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Miki Johnson: Tell me about the book you just released with Ruthann Richter, Face to Face: Children of the AIDS Crisis in Africa. What was the impetus of this project and what were you hoping to achieve with it?
Karen Ande: This book represents the culmination of seven years of work. The project began in 2002 when I was traveling in Kenya with my husband and friends. Our tour guide asked me if I’d like to visit an orphanage she had opened in the town of Naivasha and photograph the children, whose parents had died of AIDS.
I agreed to do it, thinking it would be a one-time visit that might result in a few shots she could use for fundraising. I did not realize that the children would charm me and that their survival hung in such a delicate balance. The orphanage ran out of rice the day I was there.
We left them with some money for food and I eventually went home and began to print the photographs. When I saw the images emerge in the developing tray I realized that I had an opportunity and a decision to make. I could choose to become involved in this issue or not. I chose to get involved, to reach out to nonprofits who were already supporting projects, to make multiple trips to document this issue. It has taken an enormous amount of time and personal finances, but I have never looked back.
I am driven by this issue — 12 million children have been orphaned by AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. There is little infrastructure to care for the children, but many local people whom I have met through NGO’s have creative viable projects that make a difference in these children’s lives. I hope this book will convince people to take a close look at the children I’ve met and begin to care enough to try to help them.
MJ: You’ve said that when you started photographing it was important to you to focus on the positive, things are getting better and people who are making a difference. Why was this so important to you?
KA: People do not hang around to be depressed. The media overexposes us to images of suffering I think, consistently giving us two messages: 1) there is really nothing one person can do to affect these overwhelming problems, and 2) money donated to Africa will be diverted by corrupt governments and aid agencies and never get to the people who need it.
In fact there is a great deal one person can do if they know how. If you donate to organizations working with in-country activists who know and understand their communities’ needs, the money is not wasted. In fact it is often the best way to help, as these projects are generally successful and sustainable. We list many NGO’s in our book that support these types of projects. More »
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of giving a presentation to members of the conservation, media, and photography communities as part of the WildSpeak program at The WILD Foundation‘s World Wilderness Congress in Merida, Mexico. WildSpeak was created by the International League of Conservation Photographers, four days of presentations showing conservation organizations the power of visual storytelling and persuading them to make more room in their budgets for collaboration with conservation photographers.
The presentation I was part of, “New Media and Creating the Groundswell,” focused on using new online tools to disseminate conservation messages. The other speakers introduced me to several fascinating initiatives that I want to share with the RESOLVE community — by synthesizing photography, education, technology, and social action, they highlight trends that I believe will become increasingly important as the new media landscape evolves.
Collect and Contextualize
ARKive is an initiative by Wildscreen to create a digital library of text, photos, and video of a huge number of the world’s animal and plant species. In some ways, the vast number of images available online do not become truly useful and powerful until they are organized and searchable in a collection like this.
Frank Biasi, director of Conservation Projects for National Geographic Maps, demonstrated two projects he’s working on that are using maps as the main navigation tool for a site. The Global Action Atlas helps connect people with social action opportunities in specific areas of the world, and LandScope.org is a map-based resource for the land-protection community and the public. As geotagging becomes automatic and people interact more across all geographic barriers, information organized around a map structure will undoubtedly increase.
Mash Up Media
WildCoast is the perfect example of a non-profit taking their message far beyond the common trap of “preaching to the choir.” By signing up a sexy model and a Lucha Libre celebrity, this organization focused on saving coastal ecosystems won major victories for sea creatures. They also disseminate much of their information as comics and animated videos, something that Médecins Sans Frontières has also explored with their beautiful graphic novel, The Photographer.
Create Endless Collaboration
Matt Peters, the founder of Pandemic Labs, which ran social media strategy for the entire Wild9 congress, wrapped up with a wonderful presentation about the way online information tools can help keep people who connect at events like Wild9 connected and moving forward with their ideas long after the sessions end.
The Wild9 Live page collected blog posts in three languages, tweets about Wild9, live streams of many presenters, and Qik videos streamed from delegates’ cell phones, letting people from around the world (they received hits from around 80 countries) feel like they were part of the congress. And, possibly more important, now all that information is archived and available online. You can see the presentation videos at the Wild9 USTREAM page and even check out my presentation about creating clean, easy-to-navigate websites that drive visitors to act, not just look.
I’m writing this from a small hotel in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where duckrabbit and the Bangladeshi photographer Sheikh Rajibul Islam have been working on a documentary about the effects of climate change on this beautiful country.
If the scientists’ predictions are right, up to 20 million Bangladeshi’s will become environmental refugees in the next 50 years. There is no bigger long-term story than the havoc man is wreaking on nature.
It would be easy for us at duckrabbit to reduce our stories about Bangladesh to the most brutal, the most shocking. This is always a temptation for photojournalists looking for the money shot, for their World Press award, but it’s a cheap and ultimately destructive way to capture the world because it reduces people to the status of victims.
At the BBC I used to produce Costing The Earth, their flagship environmental documentary programme. We always strived to tell a balanced story, beyond emotion, because understanding is more important than shock, and debate is more powerful than bashing someone over the head with a message.
“We want true stories, and we want them as gritty as the real world is. But we also want balance — and we recognize a third-world-cliché when we see it.”
There are plenty of weak multimedia pieces about the environment out there that suffer from the same clichéd black-and-white photography and lack of balance in their storytelling, but let’s not blow any more CO2 on their two-dimensional approach. Instead I want to point you to a visually stunning and deeply thoughtful piece of work by Toronto Star photographer Lucas Oleniuk.
Airsick: An Industrial Devolution is designed to persuade us that the earth is slowly drowning in CO2. Part of why it works so well is that, instead of focusing on apocalyptic images of the developing world, the piece is rooted in the familiar, in the industrialized world. I can’t watch this and not feel part of the problem. That is powerful multimedia.
(duckrabbit would like to thank the CBA for funding their recent Bangladesh trip.)
Name: André Hermann
Location: Oakland, CA
Full-time job: Visual storyteller
Personal project name and description
Garrett: The Boy Beneath The Bandages — Epidermolysis Bullosa, or, EB, is a rare genetic skin disease that most people have never heard of, yet it affects 100,000 children across the United States alone. Children born with this disease lack the ability to produce the collagen-7 protein that acts as a glue to bind the inner and outer layers of skin together. Their skin is extremely sensitive and fragile, with open wounds similar to third degree burns that never heal. The slightest friction or bump causes the skin to blister and break down. EB kids live relatively short lives, wrapped in bandages and in constant pain.
This series of images tells the story of a 12-year-old boy named Garrett, his family, and the challenges they face every day because of this debilitating disease. EB not only takes a toll on its victims and their families, it also affects their friends, caregivers, and the communities that help them. Through these images, I will attempt to give a face to this horrific and unpublicized disease.
When and why did you start it?
I started work on this story in 2008 as my thesis while pursuing a masters in photography at the Academy of Art University. During the summer semester of 2007, I answered an ad on the school’s job board. A nonprofit organization that ran a week-long summer camp for kids with genetic skin disorders needed a photographer. I jumped at the opportunity.
During the week of camp, I met Garrett and his family. I had never heard of EB. In a weird way, I feel like this story found me. Everything just seemed to fall into place. Garrett’s family and I both recognized this as an opportunity to gain much needed awareness for the disease. I pitched the idea to them. I was nervous because I was asking them to enter a 1-year+ commitment without knowing much about me. They agreed to the idea, and here we are today.
Do you have a particular image you are especially drawn to so far? More »
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.
In the beginning, Wéyo co-founder Stephen Katz and I started talking about how we could turn our photojournalistic skills and passion for working with nonprofits into a full-time career. We researched the nonprofit sector, talked to numerous organizations, and started to assemble like-minded journalists from a variety of disciplines (photography, film, writing, editing, designing), as well as marketing specialists.
Our goal has been to build a team that produces award-winning stories about nonprofits and then uses (markets) them in a way that can make a difference. Sometimes that is through designing websites and blogs around the content and sometimes it is crafting unique marketing projects utilizing our narrative-based material. Our fundamental principle is that, for people to act they must truly believe, and that comes from showing/telling them in compelling ways what it is exactly that our clients are doing to make this world a better place.
Starting a business in the middle of the greatest recession since the great depression may seem like a crazy move, and maybe we are a bit crazy, but it also presents a lot of opportunities. Nonprofits need us more than ever to tell their stories, and we have been able to attract people with not only great talent, but also great souls. We’ve grown (slowly) without taking loans or reaching too deeply into our personal finances, in part by appealing to nonprofits that we’d worked with when we were on staff at daily newspapers. Until now we’ve existed almost entirely by word of mouth, but we are currently in the early stages of a larger marketing campaign. So, we are growing at a comfortable pace,getting calls on a national level daily,but are ready for a larger role as organizations realize the potential we can tap into through our compelling work.
We decided on a model for the business that brings together different disciplines in large part after looking at thousands of nonrprofit websites — we realized 90% or more have a hard time telling people what they actually do with the donations they receive. The images on these sites are often of smiling kids, if there are images at all, and the videos and words leave people more confused. Our group understands the importance of showing and telling the story. It has been an amazing experience working with all these talented individuals, whose hearts are as big as their ideas. It’s not the hustle and bustle of the newsroom, much of what we do is in the virtual office online, but when those kind of talented people collaborate for a great cause, there is an excitement and creative buzz that is unmatched.
There are two main concerns working in this sector. First, these organizations have generally relied on donated content. And now everybody with a digital camera considers themselves a photographer, so and there is a ton of really awful, but free, imagery available. Most of the nonprofits we’ve worked with realize the power of strong documentary photography, but can’t come to grips with paying for it — even though these same groups will pay a decent amount of money to an PR agency or consulting group to utilize the donated images. There is only so much they can do with bad photography and most of these agencies really have no concept in how to use strong documentary material.
Second, you really aren’t your own boss. I don’t think any of us imagined at the start how long it would take to get a project started. In the newspaper business, you get an assignment, an hour later you’re shooting it, a few hours later you’re editing it, and a few hours after that it is in print and sitting on your doorstep. Not so in this new world. We have proposal meetings, then contract reviews, then board approvals, lawyer approvals … then perhaps you get the chance to work. Wéyo has proposals out that are over a year old and still in contract review, awaiting board approval. So, you have to have a lot of patience and take solace in the knowledge that what you are doing has the potential to change many lives for the better.
Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.
There has been a tremendous amount of buzz lately around Wired editor Chris Anderson’s new book Free (which you can, of course, read for free). The basic premise is that if you give something away, more people will “purchase” it than at any other price point (even one cent) and then money can be made on that group, through advertising, secondary sales, etc.
There are big examples (like Google giving away all their services and making money off their associated ads) and smaller ones (like Prince giving away his CD in London’s The Daily Mail, boosting ticket sales for him and circulation for the Mail).
Rob at APhotoEditor predicted a few months ago, “I suspect [Anderson is] going to take a real thrashing on this one since it seems the tide has turned on free. All anyone is talking about these days is subscriptions, premium upgrades and advertising.” His prediction has largely come true, with the New York Times refuting most of Anderson’s points in its review. Malcom Gladwell makes a strong case against Free in the New Yorker as well, which Chase Jarvis referenced in a recent post, after invoking a small firestorm earlier this year when he posted about Anderson’s original Free story in Wired.
Obviously the big question here is, how does this apply to photographers? Craig Swanson of CreativeTechs makes a smart point in Chase’s “featured comment”: “generic stock image libraries are among the digital products already on a steady march towards ‘Free’…while…the availability of, for example, ‘Chase Jarvis’ is quite scarce these days. (Scarce items maintain and even increase their value). So I think this has a lot to do with how we manage our careers and art in the future. To maintain our value we must become our own monopoly.”
I have talked to a lot of photographers and photo industry professionals about the importance of building an audience for themselves, building a reputation around quality work, industry knowledge, and personality. To do that, you often have to give away some things for free. Here are a few models that seem to be working.
Give away content, sell expertise
MediaStorm distributes its top-notch multimedia pieces for free, but makes a tidy sum on its workshops teaching professional photographers and journalists how to make multimedia pieces (and even some of those are free).
Give away general expertise, sell specific expertise
Consultants such as Mary Virginia Swanson and RESOLVE contributor Amanda Sosa Stone and Leslie Burns-Dell’Acqua, along with photographers like Art Wolfe, share their extensive knowledge for free online, knowing that people will pay for their consulting or teaching services once they have gotten to know and trust their work. (What Mary does might actually fit better in the above category, since she provides great information on her blog about events and deadlines, as opposed to generalized versions of her consultations.)
Give away your vision, sell your “monopoly”
It’s not surprising that Chase pulled out that comment about “becoming your own monopoly” or that he himself is the prime example. By constantly sharing his insights, expertise, even iPhones with his huge audience, Chase has created a kind of creativity factory with a built-in audience — clients are no longer just paying for his images, they are paying to be part of that community.
Give away involvement, sell the product
Photographer Simon Roberts has been keeping a detailed blog journal of his process of shooting, editing, and publishing his latest book, We English. Along the way he has done things to help his growing audience feel like part of the creation process, like offering free prints to the first 150 people who wrote him with an idea for something inherently “English.” Having a built-in, engaged audience like this can only help sales of his book and prints.
Give away the filter, charge for the content
This model has fewer proven examples but I think it has great potential. Since everyone is giving content away for free, what becomes valuable is a filter that you trust. PDN recently highlighted the importance of “digital curators,” like Flak Photo, Conscientious, and I Heart Photography, as the first layer of filtering, which galleries are now turning to for new artists. But these filter sites will have to become profitable themselves soon; one way could be for them to become distributors of the art they feature. Or they likely have some other things up their sleeves that I haven’t even thought of. (Stay tuned for a discussion with Flak Photo founder Andy Adams on this topic soon.)
Photography as a profitable business in some ways depends on individuals’ ability to flesh out these models and decide which one (or combination of several) works for them. What are the downsides to each of these? What other models am I missing that seem to work? Obvisouly there are many that don’t depend on the “free” mentality at all. Do you think those can hold out against the free content?
Miki Johnson: Tell me about how this project started.
Paul Waldman: After I left my position as managing editor of Zone Magazine, I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done, and that had both global and intimate scope. The Living American Master Photographers Project (LAMPP) grew out of this. At the time, far more emphasis was placed on photographic content as opposed to the individual artist. Nobody was studying the personal content of individual photographers. Portraits of these men and women, whose images were shaping society at a basic level, were not available.
I was appalled that as a society we weren’t in touch with what I considered a living national treasure: our photographic community. I began doing portraits, interviews, and occasionally both, with photographers starting in 1991. Back then, the idea of committing to an ongoing “living study” was somewhat foreign. At times, it is still difficult to convince people of LAMPP’s value as a social tool and document.
Many of the photographers resisted initially. Some had been “hunted” by fans who wanted a shot of them. But after the first ten or so portraits, a body of work began to emerge that was well received. Although my hopes for editorial assignments and assistant jobs from these encounters never materialized, what I ended up with had a greater value: some of the most rewarding personal relationships of my life.
MJ: What does a typical interview and portrait session look like?
PW: An interview is now a prerequisite for participation but in the beginning, it was an either-or proposition. I opted for the portraits, thinking I could always go back for a phone interview. There was never a template I followed; I think this enhanced the experience for both myself and the participant. Whenever possible, I tried to sit down and talk, not as an interview, but as two people sharing a beginning. Participants saw I wasn’t trying to coerce something out of them other than their love, experiences, and accumulated wisdom garnered from an eye within the craft.
I became close with Andreas Feininger and his wife Wysse. I’d often go up to their flat on 22nd and Broadway in Manhattan for tea. Jacques Lowe and I would talk about his time with JFK, his love of jazz, and his experiences photographing its legends. I did a portrait and interview on the road to and from Seligman, Arizona, with Allen Dutton and we remain close to this day.
When I photographed Sally Mann, Patrick Demarchelier was doing a street shoot as we were approaching our portrait location. I asked Sally if she wanted to meet Patrick and introduced them for the first time. There were other strange moments, like finally photographing Duane Michals in his basement laundry room after trying to meet with him for three years.
The first session I scheduled with Gordon Parks, a big Nor-Easter hit Manhattan. I realized there was no way it could happen as planned. When we finally met, there was a blizzard tearing through Manhattan. Snow appeared to fall parallel to the ground, as if it were orbiting the city.
MJ: Do you have a favorite image or story from a portrait session?
PW: That’s a challenge. Working with Bob McNeely at the White House under President Clinton was a privilege. After we’d met and he’d taken me down to the photo office, he needed to go and pick up his daughter from school. I told him not to worry, I’d be happy to hang out. Later, Bob snapped an image of the president and I as we talked about Bob’s daughter, who was quite young at the time. He had President Clinton sign the photo for me. Since then our friendship has blossomed. I recently spent a night out at his farm upstate from Manhattan, re-photographing him with his daughter — she was graduating high school!
Most recently I photographed Barbara Bordnick at home. She was so moved by the experience, she asked if I’d record an extra track at the end of our interview. To my surprise she shared some moving words about my presence as a portraitist and her love for the LAMPP body of work. Barbara’s an amazing editorial portraitist; her unsolicited kindness was especially inspiring.
Jill Enfield was incredibly generous. She and husband Richard Rabinowitz let me stay in their home in Manhattan for an LAMPP trip. I was a stranger, having only spoken with her and Richard by phone. I arrived at 6am! Her two teenage daughters were sleeping as I quietly settled in. That kind of love and appreciation for the project’s mission has been particularly touching.
MJ: What about a good story about recording an interview with a photographer?
PW: A favorite audio recording is of AP legend Marty Lederhandler. His “Pigeon Story” from WWII’s D-Day is well known among many of the AP people, but few know it outside that circle.
Marty Lederhandler – “The Pigeon Story”
One of my favorite moments involved Sylvia Pericon, a student who volunteered to interview Steve McCurry for LAMPP. After the interview, we sat at a cafe in New York’s West Village and did a post-interview about her experience. She was so moved and energized. When Sylvia told her teachers about her LAMPP interview, they were amazed she had such an opportunity.
MJ: Where does all the content live? Where would you ideally like to see it?
PW: I am committed to the idea that this content should “live.” Because the project has been almost entirely my creation, the negatives, prints, audio, media kits, FAQs, quote selections, contributed letters, kudos, and rejections remain with me. One of my highest hopes is that LAMPP escapes my personal gravity, that other people get involved. In retrospect, I feel LAMPP has suffered in part from its perception as “my” project. I’d like to see it expand, for others to experience what I’ve been blessed with.
There’s so much undiscovered country, so many older masters and emerging masters who haven’t been tapped yet. For the past few years I’ve been trying to establish foreign satellites that would explore global perspectives through the LAMPP paradigm, the LMPP: International. As our planet becomes smaller through faster, richer, deeper communication and media distribution, methods of common experience will be instrumental in forging more meaningful international, intercultural relationships.
I’d like to see LAMPP integrated into a higher education institution or museum with robust photographic programs if it does not attain its own self-sustaining presence as a foundation. The project needs space to expand, and the opportunity for participants and luminaries to visit for “micro residencies.” I’d like to see an interactive textbook created that students can collect and have signed by masters featured for that year.
MJ: What is the biggest challenge you face moving forward?
PW: Recently I’ve approached the Annenberg Space for Photography, The Smithsonian, and the Duke Center For Documentary Studies without so much as a commitment to an open dialogue. I find it ironic and disturbing that these institutions will feature an individual artist, but neglect the impact of the photographic community as a whole. It’s like trying to understand an orchestral piece by listening to one or two musicians individually.
The deaths of many 20th century masters was a wake up call to the community. Creating an active interest in LAMPP before participants pass has also been particularly daunting. Getting contact information for possible candidates is fraught with obstacles. With each master’s passing we loose the collected wisdom of a life and the synergy of that information within the context of an individual, gifted and trained in the art of seeing, perceiving, touching. My hope is that this will become an additional source of income for photographers, as well as a boon for our emotional, social, cultural, and political evolution.
MJ: How can photographers help?
PW: The best way to help is to get involved. Become an LAMPP evangelist. I’d love to build a proactive board that embraces fundraising initiatives. It doesn’t have to be just photographers. LAMPP was designed for the American public trust. I’ve been in a photo lab so many times when the people working there didn’t know the seminal living or past master photographers.
We’re changing. The photographic image is omnipresent. I tell people there’s probably a photograph ten feet from them; they’re probably sitting or staring at one as we speak. That’s powerful stuff.
It’s nothing to be intimidated about; not knowing photographers by name or face. There’s so much out there to get excited about, to enjoy, to participate in. But in practical terms we need grant writers, legacy donors, a LAMPP home, services, co-opt friends, associates, business partners, professional organizations, industry support, and interest from the government. That’s a wish list! Let everyone know we’re sharing vision; we’re growing sight through every man and woman’s contributed light.