing every job – creative or not. It took me awhile (and lots of practice) to figure out there’s not much difference between having chops and being creative. You can’t have one without the other, at least over the long term of a career. Why else would anyone bother with the grind of all that work without the reward of being able to use technical skills in service of a fabulous – or at least coherent – result? Creators are interested in both the process and the result, as they should be; a decent reward in and of itself.
Producing good work is hard to do. Audiences, however, don’t really care what it takes to produce good work. The viewer or reader or listener is interested in the result. As they should be.
Dan Winters is an amazingly talented and fecund photographer (as far as I know, he’s not also a jazz musician, but I would not put it past him). I interviewed Dan for one of the chapters in The ASMP Guide To New Markets In Photography that came out in 2012. In a far-ranging chat, the interview ends with a sentence that transcends creativity, photography, and technique: “You know, you’re hired for your opinion.”
Something any jazz musician would understand.
Barry Schwartz is a photographer, designer, and writer in Los Angeles, who loves jazz but confines his singing to his car.
“Every artist here has 5 year careers,” a dealer told me, “These galleries are plucking kids straight out of art school and forcing work out of them like a Chinese labor camp. The next thing you know: they’re not hot anymore. They reach the age of thirty and no one wants to work with them. This is why grad school got invented: to give ‘has-beens’ a thing to do.”
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[by Jenna Close]
I’ve had personal projects on my mind lately. Besides fueling creativity and preventing burn out, this type of work is an effective promotional tool and I see that trend growing. Lately, I’ve been investigating new ways (new to me, at least) of building momentum. A few of the ideas I’m most excited about right now are rather large scale and must be broken down into manageable bits in order to be attainable.
At the advice of a friend, I have been considering residencies, fellowships and grants as a way to move these ideas forward. Honestly, this is new territory for me and I’m a bit surprised at myself for not approaching prior projects with these options in mind. The truth is, I never considered it.
It’s easy to get comfortable with a way of working, a style, a path or a thought process. In the past I’ve kept my personal work very close to home, choosing to research, produce and fund everything myself. This year I’m going to remain aware of when I default to the safety of familiarity and diligently look for opportunities I’m leaving on the table.
If you are interesting in researching alternative opportunities for projects, here are a couple of sites I’ve been checking out:
Cafe For Artists: Residencies, Fellowships, Grants and Exhibitions
PhotoPhilanthropy: Large and small grants for various humanitarian and documentary projects
I’m reposting this from our sister blog Photography and Architecture, because I think Joshua Dool has such smart answers to the question Why do architectural photographers charge so much?Joshua Dool
Joshua Dool is an award-winning architectural and industrial photographer based in Vancouver, Canada. Joshua was interested in both architecture and photography from a young age but photography won out. We wanted to hear about the skills required to properly photograph a building, the costs to the architect, and how a photographer can be creative in meeting budgets – he was kindly most forthcoming.
Q: What justifies the cost of strong architectural imagery?
JD: Photography isn’t much different than anything else. Fast and cheap doesn’t equal good. With architecture photography, it takes time to get the perfect angle and the perfect lighting, so the fast category doesn’t really even apply to it. So then, we are left with either cheap or good, and you probably aren’t going to get both.
My experience has been: the cheaper the photographer, the poorer the image looks, and in a society that is becoming increasingly visually literate, thanks to social media and the internet, fantastic photos are a must! Strong images strengthen a brand, weak images diminish a brand. This is true for all advertising, and it is especially true for architecture. Great projects deserve great photos to represent them, because at the end of the day, for the vast majority of an architect’s future clients, this will be the only way they ever get to interact with that design!
This doesn’t mean the more expensive the better, but it does mean that good imagery comes at a justified price. Half-rate images can make a fantastic project look crappy, and fantastic images can make an average project really stick out. The strength of the imagery is going to define whether the local paper or national magazine features it; it will affect how professional your website looks; it’s going to be the face of that project for awards consideration, and it’s going to determine whether the project images get onto social media which can generate A LOT of buzz and flow to your website.
Q: Why do architecture photographers charge so much, and what is associated with the cost?
JD: Several things are associated with producing professional images. In order to produce great architecture photos, you need a decent amount of gear, and a lot of knowledge specific to the field of architecture photography.
It takes time to scout locations, find angles, and map the sun through the course of the day in order to show up and capture great images on the day of production. Most shoots require one day of scouting, and one or two days of actual capture, but then the images are not ready out of the camera either, and can often take another one to three hours per photo in postproduction. So, there is a considerable time investment in photographing architecture properly.
Professional camera equipment and lighting is not cheap either. I arrive on a shoot with usually $20k+ worth of my own gear. I have pro-camera systems, tilt shift lenses, a few strobe kits, large reflectors, multiple tripods, and then a swath of gear at home for editing the photos in post production. It’s an incredibly expensive form of photography. And then, in order for me to hone my craft and get proficient at using all the cameras, lighting, and reflector systems I use, I’ve put my time in assisting other photographers, doing lighting on movie sets, and in photo school. Architecture photography is a very specialized form of photography, and isn’t something that just anyone can do, especially if you want quality results.
Q: Do you find that a lot of clients are suprised at the cost of photography?
JD: Price is often a big factor, especially for smaller/newer firms. I am cognizant of this, and I am always happy to try to meet a price point where I can in order to build a relationship with a new firm.
I’ve had a specific scenario happen a few times this last year, where a firm has contacted me requesting a quote for me to photograph several of their projects. After collecting bids from a few different photographers, they called me back to see if I could budge my rate, basically saying that they wanted me as their photographer, but at the other guy’s price. So, I did my best to make something work, but they ended up going for the cheapest quote they’d received. In both of these instances, they didn’t end up posting any of the photographs from the other photographer on their website because they were unhappy with the results.
It’s a common practice for newer, less experienced photographers to try to compete on price point instead of on quality of imagery. The truth is, in order to work at some of these cut-throat prices, these photographers have to be either jet-set trust fund kids who are doing it as a passion and not for the money, or they are photographers who don’t have the same level of expertise and quality of equipment, and who probably won’t be around in another year to photograph your next project. That is, if you would even want them to!
I’m a big fan of architecture so it saddens me to see great projects end up being captured poorly.
Q: Is there a way that architects can keep the costs down or operate within a budget?
JD: YES! There are a few ways:
They can let the photographer know the budget they are working with, and see if the photographer has any suggestions. Personally, the best way to lower the price for me is to book me for two or more projects, as I offer discounts to firms when they package together a few commissions.
Or perhaps the photographer has a month with nothing booked they could move the shoot to, and offer a reduced rate. Here in Vancouver, it rains from November to March, so I would be more inclined to offer a discount on an interior shoot if it took place in the months I’m not busy shooting exteriors in the sunshine!
Another way is to perhaps shave a couple images off the wishlist, and make it a one day shoot instead of a two or three day shoot. Would you rather have image 12 images that look great, or have all 18 and run the risk of the discount photographer messing it up?
Q: What gets you excited about architecture photography?
JD: I am especially intrigued by the human interaction with architecture. Architecture is after all designed for people. So I try to include a human element in my photographs. Early on, I noticed that most renderings the architects had included people, because this is how they sell the functionality of the design, but most photographs I was seeing were empty spaces devoid of human life. Being around great architecture is exciting, and seeing how structure are utilized, how they shape peoples daily experiences, and how they serve there intended purpose is one area I’m especially fascinated with in my photography.
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