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I tumbled into photography while I was struggling to stay in New York after arriving from India with less than a dollar in my pocket and a visa that only lasted a month. In 1968, my plans were to become a fold singer; New York City was full of hippies and music was everywhere. This lady was listening to me sing in the village and asked me if I would come and audition at the United Nations’ choral group. I got the part and she got me a job as a messenger and took care of my visa problem. I won the grand spires in a photo-contest that led me to a job in the United Nation’s Photo Unit as a darkroom technician.
I had worked for 20 years as a photojournalist and I had a nervous breakdown after my coverage in Rwanda in 1994. At that point, I wanted to turn my camera towards nature and wildlife. Since I come from India and tigers are endangered, I decided to turn my photography towards documenting the tigers. I am also very fond of cats.
This tiger documentary was a coincidence. Mary Fereira who is a United Nations Television (UNTV) documentary producer approached me and asked if I would be willing to share my tiger images and let them follow me while I was in the jungle in India and film with me. So last year they did the filming in India. During the 30 years I worked with the United Nations, I was a photojournalist covering crisis around the world of less fortunate people who suffered during wars and natural disasters. So to be featured as a wildlife photographer was a challenge and thrill.
I want people to be aware of the delicate situation of these tigers existence in our ever changing world and needs. I want people to realize that we all have an obligation to protect our wildlife and the land we live in. There is an ancient saying that this Earth is given to us on loan and we must take the responsibility to nurture and safekeep it for our children and their children.
Even though I have retired from my regular job as a photojournalist, I still work everyday in my studio in Yonkers. I make presentations at universities, schools, conduct workshops, and teach photography. As I am writing this, I am getting ready to leave for China on an invitation to make a presentation to 1,400 students in Beijing next week.
To see more of John Isaac’s work, visit his website: www.johnisaac.com
Gretchen Bell is a wardrobe and prop stylist based in Seattle. Her client list includes Kraft, Levi’s, Target, Chevrolet, Amazon, Omni Resorts and Tommy Bahama. To see more of her work, visit: www.gretchenbell.com
In some ways, I feel I was destined to become a stylist. As a child, I was always wearing fashion trends before anyone else and modeling in local fashion shows. When I was about 13, I remember reading an article in Seventeen Magazine about the woman who was the stylist for The Cosby Show and thinking that would be my dream job, little did I know!
In college, my major was television Communications, so my career began working in video production as a production assistant and doing graphics for the news at the NBC station in Minneapolis. I then spent several years working as a modeling agent, before taking a job as a studio manager and producer for a successful advertising photographer, Craig Perman. It was there that I began styling commercial photo shoots for many large national and international clients and really learned about all aspects of production. So my whole career has really been about seeing things in a visual way.
In a great photograph everything matters, the color of a shirts, the kind of coffee cup, the style of the shoe, the position of the elements to one another. Everything in a photograph is helping to convey a client’s message or tell a story and that is my job. That is the fun and the challenge of being a stylist. What is going to make a photograph funny or moody or nostalgic and how are my props and wardrobe going to help do that? People don’t realize I might spend hours looking for just the right underwear that will be funny on teenage boys or searching for the perfect feathers for a still life shoot because it all matters. That is why stylists bring so many choices to the set for every shoot, so we can figure out what best helps tell the story.
It is very much a collaboration to tell a great story and it’s not always successful. Everyone is bringing something to the table at the shoot and when we all have a clear and concise vision, I think then it makes for a great photograph. As a stylist, I am coming to a shoot with my interpretation of what my client wants, but also run through a filter of my personal style. If a client wants playing cards, there are lots of playing card options out there. It is really fun to see a shoot come together successfully and see how elements from each member of the crew helped create that moment.
To me being a stylist is really about being part of a team; I can’t do my job without the rest of the crew. My props and wardrobe are only as good as the talent booked for the shoot, the lighting, the photographer, the makeup artist, the vision of the client and the layouts. Again, everything matters.
Deborah Depolito is a skilled stylist that has 15+ years of experience under her belt. Working with world-renown clients such as Under Armour, Uber, McDonald’s, and Microsoft, it is clear why she is so sought-after in her industry. Her strong relationship with photographers and clients have allowed her to work with on various commercial and editorial campaigns. See more of her work at www.deborahdepolitostylist.com
When people think of styling, they quickly assume that it’s only related to getting the perfect outfit together. What most fail to see is that without a proper styling professional onboard an editorial project, the message being conveyed can be lost. Styling is so much more than it seems – it not only includes props, hair and make-up but also matching people to fit brands and products.
(Director: Gary Land // Executive Producer: Abe Sands // Photographer: Nick Taylor)
My keenly trained eye for the client’s mission and ever-evolving awareness of color and style ensures that my clients are happy with the end product, every time. This may seem like an easy task – in fact, it’s very difficult. When you’re styling, you not only have to put yourself in the company’s mindset but also in the client that they are gearing the service and/or product to.
I believe that it is my warm nature and sense of humor that allows me to complement my ability to dress talent in an authentic and beautiful way. Without this light-heartedness, the work would seem inauthentic and it would create an end-product that my clients would not be happy with.
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Jim Shoemaker worked as a graphic designer for nearly 20 years before transitioning to photography. He has spent the last 12 years photographing throughout the western United States. His images have appeared in LensWork, Outdoor Photographer, American Photo, Nature Photographer, Silvershotz, Black & White, Rangefinder, Sierra Magazine and many other publications. His work can be seen at: www.jimshoemakerphotography.com.
As photographers, we often discuss the placement of the subject within the frame, which elements are included or excluded, and what is happening at the edges of the frame. But, trying to capture the essence, or the experience of a subject deals with more than knowing the Rule of Thirds. Its the ability to tell a story, and its the difference between making a picture and taking one.
When I’m photographing in any given location, there are things going on outside the scope of my frame that are influencing me. There is the temperature, sounds of wildlife and the aroma of wildflowers. All of my senses are engaged in the moment. My job is to convey that sensation via a photograph viewed by someone who has maybe never been to this place while making them feel as though they were there. To make them feel as if they know the place.
This connection between subject and viewer is vital, whether the subject is a person, a landscape or an architectural structure. It is especially important for landscape work, because if the viewer doesn’t feel a connection, they won’t care about the subject, nor feel the need to protect it. Two methods that I employ to communicate experience of place are creating a mood and point of view.
Creating a mood helps tell a story. For example, let’s say I’m photographing in one of my favorite national parks, Death Valley. If I want the story to be about the harsh environment and its rugged ecosystem, I’ll photograph during the middle of the day when the sun is high and there is high contrast and stark shadows. If instead the story is about how “Death Valley” is a misnomer and there is great beauty and abundant life, I’ll photograph before and during sunrise, and during and after sunset to get pastel, cool colors and low contrast. Choosing an appropriate lighting style renders the landscape in a way that supports the narrative.
Point of view is about camera placement. I order for objects to look larger than life and more iconic, I like to have the camera lower than average eye level. I also look for opportunities to have objects, such as branches, enter the edges of the frame to give the viewer a sense that they are emerging from one place to another. I want them to feel enveloped by the implied surroundings that lie outside of the frame.
There are many techniques that can be used for effective storytelling and for finding your voice as a photographer. The above are merely examples. Connecting the viewer with the subject is far more important than simply making a pretty picture. As Ansel Adams once said; “A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is a true expression of what one feels about life in it’s entirety.”
Guest blog post by liveBooks client Ed Asmus
“Stunning” is a word that I don’t often use. But in this particular case, my trip to visit Ethiopia’s Omo Valley was not only aesthetically stunning, but strange and otherworldly. Almost ancestral.
This magical place is also known as “The Cradle of Mankind” – home of the oldest hominid fossil, #AL288-1 or “Lucy.” 3.5 million years after her, I went to photograph and visit her descendants.
This life changing journey started in a strange way. I am a long time user of the Broncolor lighting in my professional photography business in Sacramento, CA. One day, when I was reading their monthly newsletter, I saw a featured photographer and read about his trip to Ethiopia. His images were immediately captivating. Eerie, almost. It was hard to believe that what I was looking at really still existed in the world today. I contacted Ken, the photographer, who told me that things were rapidly changing over there, that I should go for at least two weeks, and that I should go NOW. He gave me his trusted guide’s name and shoot organizer, Ayele Sode, and all the pieces began to fall into place.
We planned our trip in November, just after the Ethiopian rainy season – their springtime – so native flowers would be in bloom. With equipment loaded atop our SUV, we headed to our first stop to see the “Surma Tribe.” It took three long days of driving in the bush to get to their village; the dirt roads were horrible. Not many Western people get to this tribe because they are so far off the beaten path, and there are no accommodations or running water. Our guide had organized tent camping and an enormous bottled water supply. He brought with us a chef and a hired bodyguard with an AK-47. I forgot we were in the bush and a long ways away from any cell service or modern conveniences.
We planned to stay five days with the Surma people, but it was cut short by tribal tensions one night, so we departed a day early. We still experienced rain, which made the roads even more difficult. On our way out, some roads were washed out and we ended up getting stuck four times. It crossed my mind more than once that we were all going to spend the night in the Landcruiser. The first little town we came to is where we found pension for $2.00 a night – and I gladly picked up the tab. The rain made our travels longer as we had another three days of driving to get to our next tribe. We saw seven tribes total, each more different than the last. The one commonality is that they all live and depend on the land; most are either farmers of teff, corn, wheat, or coffee, or they free range cattle and goats. Our accommodations ranged from $2 to $120 per night/USD. This really is a National Geographic wonderland, and what you will see and experience is worth every penny. All I can say is stunning.
I’ve been back for only two weeks and am already missing the ET native people. They seem to get by on what they have and are happy. My plans are to go back again next year, fine tune the logistics, and shoot more beautiful work.
Please check out Ed’s website for more stunning images!
As I carefully work my way to the tip of a 300 foot crane boom perched 200 feet over the water and swaying mightily as it unloads a giant container ship, my biggest challenge is to not smash a camera against one of the huge steel girders that surround me. More importantly, be careful not to slip on the minefield of grease blobs that wait to slam me into the sharp metal catwalk that is below my feet.
Surrounded by giant machinery that will roll over you in a matter of seconds or alternately drop their 2 tons of cargo right where you are standing, my work environment can be extremely dangerous. An ear splitting array of sounds in the midst of controlled chaos, a container terminal plays a roll in our daily lives that most people have no idea about.
The vast majority of our clothing, household goods, electronics and even some of our food are shipped around the world in 40 foot steel boxes on ships longer than four football fields. For twenty years as a corporate industrial photographer I have concentrated on this specialized world. The incredible scale of the ships, the colorful containers and the opportunity to travel captivated me immediately. With a background in photojournalism, telling my client’s stories was easy, but it was doing it dramatically that became my signature style.
Combining my storytelling ability with a strong artistic approach, I create images that are driven by their composition, color or quality of light yet still successfully illustrate the theme or message that they were ultimately created for. This concept has become my brand, with my client’s relying on a unique vision of their industry to differentiate themselves from the competition.
My approach to an assignment always begins by gathering as much information as possible. Very simply, I ask a lot of questions! Working on location is about finding solutions to challenges and still producing the best possible images. In an environment where shoot sabotaging last minute schedule changes are the norm, and cooperation is the key to my success, knowing the right questions to ask is what enables me to produce the types of images that I do. Armed with information, it is easier to make decisions about what I am going to shoot and plan for potential opportunities.
Speaking the lingo and having a great deal of knowledge about what I am photographing has served me well in being able to do things that would usually be greeted with a resounding NO! I am persistent and have been given some incredible access to produce some very difficult shots.
I have been on a lot of cranes, but on an assignment in Cartagena Columbia for the manufacturer, I really wanted to shoot from a different perspective. Making giant steel structures look as impressive as they are in person, showcase my client’s brand, throw in some bad weather mixed with uncooperative local authorities, just another typical assignment!
When working in a setting that has massive scale, finding an elevated vantage point is my favorite way to create a dynamic image. Shooting from on top of a container crane is the simplest way to get above this giant world. My client’s crane in Columbia offered a potentially incredible vantage point that I have never shot from before. A small platform at the tip that was actually below the boom, difficult and dangerous to get to while the crane was working, became the place that I absolutely had to shoot from.
While I work in dangerous environments, I am not a daredevil and safely doing my job is the number one priority. Noticing several minutes of lag time in the cycle of unloading containers, I realized it might be possible to get to my elusive vantage point without risk or interfering with productivity. I was just going to have to convince my escort who really didn’t want to be up there in the first place, that everything would be fine! Utilizing the always-effective bargaining tool of time, as in “we will only be there for a few minutes” I was able to make an image that offered an amazing perspective of my client’s product in operation.
One of the more unusual aspects of a typical assignment is that often I will be shooting for more than one client at the same time. I discovered many years ago that if a project or assignment involves multiple companies, it works very well to combine everyone’s needs into one assignment. Interconnected as vendors or customers of each other, sharing production/travel expenses is always appealing to them. On this type of shoot I provide each client involved with their own custom set of images mixed with selections that are useful for everyone.
Adding this additional level of complexity to my normally challenging assignments has actually enabled me to be more creative. Focusing on the different needs, I’m seeing the situations that I’m shooting in ways that may have been missed. During a recent shoot documenting the delivery of five gigantic automated cranes in New Jersey, I made one of my favorite images by seeing my subject a little differently.
In an environment that is filled with giant impressive industrial machinery, it is easy to focus only on that. To enhance the story, I will often include people in the frame adding both scale and a connection. On this particular assignment everything came together when the project manager for one of my three clients put himself right in front of me, blocking my shot. With this extremely large man obstructing my perfect angle, I was just about to move when suddenly I saw a great shot. Placing this giant man clad in yellow coveralls in the center of the frame with his back to me while the action happened beyond him told a great story. It would have been really easy to not see one of my now favorite images when the shot I had in my mind was completely obstructed.
With persistence, luck and a lot of patience, I am constantly searching for more interesting ways to photograph an industry that I have been looking at for a long time.
As sponsors of the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop for the third year, liveBooks recently got an update about the lineup of instructors for this year’s workshop happening from June 20-26 in Istanbul, Turkey.
We have to admit, it’s an impressive list: Maggie Steber, Ron Haviv, Andrea Bruce, Stephanie Sinclair, Ami Vitale, Guy Calaf, Kate Brooks, Tyler Hicks, Kael Alford, Adriana Zehbruaskas, Jared Moossy, David Guttendfelder, Rena Effendi, Anastasia Taylor-Lind, Jon Vidar, David Bathgate, Tewfic el Sawy, Henrik Kastenskov/Bombay Flying Club.
You can read all about the Foundry Workshop in our interview with founder Eric Beecroft from last year’s edition in India (year one was in Mexico). The workshop began in 2008 as a more affordable workshop option that international and emerging photographers could afford.
With such a prestigious list of instructors this year, we thought it would be good to hear from a few of them about the Foundry experience and their advice for workshops in general.
Miki Johnson: What is your favorite thing about being involved in the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop? Do you have a favorite moment from past years?
Ron Haviv: Watching the growth of the students in such a short period of time. The realization from many that this is a great way to spend your life. Seeing that moment on students’ faces is inspirational to me.
Ami Vitale: The collaboration and working with fine photographers and fun people. It’s always a great experience and I’m always inspired by my students and colleagues. Last time I left feeling full of inspiration and ideas. Watching students grow in the short span of the workshop is incredible.
Tewic el Sawy: My favorite take-home sentiment from participating in the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop is the mutual camaraderie and unfettered sharing of knowledge, information, and support between instructors and students/attendees. As for my favorite moment: during the final screening of the students work at the Manali workshop, learning that Dhiraj Singh (one of my class attendees) had deservedly won the top photography spot/prize of the workshop.
MJ: What is the most important things for students to realize when they participate in a workshop, to help them get the most out of the experience?
Ron: To open their minds to the knowledge that all the photographers, both students and teachers alike, are sharing with them.
Ami: To have fun and not to be too hard on themselves. I think some people come into this and put so much pressure on themselves to succeed. This should be an environment of exploration and learning — and making mistakes is part of the learning process.
Tewic: The most important lessons that students will learn is to leave their ego at home, to help each other, to collaborate, and to be optimistic. Speaking for my class, they will realize that the more they know of multimedia, the more they’ll progress in their careers.
MJ: Was there a class or instructor that helped you become the photographer that you are now? How did they do that?
Ami: Rich Beckman. I’m back in grad school with him again! He’s always been ahead of the curve when it comes to finding new paths for storytelling. I’m studying Multimedia and Film with him now.
Tewic: I took a class in Havana with Magnum photographer Costa Manos and he told me that my photographs were “too simple.” He was right, and I’ve been trying to complicate them ever since.
While iStockphoto is launching its 10th birthday bash, this New York Times story outlining the hard road ahead for photographers stirred up debate in the photo world (there’s even a follow-up article with reader and blog responses). Adding insult to injury, word also surfaced of a new business model for product photography called Via U!, where buyers can composite an image and purchase all rights for a flat $250 fee. A Photo Editor has details.
Blurb’s Photography Book Now competition has also launched its third year. In addition to $25,000, the grand prize winner will also be given the opportunity to show their work at ICP, the Annenberg Space for Photography, and the George Eastman House. The competition is a reminder of the potential of self-publishing, something we discussed extensively in our Future of Photobooks series.
Miki Johnson: Tell me a little about how you first found out about the beauty pageants of Colombia.
Carl Bower: I saw a small article in the New York Times that said there was a pageant there for practically anything imaginable — Miss Sun, Miss Sea, Miss Purity, Miss Pretty Legs, Miss Honey — the list went on. I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of these contests with everything else I had been reading about Colombia: the cartels, the guerrillas, the bombings and kidnappings. I thought of how such parallel realities could coexist and the extent to which our popular conception of the country had been a caricature formed by stories of the drug trade.
At the time I came across the article, I was supporting a close friend in her battle with breast cancer. She had been a national champion ballroom dancer and a competitive bodybuilder. Her appearance was something that she took pride in and took pains to maintain even as she lost one breast, then another, and suffered the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Throughout her ordeal, I noticed how her sexuality seemed undiminished, if not stronger. I started to wonder, if a beautiful person gradually loses elements deemed to be part of that beauty, where is the tipping point at which they are no longer beautiful? Is there one?
In my anger and frustration with the cancer and growing obsession with the commoditization of beauty, the story of the pageants struck a nerve. Here was an environment where all the issues I was grappling with were stripped bare and distilled to the point that it might be possible to convey some of them on film.
At first I tried finding the pageants through government records, but most of the information was unreliable or outdated. Through a friend, I met a fashion designer commissioned to create the dresses for a candidate to the national pageant. I photographed her preparation and coaching, learned of regional pageants, and met with judges, organizers, parents of contestants. I visited modeling agencies and schools where girls were being trained to compete in the pageants from the age of four.
When I learned of festivals occurring throughout the country, I went to various towns and introduced myself in their mayors’ offices. I went everywhere: to the national pageants, with their weeks-long round-the-clock media blitz, to high school pageants, to pageants with just three candidates.
I began to see how the pageants were one of the few unifying threads in a country compartmentalized by geography, politics, and social stratification. It seemed that everyone, regardless of social standing, had an opinion about them: not on whether they were good or bad, or whether they should exist, but on who should win. When I returned to the United States, I found that some of the complexity I experienced was missing from the photos, so I went back. I kept finding new layers of meaning, so I ended up going back again and again.
MJ: You said that as you’ve gotten deeper into the story it has gotten more complicated and you feel more ambivalent about the role of these pageants in the culture (something visible in the images). What were some of the contradictions you discovered?
CB: When I began photographing, I felt that the pageants were essentially meat markets. It wasn’t just that thousands of people were scrutinizing the contestants’ bodies; what struck me was the categorical, exhaustive, and unforgiving nature of it. Are her ankles thick? Who has breast implants? Who doesn’t but should? Whose ass is too small, too large, or shaped like melons when it should be like oranges? After the current Miss Colombia was crowned last November, there were months of public demands that she have her nose fixed to better compete in Miss World. More »
Throughout the recent digital revolution in photography, I have continued to shoot film, but there is one area where I have happily adopted new lightweight digital capture — audio. With the technology jumping leaps and bounds, audio that previously required large, complex recorders can now be captured on small digital recorders, perfect for the kind of multimedia storytelling that I’m exploring.
I’ve been intrigued with the advance of multimedia in the last few year, and especially how it can be used to enhance the art of storytelling. I have a deep respect for still photographers moving into video — like Tim Hetherington with his award-winning documentary Restrepo — but I’m not ready to turn in my viewfinder for a video camera yet. What feels right to me right now is the multimedia slideshow.
You see, I love to write and I enjoy the process of preparing a script to accompany imagery. The multimedia slideshow allows me to go one step beyond the still image with regards to storytelling, but still aligns with my belief that still images are more powerful than moving ones.
My first dabble in multimedia, I decided to create a slideshow (above) of my black-and-white fine-art project on Chinese Turkestan in an attempt to reach a wider audience. In my visits to the region several times a year for the last several years, I began recording audio with a small hand-held recorder. For the slideshow’s audio I used a “Call to Prayer,” essentially a man who stands on the top of the mosque and calls everyone to come and pray several times per day. It is something I hear all the time while working in the region and I thought it was fitting.
My goal here was never to produce a “news” piece or include various clips of audio with fuller storytelling. I wanted to create a space for the viewer to fully experience the still image. For that reason, the sequencing was incredibly important, and difficult. I payed particular attention to composition and flow, and I’m still working on it, since the project itself is not yet complete.
One of the exciting things about this first foray into multimedia is starting to think about how this slideshow can support the still images in terms of publicity and marketing. For instance, I integrated the slideshow into my presentations at a few universities and galleries during a recent trip to the U.S. I was very pleased with both the impact of the slideshow and the feedback I received. Remembering that the end goal is to have my images reach the widest possible audience, I believe an audio slideshow contribute to that in many ways.
I have several more videos currently in production, including ones with a narrative as well as more audio from locations. You can follow the process on my blog.