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Name: Joe Riis
Location: Moose, Wyoming right now and moving to Bijou Hills, South Dakota, early in 2010. I want to live in a cabin on the prairie.
Full-time job: Wildlife photographer and videographer
Personal project name and short description
Pronghorn Passage, a conservation photography project that focuses on the Grand Teton National Park pronghorn migration. Each fall a herd of 400 pronghorn antelope migrate from Grand Teton National Park down into the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming, a total round-trip journey of 300 miles. This migration is the second longest overland mammal migration in the western hemisphere (after caribou in Alaska). The migration corridor is being squeezed down by residential development and mineral extraction on the private and public lands that it crosses. Pronghorn Passage is a collaborative project between myself and essayist Emilene Ostlind.
When and why did you start it?
The project was actually Emilene’s idea; she approached me and wanted to work together. She is a writer, and was just finishing up working at National Geographic Magazine and as Steve Winter’s assistant on his snow leopard story in India. She was coming back home to Wyoming to write a selection of essays about the pronghorn migration and wanted me to photograph it. At the time, I was just finishing up a 2-year conservation photography project on environmental threats to the Missouri River. I was ready to start photographing something new, and the pronghorn project, which had never been photographed before, seemed like a great idea.
I started researching and filling out grant applications in November 2007, and started my fieldwork in May 2008, the day after I graduated from the University of Wyoming with a bachelor’s in Wildlife Biology. We got the project fully funded through the National Geographic Expeditions Council, The Banff Centre, University of Wyoming, North American Nature Photographers Association, Grand Teton National Park, and Patagonia the clothing company. I feel very fortunate to have received so much financial backing for the project, which has allowed me to focus all my efforts on fieldwork.
I am still surprised by the support we got, but the bottom line is that the pronghorn story had all the elements to a good wildlife story. A small herd of pronghorn migrating a super long distance over an incredible landscape, under threat, that had never been photographed before — plus we were two young Wyomingites who wanted to live with pronghorn. The reason is hadn’t been photographed before is because it takes a huge time commitment, at least a full year. No one knew exactly where they were migrating so I had to do field biology before I could photograph it. Because most of my work is by camera trap, I have to know exactly where the animals are moving.
Do you have a particular image you are especially drawn to so far? More »
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 »
No one has more power to change the world than photographers. Yes, yes, doctors are regarded as the human deities of the world, but with few exceptions photographers are embraced with open arms everywhere they go. Because whatever your photographic discipline, and no matter where you travel, you can barter your talent as a shooter for just about anything. Including the well being of children in a far away country.
A week and a half ago photographer Gustavo Fernandez packed up his Harley Davidson to be shipped back to California from New York. He had successfully concluded his second annual “Hog for Kids” motorcycle ride across the United States in a bid to raise money for impoverished children in the Dominican Republic, where Fernandez was born.
In his first career, as a pharmaceutical rep, Gustavo frequently contributed to Children International, a Kansas City-based organization that aids needy children around the world. When he left that steady paycheck last year and plunged into a new career as a photographer, Gustavo (like most making that transition) was watching his bank account with a frugal eye. His budget wouldn’t accommodate his annual donation to his favorite charity.
Unwilling to abandon the kids of the Dominican Republic, Gustavo went on a motorcycle ride to conjure a creative solution. He was sitting on the answer. He loves riding his Harley and he loves making pictures. Thus emerged Hog for Kids.
As he rode east to New York, Gustavo shot portraits of the children along the way — in exchange, the families contributed his room, board, and a $264 annual ($22 monthly) sponsorship of a child through Children International. This year’s successful trip took 28 days and received international attention. Gustavo says he is looking forward to riding again next year — provided he gets the feeling back in ass by then.
There is no other art form that is so versatile in it’s adaptability and portability for aiding others than photography. As Gustavo demonstrated, all that’s required is the will and the application. Your efforts don’t need to be as grand as a motorcycle ride across the country, but I do urge you to try and find a charitable application of your talent at least once a year. Not only is it good for your soul, it’s good for your career.
As Gustavo discovered, any experience with a camera in your hand, paid or charitable, will always make you a better shooter than you were the day before. He returned from his first Hog for Kids ride a markedly better shooter than before he left. When you place yourself in photographic situations that are unfamiliar and require you to adapt quickly, you’ll be improving by a significant factor. If those situations are charitable in nature, you have more latitude for mistakes, which will ultimately prepare you for the times when mistakes are less tolerable.
Photography is a unique profession that is a golden key to the world. Don’t keep it all for yourself.
Miki Johnson: So tell me what you’ve been working on now.
Sol Neelman: I’ve been working on a long-term project, photographing weird sports and the culture of sports around the world. Recently, I photographed dog surfing in San Diego, pro wrestling in Mexico, the Lumberjack World Champs in Wisconsin, and bike polo in Seattle. Up next is a prison rodeo in Oklahoma.
I try to keep myself busy with fun sporting events. It’s an excuse to travel, which is one of my addictions. Along the way I’ll do some traditional sports, such as The Beijing Olympics and college football. I just went to my first Cubs game at Wrigley and photographed the fans in the bleachers. That was fun.
My goal is to get this work published in a book. Ideally it would encompass everything in sports – not just weird sports. It doesn’t need to be the Redneck Games to be good. But the Redneck Games were pretty good.
As far as work, last year I did a commission piece for a developer for whom I photographed downtown Portland for a year. They hung my photographs in the lobby and on each floor of their new building, which ironically is located right across the street from The Oregonian. I’ve also been doing work for Nike and a local bank, plus some weddings. Things are kind of hit or miss, so I try to stay busy with my own project to fill the time.
I’m still trying to figure out how to expose myself to more advertising firms. I recently signed up with Adbase and plan to contact firms that seem like a good fit. At the same time, I’m really trying hard to steer away from editorial clients, just because their rates are so low.
Name: Tim Mantoani
Location: San Diego
Full-time job: Photographer
Personal project name and description
Behind Photographs — I have been shooting portraits of photographers for the past 2.5 years on 20×24 Polaroid. Each photographer is holding an image they are known for. As many of these photographers, like Polaroid, fade away, I hope these images will be a way for future generation to appreciate the contribution these artists have made.
When and why did you start it?
I started shooting in Dec ’06; I always wanted to try shooting with the 20×24 Polaroid. Since it is expensive to rent, I wanted to shoot something that meant something special to me. I knew both Jim Marshall and Michael Zagaris and asked them to bring in a favorite image to hold for a portrait. It all snowballed from there.
What is your favorite image so far?
Too many great images and memories to call out a single image.
What has been the most challenging thing about the project?
Cost and time. I have really maxed myself out financially shooting this project, but it is all starting to come together now that people can see the work. Sadly, some of the participants have passed away, but it is a great feeling to know that I can help keep their legacies alive.
What has been the most rewarding thing about it?
Being able to spend some time with each of these photographers, to hear their stories and collaborate on the final image.
In your ideal world, where would this project end up?
I would love to see this project in a large venue where I can show all of the images at full size.
Do you recommend personal projects to other photographers, and why?
Every photographer has a personal project they want to shoot. JUST GO DO IT!!!! There will always be a bunch of reasons not to: money, time, risk. But at the end of the day, the images you shoot for YOU are the ones that will be your best and the most rewarding. The roller coaster is more fun than the merry-go-round.
“One of my favorites is shooting without looking through the lens – thanks to Joanne Dugan for that one! Its a great way to shoot pets and kids and still actually see whats going on around you. I have gotten some tremendous shots this way, and it really takes the pressure off.”
“About a year ago my friend Craig was telling me how uninspired he was about his photography. He had his new 1D Mark III and was telling me that there wasn’t much to shoot. I challenged him to a friendly duel. I told him there’s always something to shoot and told him to grab his camera. We walked outside to a dreary drainage area and I proposed the challenge: 5 minutes in the pile of rocks, my iPhone vs. his fancy camera, may the best man win. Here is the complete story and results.”
“Lately, I’ve started going through Freeman Patterson’s book: Photography and the Art of Seeing. There are MANY exercises in there to get your judge off your shoulder and just start playing with the camera like a 9-year-old again. For instance: Walk 50 steps, click, 50 steps, click. Or while I’m walking the dogs, I make multi-exposure images of anything, just to see what it looks like. My judge stays home in the kennel! It’s given me a sense of freedom to know that I don’t HAVE to produce anything.”
Miki Johnson: When did you realize you were meant to be photographing dogs?
Sarah Zemunski: In my 3rd year at AAU, I began to get very frustrated. I hadn’t found my niche, and the work I was doing for class was just mediocre. Aside from school, I was working at a doggy daycare. I began taking pictures of the dogs in the play area. That lead to photographing “The Dog of the Month” for the business. Every month, I would shoot a different dog, and the portrait would go up in the lobby.
At that time I never thought about shooting dogs for school. I thought it might be cheesy, and my pictures were bordering on snap-shots. Then in one class, I decided to present one of my dogs as an assignment. I was hesitant, and I thought people would think it was stupid. But everyone loved it! I got more positive feedback from it than I had for anything else I had done in the class. So I began photographing dogs for every assignment. The teacher of that class, Noel Barnhurst, really supported my work. If it wasn’t for him, and the people in that class, I may not have had the courage to show my dog work.
Since then, I’ve tried to fit dogs into all my classes. For my Architectural Landscape class, I photographed dogs with architecture. I just started photographing other animals this past semester. My teacher for Senior Portfolio, David Wasserman, told me I needed to shoot other animals to make my portfolio complete. At first, I was against it — I only wanted to shoot dogs. But now I am so glad I branched out! I feel the work I have done with other animals is my strongest. In fact, the portfolio I produced for the class was named best portfolio in my school’s Spring Show!
I think you should photograph what you are passionate about. I have always been passionate about animals, but it took me a while to find out I should be photographing them!
MJ: Tell me about how you got into photography.
SZ: As a child, my dream job was to work with animals. Photography didn’t come into the picture until later in high school. Growing up, I never really took pictures, except for snapshots of family and friends. In high school, I took a photography class and I eventually came to San Francisco and took classes at The Academy of Art University (AAU). I have two semesters left before I graduate.
When I first started out, the thing I liked most about photography was framing the shot. I wasn’t too interested in my subject matter. Mostly, I walked around and shot what I saw on the street. For me, it was about how the shapes and lines fit into the frame.
As I advanced at school, I experimented in several genres. For school assignments, I often shot people — I am now remembering how much I hated it! Some photographers are meant to shoot people. I am not one of them. But if I hadn’t spent all that time shooting, my work wouldn’t be as strong as it is now.
My dream photography job five years from now would be traveling the world to photograph animals (all expenses paid, of course!). I want to be known as THE animal photographer. I am interested in working with wild animals — and their trainers. I want to be the Annie Leibovitz of animals. Haha.
MJ: I have to ask, any funny/poignant stories about working with dog?
SZ: I am a dog-walker, so I have funny dog stories just about every day! The dog I photographed for the Go Pro contest actually ran away during the photo shoot. She is a timid dog, and is very attached to her owner. I felt comfortable enough with her off-leash, but that was a mistake. While shooting, she just started running away, slow at first, then sprinting. She was headed back to her house, since she only lived a few blocks away.
My assistant/boyfriend (thank God he was there!) took off after her. He chased her out of the park, and through the neighborhood. Finally, he caught up to her and brought her back. Zoey was so exhausted from the run, that it made her much more mellow for the photo shoot. Maybe I would have never gotten the shot of her in the ivy if she wasn’t so tired!
Since the photo shoot, Zoey has passed away from cancer. Her owner was thrilled to see my image had won the contest. She feels the image really captures the essence Zoey. I was so glad I was able to provide the owner with pictures to remember her beloved pooch.
My very first gallery presentation was actually in 1976 when I was 18, which resulted in my first solo show in New York City. Times were very different in 2001 when I presented to a co-op gallery, to which my acceptance was already a certainty. With co-op galleries, if your work is of reasonable quality and they need another paying member, well…you’re in. But co-ops deserves consideration, since my show there eventually led to my first gallery presentation that “mattered.”
What brought me to this co-op gallery was simple — my wife. One of the attractions of our cute Hudson River town was the fact there were seven galleries near by. When we’d walk by a gallery, my wife would nudge me about joining one of them or seeking representation. Even though I was spending a fair amount of time shooting landscapes after rekindling my interest in it a year earlier, I’d usually dismiss the idea saying I really didn’t have that much time to spend on it. But to be honest, I was uneasy about being seen as a commercial photographer “playing” at being an artist. But my wife continued to encourage me, and I eventually showed them my work, handed them my check, and was accepted as a member. If only it was so easy at non co-op galleries!
A few months after joining this co-op gallery, it was my turn for my solo show, in April 2001. The day I hung the show was the first time I had been physically surrounded by my new work and the first time I noticed that I was already showing rudimentary signs of having a style. It was illuminating. I highly recommend that every serious photographer literally surround themselves with their work and give it a good look all at once.
The show opened and I have to admit I was extremely curious how the viewers would react. I pretended to be just another viewer while eavesdropping on people in an effort to hear their honest reactions. I was very pleasantly surprised. My fears of being chased out of town by torch-wielding townsfolk turned out to be unfounded. Not only was the work well received, I actually sold prints — quite a few in fact! By the second weekend of the show, I had made a very respectable profit, and it began to appear that I could make a living doing this type of work. I would no longer need an expensive photo studio in Manhattan and the pressure from such a high overhead. I was elated; however, one gallery would not be enough to replace my established commercial photography business. I would need more galleries.
First I did a little research to narrow down my list of galleries to ones that seemed to have an appreciation or interest in my genre of work. Just like showing my work to advertising clients: show your hamburger picture to MacDonald’s ad agency, your lipstick photos to Revlon’s.
Once I had my list of potential galleries in NYC, it was time to make calls. Some galleries were willing to see me for an in-person presentation; others just wanted me to drop off my portfolio. I had two 11×14” portfolios of my landscape prints, matted and mounted — one for drop-offs and one for in-person presentations.
On day, I had arranged to drop off a portfolio at a gallery and also had made an appointment for an in-person presentation at Edward Carter Gallery. Both galleries showed a lot of B&W landscape work, ECG at one point touting itself as the biggest collection of Ansel Adams prints. The morning of the Carter meeting I received a call from the gallery where I had dropped off my portfolio. They thanked me and said I could pick up my portfolio at any time. I was disappointed but arranged to pick up the first portfolio and then went to see Mr. Carter at ECG.
When I walked into ECG I was blown away with how beautiful the gallery was. It was not the typical white walls and emptiness. This gallery had dark gray, nearly black walls and the prints, mostly Ansel, just popped off of them. There was a seating area, double Eames chairs, and Mr. Carter asked me to sit. He removed an Ansel print from the small wall directly in front of the chairs and asked me to present my work in that spot — the same spot where the Adams’ print had just hung!
Now, I had a lot of experience, about 25 years worth, showing my work to people: art directors, creative directors, picture editors, etc. But this was different, it was my personal work. It’s one thing to show an AD who works on a cosmetics account your assignment work with other cosmetics clients, and something else entirely to show someone work that has much deeper meaning for you. And as I held each image in the spotlight for Mr. Carter to see, I couldn’t help but notice that I was facing several Adams prints, and behind me were several more, and I’m starting to think to myself, “Who am I kidding?” Whether you love, hate, or are neutral regarding Ansel Adams’ work, there’s no denying his contribution to photography. He’s not called St. Ansel for nothing. There’s actually a mountain named after him.
So I finish with my presentation, and the whole time Mr. Carter had been stone-faced, poker-faced, so I was not expecting a desirable outcome. I boxed up my prints, sat down next to him, and he turned to me and said, “I’d be honored to represent you.” That was not quite the response I was expecting. So, trying to be cool and acting as though no other outcome could have been possible, I ask him what the terms of representation were (good comeback!). Of course I started dialing my cell phone the second I walked out of the gallery, only to be frustrated by a lack of reception until I stepped outside onto Broadway. “Honey, I got an NYC gallery!!”
Coincidently, later that week I receive a call from the owner of the gallery where the staff had told me to pick up my portfolio. She asked why I had picked up the portfolio when she had been interested in meeting with me and talking about representation. Apparently someone on her staff had made an error. I had to tell her that I had just signed with another gallery — a real bummer since 9/11 ultimately put ECG out of business, and her gallery is still doing really well.
About a week after my meeting at ECG, I went with my wife, my parents, and my uncle (who was an avid photographer and had introduced me to photography) to ECG. There, next to prints by Ansel Adams, hung my own prints. It meant a lot to me then — and whenever I see my work hanging in the company of gifted photographers, it still means a lot to me.
Miki Johnson: Tell me briefly about the goals of WIPNYC and why it was important to be able to offer this grant.
WIP: Women in Photography is an online exhibition project designed to highlight the work of emerging, mid-career, and established artists. Our goal is to be a resource for curators, editors, and publishers, and also to create a visual dialog between women artists working in the photographic medium.
We have both been overwhelmed by the positive response to the site. Both of us have spent a great deal of time thinking about what we want the site to contribute to the photographic community. The next logical step in our programming was a grant. Because like the site, it allows us to both support and call attention to the work of women artists.
MJ: What is the main goal of this grant?
WIP: The main goal of the grant is to provide funding to one female photographer in support of a project. I think funding is a problem for artists working in all mediums, unless you have independent means or are extremely successful in the commercial art world. Photographers must pay for film, processing, equipment, travel, in addition to the high cost of creating work for exhibition or self-publishing. We both have struggled to fund our own work and find great importance in these types of opportunities. With so few grants available, it just seemed great to be able to give back.
MJ: How will you determine the recipient? Do you have any tips for photographers planning to submit?
WIP: We will select the recipient based on the quality of work, and the need of the applicant along with the strength of their project proposal. The most important thing is to submit five of your strongest images from a cohesive body of work as well as make sure to write clear, concise, and persuasive project goals. The grant is open to women at any stage in their career, except students. It is open to the artists previously shown on WIPNYC.org as well.
MJ: And the grant recipient will also be exhibited at WIPNYC.org?
WIP: The grant recipient will have a solo show on the site in June. In addition, we will have an award reception, including a slideshow presentation of the grant recipients’ work at the National Arts Club in New York City.
Because the solo shows we feature are online, we can reach a broader audience. Our visitors do not need to be in a specific city because they are accessing the work worldwide. The site traffic has grown dramatically with each show, which is one of the benefits of exhibiting work online. Several of our artists have seen a noticeable increase of traffic on their own sites. Being featured on the site has led to many things, including magazine assignments and inquiries from publishers and galley representation.