MISSION STATEMENT - This site is dedicated to professional music photographers. Our mission is to advocate sound business practices, warn against predatory client practices, provide helpful and educational resources, and foster a sense of community. All discussions related to capturing, processing, cataloging and licensing music photographs are welcome.
[by Colleen Wainwright]
In my previous life as an actor, I was graphic designer of record for my theater company, handling every printed piece and web update for the four to eight shows per year that we produced. While I found the experience enormously gratifying in many ways (not least of which that it got me out of a lot of broom-pushing duty), its greatest gift to me was learning the chief criteria for taking on pro bono work.
Will I have adequate creative freedom? When you work for free, don’t work for committee. I had one person who signed off on my designs, and he was a man of great taste, keen insight, and professional demeanor. I got to have fun and do good work for my portfolio.
Will I have adequate resources? In a 99-seat theater, you work on shoestring budgets, but there’s plenty of cheerful, free labor available. I never had to fold my own programs! On the other hand, I did one ill-advised turn as a costumer, tasked with outfitting a large cast in period wear with a comically small budget. The show ended up looking great; I looked like hell warmed over.
Am I doing this out of love or duty? The occasional “duty” gig is almost unavoidable, but if I don’t either love the cause itself or know it will sharpen my skills in some needed area, I try to find some other way to be supportive. Sometimes it’s a less time-consuming, personally-involving kind of donation (broom-pushing!).
And sometimes it’s a loving referral to someone else. After all, the gig you decline may be someone else’s foothold.
Paying it forward is a strong motivator for many of us. I’d be hard-pressed to find a photographer who has never been asked to donate their services and from what I can tell, more of us agree than say no. This week, our contributors share their thoughts on giving back.
In the sixth grade, we did a project on the cultural traditions of a foreign country. We had to write reports in our chicken-scratch-children’s penmanship, and some kids cooked food as well. One Korean student brought in some Bul Go Gi, and it was delicious.
I ended up with Yugoslavia, about which I knew next to nothing. Fortunately, a family friend had started importing Yugos to the US, so at least I could talk about that.
A less-than-educated young person might reasonably ask, “What is Yugoslavia?” Or, rather, “Where is Yugoslavia?” Because it doesn’t exist on the map, I can assure you.
Most of us know, of course, that Yugoslavia was a created 20th Century entity, a post-war land mush that brought together some version of Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and probably a few territories I’m neglecting. They’re still around, of course, as are the people who live there. But the country, the geo-political entity, is dead.
Similarly, I just read a piece in the New Yorker that was nominally about the television industry in Turkey. (Yes, I’ve officially become the kind of guy who references the New Yorker all the time.) I say nominally, because the real subject was the manner in which the Turkish leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is highlighting historical connections to the vast and powerful Ottoman Empire, rather than the small and relatively weak Turkish republic that was built, again post-war, by Ataturk.
Closer to home, I can tell you that here in New Mexico, there are certain people, whose ancestors have been here for generations, who resent the mass culture of the United States. You can occasionally feel tension in the air. Why? I might point to the fact that the US essentially annexed New Mexico. Or stole it, if you will. And that was only shortly after the land was called Mexico, having recently freed itself from the country called Spain.
What I’m trying to say here, if you haven’t caught the gist, is that history is all about the long view. Names change, but dirt doesn’t. (Unless it’s being violated to reach its mineral goodies, but that’s another rant for a different day.)
The big news, in our age, is that we are all hyper-aware of what is going on everywhere, all the time. That is a radical change to the way we live our lives. So big, in fact, that no one has had the chance to really process the results of the shift.
But we see the effects every day. Take Crimea, for instance. A week ago, that word might have been meaningless to you. (I say might, as I’m aware that this audience is highly educated and up-to-date.) Now everyone knows it as a territory in the country called Ukraine that was just invaded by a country called Russia.
Russia? We’ve all heard of that place. Except when I was young, it was called the Soviet Union, and included the country now (and formerly) known as Ukraine. Names change, but greed and aggressive behavior do not. They are, and I’d venture to say will always be, a part of human nature.
When we look at a globe, or a map, it seems so permanent. Built or plotted, the objects refer to information with a sense of certainty. This is here, that is there. If you go too far in one direction, you might fall off the face of the Earth. (Sorry, forgot that one has been debunked already.)
Of course, we know that the information encoded in maps changes all the time. They’re no more accurate than a restaurant menu from 10 years ago. That’s just the way it is.
We live these dramas in real time, and the pain, misery, and tragedy they engender are not to be made light of. I feel for the people who die in wars, or who die from lack of clean water, or who have to watch their family members killed by horrible forces of darkness that will never face retribution. (Until they do, one, two or three generations down the line.)
The point is, (should I actually have one,) that we’re now judging the news on a minute to minute basis, but the root causes of said “news” go back decades, centuries, or millennia. And that is the kind of information least served by Social Media. You couldn’t possibly know about the Taos revolt that killed Governor Charles Bent in 1847, just like I don’t know who ruled Crimea before the Soviets.
Sure, we have access to so much information via Google, but that’s not the same thing as genuine, lived, history. It’s just not.
So while I could easily mock the monster Putin, and put this all on him, it seems too simplistic. He is the unchallenged leader of a country that has long lived with strongmen, and has a history of territorial aggression. Anyone who was surprised by his behavior wasn’t paying attention.
How many non-Americans might point to the US invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent removal of Saddam Hussein? How many people might suggest the situations parallel? I couldn’t say, but I’m sure they’re out there. (And some of them probably work for the Russian propaganda agency.)
I can’t tell you who ruled Crimea in the 19th Century, and I can’t tell you how this latest crisis will play itself out. If I could, I’d be working for Obama by now.
But I can tell you that sometime in 2013, I had a unique experience in which I got to see, first-hand, what a shitstorm looked like in Crimea in the aforementioned 19th Century. How was that possible? (I bet you’ll guess it’s through the wonder of photography…)
In September, I paid a brief visit to the Prints and Photographs division at the Library of Congress. The Library actually functions like one, which is a bit of a shock. It’s free, and anyone can come in and personally request to “check out” work from the collection.
So I did.
I was handed a stack of plastic-protected prints by the famed, and perhaps brilliant photographer Roger Fenton. I’ve written of him previously, as he stole the show at the “War/Photography” exhibition I saw last year in Houston.
It was a rare pleasure to get to look at the pictures, to hold them in my hands, and connect visually and viscerally to a strange place in a time that had passed away into non-existence. Rare only because I live far from Washington, DC. If you live on the East Coast of the US, you could go often, and look at work not on the wall, but in your immediate physical space.
What did I learn about Crimea, or at least about a slice of the Crimean War?
Look at the collection of rebels, rapscallions, roughnecks, and killers. They obviously come from all over the world, as the costumes will attest. There are a lot of dirty faces, scruffy beards, and hardened tough guys. My goodness.
We can see it’s a desolate place, or was. And we can guess that any conflict with that many warring parties must be messy, confusing, and dangerous. Why would they all be there, fighting? My first guess would be that there’s something of value? Natural resources, maybe? Oil?
Or just as likely, it probably has a geographical significance. Control of a major body of water? Access to a port, or a military high ground? Maybe some or all of these things, as you wouldn’t get a global crusade of treasure-loving-war mongers fighting against each other in a god-forsaken land for nothing.
That’s the lesson we can learn, when we engage with history. Our troubles and triumphs are not as unique as we’d like to believe. Occasionally, I admit I’ll get caught up in the moment. The Arab Spring was such a time.
The optimism blinded me to the reality: Men with guns rule the day. They always have, and they always will. The best we can achieve is a society where the rule of law dictates who gets to use the guns, and when. We have that here in America, and I get to live in peace. (For which I am extremely grateful.)
But we too have been an imperial power, and unspeakable evil has been committed in our name. In the name of Freedom.
So let’s all hope that this latest international crisis ends swiftly, and well. Let’s hope the people of Crimea can go back to a more peaceful existence, and that the Russian tanks roll back to Moscow.
But I won’t be holding my breath. That’s for sure.
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As you dive deeper into Social Media mastery, be sure to hone your creativity and innovation skills by joining us for the March Business as unUsual webinar next Wednesday:
Your Creative Vision
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
1:00 – 2:00 pm eastern / 10:00 – 11:00 pacific
Plus additional Q&A on ASMP’s Facebook page
In a world where everyone has a camera, still and motion photographers have to offer clients something they can’t do themselves. Nurturing your creativity and your unique vision is a vital part of building a viable creative business today. For over 20 years, Sean Kernan has been studying and teaching creativity. Our conversation will focus on how to foster your creativity, develop your unique vision and help your clients buy into the value of truly creative work.
Nothing can substitute for hard work or, even more importantly, caring about one’s subject. Also, and this becomes probably more difficult as one ages and perhaps experiences less energy to be called upon when needed, one wants to try to be just a little bit better today than yesterday or last week, or last year. It’s not one’s peers one needs to think about in terms of improving, it’s simply trying to be a little better than one was or has been. It’s not easy and it’s not in anyway guaranteed to happen. But it’s a goal one needs to pursue. It’s really competing with one’s self and being honest, to know if the work is up to par or maybe not.
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 Creative Director: I nominate Topher Cox. His book pretty much speaks for itself.
How many years have you been in business?
When did I start. Hmmm, hard to say. I would say it has been a good 7 years now. Before that I was a freelance photo assistant, which is a whole business in itself. Shooting for your self while helping others out. That got me ready to break out on my own. It taught me a thing or two… or three.
My folks told me I was helping at my dad’s studio before I could walk.
Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
I took a couple of classes (thank you Mr. Simon, TR and Doc), but I guess you could say I am mostly self-taught. I grew up in the photography business. My father was a photographer and my mother was the art director at Cosmopolitan Magazine. So my nursery was my father’s studio, and then when I got a bit older I would go to my mom’s office and play with my toys on the floor as my mother and Helen Gurley Brown would be looking at slides on the light box above me. I would go hang out on shoots all the time as a kid. I would watch and learn. That was my school. Not only how to shoot, but how to work with people.
I went to school and studied Psychology at Syracuse University. During the summers I would work as a photo assistant, studio aide, and stylist assistant. It was a great way to see the business from all sides. After graduation I busted my ass as a photo assistant for a long time. I went all over the world carrying camera bags and such. That’s an education!
One time I had a photo student ask me a bunch of things about the strobes and ratios, f stops etc. Sure, I know all that, but I told him, “brother, when it is too dark I turn them up, and when it is too bright I turn them down”. I think education is really important, but owning what you know and putting it to use is what is really important.
I did a short stint working at MTV. That taught me a lot about making budgets, the corporate life, and being in a cubicle for 8 hours a day.
Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to get into this business?
As I said previously, I grew up in it. It was kind of the family business it is the business I know. I still had to make my way up the ladder. No one handed anything to me.
So I wouldn’t say it was any one person, it was all the photographers I knew as a kid. I loved what they did.
Funny thing is that when I told a bunch of them that I was going to be a photographer they all suggested I do otherwise. They told me the photo days of the 80′s and 90′s were long gone. It is true, but it is whole new era….an exciting one.
I love to keep it simple. I have always loved the work of Richard Avedon, Paolo Roversi, Bruce Weber, and Irving Penn.
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?
One thing I love is the opportunities of the digital era and how technology is constantly changing and improving things. I can shoot stills for a client and shoot video at the same time. That way their stills and video match in style and vision exactly. They love it, I love it. I get to see my photos come to life in video.
You have to look around you all the time, see what is out there, look online, look in magazines, see what you love and try to bring it to your vision. Make it your own. Growing up in NYC everything was constantly changing, I think you have to do that with yourself. Reinvent yourself all the time, but keep your true self in there.
One thing about photography is that it takes you to places that you would otherwise never go and meet people you would never meet. I find that to be so inspiring. Every model or subject has a story, every place has something new to offer. I find inspiration there.
Photography has taken me all over the world. It has shown me so many things and opened so many doors.
If I go somewhere on location for work I make sure to get up early and stay up late to wander around. I am lucky to be there, and I find inspiration from what is around me at all times.
Do you find that some creatives love your work but the client holds you back?
My job is to take what the client and creatives want, and translate that into my photography. I have to bring all that info and pull it down to a moment in time that may last 1/1000th of a second. That is my job. “Hold me back”, no, I want to give them what they want. I want to make them happy. Making them happy inspires me. If you feel they are holding you back I feel you have to rethink what you are doing. Sure, this is art, this is vision, this is a piece of you…..but this is also work and a job. And your (my) job is to give them what they want….and maybe show them something they didn’t know they wanted. You can always do it both ways, your way, and their way. Then they can look to see what they like best. I did that for a big client of mine. I would shoot the way they wanted and then I would shoot the way I wanted. In the end, they liked my vision more. Now when you look at all their photography it is in my style. That didn’t happen over night, but over time they changed and reinvented their image. If you really get frustrated, then do some work on the side for yourself….which you should be doing anyway.
I hear about photographers who are difficult to work with or get mad at everyone on set. What is that!? We are so lucky to do what we love for a living. We should get down and kiss the ground every day to be thankful. Hold me back, ha, I should be throwing rose petals at their feet as they walk into their office everyday for giving me the opportunity to live like I do. Right now I am sitting in my sun filled studio next to my sleeping dog while my kids are healthy and happy at school and my wife is at work….I have nothing to complain about. My work gave me this….and my clients gave me this.
What are you doing to get your vision out to the buying audience?
The internet is an amazing thing. You can show your work to folks all the time. You can show them things in bits and pieces. Over time they will remember you.
I hated carrying my portfolios around from place to place. I would pick them up and realize that no one had even opened them up. That sucks….BUT, you have to keep picking yourself up and keep going. Some will give up and some will make it.
AND….I have an agent:-) She is great at getting my work out there. It really helps to have someone give you a kick in the ass too when you are feeling down. She knows the ins and outs of how things work.
What is your advice for those who are showing what they think the buyers want to see?
OK, Here is where I am supposed to say “be true to yourself”, right?. Yes, be true to yourself. Make your style. Refine that style. Show that style.
BUT… remember there is A LOT of money riding on these shoots. There is so much time put into them before you even came into the project. Clients are quick to move on if they don’t like the work. There are a lot of other options out there. SO, they also have to see that you can do what THEY need.
I had a client tell me the other day that last year was their best year in sales ever and that it had a lot to do with my photos. Holy crap! How happy did that make me feel! That is also a lot of pressure. Better sales mean that they can keep all their workers and stay open. All those workers can keep their jobs and feed their families. Not only here where they make the product, but also all over the world where the parts are made or the metal is …wait…how do they make metal?
Anyway you get the idea. You have to show yourself in the work, but that work also has to work for them.
Are you shooting for yourself and creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?
Of course. I love to shoot. The money is the bonus. With digital there should not be anything holding you back from shooting everyday. There was a time when I had my fridge stocked with film. I was limited by choosing to eat or processing my film. Now, you can shoot, shoot, shoot.
It doesn’t have to be a big production. You can keep your camera next to your bed and shoot before your feet hit the floor if that is your thing. But it is fun to put something all together and see it come to life.
How often are you shooting new work?
All the time. And even that isn’t enough. Shoot to live, Live to shoot.
If It is not on a CF card yet, it is in my head. Sleeping can be difficult at times because you are thinking about what you want to shoot and how you are going to make that happen.
Topher Cox grew up in New York and now lives outside of Boston. No longer a huge rock star in Japan, he lives in a house with a white picket fence with his wife, two kids, and a dog. No minivan yet.
They all get back to NYC often for work, friends, and family.
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 Rosh Sillars]
How do the experts keep up-to-date on all the changes in social media and digital marketing? It seems like the industry changes on a weekly basis. Below is a list of blogs and podcasts I depend on to keep me in the know:
Twist Image Blog and Podcast: Mitch Joel makes me think. Mitch asks valuable and insightful questions of his guests. The blog is full of topics and ideas that make me look at the marketing world from new angles.
Marketing Over Coffee: Christopher S. Penn and John Wall are on top of what is going on in digital marketing and social media. Their weekly podcast keeps me in touch with what might be the next big thing. More importantly the conversations between Chris and John give context and offer new ways of looking at marketing ideas and concepts.
Copyblogger: If you are going to engage in social media, you need to know how to write. Copyblogger is full of excellent information on blogging, how to be a better blogger and create great content.
Social Media Examiner: This blog has become a standard go-to blog for many people interested in social media. With multiple authors and posts per day, the team is on top of industry news, ideas and information.
Don’t stop here. There are thousands of blogs and podcasts offering valuable information to the general public as well as for specific niche industries. You will find an excellent updated list of marketing blogs on adage.com’s power 150 list.
there are very few photographers who are so securely established that they can afford not to experiment in order to adapt to the new rules
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! However, don’t bet the ranch on any single experiment: try many things and be prepared to fail often but in little ways
[by Gail Mooney]
It’s a noisy world out there. Lots of folks are talking…..everywhere. So, what’s the best way to be heard? Like any other form of communication you should first determine who you want to reach and what you want to say.
Social media platforms can be used strategically for business or for personal reasons like letting your family and friends know what you’ve been up to – or both. I have been primarily posting on Facebook and LinkedIn with a little time spent “tweeting”, but recently I became interested in Pinterest when I started following Melanie Duncan and purchased her course on “The Power of Pinning”.
Pinterest is a phenomenal social media platform, especially when used strategically for retail oriented businesses or when you want to reach the female gender. When I carved out a niche of my photo/video business that focused less on business to business and more on consumer direct, I decided to learn more about Pinterest and use it to target that demographic.
Make it visual. Use photos, especially vertical photos because they will take up more column space and stand out.
Create ads. Think of your posts on Pinterest as ads – in fact “ads” are more acceptable on Pinterest than they are on other social media platforms. You can even add pricing.
Add links. Always add a link (to your website) on your Pinterest content – even when you comment on someone else’s pins.
Make it sticky – Inspire people. Create a pin that others will want to re-pin and share. Make it go viral.
Create a Pinterest “business” account. I have two Pinterest accounts – one is personal and one is for my business. Just like on Facebook, where I have a personal account as well as a business “fan page”, I have two Pinterest accounts. While I use them differently, I can also share pins across my accounts to build up my followers.
Create a “pin it” button. Have a “pin it” button on your website as well as on your other social media pages.
Follow and engage with the right people. If you cater to the wedding market, then follow folks who are interested in that demographic. Research is key.
Gail Mooney is co-partner of Kelly/Mooney Productions, a media production company based in the NYC metro area.
If any one needed a confirmation of where photography is heading, last night was a prime example. Relegated to taking full length fashion shots behind barricades, or shooting the stage from a balcony, pro photographers were by far outclassed by attendees taking and publishing their own images using their cell phones. They could only watch as publications worldwide went to twitter to find and publish the best images. If it wasn’t for the glamour aspect of having rows of Tuxedo dressed photographers continuously flashing the red carpet as celebrities bathe in the sweet flow of mass admiration, it is probable that the Academy would dismissed them all and let the participants photograph the event. After all, they make no money from the pictures taken and it does cost a lot to organize their presence.
[by Pascal Depuhl]
Bet you’re thinking: ‘In the ever changing landscape of Social Media, why would anyone want to read a book about it? Don’t those become outdated, before they’re even printed?”
Absolutely. However, I for one, will use Gary Vaynerchuck’s “Jab, Jab, Jab, right hook” as my fightclub manual for social media marketing in 2014. Gary (@GaryVee) teaches how to tell your story in a noisy social world, by creating native content for facebook, twitter, pintrest, instagram, tumblr.
He explains what the context of these social media platforms is, but more importantly he drives home the point, that our jabs, i.E. the free content, the helpful hints, the interactions with our followers … should far outweigh our right hooks, or sales pitches in social media. He gives dozens of individual examples of good and not so good content and deconstructs them for us, explaining why they’re great or how they could have done better. (He’s also written 2 other books on social media The Thank You Economy and Crush It).
If you’re going to get one only book on social media, get this one. Wanna read some more? Here are two more books to check out – one is a little older and one is not yet released:
The Linked Photographer’s Guide by Rosh Sillars (@RoshSillars), a regular contributor to Strictly Business, together with Lindsay Adler (@lindsayadler). Although it was published in 2010, it’s got great information – especially since it’s written for specifically for photographers, who (want to) use social media. BTW besides reading books, blogs, ect. a great way to master social media is to build relationships with people who have more experience than you do. I’ve been on Rosh’s podcast a few times, have written guest posts on his blog and because of our friendship have had the chance to run some questions regarding my social media efforts by him.
Social Media Design For dummies by Janine Warner (@janinewarner), a web design consultant and instructor on Creative Live, if you don’t know what Creative Live (@creativeLIVE) is, it’s another awesome learning resource started by another ASMP photographer, Chase Jarvis (@chasejarvis). Janine’s book will be published in early February 2014 – looking at how to design for social media by looking at good examples of social media pages.
Yes books become outdated – especially when they speak about a subject that changes as rapidly as social media, but they’re great resources to have and to be able to refer back to, especially on those days when you want to unplug from your over-connected world, grab a good book and read.
Pascal Depuhl is a Miami based advertising photographer and corporate documentary filmmaker, who uses social media extensively in his photo and film business. He uses his blog … catching the light! to write about social media, his last twitter campaign was inspired by Gary’s The Thank You Ecomomy. You can contact Pascal directly through his website at www.depuhl.com and follow him on twitter @photosbydepuhl and @moviesbydepuhl. Retweet this blog post (or any of his other articles and he’ll shoot you a Thank You on twitter).
“I would take a street photograph if I happened to have the right camera at the right moment but I almost never do. I have nothing against reportage. People have accused me of being afraid of doing it. And, I figure, that’s probably true.“But it’s also to do with composition. I like the composition of a picture, the dance of colours and shapes across it, more than I like the subject. I love whatever subject I’m working on at the time because it’s taking me into the picture. When I’m done with the picture, I’m probably done with the subject. Some might say that’s a bit hostile and bit detached. But I go with my impulses and it seems that the art of composition is a great art.”
[by Colleen Wainwright]
Chalk it up to burnout, complacency, or lessons learned, but in today’s mature networked-media landscape, I find my time is better spent creating and sharing exceptional content than in seeking out the newest—and, most likely, transient—methods for pushing it out there.
So most of my research time is spent reading content that’s either been shared directly by one of my favorite curators, or found down some subsequent rabbit hole. I then share as the spirit moves me on the very mainstream Facebook, or, to a far lesser degree, Pinterest, Twitter, or Tumblr.
What’s been interesting to note is how much I’ve kept abreast of critical developments in tech and social media simply by following the content “feeds” of people I dig. (And “feeds” is in quotes because many of these are actually good, old-fashioned email newsletters!) A few current favorites:
Dave Pell covers tech, culture, and news-news from an opinion angle, usually sharing a few related links on a particular topic.
Sean Bonner writes my most-read newsletter. It may veer too far into social/digital issues like net neutrality and privacy for some, but I love his eclectic mix of tech and human relationship stuff, and his very pointed opinions.
Bob Lefsetz writes about media and marketing trends from a music perspective. There’s a lot of inside-baseball stuff, but he’s really plugged into what’s happening, and has very smart takes on what’s worth paying attention to and what you can skip. (And you might pick up a few music gems into the bargain.)
Colleen Wainwright has been sharing what she’s learned about social media out loud and on the web since the Wild-West days of 2008. She’ll be sharing some more on March 4 at WPPI in Las Vegas, if you want to catch some of it the old-fashioned way.
With so many books, blogs, YouTube videos and tutorials out there, figuring out how to utilize the increasingly crowded social media landscape can be tough. This week, our contributors share their favorite resources and approaches to mastering social media.
I gave a whopper of a lecture the other week. I tied together the Bering Straight land bridge, the Big Bang, the Lascaux cave paintings, and Mayan creation mythology. Unfortunately, I was too distracted to bring the tape recorder.
C’est la vie.
I like to dive into the idealism of art making, early in the semester, as my high-school-aged students are suckers for the big picture. Teenagers and idealism go together like teenagers and drinking. Or sex.
High School kids love a good rebel. It’s why James Dean and Kurt Cobain will continue to age well; their attic portraits never falling behind the real thing. I’d further venture that America is just one big rebellion factory.
Don’t tread on me. No trespassing. Violators will be shot. Fight the power. (Seriously, though, has anyone made the connection to black leather gloves and major events in African-American history?)
Our program at UNM-Taos, in which I teach college level fine art to younger students, goes over well in general. We talk about how the spirit of rebellion inhabits art practice. What is the conventional way of doing things, and how can we subvert it?
If eye-level dominates reality, why not put the camera on the ground? Or in a mail-box? Or how about photographing your Uncle behind his back, because you’re not supposed to have your phone while herding cattle?
It was fun to talk with them last week about the latest Ai Weiwei controversy. Have you seen the story? Some dude in Miami that no one ever heard of smashed one of Ai Weiwei’s re-purposed Han Dynasty urns, in the middle of an art museum. Right in front of the photos of Ai Weiwei smashing a different Han Dynasty urn.
The meta-worm ate its tail that day. Without a doubt.
How would the great Chinese artist react? What would he say?
Apparently, he differentiated the acts by the fact that he owned what he crashed, while the public smasher destroyed someone else’s property. He found flaw in the logic, but he seemed sanguine about the whole thing, saying “I’m O.K. with it, if a work is destroyed. A work is a work. It’s a physical thing. What can you do? It’s already over.” (Vulture, 02.18.14)
Where were we? I think I’ve even lost myself for the first time. Right. The perfectly-snarled-Elvis-Pressley-lip curl, or the dead-eyed-Eastwood-crows-feet squint that is the ultimate brand of American rebellion. What are YOU looking at?
I just got that sense out of a photo book, and am excited to share tales of its innards with you now: “As Far as I Could Get,” a new book by John Divola, published by Prestel, and organized by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
Boy, did I not have a sense of this guy. In my head, I thought of the lone house series. Single structures surrounded by our under-appreciated Western natural resource: empty desert space. Cool, but nothing I hadn’t seen with my own eyes many times, out here.
This book is of the career-arc sort, to go along with an exhibition, so you get to see a range of interesting divergences. Or maybe a set of randomly chaotic and irreverent dalliances with the California style? It’s funny and surreal and literal all at the same time.
It seems Mr. Divola was a contemporary of Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and those guys, and studied under Robert Heinecken at UCLA. So there is a similar progressive spirit embodying these pictures. They’re genuinely excellent, so leafing through the pages was like discovering that it was Mike Nesmith who was the creative heart of the Monkees all along. (Or that Bon Scott originally fronted ACDC. If that’s out there, what else might be out there?)
In one series, from which the book gets it title, the artist put the camera on timer and sprinted as fast as he could into the landscape. What? Hilarious and poignant. Rare double double.
My favorite, should I care to choose, was definitely “Zuma.” These odd, discomfiting interiors in a shit-box abandoned house on the California Coast are juxtaposed against the perfection of the Pacific. Wow.
I’ve never done a lick of graffiti in my life, so these pictures made me feel a bit of the joy in destruction. Was there any urination involved? What would you wager?
In a smart interview with the Tate’s Simon Baker, Mr. Divola admits his black orb graffiti paintings descend from Kazmir Malevich. It’s a fantastic and appropriate connection, the California vandal and the Russian Suprematist.
OK. It was a long one this week. I’ll wrap it up tight. Excellent book. Great work. And another lesson that no matter how much art we’ve seen, there will always be something new to discover. You just need to keep your eyes open.
Bottom Line: Excellent exhibition catalogue, very cool work
Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.
Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.
The studio was filled with crap. Piles and piles of waste paper, and worthless objects that I’d accrued over 8 years time. Facing it all, it seemed so daunting.
Then it struck me that I could photograph my junk, and imbue it with value through the artistic process.