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Photojournalism

Josh Maready’s multimedia portrait of an Inwood shop owner, who the photographer interviewed shortly before he died of cancer, is the essence of what a personal project can achieve. Josh usually shoots fashion and portraits, but in the end it was this documentary project that helped re-energize him about his own work — and helped keep a special person and his stories alive through his images.

Name: Josh Maready
Website: joshmaready.com
Age: 30
Location: NYC

What kind of photography do you specialize in?
I shoot mostly fashion and portraiture, but I feel really connected to photojournalism and documentary. I like capturing pieces of history that otherwise might have been lost or forgotten.

Personal project name and short description
Pic-A-Pet: This is a slideshow and interview with Mr. Madonna, the owner of a small plant and pet store named “Pic-A-Pet” in my hood in Inwood, at the very top of Manhattan.

When and why did you start it?
My old apartment was right above where the super put all of the trash overnight before he put it out on the street, and because of it there were always some stray flies that found their way in. I got pissed and went on a search to find some Venus fly traps that led me to Pic-A-Pet. I loved that place ever since I first walked in.

I have soft spot for old stores — the dirtier and more cluttered the better. Those places are so full of stories and have so much soul, you know?  I instantly wanted to take pictures of that place and hear some of those stories, so I grabbed my camera and voice recorder and sat down with the owner, Mr, Madonna.  Sadly, he had Stage 4 cancer and died a couple of weeks after our interview. It’s pretty amazing to think that because of the interview I did, a few of his stories will always be alive. That’s powerful stuff.

Mr. Madonna by Josh Maready

Mr. Madonna by Josh Maready

Do you have a particular image you are especially drawn to so far?
From this story, I like two images the most: a portrait of Mr. Madonna smiling and a picture of his cluttered cash register that he told me he hasn’t used since the first day he opened. In the portrait, maybe it’s the smile he’s wearing, even though I knew he was in pain, or maybe the sunlight hitting the dust on his glasses. The register, to me, is a perfect summary of everything I love about old stores.

What has been the most challenging thing about the project?
The most challenging part was the editing. I sat down and talked with Mr. Madonna for almost an hour and a half. So taking all of those stories and condensing them into 10 minutes was tough.

What has been the most rewarding thing about it?
Just what I said earlier — to know that I was a part of keeping someone’s legacy alive is a huge honor.  Mr. Madonna was loved by so many people. And even though this is a small and unworthy tribute for such a good man, at least it’ll give people a taste of what he was like.

In your ideal world, where would this project end up?
I hope this ends up in front of the eyes of people who appreciate the stories of the unknown heros of the world as much as I do.

Do you recommend personal projects to other photographers, and why?
Totally. I try to find time to fuel the creative fire by shooting things that really mean something to me. This project was time consuming and finding free time is hard. Freeing up time is usually hard to justify. But to look back and feel like I’ve done something good for the world is worth it.

Wow – you wanna hear something weird? Right now as i’m writing this I just got an email from someone who had known Mr. Madonna. They told me they just watched the slideshow/interview and then poured their heart out about Mr. Madonna and told me a few of their own stories about him. That’s it, man! That’s why I love this stuff! That’s good fuel for the fire and motivation for the next few stories I have in mind…

haitiAs often happens, the top news this week in photography is also the top news in the world. On Tuesday a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, centralized in the capital of Port-au-Prince. We’ve been impressed by the response from photographers — not necessarily rushing to the scene to make photos (although you can see some great examples of that at the New York Times and The Big Picture), but making donations and encouraging others to. LiveBooks client Nick Zantop alerted us to his comprehensive list of legitimate charities helping with relief as well as a Facebook group providing up-to-the-minute information. We also saw that William Greiner is auctioning off a print with proceeds going to the Red Cross, Clark Patrick started a Cause on Facebook to support Doctors Without Borders, and Brian Smith blogged about five simple ways to support the victims.

The Wall Street Journal released a ranking of 200 jobs last week based on several criteria. The fact that photojournalist ranked near the bottom at #189 not surprisingly caused a stir in the blogosphere. Fred Ritchin at After Photography and Mike Johnston at The Online Photographer both took to task the criteria by which the ranking was made. What do you think? Is being a photojournalist worse than being an emergency medical technician or a nuclear plant decontamination technician?

james_dean_dennis_stockMagnum photographer Dennis Stock, best known for his iconic images of James Dean, died on Monday. There is a lovely remembrance of him on the Lens blog as well as great multimedia autobiography at Magnum.

To finish up with some good news, Jörg Colberg (Conscientious) and Hester Keijser (Mrs. Deane) launched The Independent Photo Book last week, a blog where photographers can send their independently produced and sold books and zines, along with information on how to purchase them, creating a simple online clearinghouse. We posted about this in our ongoing discussion on the Future of Photobooks when it launched — 39 items have already gone up since then.

What do you think photobooks will look like in 10 years? Will they be digital or physical? Open-source or proprietary? Will they be read on a Kindle or an iPhone? And what aesthetic innovations will have transformed them?

Picture 1I know I’m not alone in pondering these questions. Joerg Colberg echoed these thoughts just last week in a post on Conscientious. Then I talked to Andy Adams at Flak Photo about his weekly features highlighting the winners of Blurb‘s 2009 Photography.Book.Now contest (left), and something clicked.

For a while now, it’s been our goal (at RESOLVE and liveBooks) to find and share new business models that will move photography and the creative industries forward in a positive way. But we’re also eager to conduct our own experiments. And what better place to start than the incredibly flexible blogging format?

Andy and I initially wondered how we could use our blogs in a new way to further illuminate the question, “What will photobooks be like in the year 2019?” We’re not psychic, but we do have a lot of faith in collective intelligence. And with all the talk these days about “crowd-sourcing,” we thought, why can’t we crowd-source a blog post?

Discussions in the blogosphere generally lead readers along trajectories of information, but all those useful ideas rarely get tied back up into a single useful post. We plan to centralize the discussion around this specific topic — photobooks — so that anyone searching for related posts can find them easily and understand the context around them.

So how does this Future of Photobooks thing work? Andy and I have contacted fellow bloggers and asked them to post about the most prescient innovations they’ve seen in the photobook and publishing industries. We’ll add links to those blogs within this post as they go live, so over the next few days you’ll be able to see the “research” for our final post developing in real time.

COLLABORATING BLOGS
Adam Westbrook: The future of the Photobook?
Keep Your Shutters Open (Rachel M. Wolfe): Foto Future
eyecurious (Marc Feustel): Some more fuel on the photo book fire
The PhotoBook (Doug Stockdale): Future of Photobooks?
Quintessence (Ellen Rennard): Photo Books in Ten Years?
We Can Shoot Too (J. Wesley Brown): The Photo Book
Ed Kashi Weblog (Paul O’Sullivan): The Future of Photobooks
The PhotoOracle (Tomas Ovalle): Photobooks: Evolution or Revolution?
sevensevennine.com (Nick Turpin): The Future of Photobooks?
TechTock Blog (Jack Howard): Thoughts on the Future of Photo Books (And books in general)
Elysium (Colleen Mullins): Dummy
LOZ (Laurence Vecten): I heart photo books
Green Tea Gallery Magazine (Francesco Gallarotti): The Future of Photobooks
Craig Ferguson Images: For the Love of (Photo)Books
Brereton Blog (Mark Brereton): Photo Books Photo Books
Heather Morton Art Buyer Blog: An Invitation to Participate in a Discussion about the Future of Photobooks
La Pura Vida (Bryan Formhals): The Netflix of Photobooks
Elizabeth Avedon: The Future of Photobooks: Past, Present, and Future
Thought Factory (Gary Sauer-Thompson): Photobooks: Possibilities + Future
Link-Log: The Future of Photography Books?
Darius Himes: The Premise: A Crowd Sourced Blog about Photography Books Publishing
Street Level Japan (Dan Abbe): The Photobooks I Bought This Year
Amy Stein: The Future of Photobooks
New Photographics (Jonathan Worth): ‘The Future of Photo-books’ A response.
Larissa Leclair: Joining the conversation about photobooks
Ben Huff . words & photographs: A few thoughts on books
Little Brown Mushroom (Alec Soth): The Future of Photobooks
Fraction. The blog for the magazine (David Bram): The Future of Photography Books
Food For Your Eyes (Nathalie Belayche): Future of photography books: food for thought
Ocular Octopus (Todd Walker): The Photobook Circa 2019
Luceo Images Blog (David Walter Banks): Resolve Blog: Future of Photobooks
The Space In Between (Stacy Oborn): What May Come: On the Future of Photobooks
altfotonet (Gary Sauer-Thompson): A conversation about the future of photobooks
Shooting Wide Open (Jin Zhu): Photobooks, periodicals, and boxes
Hamburger Eyes (Ray Potes): The Future of Photobooks
Shane Godfrey: What Will Photo Books Look Like in 10 Years?
Sadkids (Geoffrey Ellis): The Future of Photobooks
Daylight Magazine (Michael Itkoff & Taj Forer): Future of the Photo Book
Blurberati Blog: The Future of Photo Books
Jerry Avenaim Photography Blog: The Future of Photography Books?
Harlan Erskine Photography/Blog: Thinking about the future of the Photobook
The Online Photographer (Mike Johnston): The Future of the Photo Book
Critical Terrain (Alan Rapp): Inversely Proportional: thoughts on the future of the photobook
Lens Culture (Jim Casper): The Future of Magazines and Photobooks?
Exposures Blog (Lesley Martin): The Future of the Photobook
Emily Goligoski: The Future of Photobooks (& Media Monetization?)
Image Your Emotions (Jean-Baptiste Blanc): Future of photobooks
Lens Culture (Jim Casper): Simon Roberts Video Excerpt: The beauty of photobooks
DLK Collection: A Contrarian View: A Collector’s Thoughts on Photobooks
Larissa Leclair: Interview: Elizabeth Flemming
Lulu Blog (Tim Wright): The Future of Photobooks
Rolando Gomez: The Future of Photography Books — Free Books!
Metro Nature (Christina Seely): The future of photobooks
Contact Photography Blog (Emily Graham): On the Photobook

But please don’t wait for us to contact you to start contributing. If you have something you want to say about photobooks, write a post on your own blog, linking to this post, by Sunday, Dec. 13 (we’ve had so much great interest, we’ll continue to accept posts on an ongoing basis). Then ping Andy or I with the link on Facebook or Twitter, and we’ll add you into the list. (Andy: FB & Twitter. Miki: FB & Twitter.) Don’t have a blog or don’t have time to post? Simply leave your thoughts in the comments. If you want to be notified when other people share their great ideas, be sure to use the “subscribe” drop-down to received email updates.

And this is just the beginning. At the end of this week, Andy and I will choose the standout ideas and highlight them (with links to whoever suggested them) in another post. That post will be all about real-time discussion. We’ll organize the big ideas — it will be up to you to tell us what you think about them. Delve into the details, throw out some pros and cons, tell us we’re off base if you must. We’re just excited to host a healthy discussion.

Finally we’ll sift through all the great ideas and heated debate and pull it together in one final post, which we hope will live a long online life as a resource for anyone trying to understand where the photobook industry is headed. And your name, links, and/or blog will be an indispensable part of it. You’re helping us explain where photobook publishing is headed, and we’re helping people find you and your brilliant ideas. Everyone wins. Just the way we like it :)

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

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

Miki Johnson: Tell me about the book you just released with Ruthann Richter, Face to Face: Children of the AIDS Crisis in Africa. What was the impetus of this project and what were you hoping to achieve with it?

Karen Ande: This book represents the culmination of seven years of work. The project began in 2002 when I was traveling in Kenya with my husband and friends. Our tour guide asked me if I’d like to visit an orphanage she had opened in the town of Naivasha and photograph the children, whose parents had died of AIDS.

I agreed to do it, thinking it would be a one-time visit that might result in a few shots she could use for fundraising. I did not realize that the children would charm me and that their survival hung in such a delicate balance. The orphanage ran out of rice the day I was there.

We left them with some money for food and I eventually went home and began to print the photographs. When I saw the images emerge in the developing tray I realized that I had an opportunity and a decision to make. I could choose to become involved in this issue or not. I chose to get involved, to reach out to nonprofits who were already supporting projects, to make multiple trips to document this issue. It has taken an enormous amount of time and personal finances, but I have never looked back.

©Karen Ande

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

I am driven by this issue — 12 million children have been orphaned by AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. There is little infrastructure to care for the children, but many local people whom I have met through NGO’s have creative viable projects that make a difference in these children’s lives. I hope this book will convince people to take a close look at the children I’ve met and begin to care enough to try to help them.

MJ: You’ve said that when you started photographing it was important to you to focus on the positive, things are getting better and people who are making a difference. Why was this so important to you?

KA: People do not hang around to be depressed. The media overexposes us to images of suffering I think, consistently giving us two messages: 1) there is really nothing one person can do to affect these overwhelming problems, and 2) money donated to Africa will be diverted by corrupt governments and aid agencies and never get to the people who need it.

In fact there is a great deal one person can do if they know how. If you donate to organizations working with in-country activists who know and understand their communities’ needs, the money is not wasted. In fact it is often the best way to help, as these projects are generally successful and sustainable. We list many NGO’s in our book that support these types of projects. More »

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

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

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

wintour_vogue

Vogue editor Anna Wintour. ©Getty Images

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

Cory Doctorow, by Jonathan Worth

Cory Doctorow, by Jonathan Worth

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

Joe McNally

Joe McNally

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

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

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

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of giving a presentation to members of the conservation, media, and photography communities as part of the WildSpeak program at The WILD Foundation‘s World Wilderness Congress in Merida, Mexico. WildSpeak was created by the International League of Conservation Photographers, four days of presentations showing conservation organizations the power of visual storytelling and persuading them to make more room in their budgets for collaboration with conservation photographers.

The presentation I was part of, “New Media and Creating the Groundswell,” focused on using new online tools to disseminate conservation messages. The other speakers introduced me to several fascinating initiatives that I want to share with the RESOLVE community — by synthesizing photography, education, technology, and social action, they highlight trends that I believe will become increasingly important as the new media landscape evolves.

ARKive_WildscreenCollect and Contextualize
ARKive
is an initiative by Wildscreen to create a digital library of text, photos, and video of a huge number of the world’s animal and plant species. In some ways, the vast number of images available online do not become truly useful and powerful until they are organized and searchable in a collection like this.

LandScope_MapOrganize Geographically
Frank Biasi, director of Conservation Projects for National Geographic Maps, demonstrated two projects he’s working on that are using maps as the main navigation tool for a site. The Global Action Atlas helps connect people with social action opportunities in specific areas of the world, and LandScope.org is a map-based resource for the land-protection community and the public. As geotagging becomes automatic and people interact more across all geographic barriers,  information organized around a map structure will undoubtedly increase.
WildCoastMash Up Media
WildCoast is the perfect example of a non-profit taking their message far beyond the common trap of “preaching to the choir.” By signing up a sexy model and a Lucha Libre celebrity, this organization focused on saving coastal ecosystems won major victories for sea creatures. They also disseminate much of their information as comics and animated videos, something that Médecins Sans Frontières has also explored with their beautiful graphic novel, The Photographer.

Pandemic_LabsCreate Endless Collaboration
Matt Peters, the founder of Pandemic Labs, which ran social media strategy for the entire Wild9 congress, wrapped up with a wonderful presentation about the way online information tools can help keep people who connect at events like Wild9 connected and moving forward with their ideas long after the sessions end.

The Wild9 Live page collected blog posts in three languages, tweets about Wild9, live streams of many presenters, and Qik videos streamed from delegates’ cell phones, letting people from around the world (they received hits from around 80 countries) feel like they were part of the congress. And, possibly more important, now all that information is archived and available online. You can see the presentation videos at the Wild9 USTREAM page and even check out my presentation about creating clean, easy-to-navigate websites that drive visitors to act, not just look.

Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb are both photographers. They also happen to be married to one another. Alex, a member of Magnum Photos, is known for his lyrical street photography, collected in books including Istanbul, Crossings, and Amazon. Rebecca published her first photography book, The Glass Between Us: Reflections of Urban Creatures, in 2006 to wide acclaim. Just this month they released their first photo book together, Violet Isle, which explores Cuba through both their cameras, seen more clearly, in a way, from two different angles. (Not surprisingly, their joint blog is called “Two Looks.”)

Rebecca Norris Webb, Havana, Cuba, 2007.

Rebecca Norris Webb, Havana, Cuba, 2007

Alex Webb, Havana, Cuba, 2001.

Alex Webb, Havana, Cuba, 2001

MIKI JOHNSON: What initially drew you both to Cuba? It has been photographed so much already…did you try to approach it in a new way that you hadn’t seen before?

ALEX WEBB: Like many projects, this one began somewhat serendipitously. We certainly did not plan it. I first went in to Cuba 1993 for Life magazine, and Rebecca traveled there around the same time separately. We were both intrigued by the island, but somehow didn’t manage to return until 2000, when we visited together to teach a workshop.

Returning to the country inspired both of us, and we embarked on two separate projects: my exploration of the streets of Cuba and Rebecca’s discovery of unique and sometimes mysterious collections of animals there –– from tiny zoos and pigeon societies to hand-painted natural history displays and quirky personal menageries. It was only eight years later, in 2008, that we hit upon the notion of putting our two very distinct bodies of work together to create a multi-layered portrait of Cuba.

Rebecca Norris Webb, Havana, Cuba, 2008.

Alex Webb, Cienfuegos, Cuba, 2007

Rebecca Norris Webb, Havana, Cuba, 2008.

Rebecca Norris Webb, Havana, Cuba, 2008

MJ: How many trips to Cuba did you take while making photos for this book, and what places and parts of the culture were you specifically trying to capture?

AW: We made 11 trips to Cuba. Besides our first trips that we took separately, we made six trips together from 2000 to 2005 and then four long trips in 2007 and 2008, when I was fortunate enough to have a Guggenheim Fellowship to continue photographing the island. I initially called my project Esperando because in Spanish the term means both “waiting” and “hoping,” a title that starts to get at my impression of the streets of Cuba.

REBECCA NORRIS WEBB: I originally called my project Three Rooms after the following quote by a Habanero whom I met, a gentle and soft-spoken man who raises cockatiels, love birds, and parakeets: I have three rooms in my house –– two are for my birds, and one is for my wife and me.”

For the past decade, I’ve been exploring the complicated relationship between people and the natural world. In the 25 cities I visited for my first book The Glass Between Us, I never witnessed anything quite like what I’ve seen on “the violet isle,” a little known nickname for Cuba inspired by the rich color of its soil. Nearly 700 miles across, Cuba is easily the largest island in the Caribbean and has its own endemic species, including the world’s smallest bat and the world’s smallest bird. Alex and I traveled nearly the entire length of the island in pursuit of our separate obsessions.

MJ: Why did it appeal to you to combine your two bodies of work into one book about Cuba? How are the images grouped in the book? More »

dpBestflowAfter two years of research by members Richard Anderson and Peter Krogh, ASMP announced the launch of its dpBestflow.org website at FotoWeekDC earlier this week. Shorthand for “Digital Photography Best Practices and Workflow,” the website, part of the three-tier project that includes a book and a traveling seminar series, aims to offer definitive guidelines for digital photography best practices and workflow.

Forbes Media announced yesterday that it has acquired digital magazine FlipGloss and its Digital Glossy Insert photo publishing platform. Launched about 8 months ago, FlipGloss combines search engine capabilities with the experience of flipping through photo content of a magazine, and users can click on objects in the photos to find out where to purchase an item or even be led to an advertiser’s website.

mr_foxWes Anderson’s new movie, Fantastic Mr. Fox, which opens in selected theaters today, is a stop-motion picture shot entirely using a Nikon D3 – over 600,000 stills that generate 18.5 terrabytes of data. According to movie review website IMDb, the beautifully art-directed adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic used Nikon D3 because it “offers a significantly higher resolution than even that of full High Definition.” Wired.com has a great “Making of” the movie here.

Google has cut the price for extra storage on its photo sharing site Picasa to about one eighth of what it used to cost. For $5 a year, now you can have 20GB photo storage on the site. “Since most people have less than 10GB of photos, chances are you can now save all your memories online for a year for the cost of a triple mocha,” according to the official Google Photos Blog.

Kodak’s new brand campaign named “It’s Time to Smile,” focuses on strengthening relationships by sharing important life moments, in pictures of course. Behind the happy message, though, is a not-so-cheery outlook. After thousands of layoffs and salary cuts earlier this year, the company reported yesterday its fourth quarterly loss in a row, PDN reported.

Jorge Colberg at Conscientious alerted us to an interesting interview with William Patry, senior copyright counsel at Google and author of a number of books on copyright law, including his recent Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. The interview covers topics from the AP-Fairey lawsuit to the moral imperative of copyright.

Popular news site The Daily Beast, in partnership with Global Philanthropy Group, has launched a philanthropy and photography site, The Giving Beast. Be sure to check out the galleries, featuring works of Sarah Elliot, Elizabeth Gilbert, Suzy Allman and other note-worthy photographers.

Despite some questions about its longevity, the New York Photo Festival will launch its third year in 2010, as Andrew Hetherington reported this morning on What’s the Jackanory? Lou Reed will be one of the lead curators this year, but Andrew tips his hat to Erik Kessels, whose 2008 NYPH conversation with Martin Parr was a highlight. We’re stoked about photo thought leaders Vince Aletti and Fred Ritchin (check out this excerpt from Ritchin’s recent book, too).

I blame my friends who work at three-letter agencies for the United States government. They are the ones who invited me to the Black Hat Technical Security Conference in Las Vegas to drink, have a good time, and learn how completely ignorant I was about online security.

Today, I am a changed person. What I previously deemed to be adequate, if not savvy, security precautions for my quotidian web use, I learned was the same as leaving a full camera bag with the top flipped open on the front seat of my parked car. Sure, the doors are locked, but it would take only the slightest initiative and about six seconds for someone to break the window and walk away with tens of thousands of dollars in gear. I know what you’re thinking. You would never do that. Okay, then take the quiz below. If you answer yes to any of these questions, I’ve got news for you: You’re way more vulnerable than you think.

  • Do any of your passwords contain a word that can be found in an English language dictionary or in a dictionary covering pop-culture references from the last 100 years?
  • Do you ever close a web window that is signed into an account of some kind without logging out of the account first?
  • Ever log in to your bank or credit card account without first checking if the lock symbol is active on your browser window?
  • Ever log in to your bank account or 401(k) from a free WiFi access point?
  • Ever open an email when you’re unsure where it came from?
  • Ever log in to a secure site from a borrowed computer?

Why we are the way we are
In spite of the news stories that circulate daily about online security breaches, we are surprisingly apathetic about the threats they pose to us personally. It’s like backing up your computer — it’s a secondary concern until you’re hit with disaster. Then, suddenly, you’re a convert to the church of redundancy.

Unfortunately recovering from a security breach is nowhere near as easy as recovering from a lost hard drive. With the latter you at least have an idea of what you’ve lost. You can lament it over a glass of wine and move on with your life. A security breach places the control of your social, financial, and photographic life in the hands of someone else. And the ramifications will potentially haunt you long after the initial breach.

Consider the following. A friend of mine had a huge falling out with a close friend, who guessed her email password and sent an inflammatory email to her entire address book. Most of the recipients realized her email address book had been compromised, but those who didn’t know her well were shocked. Ultimately she was able to contact everyone and inform them what happened — but you can imagine how things could have gone worse.

My friend, like many of us, never thought twice about the weak password on her email account. The convenience of an easy-to-type, easy-to-remember password took priority over other considerations. She could not fathom anyone using her email account maliciously.

This is what gets us into trouble. We’re good people and have an inherent problem thinking like criminals. It’s hard for us to see our online assets through criminal eyes and predict how to protect ourselves.

Squatting
A while back I was uploading images to the FTP directory of my web site when I was hit with a disk space error. An examination of my FTP server revealed dozens of unidentified folders, most filled with illicit pornography. My head spun. Given the nature of the material, I contacted my internet service provider, filed an official support ticket, and had them remove the files in case there were any legal protocols involved. A hacker had broken my FTP directory password and was serving up an entire website from my FTP directories for months without my knowledge. Oh man, I was pissed.

Unfortunately there was no way to trace the hacker. Moreover, and frightening to consider, if the authorities had found the illegal site before I did, I could have been arrested. An investigation would have revealed I had been hacked, but who needs that kind of grief?

If you’re utilizing a portfolio service like liveBooks that is monitored by a professional IT staff, you’re safer, but only if your password is strong. Weak passwords are the easiest way for a hacker to access to your account. If you do get hacked, liveBooks keeps a backup of your online portfolio going back a week onsite, and going back a month at a secure offsite facility. Recovery usually takes an hour. But don’t depend on those protocols unless you absolutely have to. Adopting safe practices is a lot easier and less expensive.

Good habits
So here we are at the basic security primer for photographers, or anyone else who spends most of their time online. This is by no means a definitive list, but it will help you think more carefully about your online habits. The information here was gathered from Black Hat, Craig Butterworth at the National White Collar Crime Center, and Carl Slawinski from Agile Web Solutions.

NEW HABIT 1 — Free WiFi: Never, ever, ever log in to your bank account or credit card account when you’re on a free WiFi access point. The reason you have to use a password to access most WiFi networks, especially your own, is because that password encrypts the information floating through the air between your computer and the WiFi hub. If the network is open, so is the information your sending over it.

NEW HABIT 2 — Passwords: The days of passwords drawn from kid’s birthdays, dog names, and Star Wars characters are over. I have seen a brute-force attack crack a weak password in minutes. With today’s powerful computers and free cracking dictionaries and rainbow tables available online, hackers can let computers run for days while they sort out passwords.

One of the most effective ways to keep your passwords strong, like ox, is to invest in a product like the highly regraded 1Password from Agile Web Solutions. I have been using the product for years, but only after my discussion with folks who make 1Password did I take my security to the next level.

1Password generates strong passwords, which it stores for you. When you need the password, the application will enter it for you with an easy key stroke. The generated passwords are so convoluted that you’d never be able to remember them, but that’s the point. 1Password is also on the iPhone so you can take your passwords with you. The file that they use to store your passwords is heavily encrypted and would take a supercomputer 128 years to crack it. More »

Posted in Contributors / Lou Lesko / Photography / Photojournalism and tagged with

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