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Miki Johnson

In 2005 David Bathgate, a teacher, writer, and visual storyteller, started an online program to teach visual storytelling in a way that worked for people with busy schedules in any part of the world. Keep an eye out for more informative posts from The Compelling Image‘s topnotch instructors coming up.

©David Bathgate

Miki Johnson: Tell me a little about what you learned when you were teaching, photographing, and writing all at once. It seems that your work at TCI brings all those skills together.

David Bathgate: The short answer to this is that it’s improved my own communication skills with a camera and in words. Mentoring students draws on skills I’ve acquired and brings things I’ve learned through experience to a more conscious level. From here, I can better analyze what I see in student images at TCI and thus be more constructive in the critiques and advice I give.

MJ: What was your initial goal for starting TCI and where do you see it going?

DB: My initial and continuing aim is to offer an alternative to increasingly more expensive “on-location” photo and video workshops. One of things that will be changing soon, however, is the temporal format for courses. Instead of continuing with our original and current four- and six-week offerings with a set start and end date, students will be able to enroll and begin their course immediately — whenever they want.

©David Bathgate

Our new “subscription” system will provide students with two, four, or six months (Mentor Program) to complete each course’s six assignments and upload them to the TCI website for instructor comments and critiques. Additionally, students will have course-related access to their instructor throughout their subscription period and be able (for an additional fee) to obtain a full portfolio review of their work and arrange an hour-long Skype appointment to discuss their course progress in full.

TCI’s new approach is designed to take optimum advantage of the internet’s on-demand convenience and real-time capability. We are confident the change will add great functionality and robustness to our already proven “virtual classroom” experience.

A strong social networking component is also in the works. With this, both those establishing a free on-site account with us, as well as currently enrolled and past students, will be able to upload photos and/or video to a personal gallery and communicate with a group of like-minded people.

What the future holds for the TCI depends to large degree on the evolution of the internet itself. Our goal here is to make our classrooms as real as possible and to have our courses deliver not just a valuable educational experience, but and enjoyable one, too.

Still another avenue we are pursuing is that of accreditation. To this end, we’ve already opened discussions with several universities in the U.S. and Europe and hope to add “college credit available” to our brand soon.

©David Bathgate

MJ: Were there other online classes when TCI was launched? What are the advantages to the students and instructors of online classes?

DB: We actually began with a “beta” version of TCI in mid-2005. At that time there were a couple of online schools offering photography courses of the “basic” kind or not involving instructor interaction at all. The TCI groundstone was laid to offer instruction not only to newcomers, but also to serious amateurs and aspiring professionals. These are our roots and from this we continue to grow, as technology and the internet offer ever more fertile ground for our evolution.

For TCI students this means guaranteed educational value, as well as an enjoyable experience void of the cost, scheduling, and time-consuming hassle of making one’s way to a distant photography or videography course or workshop.

For TCI instructors, the venue and its rich functionality means being able to teach a course successfully and interactively from just about anywhere on the planet. Instructors can access their courses while on assignment or from the comfort of their very own studio. No need to allocate large blocks of time for teaching.

For example, I can critique student assignments and answer questions from a wifi hotspot in Dubai’s International Airport while in transit. Then when I arrive at my assignment destination in Kabul, Afghanistan, I can connect my laptop to a guesthouse ethernet cable and continue the process of running a “classroom” in an effective and efficient manner. For everyone — students and instructors — online, interactive teaching as TCI does it is a great alternative for anyone seeking quality, professionally-led photography or video production learning experience.

©David Bathgate

MJ: What are a few of the most important things for visual storytellers to understand about the market right now and in the near future?

DB: The most important thing as I see it, is to begin thinking beyond the traditional outlets for visual storytelling like magazines and newspapers. It’s becoming nearly cliche, but it’s true. Costs of production and evaporating advertising revenues are driving these long-established venues to extinction. By consensus, the internet is the “new frontier” for publishing — and rightfully so. Its speed, its expansiveness, and its accessibility yields far more room for all sorts of publication and exposure potential. This is where I want to take The Compelling Image into the future.

Freelance photographer Robert Caplin launched The Photo Brigade in mid-February as a place to bring together and highlight work being published on photographer’s own platforms (blogs). By placing a premium on viral capabilities through Facebook and Twitter, he’s helping build a huge network to publicize freelancers’ work.

Miki Johnson: How did the idea for Photo Brigade come to you?

Robert Caplin: As a fairly new blogger myself, I’ve been learning the ins and outs of how to actually build a following and bring traffic to my personal blog. After months of research and good old trial and error, I found the best way to increase my traffic and find readers was by sharing my link by way of social media like Facebook, Twitter, and referring links or stories on other blogs, such as this one. I quickly realized that if I combined my Facebook and Twitter networks, I was suddenly reaching a much larger potential viewership, which only multiplied when someone else decided to share or re-tweet my link.

Suddenly, not only was I reaching thousands of people through my personal network, but I was also reaching the networks of those who were kind enough to share my link with their followers. The viral nature of social media can really work to the advantage of photographers to get their work seen by the masses. So it went to figure that if photographers as a whole worked together to build a vast shared network, all would benefit by the added traffic it would bring their websites and blogs…and that’s how the The Photo Brigade came to me.

MJ: How long did it take you to make it a reality?

RC: Not long actually. My original idea was to start a blog, but that would take a while to design (because I wanted to do it properly) and it would take time to actually build a following. It occurred to me that I could test the concept quite easily by simply making a Facebook Page where I could easily share direct links to the cool blogs I was reading and people could easily subscribe to the feed by becoming a fan.

I also started a Twitter account. Over the next week The Photo Brigade page gained hundreds of followers and within weeks had over a thousand. I should also mention that this happened completely unsolicited and 100% organically, proving how well social networking can get the word out. It was obvious that not only was there a desire for a service like this, but also a genuine need.

MJ: It seems like a lot of work for something you do on the side of your own photography business. What makes it worth it?

RC: Well, to be honest it has taken a good chunk of my time to build … but that was the hard part. I should also note that I worked with my wonderful designer Laia Prats to create the brand and build the blogs using custom templates she tediously tweaked and designed. I couldn’t have done it without her help!

Now that the blog has been designed and content has been uploaded, the rest is really quite simple. There’s no lack of amazing photography out there. Given that The Photo Brigade was built to promote the work of freelancers, those photographers have been happy to share their work. Also, with a number of shooters submitting work, it’s almost as though it’s running itself. As Photo Brigade grows, I’ll be implementing some really great tools and resources for photographers and editors alike … but you’ll have to stay tuned to see what those are!

MJ: What has the response been like so far, from contributors as well as viewers, especially editors?

RC: The response has been very positive! The website is receiving steady traffic and it’s growing by the day. The same goes for contributors. Everyday I’m receiving emails from photographers from around the world, some I know and others I’ve never heard of, sharing their latest blog posts of their work.

Editors are a little harder to track and gauge because they’re obviously not submitting work themselves, though I’ve received a number of emails from editors praising the blog. There are also editors and directors of photography from major media outlets who follow the Facebook feed.

MJ: How do you choose photographers to feature?

RC: The featured photographers have either submitted their work from the submissions page, or I’ve reached out to the them personally. Because we receive many submissions, not every submission is featured. The best way to be chosen is to have a blog, as our mission is to encourage blogging. In your blog post we’d like to see a number of strong images with a well written explanation about the photography. We will pull 2-3 images as well as take some of the copy and post it on Photo Brigade teasing the blog.

It’s also encouraged for the photographers to supply a Twitter account so we can plug their account when we tweet to our followers about the post. By doing so, we’ll raise awareness for the photographer, and also help build the photographer’s social network. Many are adverse to using Twitter, but it’s one hell of a marketing tool. It would be silly not to tap into the millions of Twitter users out there, many of whom are photo editors and image buyers. We’re all about viral marketing and social media — the more we link to other people, the more visibility our blog gets, which trickles down to the photographers we feature.

It’s important to note that photographers should not be discouraged a submission isn’t accepted. Please continue to submit whenever you have a post you feel is worthy!

MJ: You just added three university blogs. Why was that important and how do you see them growing?

RC: While I was answering these questions, we decided to start one more! My friend and fellow photographer Chip Litherland is helping me run the Colorado Photo Brigade, which will feature the University of Colorado at Boulder. I decided to branch out further and focus on universities because there are so many photography students producing amazing work on a daily basis. I figured I could use the same concept to create a community of students, alumni, and faculty to showcase the work coming from each school as well as former students.

Obviously I’m only a team of one, and don’t have time to moderate all these blogs and make a living myself, so I enlisted the help of eager students at each university who are closer to their classmates and can encourage them to blog. The regional branches also create a wonderful place for everyone to see the end product of what each institution is producing. Each post is tagged and categorized…so if you want to reference a particular class (photo 101) or search only for alumni work or just the class of 2002, you’ll be able to. Check out our regional blogs: Ohio, Missouri, and Rochester, all with their respective Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Many more to come!

Carl Bower‘s Chica Barbie series won a Blue Earth Alliance prize for Best Project Photography and was a finalist for Photolucida’s 2009 Critical Mass Book Award. The project on Colombia’s obsession with beauty pageants is astute and multi-faceted, and Carl’s explanation of how he captured such a complicated phenomenon is powerful and eloquent. To see his work in person, check out the Select Gender show opening today at Farmani Gallery.

'Cat Walk' from 'Chica Barbie.' ©Carl Bower

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.

'Aguardiente' from 'Chica Barbie.' ©Carl Bower

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 »

During our Future of Photobooks project, Shane Lavalette‘s Lay Flat came up over and over as a great example of innovative, collaborative, independent publishing. With the release party and book signing for Lay Flat‘s second edition, Meta, coming up on Friday at ICP, we thought it would be the perfect time to check back in with Shane and ask him to share a bit about his blog, Lay Flat, and the impact both have had on his photography career.

From Shane's "Northeast" project. ©Shane Lavalette

Miki Johnson: What compelled you to start your blog? Did your goals for it change over time?

Shane Lavalette:
I began blogging when I was in high school, at that time using my blog as a place to publish my own photographs as I was first learning the technical aspects of the medium. When I moved to Boston to study photography more closely as an undergraduate, I felt a need to be more private/considered with my own images and decided to use the blog as a space to archive the work of others — highlighting artists, photographic books, exhibitions, and conducting interviews with other photographers. So, I suppose that some of my goals with it have changed over time but ultimately it has served the same purpose, functioning as a platform for learning.

From "Northeast." ©Shane Lavalette

From "Northeast." ©Shane Lavalette

MJ: Were you surprised by how popular the blog became? What do you think are a few reasons your blog has been successful?

SL: Somewhere along the way the readership grew, which was a nice surprise. In writing my blog, my tone has always been very personal — I write about what I’m looking at or spending time with, not what I imagine others will want to see. I never set out with the intention of making a site that was flashy or felt like an online magazine. This might be some of the appeal for readers, that it’s simple and approachable. I’m not sure. But it’s really fantastic that it has grown to be a resource for others and that it continues to promote dialogue.

From "Slí na Boirne." ©Shane Lavalette

From "Slí na Boirne." ©Shane Lavalette

From "Slí na Boirne." ©Shane Lavalette

MJ: It sounds like your blog helped you connect with a lot of other artists. Was that beneficial for you as a student and now as a working artist?

SL: Most definitely. In the last six or seven years, blogs have become so common that most of the people I know have one, but at the time I created mine, there really weren’t very many that focused on contemporary fine art photography.

Since the photo world is relatively small, a few of these blogs began to support an online community. And through this community, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful artists, writers, curators, gallerists, collectors, etc. These connections have been helpful in terms of my career (as I transitioned from being a student to, as you call it, a “working artist”) and also have grown to be meaningful relationships in general.

I’ve always been really interested in print publishing and a little over a year ago I began Lay Flat, a limited-edition publication of contemporary photography. As a specific example of how the blog has helped me, for both the first issue, Lay Flat 01: Remain in Light, and the recently released Lay Flat 02: Meta there are a number of contributors that I was originally acquainted with through either my own blog or the online community connected to it. As a result, collaborating with these artists and writers felt like a natural transition.

From "Waking Vrindavan." ©Shane Lavalette

From "Waking Vrindavan." ©Shane Lavalette

From "Waking Vrindavan." ©Shane Lavalette

MJ: You’ve said that Lay Flat allowed you to continue and expand your collaboration with other photographers. But it’s a lot of work, as well. Do you feel like what you’ve gotten back from this project has outweighed the effort?

SL: Lay Flat has certainly involved a lot of hard work but very aspect of the project has been rewarding for me. Growing up in small town Vermont, my interest in photography was initially sparked by looking at photographs in books (as you might imagine, there is a lack of art galleries and museums there), so in a lot of ways it makes sense that I eventually gravitated towards publishing.

It’s interesting to play the roles of a “photographer” as well as “publisher/editor,” but so far my experience is that these roles actually co-exist quite well. I don’t feel like one pulls me away from the other, though I’ll probably always identify more with the former. It is a big time commitment to begin a side project like this, but what you love doing doesn’t really feel like work.

MJ: Continuing on the topic of collaboration, you’re working with a different guest editor for each issue of Lay Flat. Why did that  appeal to you?

SL: This was an idea that came up early on, while working on Lay Flat 01. I felt like it would be interesting for both myself as well as the life of the publication to work with a new guest editor for every issue, helping to push each one in a direction that I may not have taken it alone. This has been a valuable process so far and has made working on the publication even more meaningful to me.

With the new issue, I never would have arrived at the final result without the ideas and insight that came from guest editor Michael Bühler-Rose. Sometimes collaboration requires making sacrifices or compromises, but I think I’ve primarily seen how it enriches a project like this.

There’s a lot that I’m excited about with photography and a lot that hasn’t been explored in terms of publishing, so I’m looking forward to experimenting, working with some great artists, and hopefully making some beautiful and innovative things in the process.

Since completing the Future of Photobooks project in January, Andy Adams from FlakPhoto and I have received many positive responses and even opportunities to speak publicly on the topic. We’re very happy that the project struck such a chord with so many people, and want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who participated, either by writing a blog post, adding their comments, hosting a discussion, or helping to promote the project. We quite literally couldn’t have done it without you.

As a way of signing off and wrapping things up, I want to share a presentation I created for my APA talk on our Future of Photobooks project. My goal was not to tell people where photobook publishing is or is not going. As many of our contributing bloggers pointed out, that’s an impossible and somewhat unhelpful prediction to try to make.

Like the project itself, the main goal of my talk was instead to expand people’s ideas of what a photobook COULD BE in the future, by showing them some of the more fascinating concepts that were unearthed during our month-long cross-blog discussion.

Most of those concepts live online, and include embedded videos, clickable comics, microsites, and eBooks. For that reason I chose to present the information not in a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation, but directly on the Web, using a Tumblr blog. You can see the full Future of Photobooks presentation hereI’ve also added my notes from the evening to help explain the significance of each example.

Although Andy and I are turning our attention to other projects, we are still dedicated to advances in photobook publishing and hope the dialogue we have fostered here will continue around the Web and the world. Please share your questions and thoughts on the FoPB Tumblr, in comments on the RESOLVE posts, or with us directly.

Russia and CIS — they’re just so BIG. So it’s no wonder that’s where one of the first online photography workshops is taking shape. As Liza Faktor points out in this interview about the workshop, [OR]EDU, using online tools like blogs allows her Objective Reality foundation to bring international masters to emerging photographers who are too often cut off from a vibrant photo community and too rarely can afford travel costs to real-space workshops.

Yaroslav, 38, a 'Hruschevka' dweller for the last 11 years. By Petr Antonov

Miki Johnson: Please tell us about the [OR]EDU project.

Liza Faktor: [OR]EDU is a new project for talented and highly motivated young photographers and photo students that was launched in 2009 by our foundation, Objective Reality. The project came from my personal experience directing a photo agency, editing an online magazine, and running offline workshops in Russia and CIS. Through it all I felt a growing frustration at the impossibility of doing business on the international level in this huge territory.

The idea of [OR]EDU is to find young photographers (from Russia, CIS, and the Baltics for now, but with a plan to take it international very soon) and connect them to the working professional photographers, editors, and curators around the world. Photographers are chosen by a competition, and then go through the series of thematic workshops where they are coached by “masters” through a blog where assignments are made and critiqued. Our goal is to help emerging photographers develop and maintain a personal vision, and to market that vision as a product.

So far, we have produced two seasons of the workshop. In 2008-2009 we received a total of 472 workshop applications. Originally intended for Russian photographers, the program gained much wider attention and drew participants from Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. The first 55 workshops participants created photo essays and produced their own multimedia or exhibition projects.

Looking back at the start of the project, it seems like a scary and exciting adventure. We were programming all the interface ourselves and we had to work with limited resources. I’m very grateful to all the masters who joined the project at an early stage and struggled with the software — many of them taking on blogging for the first time. Among our masters were award-winning photographers Lucian Perkins, Alexander Gronsky, and Rena Effendi, and editors Michael Regnier of Panos Pictures, Andrey Polikanov of Russian Reporter, Barbara Stauss of Mare, and Rebecca McClelland.

A woman in St. Petersburg. By Alexander Aksakov

MJ: What is a typical Objective Reality class like?

LF: Each workshop lasts for one or two months, during which the students are given two or three assignments from a “master.” Once they’ve completed the assignment, they upload it to the website, where it becomes part of the class blog, where they receive comments and critiques from the master. The whole process is open to the public, but only members of the class can write and comment on assignments.

For now we are able to run no more than three or four workshops simultaneously, otherwise our small stuff would not be able to keep track of everyone. The workshop themes are usually organized around a certain market sector, like editorial or art, or a particular kind of work, like a personal project or multimedia production. Assignments include daily life editorial, developing virtual exhibitions, multimedia technique and storytelling, and producing a documentary project.

MJ: Why was it important to you to offer photography classes online, not just in person?

LF: We started to concentrate on the workshops in 2005 and produced them in quite a few of the Russian regions over the next two years. By the end of 2006, we came to the conclusion that it made no sense to continue the workshops in their existing format. Out of 10 or 15 students, only one or two were ready to move on to higher level classes. Not to mention the travel costs photographers had to pay to travel from their hometowns to the regional workshops.

We decided it would be much easier to mobilize promising photographers on the internet. Most photographers who want to move beyond the limits of their local region are already actively using the internet, which is their only source for self-improvement and information. Plus the online format allows us to work with masters from around the world with no added cost for their travel.

This kind of carpet on the wall used to be very popular in the USSR. By Maria Morina

MJ: What have the results of the workshops been so far?

LF: In addition to satisfying a pure desire to learn more, the workshops offer a real professional motivation to young photographers; many students are now working with the leading Russian and foreign magazines and agencies they connect with through class portfolio reviews. We have also realized that we are becoming a repository for high-quality stories by workshops participants. They are documenting important social issues and everyday life in our largely under-reported region: life in small towns; ethnic and sexual minorities and members of subcultures; health care; internally displaced people; homeless children and orphans; migrant workers.

These stories are being told less and less due to the global media crisis. It struck us that the work our students were producing could be as important as what they learned while they were producing it. We decided to develop a new media component on the website, which presents photographic projects by the workshops participants and provides a platform for contributions from other professional photographers and citizen journalists as well.

“The work our students produce is as important as what they learn while producing it.”

We are also working to integrate the workshops with other exciting internet projects. We engage with social networks and bring in interesting blog posts from resources like RESOLVE (only available in Russian) to draw in new traffic and help the images produced by the students be seen outside of our website.

MJ: Having worked for so long with photographers in Russia and CIS, have you found common problems that these photographers face? Is there style or philosophy of photography that has emerged from this region?

LF: Generally, I do not sympathize with the “national” idea or division of photography. Really exciting and original Russian photographers are not dramatically different from American or French photographers. If you looked at the work and personalities of Yuri Kozyrev or Alexander Gronsky or Rena Effendi, it would be hard to tell their nationality.

What is typical for most of the post-Soviet countries today, and what led me to start a foundation and take on the educational projects in the first place, is the lack of context, on many levels. By that I mean a poor or almost absent photography market infrastructure. Support for emerging photographers in the forms of academic schools, workshops, and grants is inconsistent; job opportunities with publications, agencies, and galleries are slim; and the criteria for judging photography are vague in the absence of national-scale contests and critique. As a result, there’s a very limited number of real professionals.

Naturally, these problems are not uniform across the whole territory — the situation is better in Russia and the Baltics than in Tajikistan or Moldova for instance. But in reality there is almost no serious photographic discourse going on, which makes it difficult for young photographers and editors to develop their careers.

A trailer for Betrayed, one of the first narrative shorts shot entirely with a DSLR (the Canon 5D Mark II) was released online today (watch it below). Here at RESOLVE, we’ve been keeping an eye on the project since its Coming Soon page went up in August, and we are happy to bring you an exclusive first interview with director Joshua Grossberg about how the camera changed the creative process and how the team is working to get funding for a feature-length version.

Miki Johnson: How did you get involved with the Betrayed project and why were you interested in being a part of it?

Josh Grossberg: My friend, photographer Robert Caplin, told me about this terrific DSLR that Canon had just released, the Canon 5D Mark II, and how it is going to be a great new tool for filmmakers. So a team was put together including Robert and producer Thomas Xenakis. Our goal was to use the 5D to shoot the first five minutes of a feature-length thriller I had co-written and planned to direct called Disappear.

The project grew from there, at which point I tapped a longtime collaborator, Michael Kier, to help me revamp the script. We co-wrote what became a nine-minute neo-noir short called Betrayed, which utilizes the same characters but serves as a prequel of sorts to the feature.

The purpose of the film is to tell a story unto itself while at the same time attracting equity financing for the full-length version, Disappear. Our approach is similar to the strategy director Courtney Hunt used for her Sundance Award-winning Frozen River.

With a gracious assist from Elisa Pugliese, who produced the film August, Seth Gilliam (from HBO’s The Wire), PJ Sosko, and Cara Buono (The Sopranos) came aboard to play the principle roles — a terrific and talented group of actors — and we went from there.

MJ: What appealed to you about shooting a film using a DSLR as opposed to other cameras?

JG: It saved me money, and the opportunity to utilize a brand new, cutting-edge technology was very exciting. The compactness of the 5D, its remarkable cinematic quality, and the fact that it would quickly establish itself as a direct competitor to the Red was another huge draw. And the fact that I would be collaborating with close friends was like icing on the cake.

Steady Cam operator, Guy Rhodes prior to filming a fight scene in Brooklyn.

Steadicam operator Guy Rhodes prior to filming a fight scene in Brooklyn.

MJ: Did shooting with a DSLR significantly change the way you thought about directing the film?

JG: Absolutely! Before the 5D, I took a rather dim view to digital filmmaking, mainly because I had yet to see a camera — the Red included — that I thought truly lived up to the persistence of vision that comes with celluloid and that didn’t make me aware of the fact that I was looking at pixels. While you’re still dealing with electronic image processors and mega-pixels with the 5D, the results blew me away, particularly in what the DSLR could achieve in low-light situations. The wide latitude it gives filmmakers allows us to do, for instance, magic-hour filming without having to rent expensive HMIs and other cumbersome equipment to get the exposure.

It also saved us time and freed up the performances of the actors who practically forgot there was this little camera capturing their every line and move. Seeing it projected onscreen in High Def, the quality was just fantastic, especially given this was a no-budget production. The idea that now independent filmmakers can go out and shoot movies with the production aesthetics of a big budget Hollywood feature is truly revolutionary and tears down the wall between expensive A-list productions and indie features.

Of course, at the end of the day, while the technology is wonderful, it’s still subservient to the story — so you better have a good one. I’m happy with the results of Betrayed. It feels like a puzzle picture to me like Memento and Michael Clayton, movies that take you for a thrill ride and leave you coming back for more. I want to figure out the nuances, kinda like my favorite films. And seeing the performances by Seth and PJ in particular, I hope people will really enjoy it.

BetrayedBTS_05

Director Joshua Grossberg (center) works on site with producer/editor Thomas Xanakis, right, and Jody Bradshaw, assistant script supervisor.

MJ: What was the greatest challenge shooting this project? Would you do anything different knowing what you do now about the process?

JG: Because we were working with a technology that was relatively unproven on the film front, figuring out the workflow was an issue. And the fact that we were shooting in 30P meant that we would have to later sync sound, which was recorded separately. Perhaps the biggest challenge was maintaining focus during dolly shots and push ins/push outs.

On the post-production front, since very few people, if any, had used the 5D before, editing proved to be a challenge because we had to find an intermediate format, otherwise the raw files were too big for Final Cut Pro to handle. We ended up relying on Pro Res for both the editing and the output and the folks at Post Logic did a great job working with us to ensure quality control.

MJ: I hear you have some meetings lined up at Sundance, etc. to talk about funding for a full-length version. Can you talk a little about that process? What are this film’s selling points?

JG: Until you’re more established, the process is simply: Do whatever it takes to get your film in the hands of decision makers. I’m excited about all the possibilities Sundance brings. I’ll be talking to a host of film executives as well as investors — some of them are major studios looking to develop Betrayed as a feature, others are indies. We’ll be going to Cannes in May as well. But the goal is to cobble together the remainder of the financing and roll cameras on the feature sometime this summer or early fall.

Aside from being one of the first filmmakers to shoot a feature exclusively on the 5D, in our view the other big selling point that we maintained throughout the creative process is the manipulation of words in the script. Every line spoken by an actor is duplicitous by design, since they are intended to be interpreted in more than one way. The double entendres are part of the puzzle and audiences will hopefully have as much fun figuring it out as we had writing it. Nothing is as it seems. Hopefully Betrayed will give people a flavor of what’s to come in the full-length, Disappear.

MJ: Any other important things you learned through working on this film?

JG: This may sound cliche but it’s undeniably true. If you believe in something strongly enough, don’t give up your vision. There will always be times when you wonder why the hell you got into this crazy business, but keep your head down, stick to your guns, and the rest, as they say, is gravy.

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As part of the ongoing discussion examining the Future of Photobooks we’re hosting on RESOLVE in collaboration with FlakPhoto, we’re sharing some of our favorite publications mentioned by the 45+ bloggers who have weighed in so far. These represent the seeds of publishing advances we expect and/or hope to see in the future. Check out our earlier posts as well, on small printers for self-publishing photobooks and game-changing people and ideas from the photobook world.

Digital Photobook Prototypes

  • Purpose, a beautiful online French photo magazine, replicates the feel of a book. (via Marc Feustel)
  • Bird Book: A rich online experience that showcases the physical book, Bird, by Andrew Zuckerman (via Jack Howard)
  • Would you buy a PDF book? What if it were only $5? David duChemin was willing to take that gamble with his Craft & Vision. (via Craig Ferguson)

Collaboration and Crowd-sourcing

  • Check out Pictory if you haven’t, a beautiful new crowd-sourced, curated online magazine from former JPG maven Laura Brunow Miner.

Self-publishing Success Stories

  • The Sadkids photozine from Geoffrey Ellis, which he says has exposed his work to far more people than any gallery.
  • Picture 4

Small Publishers Pushing the Boundaries

  • Errata Editions’ Books on Books series of recreated out-of-print photobooks reminds us that bringing rare photobooks to the public does not have to be done digitally. (via Marc Feustel)
  • Small runs of myriad unclassifiable art books are available through Lozen Up, the physical extension of the LOZ blog showcase. (via Laurence Vecten)
  • Proving that big publishers can take risks too, French publisher Flammarion put out Japan: A self-portrait in 2004 when virtually nothing had been published outside Japan on post-war Japanese photography. (via Marc Feustel)

What People Are Actually Paying For

Considering that today is World AIDS Day, this seemed like the perfect time to highlight a new book from photographer Karen Ande, Face to Face: Children of the AIDS Crisis in Africa. Although hardly the first person to document this topic, Karen’s emphasis on telling positive stories is unusual. And her technique presents a hard — but important — question for documentary photographers: Do too many images of suffering make people feel helpless to improve things?
©Karen Ande

These three women are members of a granny support group that meets weekly to discuss issues and solve problems related to caring for their many young charges. ©Karen Ande

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.

©Karen Ande

Vannah is only 15 years old but is caring for five younger brothers and sisters after their parent's death from AIDS. ©Karen Ande

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 »

This week I found several exciting stories that suggest big innovations in the photo industry and — even more exciting — an eagerness to embrace them rather than fear of new unknowns.
Steve Jobs with Apple Air laptop

Steve Jobs with the MacBook Air. ©David Paul Morris/Getty Images

First up is Dan Lyons’ Newsweek post about Apple’s new tablet computer. The news is a few weeks old, but Dan’s reaction to it is a breath of fresh air. “Veteran editor Tina Brown, who now runs The Daily Beast, says we are about to enter ‘a golden age of journalism.’ I agree, and I think tablet devices will hurry that along.” Compare that to recent pieces like The Digital Journalist‘s “Revisiting The Death of Journalism: Ten Years Later,” or “Lament for a Dying Field: Photojournalism” from The Times and you’ll see why I’m excited.

wintour_vogue

Vogue editor Anna Wintour. ©Getty Images

Then I spotted this story about Vogue hiring Obama’s web strategists to help them “analyze the Conde Nast publication’s audience as part of a broader, revenue-generating push that ultimately will involve implementing paid subscriptions on Vogue.com.” Sentences like this make me so happy — “Vogue executives, keenly aware that the monthly magazine is just one of many ways people connect with the publication, had been looking for ways to capitalize on its influence” — because it means publications are finally starting to understand that it’s their name, their cache, the respect people have for them that is valuable in the online world, not just the content itself. This is a lesson many photographers could benefit from. And, of course, if magazines like Vogue actually figure out how to make money online, we can only hope that will trickle down to the photographers they employ.

Cory Doctorow, by Jonathan Worth

Cory Doctorow, by Jonathan Worth

Leave it to Fred Ritchin to put his finger right on the crux of this issue on his After Photography blog. He starts off by calling out Jonathan Worth, a photographer I’ve been following closely as he blogs about his endeavor to make money off of his photography by giving away the photograph itself (in this case a portrait of science fiction writer Cory Doctorow). Fred then moves on to the innovative approach the VII photo agency is taking to photo distribution, and wraps up with this little gem: “In a Boston Consulting Group poll published last week people in nine countries were surveyed asking if they would pay for online news: from 48 to 60 percent said they would, ranging from US$3 per month (Americans and Australians) to US$7 (Italians). Maybe we should take them at their word?”

Joe McNally

Joe McNally

And I’d like to leave you with this gem from Joe McNally, a letter he wrote to a young photographer trying to find their way. It’s an inspirational, well-written, wandering piece, as Joe’s usually are, that I think is brilliant advice not only for young creatives, but also for the media industry in general: “You are just beginning to write your pages, and the thing to remember about this early rough draft is that it hardly matters what you do exactly, as long as you continue to become something close to what you might imagine you want or need to become.”

I encourage anyone in any kind of decision-making position in the industry — from individual photographers to multi-national publishers — to embrace that notion and keep experimenting, keep innovating, keep striving for something better. You’ll know it when you find it.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: What do you think about the idea that we’re entering a “golden age of journalism”? What experiments to find new media business models have the most potential?

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