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I founded Benham Gallery in Seattle in 1987. Dedicated to emerging and mid-career fine art photographers, I have been consulting since 1998, and reviewing over 1,000 portfolios annually. I have presented workshops for artists nationally and internationally, helping them further their careers by developing their professional tools for finding and successfully approaching appropriate venues. As an invited reviewer and speaker, I have attended over a dozen photo festivals in the USA, Latin America and Europe.
My hope is that photographers will learn to follow their hearts and not the almighty dollar. There are so many other ways to become wealthy without selling your soul and time to corporate America. Perhaps the photo community can find a way to tell the important stories, instead of the sound bites the media puts out.
Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.
I am the director of the Open Society Institute’s Documentary Photography Project, based in New York City. Through exhibits, workshops, grantmaking, and public programs, this project explores how photography can shape public perception and effect social change.
I joined OSI in 1994, helped establish the Moving Walls exhibition in 1998, and in 2004 developed and launched OSI’s Documentary Photography Project. Prior to OSI, I worked in Washington, D.C., as the director of government relations for NAFSA: Association of International Educators, where I represented U.S. colleges and universities in lobbying the U.S. Congress and government agencies on immigration policies affecting foreign students and the hiring of foreign faculty and researchers. I received a BA in history from the University of Michigan.
I’ve spent a decade supporting documentary photographers who devote years to personal projects. These photographers are thinking beyond getting a few images published in a newspaper or magazine — they want to have real impact. This happens when they:
Working with advocates/NGOs can greatly enhance a project’s reach and provide a photographer with on-the-ground contacts and assistance, as well as financial support. But there are challenges as well.
NGOs are not media organizations and have a different relationship to photographers. They also have their own agendas, which may or may not dovetail with a photographer’s. Sometimes there is a match. Sometimes not –- in which case, it may just be an assignment, not a long term relationship.
Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.
John Kaplan, who wrote Photo Portfolio Success and has had impressive success with his own portfolio over the years, is here to answer your questions. Leave a question in the comments section, along with your website if you have one, and he’ll respond asap, also in the comments, so others can benefit from the good advice.
John Kaplan is one of America’s most accomplished narrative photographers, having been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography, POY National Newspaper Photographer of the Year, the Overseas Press Club Award, two Robert F. Kennedy Awards, and the Nikon Documentary Sabbatical Grant. He is also the author of Photo Portfolio Success, which helps photographers edit to their strengths and prepare stunning portfolios that eliminate doubt in the minds of editors, buyers and contest judges.
A full professor at the University of Florida and a Fulbright Scholar, John teaches throughout the world and has twice been named a juror for the Pulitzer Prizes. His work has appeared in LIFE, The New York Times, American Photo and numerous book annuals.
John’s work is exhibited at museums and galleries worldwide including solo exhibitions in the United States, Peru, Bolivia and Korea as well as shows in the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Korea, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. His project on survivors of torture in West Africa was awarded the Overseas Press Club Award for Feature Photography and the Harry Chapin Media Award; the United Nations used the work to help facilitate contact with the victims.
Presently, John is directing and producing his first feature length film, the autobiographical Not As I Pictured: A Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer’s Journey Through Lymphoma.
Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.
As we look around the photojournalism world today, it’s hard not to worry about one trend in particular: Newspapers, magazines, and wire services have been cutting pages, budgets, and staff positions, for years — and they’re not coming back. With fewer staff jobs to go around, more photographers than ever are deciding to work for themselves. Being the innovators that photographers are, they’re exploring new markets, new mediums, and new skill sets, especially those needed to run a business.
Some former staff photojournalists saw the writing on the wall long ago and now run their own thriving businesses. Many more have made strides in the last year or two, but still have a few questions — or they’re planning to make a move soon and have lots of questions.
Next week, August 10-14, RESOLVE will run five days of posts designed to answer these questions. Of course, no one person has the answer to all questions, especially the big ones about where the industry is going and how photography will continue to be profitable. But every photographer and editor and rep out there has the answer to one or two questions. That’s why we’ve asked as many as possible to share their experiences.
We’ve talked to dozens of former staff photographers working in a range of markets and will share their insights with you in daily posts next week. Each day we’ll also explore and explain an alternative market for photojournalists, including commercial assignments, wedding photojournalism, fine-art, and working with NGOs.
On top of that, an “expert of the day” will be available to answer questions in real-time as you ask them. They’re here to help, but we also need people will come together and help each other. We’ve heard about so much of this going on offline, we know you’ll have a lot to share here online as well.
If you are now or have ever been a staff photographer, please check in next week and join the discussion: ask a question, offer advice, and make some new contacts. If you’d like to contribute your thoughts about transitioning from a staff position, please email us this week: resolve [at] livebooks [dot] com. We’d love to hear from you and share your story (and website) with the community!
If you spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with Emilie’s website, you’ll see that it’s incredibly rich in content, yet it looks clean and simple and the main menu is easy to navigate.
The key here is the “information” menu item. Because the word “information” is both clear and broad, it enables Emilie to include a variety of content in the drop-down menu under it. Collecting most of her content under this one drop-down keeps the main navigation and the user’s overall impression of the site clean and orderly.
When you have a lot of items in a drop-down, be sure to name each one so that the user/client will know exactly what they’ll get when they click on it. Spend some time coming up with page names to make sure you have the best ones, and if you find a better one down the road, go in and change it.
Critiquing the names under Emilie’s “information” menu item, I have only two issues. The first is small: The link called “Emilie.” Most people will guess correctly that this link is about Emilie, but it wouldn’t hurt to let visitors know for certain by changing the name to “About Emilie.”
My second critique — of the link called “Emilie Ink” — I feel more strongly about because choosing a better name could lead directly to more revenue. I did not catch that “Ink” was spelled with a “k” rather than a “c,” and I assumed that this link was about her photography business. I probably would have assumed the same thing even if I did notice the alternate spelling. Either way, I would be surprised to discover behind that link a whole new website offering custom printing services to her clients!
You want to make your revenue-generating items as easy to find as possible. Don’t hide them in a sub-menu unless that sub-menu name is something clear like, “Services.” A more effective name for Emilie’s link to her print services might be “Custom Cards.”
In summary, Emilie’s navigation logic and page names are nice and clear, with just a few possible improvements. I recommend that you review your navigation logic and naming, and see if you can find a way to make it even clearer. Your visitors will thank you.
The problem with this whole blog thing is that lots of great stories get pushed off the page every day and ends up in our growing archives. If you haven’t checked out the categories along the left side of RESOLVE, we think it will be worth your time.
We also know that sometimes you just want to click and not wander, so we’re going to pick some gems from our past posts and throw them back up for your enjoyment every week or so — starting today. This one is the first of several posts from Jasmine DeFoore at Redux Pictures about getting editorial representation and getting the most out of it. Click below to read the original story; her later posts are linked in the intro.
There’s nothing more ego shattering than interviewing a photographer who is as old as my career is long and finding out that she has kicked my ass in a market place that I coveted for years. Shooting book covers for literary works is downright respectable in a bizarre, pseudo-erudite sort of way.
“Did you read Rolling’s Recalcitrant Ruminations of Ruskin?”
“Why no darling, but I did shoot the image for the cover of the hardback.”
“Oh, bravo. Glass of sherry?”
I tried to get into that publishing circle for years. To say that they didn’t give two shits about me is, to be honest, crediting myself with one shit too many. Which brings me to my guest, photographer Claire Rosen. She was recently contacted by the boutique global publishing firm Random House to shoot the cover (left) of Sarah Addison Allen’s book The Girl who Chased the Moon.
The folks at Random House were intrigued by Miss Rosen’s distinct style of photography when they came across it at one of her gallery openings. The assignment (I’m not joking): Read the book and pitch some ideas of how the cover should be shot. The folks at Random House chose one of the ideas and Claire was, (I promise, I’m not joking), free to go shoot it and send in the results.
That kind of paid creative freedom with a high-profile client is practically nonexistent in contemporary society. Not only do you get paid to do your creative thing, you can window shop at a Barnes and Noble on a date and feign surprise when you see your book cover. If I want to accidentally-on-purpose show off my book cover I have to start a fire in the café of the book store, convince my date that it’s safest in the photography section and then use my book to fan away the smoke. “You okay? Hey look at that!”
Gigs like Miss Rosen’s can become a wonderful source of work. In just a week since receiving her first assignment, she has landed another book cover. If you’re interested in doing this type of work, you need to keep one thing in mind: The people at publishing houses who are green-lighting covers aren’t looking for photographers. They are looking for covers.
I reached out to a senior art director at Little, Brown Books to find out what he’s looking for from photographers. He suggests going to the bookstore to find covers, illustrated or photographic, that are similar to your narrative style. Check the imprint names on the books’ spines and contact those publishers to get the name of their art director.
The best way to reach out art directors is by mailing a hard-copy promo with an example of your work. Email promos have become the bane of art directors, my contact said. The barrage of email promos from listing services has resulted in a backlash, and they are routinely deleted out of hand.
One phrase that stood out in my interview with the Little, Brown art director was “cover appropriate.” Take the time to do your research. If your work doesn’t look like any cover you’ve seen, then don’t send it to the publishers.
With all that in mind, take a day and hang out at the bookstore — you could find a whole new direction for your photography business. Just please pretend not to notice if you see a guy in the café torching a pile of coffee beans.
As a photo editor for a weekly women’s lifestyle magazine, I frequently had to find the same kind of image over and over again. One of the common ones was what we termed “woman on scale.” There is a weight-loss story in just about every issue of every women’s lifestyle magazine on the stands, so the need for this particular image (and ones like it), is almost endless.
Unfortunately, there never seems to be enough in the various stock coffers to keep up with demand. Especially considering that magazines will avoid using the same image twice or using the same image as another lifestyle magazine. For photographers this means — even though it’s counterintuitive — you should be shooting more of what you see the most of.
As a photo editor, I would have loved to see more variety of these recurring images (like “woman on scale”). Photographers should first look through multiple issues of the magazines they expect will buy their images and notice which images are repeated. That will give you a few kinds of photos to focus on. Then get to know the editorial styles of each magazine and create different versions of those photos to cater to each style. Some magazines will want a very young woman, some a woman who looks more like a mother. Conservative magazines will want her legs and arms to be covered; others might want her to have the latest, tightest workout clothes.
Photographers often offer several images of the same model in the same clothes, changing only her the tilt of her head or the position of her hands. If you were an editor, would you use two of these as if they were “different” photos? Didn’t think so. If you are using the same model, change her clothes between photos, especially the color palette. Change her hairstyle, make-up, and expressions. Make her look like a different woman. Change the background and include a white background. Most importantly, shoot the same image with different models, especially ones from different ethnic backgrounds (although two from of the same ethnicity is still better than one). Think of it almost mathematically. Try to come up with as many permutations as possible for the same image.
If you’re working in the women’s lifestyle genre, there are several other pictures that you’ll notice recur frequently: woman at a computer, woman performing various kitchen duties, woman in the car, woman with money, woman shopping. Remember, in addition to shooting each scenario in different locations, also shoot them on a white background to make a clean background for text. When possible, consider not only the content of the photograph but also the way the graphic designer may need to work around it when laying out a page. If you can do that, and keep supplying the images that editors have to keep going back to look for, you’ll quickly move to the top of their go-to list.
Miki Johnson: When did you realize you were meant to be photographing dogs?
Sarah Zemunski: In my 3rd year at AAU, I began to get very frustrated. I hadn’t found my niche, and the work I was doing for class was just mediocre. Aside from school, I was working at a doggy daycare. I began taking pictures of the dogs in the play area. That lead to photographing “The Dog of the Month” for the business. Every month, I would shoot a different dog, and the portrait would go up in the lobby.
At that time I never thought about shooting dogs for school. I thought it might be cheesy, and my pictures were bordering on snap-shots. Then in one class, I decided to present one of my dogs as an assignment. I was hesitant, and I thought people would think it was stupid. But everyone loved it! I got more positive feedback from it than I had for anything else I had done in the class. So I began photographing dogs for every assignment. The teacher of that class, Noel Barnhurst, really supported my work. If it wasn’t for him, and the people in that class, I may not have had the courage to show my dog work.
Since then, I’ve tried to fit dogs into all my classes. For my Architectural Landscape class, I photographed dogs with architecture. I just started photographing other animals this past semester. My teacher for Senior Portfolio, David Wasserman, told me I needed to shoot other animals to make my portfolio complete. At first, I was against it — I only wanted to shoot dogs. But now I am so glad I branched out! I feel the work I have done with other animals is my strongest. In fact, the portfolio I produced for the class was named best portfolio in my school’s Spring Show!
I think you should photograph what you are passionate about. I have always been passionate about animals, but it took me a while to find out I should be photographing them!
MJ: Tell me about how you got into photography.
SZ: As a child, my dream job was to work with animals. Photography didn’t come into the picture until later in high school. Growing up, I never really took pictures, except for snapshots of family and friends. In high school, I took a photography class and I eventually came to San Francisco and took classes at The Academy of Art University (AAU). I have two semesters left before I graduate.
When I first started out, the thing I liked most about photography was framing the shot. I wasn’t too interested in my subject matter. Mostly, I walked around and shot what I saw on the street. For me, it was about how the shapes and lines fit into the frame.
As I advanced at school, I experimented in several genres. For school assignments, I often shot people — I am now remembering how much I hated it! Some photographers are meant to shoot people. I am not one of them. But if I hadn’t spent all that time shooting, my work wouldn’t be as strong as it is now.
My dream photography job five years from now would be traveling the world to photograph animals (all expenses paid, of course!). I want to be known as THE animal photographer. I am interested in working with wild animals — and their trainers. I want to be the Annie Leibovitz of animals. Haha.
MJ: I have to ask, any funny/poignant stories about working with dog?
SZ: I am a dog-walker, so I have funny dog stories just about every day! The dog I photographed for the Go Pro contest actually ran away during the photo shoot. She is a timid dog, and is very attached to her owner. I felt comfortable enough with her off-leash, but that was a mistake. While shooting, she just started running away, slow at first, then sprinting. She was headed back to her house, since she only lived a few blocks away.
My assistant/boyfriend (thank God he was there!) took off after her. He chased her out of the park, and through the neighborhood. Finally, he caught up to her and brought her back. Zoey was so exhausted from the run, that it made her much more mellow for the photo shoot. Maybe I would have never gotten the shot of her in the ivy if she wasn’t so tired!
Since the photo shoot, Zoey has passed away from cancer. Her owner was thrilled to see my image had won the contest. She feels the image really captures the essence Zoey. I was so glad I was able to provide the owner with pictures to remember her beloved pooch.
My very first gallery presentation was actually in 1976 when I was 18, which resulted in my first solo show in New York City. Times were very different in 2001 when I presented to a co-op gallery, to which my acceptance was already a certainty. With co-op galleries, if your work is of reasonable quality and they need another paying member, well…you’re in. But co-ops deserves consideration, since my show there eventually led to my first gallery presentation that “mattered.”
What brought me to this co-op gallery was simple — my wife. One of the attractions of our cute Hudson River town was the fact there were seven galleries near by. When we’d walk by a gallery, my wife would nudge me about joining one of them or seeking representation. Even though I was spending a fair amount of time shooting landscapes after rekindling my interest in it a year earlier, I’d usually dismiss the idea saying I really didn’t have that much time to spend on it. But to be honest, I was uneasy about being seen as a commercial photographer “playing” at being an artist. But my wife continued to encourage me, and I eventually showed them my work, handed them my check, and was accepted as a member. If only it was so easy at non co-op galleries!
A few months after joining this co-op gallery, it was my turn for my solo show, in April 2001. The day I hung the show was the first time I had been physically surrounded by my new work and the first time I noticed that I was already showing rudimentary signs of having a style. It was illuminating. I highly recommend that every serious photographer literally surround themselves with their work and give it a good look all at once.
The show opened and I have to admit I was extremely curious how the viewers would react. I pretended to be just another viewer while eavesdropping on people in an effort to hear their honest reactions. I was very pleasantly surprised. My fears of being chased out of town by torch-wielding townsfolk turned out to be unfounded. Not only was the work well received, I actually sold prints — quite a few in fact! By the second weekend of the show, I had made a very respectable profit, and it began to appear that I could make a living doing this type of work. I would no longer need an expensive photo studio in Manhattan and the pressure from such a high overhead. I was elated; however, one gallery would not be enough to replace my established commercial photography business. I would need more galleries.
First I did a little research to narrow down my list of galleries to ones that seemed to have an appreciation or interest in my genre of work. Just like showing my work to advertising clients: show your hamburger picture to MacDonald’s ad agency, your lipstick photos to Revlon’s.
Once I had my list of potential galleries in NYC, it was time to make calls. Some galleries were willing to see me for an in-person presentation; others just wanted me to drop off my portfolio. I had two 11×14” portfolios of my landscape prints, matted and mounted — one for drop-offs and one for in-person presentations.
On day, I had arranged to drop off a portfolio at a gallery and also had made an appointment for an in-person presentation at Edward Carter Gallery. Both galleries showed a lot of B&W landscape work, ECG at one point touting itself as the biggest collection of Ansel Adams prints. The morning of the Carter meeting I received a call from the gallery where I had dropped off my portfolio. They thanked me and said I could pick up my portfolio at any time. I was disappointed but arranged to pick up the first portfolio and then went to see Mr. Carter at ECG.
When I walked into ECG I was blown away with how beautiful the gallery was. It was not the typical white walls and emptiness. This gallery had dark gray, nearly black walls and the prints, mostly Ansel, just popped off of them. There was a seating area, double Eames chairs, and Mr. Carter asked me to sit. He removed an Ansel print from the small wall directly in front of the chairs and asked me to present my work in that spot — the same spot where the Adams’ print had just hung!
Now, I had a lot of experience, about 25 years worth, showing my work to people: art directors, creative directors, picture editors, etc. But this was different, it was my personal work. It’s one thing to show an AD who works on a cosmetics account your assignment work with other cosmetics clients, and something else entirely to show someone work that has much deeper meaning for you. And as I held each image in the spotlight for Mr. Carter to see, I couldn’t help but notice that I was facing several Adams prints, and behind me were several more, and I’m starting to think to myself, “Who am I kidding?” Whether you love, hate, or are neutral regarding Ansel Adams’ work, there’s no denying his contribution to photography. He’s not called St. Ansel for nothing. There’s actually a mountain named after him.
So I finish with my presentation, and the whole time Mr. Carter had been stone-faced, poker-faced, so I was not expecting a desirable outcome. I boxed up my prints, sat down next to him, and he turned to me and said, “I’d be honored to represent you.” That was not quite the response I was expecting. So, trying to be cool and acting as though no other outcome could have been possible, I ask him what the terms of representation were (good comeback!). Of course I started dialing my cell phone the second I walked out of the gallery, only to be frustrated by a lack of reception until I stepped outside onto Broadway. “Honey, I got an NYC gallery!!”
Coincidently, later that week I receive a call from the owner of the gallery where the staff had told me to pick up my portfolio. She asked why I had picked up the portfolio when she had been interested in meeting with me and talking about representation. Apparently someone on her staff had made an error. I had to tell her that I had just signed with another gallery — a real bummer since 9/11 ultimately put ECG out of business, and her gallery is still doing really well.
About a week after my meeting at ECG, I went with my wife, my parents, and my uncle (who was an avid photographer and had introduced me to photography) to ECG. There, next to prints by Ansel Adams, hung my own prints. It meant a lot to me then — and whenever I see my work hanging in the company of gifted photographers, it still means a lot to me.