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As photographers, we have all come across interesting characters who have looked like a famous portrait waiting to happen. It could be at the bus stop, a crowded market, the house next door, or in rural Pakistan.
Regardless of where it is, photo ethics call for a personable engagement, conversation, and even permission. But in situations where a language barrier exists, or strict taboos are in place, a more subtle and indirect approach is required.
As Cultural Director at Magnum Photos in London, I’ve had a lot of experience of proposing work to venues both in the UK and abroad. Promoting a project for exhibition is aided hugely by a good network of contacts, however, there are also things you can do even if you’re starting out. Following are some points to bear in mind with regards to the process.
Editor’s note: Dan’s words of advice were featured in liveBooks latest report, “8 Blogging Truths for Creative Professionals.” More of Dan’s honest and heartfelt narratives can be found on his blog at http://smogranch.wordpress.com.
My earliest memory of writing is from elementary school. In a small, spiral bound notebook, I managed to compile hundreds of pages about a group of mushroom people.
I was convinced of its brilliance. Then I promptly lost the notebook. Note to us all: backup your work. I didn’t write for the next twenty years, but as I began my photography career, something changed in me and writing on a daily basis became a part of my life. But let me be painfully clear. This was not a choice I made. This was something I had to do.
There was something inside of me that needed to come out and photography was not enough, still isn’t enough. I remember my first, adult journal, or diary, or whatever you want to call it. One of those black and white speckled jobs from the supermarket, a “composition book,” I think they call it.
I began to fill them.
The most essential step in creating an effective marketing plan is to first decide who you most want to work with. If you don’t have a specific answer to that question, you will not know where to begin to look for them.
Almost every photographer who calls me for photography marketing help has the same basic issue: “I want more work. How do I get it?” I wish there was a simple solution to offer, but like any goal worth going after, it first takes some understanding of what the end result looks like.
One of the first things I do is ask: “What kind of client do you want to work with? What kind of work brings out the best in you?” or the corollary “What kind of work does NOT inspire you – on any level?”
Many times I get “I don’t really care. I just want work!” While I totally sympathize with that general need (in this economy especially!), any viable photography marketing plan MUST begin with narrowing down the best client/market niche for YOU to pursue.
The process I go through with my clients is, of course, far more individualized and in-depth, but here are a few key questions that will go a long way in helping you choose strategies and tactics to reach YOUR ideal prospects.
They’re simple questions, not easily answered, but ones which are critical to your success. When you’ve found the answers to these questions, you have the start of a road map that can help you avoid marketing activities that will not give you as high a return on your investment of time and money.
-What kind of clients could most benefit from what I bring to the table?
-What do I do that an advanced amateur photographer could not do as well – or at all?
-What market segments will NOT appreciate my level of professionalism?
-If it is an uneducated market segment, am I willing to do “whatever it takes” to help those potential clients understand the real value I add to their business?
-What kinds of assignments/projects do I always love doing?
You’ve probably heard the advice “it’s important to first know where you want to go before picking up a map.” Knowing your destination will determine which marketing map you actually use.
Many marketing resources discuss this concept in depth, but I prefer the succinct wisdom of Lily Tomlin: “I’ve always wanted to be somebody, but I see now I should have been more specific.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Miki Johnson: So tell me about the American Photo magazine American Masters issue and how you found out about it.
Robert Glenn Ketchum: I didn’t know anything about it. Russell Hart, one of the editors at American Photo, has previously written about several of my projects and has convinced the other editors that I was worth a page or so every once in a while.
But American Photo has, without being mean to them, pretty much concentrated three-quarters of the magazine on individuals who are primarily fashion and people shooters. And the Masters Series had reflected that. There’s only been four others nominated to the series in 20-years of the magazine being published: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and Annie Leibovitz — all people and personality photographers. So it’s exciting to be in such a distinguished group of imagemakers, and even moreso to be included as someone who’s focused on the environment and made photos of the landscape more in the style of Adams or Porter.
Russell called me up, offered the possibility of the feature, and asked for a personal timeline of my projects, books, etc. The task was informative and breathtaking because I’d never put together such a thing for myself. It helped me see how lucky I’ve been to have been involved with so many projects that had positive effects. The conclusion of the timeline provided some serious reflection on that moment back in the ’60s in a Redwood forest on the California coast when I decided to make pictures of the landscape — then to flash all the way forward through those projects to where we are now. Wow! That’s the manifestation of dreaming your own existence, the proof it works.
MJ: Looking back at all of those results, are there any insights that jump out about how you achieved them?
RGK: One we’ve talked about previously, and I think the most significant one, was that I took this traditionally popular item, the coffee table book, and turned it into an advocacy tool. And not just by writing a more didactic text and adding difficult pictures, which I did. Also by learning how to publish it cost effectively and get it out there and use it in the media. If I’d have walked away from any of those publications after they were published, they wouldn’t have done anything. But because I embraced the whole cycle of the performance, it made them more useful.
It also created a system. So with each project the system got more refined and increasingly effective. And certainly now that’s where we are with the Bristol Bay campaign. We have powerful books, and we already have had one relative legislative success. And we’re pushing on.
Now with an acknowledgment like this for me from this magazine, it makes me an even more undeniable force, doesn’t it? You know, if Barbara Boxer already was impressed and invited me into her office before, how about now? It’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. I would be foolish not to leverage this attention to create advocacy on behalf of the environment.
At the opening of the American Photo article Masters Series, Russell writes, “Robert Ketchum may be one of the least known photographers in America, but he may also be one of the most influential.” I’ve done a lot of this stuff under the radar and I’ve done it on my reputation among a small network of people. Perhaps now my reputation has a bigger window.
MJ: Tell me a little about your background as an artist and your decision to approach photography from a more activist position.
RGK: When I came into photography, I had come out of a really prep high school and into UCLA, where I was required to take art classes. At first I thought I was threatened because “art” was something I had not done much of previously. Then I became very interested in the history of art, and I got involved in the design program. The design program led me to photography.
The teachers at UCLA at that time were spectacular, at the leading edge of the ’60s avant guarde movement in photography on the West Coast. That scene had it’s own unique kind of cult and cache. It was grounded in an eclectic base that included Paul Outerbridge, William Mortenson, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and the F64 school, and all this other stuff going on which my UCLA teachers, Edmund Teske, Robert Heinecken and Robert Fichter fed upon.
I entered UCLA in 1966, and it was an exciting time to be making art. I got the opportunity to pay some of my bills by shooting rock ‘n’ roll bands, so that’s what I was doing. In college I also encountered the writings of Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson and the campus organizers of the Sierra Club.
On the way back from the Monterey Pop Festival, some friends and I stopped at a canyon in Big Sur called Limekiln Creek to camp. I got up in the next morning and after a solitary walk next to a stream in the quiet of the morning forest, I had one of those epiphanal moments. I heard the words of Aldo Leopold, suggesting that we had a moral obligation to protect our environment because it was the thing that keeps us alive. And Rachel Carson, who said, all the bad things we put out into our environment will eventually come back to us as poisons, and I thought, WOW, if I could make pictures serve those ideas, that would be a really great thing.
I didn’t jump into being an environmental photographer overnight; it took another 15 years of evolution and thought. But that was the moment when I started working towards it. And not just to make picture books, but make advocate tools. I still view photography as this fantastically adaptable medium, and even more so now that digital is upon us. Once photographic imagery is transcribed into digital information, you can print in concrete, you can embed in glass, you can print on fabric, you can weave it into looms. This is territory no one has explored much before.
If you look back at UCLA in the ’60s, it was going on then — and then postmodernism came in. And postmodernism took charge, in terms of molding the cultural mindset and conscripting the idea behind all grant giving and all exhibition coordinating. After the arrival of postmodernism, only a few of us would even touch nature and certainly not as a source of beauty.
If you look at postmodernism’s stars such as Jeff Koons, one of the most significant of the early postmodernists, his work is sculptures of Michael Jackson and pop icons, or huge sculptures of his wife and him making love to each other. Postmodernism reflected by Annie Leibowitz is about the cult of personality and in Cindy Sherman who assumes hundreds of witty guises throughout her work — it is basically all about ME. Postmodernism for me is about the cult of ME and US. And yeah, it can be very fun, and cerebral, but more importantly, it has pretty much controlled what the American public has seen in the gallery and art museums for the last 35 years.
After UCLA I got my masters from Cal Arts, which was one of the birthing places of postmodernism, so I totally get it. I don’t mean to put it down. It’s a perfectly viable language within the arts. But for me it was sterile because it was just a language within the arts.
I saw a new world coming at us with a changing environment and the promise of new media connectedness and what it meant to print and publish and do all this other stuff. And I saw the rise of the environmental movement in the early ’70s and how photography could serve it. It just seemed to me that my response as an artist should embrace serving these bigger issues in my life, and that the language and the conversation of this world was much bigger than that of the more rarefied art world.
I remember having this talk with myself, saying if you do this, the art world may ignore you. But if you succeed in the environmental community and you can actually save these lands you’re trying to save, would you trade that for all the fame? And the answer to that was, yes I would. Just make me an effective photographer that can drive real social issues and I will accept whatever it is I get out of that. And I went ahead and I did that work. And I never allowed the indifference from the postmodernist community to disrupt my own working tenor.
At the same time, I never stopped practicing photography in a more experimental way. So I have pieces that are now starting to be shown at Basel, Miami, that are 72 inches tall by 14 feet wide. They’re still based in nature, but they’re highly manipulated. I have also been doing textiles in China, hand-embroidered screens and standing screens and wall hangings based on my landscape photographs. I’ve been doing those for 30 years, and they are finally starting to get exhibition attention.
These may not be how the postmodernist world perceives important art as being made, yet if I were to look back over the last 40 years and say, what was really important? Was it that Jeff Koons did these amazing sculptures of himself having sex? Or was it putting a million acres of old-growth forest into protective status in the Tongass, or adding 60,000 acres of land to Saguaro National Monument resulting in it getting upgraded to a national park, or keeping Mitsubishi out of one of the only Gray whale birthing lagoons in the world at St. Ignacio, Baja? Do I feel that one of those two directions was more important, to me ultimately, and it should be to the public as well? Yeah, I do.
And there’s other amazing work being done by my brothers at the International League of Conservation Photographers, too. Guys like Frans Lanting, who has been knighted by his country for his conservation work, and Jim Balog, who was nominated for a McArthur genius grant this year. I think the work we’re doing (iLCP and others) is going to be held in higher regard in retrospect than it is right now. That’s why I say, I’m very flattered just to be included with these four “master” photographers who so clearly represent a different point of view than mine. Beyond that, just to have American Photo acknowledge me as a photographer and an artist of some repute may give me more traction in academic circles that haven’t seem to notice what I have been doing or hold it with much regard.
You know to me, in some ways post modernism was a dumbing down. It accepted an artists political point of view as long as it was cleverly hidden in intellectual reference, but seemed uncomfortable with putting the message undeniably in people’s faces where it might actually do some good. Exhibits that didactic might anger patrons and cost institutions contributions. Post modernism certainly gave us some outrageous shows and ones that stirred controversy but did they really do anything in the public arena besides create a fashionable buzz?
Photography is SO powerful, why not use it to its fullest power and exploit all of the ways it allows us to express ourselves. Look at Eugene Smith’s book about his wife’s cancer. Or pretty much any photographs Sebastião Salgado takes of people who are misplaced or victimized. I have never wanted to give money to beggars on the street because I’m never sure that it isn’t just for booze. But when I see Salgado’s pictures of world crisis circumstances, I have a whole new take on poverty and would like to see money given there. It’s an amazing power that his best photographs have.
In a way, therein lies the difference between the work I do and the postmodernist movement. The comparison here is the difference between Annie Liebovitz’s work and Salgado’s. They’re both taking pictures of people, but they have VERY different ideas about how those pictures will get used and what it is hoped those pictures will inspire.
That’s what I did. I had a different idea about what was important to my life, how my art might serve those issues, and how to use the work through the emerging mediums to expand the exposure of the ideas to evermore people. Postmodernism didn’t serve me in getting that done and has chosen to dismiss my efforts as journalistic, and not art. I supposed the textiles and the new digital prints are viewed as aberrations of old age.
We all do what we think we have to do.
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!
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 »
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.
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.
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.
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.