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Ted Barron at the Boogie Woogie Flu blog posted two very cool MP3 tracks of Weegee and Henri Cartier-Bresson speaking about photography. The Online Photographer also pointed us to some other audio clips of radio interviews with Weegee from 1945, including an explanation of how he got his name.
Kodak announced on Monday that they will retire the 74-year old Kodachrome film because, quite simply, it’s not selling. Is it ironic or perfect timing that National Geographic Museum’s new exhibition, which runs through September 7, is “Kodachrome Culture: the American tourist in Europe“?
The best-remembered Charlie’s Angel Farrah Fawcett died of cancer on Thursday at the age of 62. The New York Times had a nice tribute, and Bruce McBroom, the photographer behind the actress’ iconic poster, shared the story of the serendipitous shoot.
With the recent Iran media ban, there is a growing concern for the lack of professional conflict coverage. Paul Melcher had a great piece on why war photographers are rarer than ever. A timely wake up call for anyone who really cares about photojournalism.
When most photographers set up shop, they focus on becoming better photographers, naturally. Few photographers, however, develop even the most basic skills they need to run their own business. They hope to hang on long enough to be discovered before they sink under their own lack of knowledge. That’s like building an intricate jeweled house atop quicksand. (Look in the mirror, repeat after me: “You want fries with that?”)
The “get discovered” strategy implies that someone else will take responsibility for your own financial well-being. Ideally, we’d all be born independently wealthy, have our spouse deal with the money, or find the perfect business manager or agent who can do this for us. I’m here to tell you — snap out of that lovely fantasy! Not. Gonna. Happen. And even if, by the grace of the angels, it did, you would still need to learn the basics in order to participate in the decisions being made about your money. Even the best business managers need your help to help you succeed. You really don’t want to be one of those poor schmucks who got super successful but are now penniless because you trusted someone else to handle all your business decisions.
In my new column for RESOLVE, “Seeing Money,” I’ll be sharing what I learned the hard way about the business side of photography during nearly 30 years in the industry. I started as a fine-art student, moved into photojournalism, built a multimillion-dollar advertising studio with a staff of 15, then closed that monster and reconfigured with a minimal crew and low overhead. Along the way I made and lost fortunes.
I never understood money; money was not my goal. I was — and am — all about making great images. But I learned to respect and understand that money has the power to support my most important work. I hope to help you realize the same thing by explaining what works, what mistakes to avoid, and how to recognize the ways our creative brains sometimes sabotage our own success — especially whenever it comes to managing money.
I am constantly trying to answer the difficult question, “How do you reconcile the conflict between art and commerce?” I give the long answer in my workshops. The short answer is, “Get paid to shoot what you love to shoot.” To achieve that, you have to build a solid foundation, step by step, to financial security.
Many photographers have a lot of fear around money; they think it will dilute their talent and corrupt their values, or they just can’t handle the math. I’ll provide pain-free financial management tips you can apply right away. OK, that statement was a lie — there is no such thing as pain-free financial management. But rest assured that my lessons will be less painful than if you did not learn these skills at all. Plus, you are benefiting from all the pain I’ve already gone through to get where I am today. Best of all, as you begin to learn and apply fundamental business lessons, you will find that you gain confidence and actually begin to enjoy the business part of your photography business.
In this “Seeing Money” column, I will discuss the steps you need to take right now to start (or save) your business. Check back soon if you wish you knew more (or didn’t realize you needed to know more) about:
Q. What was the initial concept for American Youth? Why did you want to approach this topic?
A. Our original idea was to produce a promo piece about one topic, something that art buyers and photo editors wouldn’t automatically chuck in the trash can.
Q. Marcel Saba [director of Redux] came up with the general topic of American youth and then Redux photographers shot new work exploring that topic. Did you know there were specific aspects of the youth culture you wanted to touch on, or did those develop organically from the projects photographers came up with?
A. We knew we wanted a cross section of Americans documented. Most people had their own ideas but as the photographers started sending in their work, we saw some holes in coverage. For instance, we lacked any stories about poverty, or war widows, or something on kids who are into extreme sports. So we assigned stories to fill those gaps.
Q. Did you help the photographers in the book with their stories so they would work best for what you envisioned?
A. The advantage of working on something long term is you have time to shoot, look at the work, and then maybe shoot some more. For example, John Keatley did a series on street youth in Seattle, and we were able to offer feedback to him on what was working and what wasn’t. He went out and did more, and it turned out great.
Q. You brought in a lot of guest editors to make the (close to) final edit. Did you give them some guidelines or did the edit style evolve through that process?
A. We asked the editors to narrow the work down to 5-10 of their favorite images from each shoot. We wanted to publish everything they chose but it wasn’t possible, so in the end Marcel and I narrowed it down, along with great input from the book designer, Gilbert Li.
Special challenges arose because we were editing a collection of different stories by many photographers. We had to choose images that could tell a complete story, but that also worked with the flow of other people’s work.
Q. Aside from the great exposure, what other benefits might a photographer expect from being part of a group book like this?
A. The best thing about American Youth is that it motivated all the photographers to create something new for it. Shooting personal work isn’t always at the top of people’s priority lists, but look at the benefits! The book has gotten a lot of attention on blogs, has been part of the NY Photo Festival, will be on exhibit at LOOK3 in Charlottesville, and was recently reviewed by The Washington Post. We’ve also had slideshows on NPR, The Daily Beast and Time.com and a story in PDN. This exposure will continue to bring attention to the photographers which is always a good thing.
Aside from the promotional benefits, some photographers are continuing work on their projects. Gina LeVay is continuing to photograph young war widows. A number of shots are making it into people’s portfolios and their promo pieces.
There is something very validating about seeing your name in the gutter of a magazine, or, even better, in the “about the cover” blurb. Kind of like a great one night stand: You feel confident as hell the next day and you get great bragging rights for as long as the magazine is on the news stand.
Lately my throne reading has included the Magazine Death Pool blog (you may recognize their logo at left), which I peruse with the fascination of a rubber necker passing a freeway accident. Part of me is sad so many periodicals are ascending to printing-press heaven. If I hadn’t landed the occasional regional magazine cover when I was a rookie, I would have had to look for a real job a long time ago.
As I watch the weekly demise of many small and large publications on the Magazine Death Pool, I wonder about the next generation of shooters. Will they be shit out of luck? Will they even have the opportunity to get underpaid to shoot magazine assignments in return for promotional and bragging rights? There is still hope.
As blog content continues to improve, some blogs are being thought of as replacements for expiring print publications. Most of the images those blogs run are either micro stock images purchased for a buck or an image legally lifted under the fair-use provision of the copyright law. These should be the images of enterprising photographers looking to get some notoriety. I know that you won’t get paid enough to buy a single pinto bean for your next burrito, but avoiding blog publications ain’t doin’ nothing for nobody.
But before you take my advice and go bounding, portfolio in hand, into the living rooms of the bigger blog publications, I’d like to make a salient point. There is a distinct difference between needing to get exposure and already having exposure, like my favorite editorial shooter Brian Smith.
Mr. Smith has earned a phenomenal reputation along with a Pulitzer Prize. He is trusted with heavyweight assignments and heavyweight celebrities because he has proven on several thousand occasions that he can deliver what editors need. The strength of his work and his name gives him a lot of syndication opportunities. He’s definitely not a candidate for throwing his work at the blogging community until they start offering real money. That is an appropriate option for photographers who are looking to build a name like Brian Smith, though, preferably using different letters.
There is nothing more important in the photography world than exposure of your name. It used to be that you would go to a library, research all the periodicals, large and small, and make a list of the magazines that would be a good fit with the style of your work. The small publications were particularly attractive because they were approachable and offered a better-than-average chance of publishing your photos. Granted it was for the price of a single frosty beverage, but fame is fame.
The blogs of today are no different — except for one thing. Young photographers are not yet approaching the high-profile blogs offering images for attribution. Why not be one of the first? Search around the web for blogs that have large readerships. Services like Alexa can help you determine how popular a blog is. Then drop them an email with a link to your site. Tell them where you live and what you’d be willing to do to get your photography with a link attribution on their site (please wipe that smirk off your face). The bonus could be free access to events, a corporate shooting gig, who knows. Nothing ventured… The goal of this is to get your name out of the coffee shop and into the real world.
At some point you’ll have to draw a line in the sand and determine when the freebies stop. A couple of factors to keep in mind when determining the location of that line: Has any connection in the last nine months been a result of your efforts? Has anyone commented that they saw your work on any of the blogs? Is the time you’re putting into creating images for a blog starting to cost you more than its worth?
These questions are no different than the ones you would ask yourself if you were doing the same for a magazine. Magazines just seem more legitimate because they’re paper and stuff. But in the contemporary grand scheme o’ things, and given the rate magazines are disappearing, the gap between online publication and printed ones is diminishing rapidly. Get your name out there. Then please let me know your experiences by leaving a comment here or contacting me through my web site at Lou Lesko Dot Com.
Going back into the mid ’80s when I first started to sell photographs, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. No one was calling me up. One of the big misconceptions now is that people are calling us up all the time to buy photographs. That’s not how it works in general. And one thing I wrote in my first book, The Art of Bird Photography, is that if you made a list of important things for selling photographs, the quality of your images might be about seventh or eighth. And I can prove it. Go to the newsstand and pick up a magazine that has your subject matter in it and every person is going to say, “I have better pictures than that.” But I’m the only person who would say that, and then follow it up with, “Yeah, and that guy must be working a thousand times harder than me because his pictures are in the magazine and mine are not.”
I’ve seen dozens of great photographers who could not sell a picture. And some folks with mediocre work are famous. The hard-work aspect is super important, as is determination. One of the things that happened early on was when my wife and I were considering leaving teaching and selling bird photographs, people said, you’ll never make enough money, how can you think of that, you have such a great health plan with both of you teaching. Being told that I couldn’t do it, that was one of the best things that ever that happened to me. I am a very determined person; when you tell me that I cannot do something, I am gonna bust a gut to do just that.
I mentioned Bird Watcher’s Digest — I’ll be forever indebted to Mary Beacom Bauers, she was the editor there. I sent her an article and she wrote back saying that the article had been accepted for publication. The magazine came out six times a year and for two years I would get it and look at the table of contents and my article was not in there. So I wrote a second article and sent that to her. That was accepted for publication and came out in the next issue. And then the original article came out in the issue after that. The first time I met Mary at Cape May, New Jersey, a big birding hotspot, she said “Boy Artie, after I held your article for two years and you sent me a second article, I knew that you were really determined.”
One of the things that helped me establish myself was realizing that it’s a lot more efficient to write an article, get paid for the article, and get paid for five or six photographs than it is to beat your head against a wall trying to sell one photograph that might get in someone else’s article. Early on I did a lot of writing for Birder’s World and especially Bird Watcher’s Digest. There was probably a five year period where I only missed one or two issues of BWD. That helped me get my name known.
When I first started, I didn’t know what I was doing. But after a couple years my goal became simply to make pictures that pleased me. I never shot for the market, to give advertisers room to put type in the frame, I just wanted the picture to be pretty and people to go, “Ooh ,that’s pretty good.” When I first started, my only goal was to get the cover of one national magazine. And then I thought I’d go on to another hobby, as I’d done before. Somehow, within three years, while I was still a fledgling bird photographer, I had the cover of what used to be called The Living Bird Quarterly (now Living Bird). Instead of that quenching my desire, I said, “That’s pretty cool, let’s do it again.”
Q: What do you see as your greatest success from your eight years of personal work?
Dietmar Busse: The most important thing that came out of that time was that I found my own language as a photographer. There was so much I had to learn about who I am as an artist and as a human being. For example, I don’t like to be in a crowded place with a lot of people I don’t know — and I like it even less if I have to take pictures there. It makes me completely nervous and I just want to leave. On the other hand, I really enjoy being with just one person in the room and taking their picture. I learned how to create the right atmosphere for my shoots, and consequently my work has become much more focused.
MJ: What has your experience been now that you are moving back into fashion and commercial photography?
DB: In many ways it’s much easier now. Getting some distance has helped a lot. I think I am much humbler now, and I appreciate every opportunity to do my work.
The most difficult thing has been to get access to the “right” people. So much of this business is social networking, and it’s a real challenge to rebuild a support system. But once I sit down with an art director or editor, I feel really comfortable. I think my work has a definite point of view, and people either like it or they don’t — it’s pretty straightforward. I am almost a bit embarrassed to say it, but I absolutely love showing my work now, and I am sure clients notice that.
MJ: Do you have advice for young photographers who are in a similar situation to you when you started out?
DB: I think it is very important to know what you want. Be honest with yourself. Why do you want to be a photographer? Why do you take pictures? Are you interested in the money, the models, self-expression?
At least for me it took quite some time to figure this out in my head, and later to build a body of work that corresponded to that. But I believe it was totally worth it. As we know, so much of our culture is about being richer, more beautiful, more famous, and all of that. People are divided into winners and losers. It’s important not buy into that. I think building a strong sense of self helps you to be immune to that and will hopefully lead you to create something unique and photographs that are meaningful to you.
Miki Johnson: What were the logistics of how you collaborated with Phil?
Valenda Campbell: We took our basic system for executing a photo commission and sort of tweaked it. We knew that Phil wanted to really understand the projects, the community context, and the culture in order to develop more meaningful stories. That meant he would need some time in the communities to suss out the best subjects. Up to this point, most of our photo commissions were typically teaming up photographers with the local country office staff who would take you and a writer out to a community. The writer would interview, the photographer would take photos, and you’d spend an afternoon there doing that. The country office staff is usually anxious to hurry on to the next community so they could show you the next great project to photograph. So this time we had to say, “Okay, we need to be able to spend four days in a community. And we need to be able to stay either in the community or very close to the community so that we can maximize our time there.” It was actually quite a challenge, and still can be, to shift their understanding as to how we needed to carry out this work.
What we typically try to do with a commission now is close to what we did with Phil. We coordinate with our country office, give them some dates, and tell them what we want to focus on. We want to go out and see this type of program, we’d like for them to talk to their field staff in hopes of identifying any particular women that really stand out as stars. Hopefully, we can find people who are not too shy, who are articulate, and who can help us tell this story through their experiences. So the country office provides all the logistical support: the in-country transportation, the lodging, translator, driver, etc. And then we go out to the community and stay for a few days. We started this process with Phil’s first trip with CARE to Ethiopia where he met the people who the field had staff pre-identified. We needed to get everything started in advance because for Phil, spending four days in a community is considerably less than what he would do if he were working a project more independently. So we just tried to get everything lined up as best we could and made sure he wouldn’t need to worry about the logistical support so he could focus on finding those stand-out subjects.
But CARE wants to be careful and considerate about the disruption that we cause with the community when we come to visit and any particular burden that we put on them: keeping them away from their daily lives and the way they generate income or food for their family. We can’t be too disruptive and overstay our welcome. We also like to be there to help make the introductions and answer questions about the programming or the local community, so that Phil has an expert on hand and he can be really tuned into what he’s seeing and what he’s hearing from the interviews.
MJ: Did you have different specifications for the images from Phil than you normally would have because you were thinking ahead to a book project or an exhibition?
VC: Usually when we’re doing a photo commission, we want to produce photos that could be used for anything and everything. We’re a non-profit with modest budgets, so we need to make every dollar we invest in these photo commissions yield the most value possible. So, while we went into this project with the primary objective of creating an exhibit and producing a book, we also wanted to make sure that in working with Phil we were able to help populate our stock of images. We rely on that stock for calendars, annual reports, brochures, posters, and the web site – basically everything. We wanted to make sure that, in the end, we had something that not only reflected Phil’s style but also really represented the brand of CARE and our messaging around the empowerment of women.
At the time CARE was also launching a new marketing and print PSA campaign –- “I Am Powerful” — that had a distinct type of image we were looking for. We put together a creative articulation of what the images for this campaign should convey; we were looking for that portrait that compels the viewer to feel a connection with the subject. Through the image and her expression, the viewer should see or sense the latent potential within this woman, her determination to make her life, her family’s life, and her community’s life better. So we offered some creative direction, but Phil’s style of portraiture just naturally nailed it. It was like preaching to the choir.
In general we write up scopes of work that spell out all of the different things we could possibly use the images and caption information for. We try to give the photographers we work with an idea of the important aspects the program and what we find to be visually effective in helping to communicate what the project is about. We give them some ideas to think about but ultimately look to them to use their unique creative and journalistic skills to execute the idea.
What we asked for from Phil — and he was already doing — holds true today. We want engaging environmental portrait photos, but we also want to show people in action and carrying out their daily lives, overcoming their greatest challenges, along with CARE’s program in action. We try to make the photographer aware of what is most important to CARE to capture and what else we find really useful. Over the past eight years we’ve worked hard to strengthen our scopes of work.
When I first started the standard scope of work was pretty much give us everything and take pictures of anything that moves. But now we’ve really refined them to convey that the images that are most useful to us, and that most accurately reflect CARE’s work, are the images of actual project participants. We certainly appreciate the pictures you just can’t help but take because it’s just such a nice shot. But in the end, we won’t be able to get as much use out of those images because we can’t speak about that person as an individual and how their life relates to the work CARE is doing in the community. So we have really tried to get photographers to keep their focus on our programs so that their images and supporting caption information is very applicable to our communications. We want to make sure that the photographers are able to focus their efforts on delivering what CARE needs most, and what supports our efforts to accurately and effectively tell the stories of the women who are so committed to overcoming poverty for their families and their communities.
One of the most important features of the blog format is this ability to have a comment thread, this feedback with the readers. As a photographer I’d never had that before. When you publish something, you know people write letters to the editor and maybe weeks or months later you might get a few letters. But that’s very rare and remote. Now it can be instantaneous. We forget very easily what the average person who’s not a journalist, when they pick up a paper or they go online, how they approach the imagery. This is what Michael’s site is all about to begin with, but it’s especially important with the original photojournalism work we’re doing.
It’s been educational for me that this is what “normal” people think about when they look at pictures, which is not the way we as professionals look at pictures. We’re really jaded. And we have a huge opportunity educate our audience; they can be really surprised. If I put up a little diary entry, for example, of how I work in Iraq, or being on the campaign trail, readers are amazed. For photojournalists, we think, of course, you have to get a fixer, you have to get a flak jacket, we don’t think twice. But the average person, they’re not thinking about that at all. They only see the results of our labor, they never really understand how we go about doing it. And when you give even the most basic of explanations, then that whole conversation starts. We have found specifically on this blog a tension and dynamic between photo people and political junkies, because it is a political blog. It’s telling how people who are really politically savvy can be very naive photographically, and vice-versa.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t read the comments on my images. Photographers are like children in that sense. We crave praise and hate criticism. And we’re insecure about ourselves. I mean, if some total stranger says, wonderful picture, you feel good, even though you have no idea who this person is and why they say that. And also if some other stranger says it’s terrible, you feel bad, even though they might be blind for all you know. So I read all the comments on BAGnewsNotes, and I will on RESOLVE too!
But most of the comments on BAGnewsNotes are more of a political nature, using the photographs to inform the debate. At least I don’t have to worry too much about my “photographic” pride, especially at something like the DNC, which we’ve all seen so many times. How do you take pictures at a convention that aren’t boring? I think I spent most of my time just trying to make good pictures. I read the comments, but that doesn’t change what you do the next day because you know you just have to go out there and try to make interesting pictures.
Having a food and prop stylist you work well with is extremely important. Usually when we’re interviewing a new stylist, they bring their portfolio in and we talk: What did you do on this? Oh, that looks good, what was your technique? Where did you get that item? Did you do the props? Sometimes food stylists do propping as well. Sometimes prop stylist do some easy food styling. Generally the way we operate with a new stylist is to suggest doing a portfolio shot together and see how we work together. That way we each get a portfolio piece. And then you have a better understanding of how they work and how well you work together and whether you communicate effectively. It’s like a test run.
We have a full studio and kitchen with a stove, oven, and refrigerators. We also have space for three freezers for the ice cream because we do a lot of ice cream. The ice cream is another whole specialty. There are food stylists who specialize in ice cream. It’s difficult and hard work because you have to scoop and shape all day. First the stylist takes a one-gallon or five-gallon tub and cuts it down the middle with a large cheese knife. Before they scoop, they can see where the variegates or fudge swirls are to see where the good spots are. Then they drag their scoop through that area to create a ball. But it’s a process of doing that over and over again until they get a good scoop. A stylist might get five balls that look good, but throw away 20.
One of our freezers is a dipping cabinet like the type one sees in an ice cream store. After scooping a ball with enough distribution and good texture, a “fluffy skirt” is built around it to make it appear freshly scooped. The client on set has approved both the ball and the skirt, which has been set on a piece of marble or in a bowl. The scoop returns to the dipping cabinet for a bit before it is brought on set and quickly photographed. The image is examined to determine if any modifications need to be made such as adding another chocolate chip or another swirl. There are some modifications that can be made on set while others can be accomplished through retouching.
We sometimes allow the ice cream to melt just a little bit to get the shot the client approves. During post production, melt drops are sometimes cloned on to the ice cream scoop in a place where it might look good that the ice cream is a little melty. That gives us more control over the look we’re trying to achieve. I always strive to give the most accurate and truthful representation of the product. Then, with the ice cream, we print out that version and give it to the art director or client to mark up: move that chip, lighten that area, add additional chips. Then we take the marked up sheet to GreenBox Imaging, the retouching part of our company. The image and comments shift back and forth between the design firm and GreenBox’s retoucher. When the retoucher feels the image is exactly how the design firm wants it, the retouched image is presented to the client for feedback. The fact that we were involved in the decisions from the beginning gives us an advantage in delivering exactly what the client wants.
The other key team members of my team are my studio manager, prop stylist, and photo and food stylist assistants. The studio manager is the backbone of the studio. He is responsible for booking, coordinating, organizing, receiving, shipping, processing, printing, documenting, trouble-shooting and client hosting – just to name a few of his responsibilities. I think it becomes apparent just how important your team is on complicated projects like this.