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Still Life Photography

For Lisa Wiseman, a San Francisco-based editorial and commercial photographer, it’s important that her portfolio convey her “eye,” the way she sees, no matter what camera she’s using. That’s why, despite her initial hesitancy, she began showing personal work as part of her book and online portfolio last year. This year she was named one of PDN’s 30 — in part because of her “New Polaroids” personal project, taken entirely on her iPhone.

©Lisa Wiseman (2)

Name: Lisa Wiseman
Website:
lisawiseman.com
Age: 27
Location:
San Francisco
Full-time job:
Photographer

Personal project name and short description
The New Polaroid — This project is shot completely with my iPhone and is an exploration of iPhone as the new Polaroid. As the iPhone is becoming a ubiquitous and trendy accessory, on-the-go picture taking is now the norm. I see people using their iPhones to take spontaneous photos in the same carefree way that cheap Polaroid has been used in the past. In concept and ideology, the iPhone mimics Polaroid; however, it pushes the aesthetic forward by utilizing a new non-film (but technologically infantile) medium. Just like traditional Polaroids had a specific size and unique look, iPhone photos are unmistakable because the technology limits them to a fixed size and resolution and imbues them with a unique chromatic aberration that says “iPhone” and nothing else.

©Lisa Wiseman (2)

When and why did you start it?
I have been shooting with my iPhone since I got it approximately two years ago. I started showing The New Polaroid alongside my portraiture portfolios on my website and in my book in June, 2008, along with other personal work including a project shot on traditional Polaroid film. It was important to me to show my potential clients another side of my shooting personality — I wanted creatives to have a feel for what the world looks like to me and what I photograph when I’m not shooting portraits. With a wider breadth of work encompassing still lifes and interiors, I wanted to show that my vision carries through everything I shoot. Showing personal work has directly led to jobs, and when I show my work in person my work seems to resonate more with the viewer because it includes the iPhone images and traditional Polaroids.

©Lisa Wiseman (2)

Do you have a particular image you are especially drawn to so far? More »

Gene Higa is a destination wedding photographer based in San Francisco, but he’s got great tips for all kinds of photographers. In today’s Tip of the Week, Gene talks about the importance of discovering and distilling your photographic style in order to build a successful brand from it.

“Shoot A LOT and figure out what you’re really good at.”

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Gene has some great tips lined up, but we’re always eager to hear what you’d like to know more about. Leave your questions in the comments (with a link to your website, of course) and Gene will be happy to respond.

There’s nothing more ego shattering than interviewing a photographer who is as old as my career is long and finding out that she has kicked my ass in a market place that I coveted for years. Shooting book covers for literary works is downright respectable in a bizarre, pseudo-erudite sort of way.

“Did you read Rolling’s Recalcitrant Ruminations of Ruskin?”

“Why no darling, but I did shoot the image for the cover of the hardback.”

“Oh, bravo. Glass of sherry?”

I tried to get into that publishing circle for years. To say that they didn’t give two shits about me is, to be honest, crediting myself with one shit too many. Which brings me to my guest, photographer Claire Rosen. She was recently contacted by the boutique global publishing firm Random House to shoot the cover (left) of Sarah Addison Allen’s book The Girl who Chased the Moon.

The folks at Random House were intrigued by Miss Rosen’s distinct style of photography when they came across it at one of her gallery openings. The assignment (I’m not joking): Read the book and pitch some ideas of how the cover should be shot. The folks at Random House chose one of the ideas and Claire was, (I promise, I’m not joking), free to go shoot it and send in the results.

That kind of paid creative freedom with a high-profile client is practically nonexistent in contemporary society. Not only do you get paid to do your creative thing, you can window shop at a Barnes and Noble on a date and feign surprise when you see your book cover. If I want to accidentally-on-purpose show off my book cover I have to start a fire in the café of the book store, convince my date that it’s safest in the photography section and then use my book to fan away the smoke. “You okay? Hey look at that!”

Gigs like Miss Rosen’s can become a wonderful source of work. In just a week since receiving her first assignment, she has landed another book cover. If you’re interested in doing this type of work, you need to keep one thing in mind: The people at publishing houses who are green-lighting covers aren’t looking for photographers. They are looking for covers.

I reached out to a senior art director at Little, Brown Books to find out what he’s looking for from photographers. He suggests going to the bookstore to find covers, illustrated or photographic, that are similar to your narrative style. Check the imprint names on the books’ spines and contact those publishers to get the name of their art director.

The best way to reach out art directors is by mailing a hard-copy promo with an example of your work. Email promos have become the bane of art directors, my contact said. The barrage of email promos from listing services has resulted in a backlash, and they are routinely deleted out of hand.

One phrase that stood out in my interview with the Little, Brown art director was “cover appropriate.” Take the time to do your research. If your work doesn’t look like any cover you’ve seen, then don’t send it to the publishers.

With all that in mind, take a day and hang out at the bookstore — you could find a whole new direction for your photography business. Just please pretend not to notice if you see a guy in the café torching a pile of coffee beans.

Darius Himes is a founding member of Radius Books, where he is an acquiring editor; prior to that he was the founding editor of photo-eye Booklist. In 2008, he was named by PDN as one of fifteen of the most influential people in photo book publishing. This year he is the lead judge of the Photography.Book.Now International Juried Competition. With the deadline approaching — July 16, 2009 — we thought we’d pick Darius’ brain about the contest, self-publishing, and what makes a photo book successful.

Baghdad Suite by Andrew Phelps. ©Andrew Phelps

Miki Johnson: Why is this such an exciting time for photo books?

Darius Himes: Books are amazing vehicles that have been with humans for millennia and have a fascinating history as objects of beauty, as well as conveyors of ideas. Books are also physical objects with a rich history of scripts, fonts, inks, papers, bindings and photographic reproduction techniques. For centuries, however, these skills and literacy itself was held by “the few.” Only in the last century have we seen a marked increase in the amount of printed material available. And when it comes to photography books, the print-on-demand phenomenon has truly transformed the landscape. Literally anyone has the capacity and the access to publish a book of images.

MJ: Now that anyone can make a book, it seems even more important for a photographer to establish their goals for a book before they begin assembling it.

DH: Setting out with a clear purpose is crucial to any endeavor. Photographers are creating books for a wide range of uses, from leave-behind portfolio pieces intended solely to garner assignments, all the way to conceiving and creating mass market books on any number of subjects.

MJ: Is this why the Photography.Book.Now contest has three separate categories?

DH: Yes. The three categories of this years’ contest are designed to let photographers approach the idea of a “photography book” from three different angles. The fine-art category is extremely broad and the most subjective. Photographers and photo-based artists can do whatever they want to produce their book. Often, these books are made by practicing artists and have little regard for communicating a specific narrative to a large audience.

Editorial photography, the second category, is a different animal. But let me state something at the outset: I’m not interested in, or trying to stoke the debate about, what constitutes “art” photography. Anything done well is done artfully. If it serves the goals that one sets out with, then “art” has been employed. I don’t want anyone to think that any of the three categories don’t somehow employ art or doesn’t constitute artfully done work.

Bamboo Fences by Osamu Suzuki. ©Osamu Suzuki, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

Editorial and commercial photographers often serve patrons other than themselves; this the a big distinction. So, an editorial photographer assigned to cover a story may find themselves with a much larger body of work than will ever get published in a magazine. Likewise, a commercial shooter might have photographic skills that can be translated into a “commercial” book project; publishers also conceive of book projects in-house and then commission commercial photographers for the book.

Perhaps some concrete examples would help. This new book from Princeton Architectural PressBamboo Fences, by Isao Yoshikawa and Osamu Suzuki — is a great example of a commercial book project. It’s about a very specific subject — bamboo fence building in Japan — and the photographs by Suzuki perfectly illustrate the work. It’s primarily a photobook, but is supplemented by the text. Here’s another example: Bird, by Andrew Zuckerman. It has a specific subject matter artfully photographed by a commercial photographer. The publisher, Chronicle Books, probably hopes the audience for this book — and by that I mean ultimate sales for the book — will be upwards of 50,000+.

Two examples of books that have a broad “trade” appeal, but which are not “commercial” books like the ones above, are Jonah Frank’s Right, Portraits from the Evangelical Ivy League (Chronicle Books), and Articles of Faith by Dave Jordano (Center for American Places). In my mind, both of these books probably stemmed from assignments that blossomed into the book-length projects we see in the stores. Both have more of a storytelling quality to them than either Bamboo Fences or Bird. In that sense,  they come out of a “documentary” tradition, but are presented in an appealing way to as broad an audience as possible.

MJ: What uses does a self-published book lend itself to? Do photographers use them to collect images that didn’t warrant prints? Or as an alternative for a portfolio? Or a leave-behind? Or a family gift?

DH: All of the things you mention, I’ve seen. I’ve also seen photographers use the self-publishing, print-on-demand technology to create “limited run” books. Photographer Andrew Phelps took a small body of work called Baghdad Suite and issued a self-published, print-on-demand book of only 100 copies, which sold out rather quickly. It’s a great idea to use this technology to disseminate a body of work that is either small, in terms of number of images, or limited, in terms of it’s appeal or audience.

Right by Jona Frank. ©Jona Frank, courtesy Chronicle Books.

MJ: In your eyes, what makes a photo book great?

DH: From John Gossage, as quoted in The Photobook: A History, Volume 1 (Phaidon, 2004): “Firstly, it should contain great work. Secondly, it should make that work function as a concise world within the book itself. Thirdly, it should have a design that complements what is being dealt with. And finally, it should deal with content that sustains an ongoing interest.”

When you’re making a book for a broader audience, think like a publisher. Visit publisher websites, read the catalog copy, and craft your book the way they craft their books. Every publisher approaches things differently. If you consistently like books from one publisher, really study how they put together a book. A book from Princeton Architectural Press is quite different from a book by Radius Books. In other words, learn from those already in the field.

Often photographers, naturally so, get wrapped up in the individual images and either lose sight of the overall picture and purpose of the book, or they simply never arrive at an overall picture, and the book lacks focus.

And don’t forget that a book is not just a bunch of CMYK printed images sandwiched between two boards. Text and titles, fonts and captions, of course editing and sequencing, as well as how the image sits on the page-spread and what it is placed next to — all of these little elements can make or break a book.

MJ: Do you have an example of a self-published book that has been very successful?

DH: The most famous example is Alec Soth. In 2003, Alec came to Review Santa Fe, an annual portfolio review event, looking for exposure and a publisher for a body of work titled Sleeping by the Mississippi. What we all know is that, after the exposure he received there — he won the Santa Fe Prize that year — his small print-on-demand book made it into the hands of Steidl, where it has now entered it’s third printing. Alec received huge recognition for his work in the intervening years and is now part of the prestigious Magnum agency. Martin Parr and Gerry Badger included Alec’s handmade book in Volume 2 of their seminal survey of photography books, The Photobook: A History (Phaidon).

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: What is your favorite photo book and why?

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