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Nicole Sanchez is a visual artist, photographer, and videographer. Her publications, documentaries, and solo exhibits have received countless awards. To see more of her work, visit her liveBooks8 website: www.nicolesanchez.com.
I am a Dominican-German photographer. I started studying Photography in Germany at a very young age. After I finished my education, I moved to the Dominican Republish where I worked on commercial photography. Eventually, I started making personal projects which resulted in 8 books, 7 solo exhibitions, documentaries, and countless pieces; some of which have been recognized by experts in the field, the media and museums like the Museum of Modern Art in Santo Domingo. My work is part of a personal evolution. It changes as I change. Every day I feel more identified with social issues, human reality, drama, and beauty.
NS: Personal, clean, modern.
NS: It varies a lot. I can upload a series of images at once and/or take down a whole portfolio. Whenever I feel I have an image I want to share, I do it.
NS: I try to vary my homepage often; sometimes it is the newest image I have created, sometimes it is just a certain feeling or mood that I have and want to share.
NS: My favorite new feature of liveBooks8 is being able to display all the images of each portfolio in one page.
NS: Choose the images that best represent your work; it is better to show the right pieces rather than just publishing a lot of them.
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Katie Adkins a is a documentary and fine art photographer in Rapid City, South Dakota. She attended Savannah College of Art and Design and has worked extensively as a freelance artist in addition to working with well-known photographers such as Martin Parr and National Geographic Alex Webb. To see more of her work, visit her liveBooks8 website: www.katieadkinsphotography.com.
I started out in this industry through serendipitous events. In 2008 when the housing maker crashed, the large architectural company I was working for let go of the majority of its staff. I was one of those let go. While devastating at the time, in the end it was an opportunity to reevaluate what I really wanted to be doing. I took the opportunity to go back to school and get my Masters in Photography and haven’t looked back since then. I took every opportunity I could to see how other photographers worked by assisting and taking them out for coffee to pick their brains. By immersing myself in the art world, I was able to meet people who have helped me succeed and get to where I am today. Today I am a freelance photographer, shooting for newspapers, magazines, and private clients. I am also lucky enough to have an amazing day job where I am Assistant Curator at the contemporary art gallery. Most importantly, I work as a fine artist. I have had several solo exhibits and been a part of numerous group shows. Being immersed in the creative world has been the most fulfilling and best decision I have ever made.
KA: Contemporary, relaxed, and unique.
KA: I update my website about once a month or more often if I have been shooting a lot. The liveBooks software is so easy to use that it only takes a second to update, rearrange, or remove content. There is no point in having a website with stagnant information. Having an easy-to-use design platform keeps your work relevant and keep visitors coming back.
KA: Your homepage is a crucial part of your website – it is a teaser for what visitors can expect if they delve further into your site. It is important for this to be not only an accurate representation of the rest of your site but you also want it to be exciting, eye-catching, and unique. The thing to keep in mind is you don’t want to “give it all away” on your homepage, you want visitors to want to see more. It is also really important to keep it all clean. Luckily, this is easy to do with the liveBooks8 design options. In my case, I am showing several images from each of the portfolios on my page. This gives visitors an overview of my work and hopefully, makes them want to click on my portfolio pages and view more.
KA: My favorite new feature on the liveBooks website is the design platform. You can make updates on the actual page and see how they look without having to view your page in a separate window. This not only saves times clicking back and forth but it allows you to make changes and adjustments and instantly to see how they look. Once you have made your changes, you simply publish and those changes go live.
KA: My best advice for someone who is just starting our designing their website is to choose a website that best represents you and what you do. It is really easy to look at another artist/photographer’s website and think that you should do the same thing because their website looks really cool. However, it is important to think about your own work, you own message and your own goal of having a website. Am I using my website for clients? Am I using my website to sell my work? Or, as in my case, am I using my website as an online gallery space. What works for the commercial photographer will not be the same thing that works for a wedding/portrait photographer. The website design I choose best reflects my documentary approach to photography. The layout of each of my pages helps to tell a story, a quality I also use in my art.
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Gaelle Morand is a photographer based out of California. Her work ranges from travel and entertainment portraiture to editorial and fashion. She’s worked with clients such as Universal, Island Def Jam, and Epitaph Records, as well as celebrities such as Olivia Wilde and Dita Von Teese. To see more of Gaelle’s work, visit her liveBooks8 website: www.gaellemorand.com.
My work in photography gives me access to people’s lives in ways that pull beauty out of the ordinary – I’ve done series of images framing close in on faces from cultures so different that the minute details tell an unexpected story. The subject might be a Tibetan nomad, or a musician headlining a rock band – to me these subjects are equally fascinating. I’m as interested in documenting culture as I am in finding what makes one person’s journey unique within that culture. I also have a long history in the motion picture industry, in CGI – mostly in lighting and look development, which I suppose is the common thread with my work in photography. In movies as in photography, I try to bring a cinematic perspective to my work. I enjoy crafting intricate studio lighting setups in service to an impeccable style. (Though I’m quite a fan of natural light, too!) I’ve been fortunate with opportunities to travel, and to meet a wonderful cross section of people and cultures. I’m looking forward to continuing that journey, camera in hand.
GM: Personal, Crafted, and Vivid.
GM: It’s very unpredictable! It could be four times a month or four times a year, depending on where I’ve been and how much shooting I’ve been able to do.
GM: I try to select a set of vibrant and diverse images that somehow work well together. They can be very different as far as the subjects are concerned, but are tied in by a similar or complimentary color palette.
GM: Without a doubt, it’s being able to try it all by visualizing various layouts. The interface is easy to use and you can get great results quickly. Customizing options seem endless and designing becomes very exciting.
GM: It’s obvious, but less is more! It’s about showcasing the best work and keeping the layout clean and simple.
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Katee McGee is a California-based international award winning editorial and commercial photographer, serving the wine industry! Since 2005, Katee has specialized in wine-related photography and has shot in some of the world’s premier vineyards and estates in California, Italy, and France. See more of her work on her website: www.pendergast-mcgee.com.
My first paid professional gig was as a unit stills (set) photographer for Universal Pictures on location for the movie The Hitcher II. It was exciting and so fun to be a (albeit small) part of a larger group of creatives. Great energy – I learned a ton on that shoot. Most exciting was that they chose one of my images as the hero image for the poster and DVD cover.
I grew up in the wine industry, running through vineyards and playing hide-and-seek with my brothers on the weekends in the enormous 4-acre barrel room of historic Almadén Vineyards. Back in those days it was still listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the World’s Largest Covered Wine Cellar”.
My dad has worked in the wine industry in sales and marketing since before I was born – and still does. Through that exposure to the industry, I began noticing the imagery inherent to wine and its culture at a really young age. In addition, my father always brought a lot of enthusiasm to whatever his latest projects were and I think it rubbed off. In a sense I think I was “sold” on wine and the wine country culture long before I was ever able to actually partake.
Of course. I have had the privilege of not only photographing incredible wine locations around the world, but also have had the opportunity to taste the amazing wines at those locations. Wine culture is really all about sharing. Sharing stories, sharing your hospitality and sharing something you’re proud of. Artistry and craftsmanship is appreciated and communal in wine culture – everyone wants to share what they’ve made, so my palate was educated by some of the best “teachers” in the world.
I can’t say I have a favorite. Each place needs something different. Sometimes it’s simple, like just capturing the beauty of the location of the architecture. But sometimes it’s more of a challenge. A lot of times, big producers want to look small and artisan and give off a boutique vibe, while some of their smaller boutique counterparts want to present the image of being bigger players than they are, so that make things interesting. I genuinely like the problem solving involved in delivering what each client wants and needs – each client is different and I think it’s one of the best parts of what I do.
Wine photography really requires you to be multi-disciplined. There are so many aspects to it – you need to be able to do a lot of it well. You need to be able to produce striking landscapes, make interesting images reflecting nature and architecture, work as a photojournalist during harvest and crush and around the winery, connect with owners and winemakers to create compelling portraits, and then have the technical studio and lighting skills to create clean product shots.
Most of all, you need to be a storyteller. I know it’s cliched but it’s still true, because at the end of the day you are hired to tell the unique story of the client and their brand.
In pursuit of that unique story, you can also get some strange requests. Frequently, I am asked to visually represent elements of the terroir (For those who don’t know – “terroir” is the unique natural environment in which a particular wine is produces, this includes factors such as the soil, the topography, and the climate in that area.) I remember one gig where the creative brief requested that I show “wind”. lol
But in the end – this is their life’s work. There is only one harvest a year and each vintage is unrepeatable, so creating images that help tell the story of that brand, that vintage, that location, is paramount, and a good wine photographer needs to really understand that on an innate level. Understanding that and respecting that is critical.
I have a creative collective called Garage Industries and I coordinate and art direct multi-disciplined creative marketing projects. For example, for one client I’m currently working on a promotional project that includes photography, letterpress printing, original oil-paintings and comic book art, copywriting, video and digital media and my task is to keep all of that coordinated and aligned with the creative direction of the project. I have a deep network of creatives from my years in the business and it’s been great to be able to assemble dream-teams of professionals and work together on specific projects. It’s a great outlet for my more grand creative concepts.
Since my daughter was born, I have become slightly obsessed with children’s portraiture. After she was born, I found myself spending a lot of time in the world of kids in addition to the world of wines, and I was always kind of put-off by typical children’s portrait photography. I wanted to have images of my daughter that were cool and contemporary and modern – print large. Not something that would look dated and be embarrassing to either of us in 20 years time. I would look at adverts for Gap Kids or Crewcuts and think, “Why can’t I get pictures like THAT of my daughter?” I didn’t find anyone making them so I decided that I would just make them myself. (Years ago I had worked as a Creative Director for two first-generation skate/streetwear contemporary clothing companies in Southern California so the idea wasn’t a stretch.)
Based on that spark, I started putting together custom children’s portrait shoots that follow more of a fashion editorial trajectory, with all the bells and whistles of a commercial fashion shoot – but for “regular” kids who aren’t professional models. (Although in truth, I think many of them could be if their parents wanted to go that direction.) You’d be amazed at how awesome these kids are! I love creating images that are genuine reflections of their unique personalities – no stiff poses, cheesy props or strained, fake smiles – just capturing their pure, beautiful spirits. It’s magic.
I have found that there are other parents like me out there that want images of their kids that are cool, timeless, and done to the highest professional standard. It’s great to be able to offer this level of production and quality to the parents that “get it”. (I knew I couldn’t be the only one!)
To some it might seem a bit incongruous to do both wine photography and children’s fashion portraiture, but if you know me – it makes perfect sense. And anyone who has kids knows that a glass of wine can often be your very best friend.
Lauren Keskinel is a photographer based in Los Angeles. Her background in film production, extensive travels through the developing world, and affinity for sports and adventure give her a unique perspective on the people and places she shoots. When not working in the world of sports entertainment, Lauren enjoys partnering with organizations to help document their humanitarian efforts, both domestically and abroad. Her work has been recognized through numerous awards including the APA Awards and PDN’s Photobook Cali. She was also a proud participant in the Eddie Adams Workshop XXIV. To see more of Lauren’s work, visit www.laurenkeskinel.com.
I always say that I took the long road to photography. When I was 19, I got a job on a movie set and spent the next decade going from film to film. It was an amazing time in my life and allowed me to learn the ins and outs of entertainment production, while providing me the ability to travel the world in between shoots. After a while, I started craving something more creative of my own. Photography had always been something I was interested in and I took the opportunity to go back to school and learn more about it. I was hooked.
I was lucky to meet another photographer early on in photography who worked in the equestrian world shooting high level competitions. I had ridden and competed as a kid so it was an easy transition into shooting horses. It was a wonderful way to hone my skills and allowed me the flexible schedule I needed when my kids were young. Now that they are a little older, I’m focusing more on editorial and commercial opportunities, particularly related to entertainment.
Much of my commercial and editorial work is in color and I think certain images lend themselves beautifully to it, but I absolutely love black and white. I am lucky enough to have learned photography when film was still hanging on as a standard. I explored a lot with the classic black and white films and spent a lot of time in the darkroom. Now I love taking those same techniques and applying them digitally. I find that when it’s just me and an image in post, with full creative freedom, I still lean towards black and white.
I consider myself to be a street photographer at heart. I have always been an observer and joke sometimes that I am a professional people watcher. Whether it’s a well-planned, production-heavy commercial shoot or a quick shot with my iPhone, I love to capture that perfect moment that reveals something about life and humanity.
For commercial or editorial work, I will often use a medium format Hasselblad or Phase One with a digital back. For sports and travel, I always use the professional line of 35mm cameras from Canon. Personally, I obsessively shoot with my iPhone. I know it may be blaspheme in some circles, but it has been one of the most creatively freeing tools that I’ve used. It allows me to capture moments that I would never otherwise have my camera for, and helps avoid the wall that can go up with a subject as soon as you pull out a real camera.
If you’re just a beginner and want to get into photographing, I would tell you to take classes. You don’t have to go to an expensive art school. There are so many great local programs throughout the country. I did the commercial photography program at Santa Monica College here in Los Angeles and it was amazing. I think when you first start out in photography, it’s easy to underestimate how much technique and knowledge goes into the beautiful shots you see. You look and think ‘I can do that’ and then you try and it looks like your crazy uncle Bob took it. I think it’s really the technical skills that separate you from the pack these days. I will also give the same advice given to me and to generations of photographer. Shoot. Shoot. Keep Shooting. Then shoot some more. I learn something every time I shoot. Often it’s what doesn’t work, but slowly, with every mistake and failed concept, you get better. I guarantee you one thing about photography, there is alway more to learn. Keep at it.
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Deborah Depolito is a skilled stylist that has 15+ years of experience under her belt. Working with world-renown clients such as Under Armour, Uber, McDonald’s, and Microsoft, it is clear why she is so sought-after in her industry. Her strong relationship with photographers and clients have allowed her to work with on various commercial and editorial campaigns. See more of her work at www.deborahdepolitostylist.com
When people think of styling, they quickly assume that it’s only related to getting the perfect outfit together. What most fail to see is that without a proper styling professional onboard an editorial project, the message being conveyed can be lost. Styling is so much more than it seems – it not only includes props, hair and make-up but also matching people to fit brands and products.
(Director: Gary Land // Executive Producer: Abe Sands // Photographer: Nick Taylor)
My keenly trained eye for the client’s mission and ever-evolving awareness of color and style ensures that my clients are happy with the end product, every time. This may seem like an easy task – in fact, it’s very difficult. When you’re styling, you not only have to put yourself in the company’s mindset but also in the client that they are gearing the service and/or product to.
I believe that it is my warm nature and sense of humor that allows me to complement my ability to dress talent in an authentic and beautiful way. Without this light-heartedness, the work would seem inauthentic and it would create an end-product that my clients would not be happy with.
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Guest post by liveBooks client Blair Bunting. Original post found here.
There are deadlines and then there are deadlines…this is the latter.
ASU’s advertising campaign is one that I have now shot for 10 years. It is one that I always use to push logistical boundaries that I had previously been inflexible towards, for the sake of art and knowledge. Photographing it is a practice in embracing the unknown and evaluating previously conceived notions of what is possible and what is not.
This year’s photoshoot existed well within the impossible…
For example, I usually shoot the ASU campaign the last week of May and deliver the images on deadline…August 1st. This way the designers at ASU can create layouts and posters, billboards and ticket stubs and all that’s in between in the two weeks before press deadline (August 14th).
However, this year was different, for ASU was in the midst of changing from Nike uniforms to Adidas. We knew going into April that this shoot could be a bit tighter on the deadline than usual. As May began, I already had laid out the images for the campaign and had my crew on stand-by on a moments notice if we needed to be at the studio. However, the new uniforms were not ready and so we found ourselves waiting…and then came June…and then went June.
It was looking like an impossible deadline at this point, for where I normally have 60 days for production, I would now have half.
AND THEN WENT JULY.
There comes a moment, at which one must release true control of a situation, and this was it. Any ideas that I had of a production schedule had to be let go. In a sense, if this campaign happened at all, it would be a very visceral knowledge of the process that would take over and one that only experience could teach.
August 1st: The deadline of the many campaigns of year’s past had arrived and passed. For me, it was a simple glass of scotch that evening and a comfort that only a purchase of a time machine (found on eBay) would make this one possible.
August 15th: The call saying that we would shoot in three days (yeah, August 18th), and we might be limited on jerseys for the guys to wear (oh the understatement). However, if there is one thing that I have learned about ASU, it is that their athletes are incredible and even the toughest challenges are easier with how much they help me out on set.
August 18th: The first day of the shoot had arrived and the crew that had been on standby for most of the summer for this one were ready. Even though we were months behind schedule, everyone was happy; for we knew what we had to do and knew that it could be a good time as well.
As the guys showed up to the studio, the wardrobe arrived as well. We had 10 athletes to photograph and one, yes ONE, pair of pants. Now we had that one pair in maroon and black, so technically that’s two. However, you may say, “Blair I thought ASU wears gold pants on occasion” and you would be correct.
Worry not, we had a pair of gold pants as well, with one minor caveat. You see, the only pair of Adidas football pants that existed in gold belonged to the ASU mascot, Sparky. For those of you who don’t know him, he is a devil that runs around the field and does push ups. The big issue is that Sparky has a tail. Some of you have figured out where this is going, and yes, the only pair of gold pants we had had a hole in the butt for his tail.
Remember, photoshoots will always make you stronger and more resourceful for the next one.
So we shot for two days on set and had the final images being delivered even when we showed up for day two. The reason it all happened is quite simple: incredible people. From crew to client to talent to retouching, everyone involved on this project didn’t worry about deadline, they just worried about doing their best and staying positive.
As much as being an advertising photographer is about being in control of a production, the true talent of one is measured when control is given up.
Do not miss the behind-the-scenes video, found here!
Miki Johnson: Tell me about what you’ve been working on these days.
Justin Mott: My calendar has been pretty diverse since I began to organize and market my commercial work halfway through 2009. Getting my commercial work organized and branded has eaten up a huge chunk of my free time. Work in Vietnam is pretty diverse so you have to be able to do a little bit of everything.
My assignments over the last two months came from; German Red Cross, the United Nations, Forbes, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, three 5-star resorts, Microsoft, the World Health Organization, and the Smithsonian. I shot a wedding and I have been involved with a commissioned book project in Beijing and Shanghai about Chabad communities. I’m also working on my own book along with shooting a few other long-term personal projects.
The most lucrative has easily been the resort work because I’m able to sell packages of both stills and video. Commercial work simply pays more, a lot more, and in this region the market is expanding. I’m still searching for the right balance of commercial work and editorial but I completely love both in different ways.
MJ: Tell me about this video you did for Anantara Bophut (above).
JM: I’ve built up a good relationship with a luxury line of resorts over the past year shooting stills for them. I’ve worked for them in Thailand and Tanzania shooting more than seven resorts.
I first pitched the video as an add-on for a stills shoot I was scheduled to do for them. It’s hard to pitch a product without a good example piece already, so I offered to do it for free, knowing the potential was huge.
I know many photographers get upset hearing things like that, but I wasn’t giving anything away. I was upfront about wanting to show them one piece in hopes of doing a series for them on an agreed price. Without having a strong piece to show them, I had to offer a preview instead. I was also confident that we could deliver them something they would be excited about.
My producer, Camille Faylona, scripted the story for them using stills as visual cues of what the final product might look like. In a face-to-face meeting we talked over the script and about pricing. We also discussed videos that had been done for them in the past and why they were unhappy with them. I was pitching them a different technique with a more TV-commercial feel and more of a story instead of just footage of their facility.
I shot the whole piece all on the Canon 5D Mark II, frequently using a Merlin Steadicam to give a first-person perspective. It’s a new process for me, so we figured a lot of things out on the fly, but overall everything worked out really well. That way I was also offering the client new technology. I could give a cinematic feel to the final piece at a fraction of the former price. They were extremely happy with the final product and we are now discussing a 6 resort video shoot.
An important thing to realize about the pitch is, not only do you have to pitch the quality of the video, but you also have to help the client understand potential outlets for it. With stills they know how they are going to use them for their website, brochure, email promos, etc. For the videos you have to help them see the potential for more than just a video for their website. They can be used as web commercials on travel magazine websites, DVD’s for travel agents, in-room cross commercials, and more.
MJ: You said you see this part of your business’ growth in the future. In what ways and why?
JM: I feel like digital magazines are right around the corner, and with the iPad being released, the potential for video content demand is massive. Editorial and commercial clients need videos as their marketing outlets become more digital, so I see huge potential in both markets. I envision travel magazines doing videos more like a Discovery Channel piece, rather than just a slideshow of images. With new technology it’s affordable and not so intimidating for the photographer.
Video DLSR’s are still in the “wow” stage, and it’s easy to excite clients with their amazing footage when coupled with nice lenses. I’m not saying that the camera will do all the work, but the technology is rather revolutionary so it provides a great head start. Pretty soon it will be standard; but for now I plan to capitalize on this “wow” factor — the feedback so far has been extremely positive.
It also helps that we can offer a one-stop production. Packages from Mott Visuals include stills and videos that have a similar style, so it’s one less thing for the client to worry about.
MJ: Is this the first promo video you’d done with a DSLR? What did you learn from the process?
JM: This was our fist piece using the steadicam and time-lapse, so there was a learning curve to figure out how to use the device technically and stylistically. Plus the whole production process takes more time than with stills. We have to script the story before and get the client’s approval, then we do the same at the end of shooting.
It’s also different because I’m working with a producer who has creative input, so we have two heads instead of one, which is good for video. I tend to think like a photographer; I want to leap from one thing to the next, while she reminds me we need to find a way to get there.
MJ: What else about this project was interesting or challenging for you?
JM: The challenge for me was not having a system in place yet like I do for stills. I know my “go to” shots for commercial shoots; after getting those I can experiment. For video I’m still fairly new, so I’m learning on the fly.
For me, transitioning has been the biggest challenge, making sure I visually lead the viewer from point A to point B. I’ve learned the value of a good producer who understands storytelling — and I also learned I need to pay her more so I don’t lose her.
The other challenge is how to market this work myself, online and through my agency, Redux Pictures. I’m still trying to figure out better ways than to simply include clips and trailers on my website and blog, but for now that is what we are limited to. Hopefully that will make for another blog post further down the road.
Miki Johnson: How did the idea for the Menuez Archive Projects arise?
Doug Menuez: After Stanford Library acquired my archive they began to preserve, research, and scan the 250,000 images from my Silicon Valley documentary project from the ’80s and ’90s. A few years ago they called and said their budget was cut and asked if I had any ideas for funding.
I was sitting on a couple hundred thousand model-released, timeless lifestyle advertising images that we’d often thought about doing something with, but I was always busy with assignment work. This was the catalyst. I was very lucky to meet an experienced and creative entrepreneur, David Mendez, and together we wrote a business plan around selling high-end stock to this growing niche in advertising. Amazingly, we managed to secure funding from investors despite the down economy.
MJ: Who do you imagine being the primary audience and/or buyers for the archive? What kind of imagery is it providing?
DM: Ad agencies seeking never seen before, intimate, emotionally-compelling moments from everyday life for high-end ad campaigns. We have been getting a lot of calls over the past few years as more big brand campaigns go to stock and creatives seek images that are more special and not so widely seen as what’s offered by the giant houses. We are a boutique and are bringing old fashioned research and service in our collaborations with creatives on their campaigns. You can search our archive easily, but you can also send your layouts and we will custom search and present the results to you.
We are including a lot of my personal documentary work that is released, and we just completed our first shoot in Miami, covering a wide range of stories, including a working mom, an afternoon with a Hispanic family, a teen house party, Parcours daredevils, an older boomer couple traveling, and much more.
What’s exciting is that we researched and found real stories of real lives, just as on any other personal project I do. These stories and images are therefore compelling and authentic, but also model released. We also have a variety of editorial material, some historical, some current, and we are selling limited edition prints of my fine art projects.
MJ: How does MAP fit in with your larger business plan?
DM: MAP is a huge breakthrough for me in that it allows me to develop all the work I’ve done over the years, and create revenue from material sitting in boxes. That new material from assignments and stock shoots will help me stay relevant and replenish the archive over time.
I have so many projects and images that it’s hard to finish any one thing. MAP will provide a platform to build on for the next phase of my career. That includes continuing to produce documentary projects, films, and books. More »
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.
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.
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.
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.