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When I found out about the incredible cache of photos, audio recordings, and ephemera from America’s greatest photographers that Paul Waldman has collected through his work with the Living American Masters Photography Project, my first question was, “Where can you see it online?” The sad fact is, you can’t. Many of the portraits are available on Paul’s Facebook page, and he sent me several audio interviews. We are happy to give them a temporary home on RESOLVE, where we’ll run one “master’s story” per month, and we hope this exposure will help it find a permanent home soon.

Duane Michals, photographed by Paul Waldman for the Living American Masters Photography Project. Courtesy LAMPP

Miki Johnson: Tell me about how this project started.

Paul Waldman: After I left my position as managing editor of Zone Magazine, I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done, and that had both global and intimate scope. The Living American Master Photographers Project (LAMPP) grew out of this. At the time, far more emphasis was placed on photographic content as opposed to the individual artist. Nobody was studying the personal content of individual photographers. Portraits of these men and women, whose images were shaping society at a basic level, were not available.

I was appalled that as a society we weren’t in touch with what I considered a living national treasure: our photographic community. I began doing portraits, interviews, and occasionally both, with photographers starting in 1991. Back then, the idea of committing to an ongoing “living study” was somewhat foreign. At times, it is still difficult to convince people of LAMPP’s value as a social tool and document.

Many of the photographers resisted initially. Some had been “hunted” by fans who wanted a shot of them. But after the first ten or so portraits, a body of work began to emerge that was well received. Although my hopes for editorial assignments and assistant jobs from these encounters never materialized, what I ended up with had a greater value: some of the most rewarding personal relationships of my life.

MJ: What does a typical interview and portrait session look like?

PW: An interview is now a prerequisite for participation but in the beginning, it was an either-or proposition. I opted for the portraits, thinking I could always go back for a phone interview. There was never a template I followed; I think this enhanced the experience for both myself and the participant. Whenever possible, I tried to sit down and talk, not as an interview, but as two people sharing a beginning. Participants saw I wasn’t trying to coerce something out of them other than their love, experiences, and accumulated wisdom garnered from an eye within the craft.

Andreas Feininger by Paul Waldman. Courtesy LAMPP

I became close with Andreas Feininger and his wife Wysse. I’d often go up to their flat on 22nd and Broadway in Manhattan for tea. Jacques Lowe and I would talk about his time with JFK, his love of jazz, and his experiences photographing its legends. I did a portrait and interview on the road to and from Seligman, Arizona, with Allen Dutton and we remain close to this day.

When I photographed Sally Mann, Patrick Demarchelier was doing a street shoot as we were approaching our portrait location. I asked Sally if she wanted to meet Patrick and introduced them for the first time. There were other strange moments, like finally photographing Duane Michals in his basement laundry room after trying to meet with him for three years.

The first session I scheduled with Gordon Parks, a big Nor-Easter hit Manhattan. I realized there was no way it could happen as planned. When we finally met, there was a blizzard tearing through Manhattan. Snow appeared to fall parallel to the ground, as if it were orbiting the city.

MJ: Do you have a favorite image or story from a portrait session?

PW: That’s a challenge. Working with Bob McNeely at the White House under President Clinton was a privilege. After we’d met and he’d taken me down to the photo office, he needed to go and pick up his daughter from school. I told him not to worry, I’d be happy to hang out. Later, Bob snapped an image of the president and I as we talked about Bob’s daughter, who was quite young at the time. He had President Clinton sign the photo for me. Since then our friendship has blossomed. I recently spent a night out at his farm upstate from Manhattan, re-photographing him with his daughter — she was graduating high school!

Jill Enfield by Paul Waldman. Courtesy LAMPP

Most recently I photographed Barbara Bordnick at home. She was so moved by the experience, she asked if I’d record an extra track at the end of our interview. To my surprise she shared some moving words about my presence as a portraitist and her love for the LAMPP body of work. Barbara’s an amazing editorial portraitist; her unsolicited kindness was especially inspiring.

Jill Enfield was incredibly generous. She and husband Richard Rabinowitz let me stay in their home in Manhattan for an LAMPP trip. I was a stranger, having only spoken with her and Richard by phone. I arrived at 6am! Her two teenage daughters were sleeping as I quietly settled in. That kind of love and appreciation for the project’s mission has been particularly touching.

MJ: What about a good story about recording an interview with a photographer?

PW: A favorite audio recording is of AP legend Marty Lederhandler. His “Pigeon Story” from WWII’s D-Day is well known among many of the AP people, but few know it outside that circle.

Marty Lederhandler – “The Pigeon Story”

One of my favorite moments involved Sylvia Pericon, a student who volunteered to interview Steve McCurry for LAMPP. After the interview, we sat at a cafe in New York’s West Village and did a post-interview about her experience. She was so moved and energized. When Sylvia told her teachers about her LAMPP interview, they were amazed she had such an opportunity.

MJ: Where does all the content live? Where would you ideally like to see it?

PW: I am committed to the idea that this content should “live.” Because the project has been almost entirely my creation, the negatives, prints, audio, media kits, FAQs, quote selections, contributed letters, kudos, and rejections remain with me. One of my highest hopes is that LAMPP escapes my personal gravity, that other people get involved. In retrospect, I feel LAMPP has suffered in part from its perception as “my” project. I’d like to see it expand, for others to experience what I’ve been blessed with.

There’s so much undiscovered country, so many older masters and emerging masters who haven’t been tapped yet. For the past few years I’ve been trying to establish foreign satellites that would explore global perspectives through the LAMPP paradigm, the LMPP: International. As our planet becomes smaller through faster, richer, deeper communication and media distribution, methods of common experience will be instrumental in forging more meaningful international, intercultural relationships.

Gordon Parks by Paul Waldman. Courtesy LAMPP

I’d like to see LAMPP integrated into a higher education institution or museum with robust photographic programs if it does not attain its own self-sustaining presence as a foundation. The project needs space to expand, and the opportunity for participants and luminaries to visit for “micro residencies.” I’d like to see an interactive textbook created that students can collect and have signed by masters featured for that year.

MJ: What is the biggest challenge you face moving forward?

PW: Recently I’ve approached the Annenberg Space for Photography, The Smithsonian, and the Duke Center For Documentary Studies without so much as a commitment to an open dialogue. I find it ironic and disturbing that these institutions will feature an individual artist, but neglect the impact of the photographic community as a whole. It’s like trying to understand an orchestral piece by listening to one or two musicians individually.

“With each master’s passing, we loose the collected wisdom of a life.”

The deaths of many 20th century masters was a wake up call to the community. Creating an active interest in LAMPP before participants pass has also been particularly daunting. Getting contact information for possible candidates is fraught with obstacles. With each master’s passing we loose the collected wisdom of a life and the synergy of that information within the context of an individual, gifted and trained in the art of seeing, perceiving, touching. My hope is that this will become an additional source of income for photographers, as well as a boon for our emotional, social, cultural, and political evolution.

MJ: How can photographers help?

PW: The best way to help is to get involved. Become an LAMPP evangelist. I’d love to build a proactive board that embraces fundraising initiatives. It doesn’t have to be just photographers. LAMPP was designed for the American public trust. I’ve been in a photo lab so many times when the people working there didn’t know the seminal living or past master photographers.

We’re changing. The photographic image is omnipresent. I tell people there’s probably a photograph ten feet from them; they’re probably sitting or staring at one as we speak. That’s powerful stuff.

It’s nothing to be intimidated about; not knowing photographers by name or face. There’s so much out there to get excited about, to enjoy, to participate in. But in practical terms we need grant writers, legacy donors,  a LAMPP home, services, co-opt friends, associates, business partners, professional organizations, industry support, and interest from the government. That’s a wish list! Let everyone know we’re sharing vision; we’re growing sight through every man and woman’s contributed light.

Sean Gallagher, a photojournalist living and working in China, won a travel grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting in February for his work on the country’s desertification. After a whirlwind trip to complete his coverage, Sean returned with several photo stories, posted on the Pulitzer Center’s blog, that tell a complex story of climate change’s impact and how China is dealing with it. We asked Sean to talk about how he tackled such a long, complicated photo essay. In this post he talks about identifying the story, and he’ll follow up with posts about research, logistics, and maintaining momentum.
A lone farmer rides his tractor through a small rural village. ©Sean Gallagher. Courtesy Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting

A lone farmer rides his tractor through a small rural village. ©Sean Gallagher. Courtesy Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting

During my 1-year paid internship at Magnum Photos London in 2004-5, the then deputy director Hamish Crooks gave me and fellow interns some simple yet important advice on how to find newsworthy stories. “Pick up a newspaper and read.”

Hamish encouraged us to devour headlines to understand why people care enough about an issue to report on it. He also advised us to find topics we were passionate about on a personal level, rather than simply covering issues we were “expected” to cover. From that point on, I started to read news in a different way — always assessing its visual potential and gauging my own interest in the subject matter.

In the summer of 2007 I came across the subject of desertification in a news article. Images of villages and towns being swallowed by slowly moving sand dunes filled my mind. I imagined cracked earth in drought-stricken regions and intense sandstorms blocking out the sun. When you first consider covering an issue, it is inevitable that you conjure images that represent your preconceptions about it. Some turn out to be true, others don’t. One of the challenges of reporting on a subject is to confront your preconceptions and free yourself from them.

The challenge of reporting is to confront your preconceptions and free yourself from them.

I began my work on desertification in western China by taking two weeks to gauge the potential for this story. At the beginning of 2008 I received the first David Alan Harvey Fund for Emerging Photographers, which helped me continue this work and also look at other environmental issues in Asia. As I continued the desertification story, I started to look for other sources of funding to help me continue the work and enable me to push even deeper into the subject matter. This is when I discovered the work of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and their travel grants to cover under-reported issues, which I felt desertification definitely was.

Application for the Pulitzer Center grant involved writing a detailed project proposal and outlining logistical and financial planning for the entirety of the proposed project. My project also had to fall in line with the Pulitzer Center’s focus on, “enterprising reporting projects throughout the world with an emphasis on issues that are under-reported, mis-reported, or not reported on at all.” Even though I had first read desertification in an international publication, and had seen work on the same subject by other photographers, I still believed it was a vastly under-reported issue and deserved more attention.

In February of 2009 I received an email from Nathlaie Applewhite, the Associate Director of the Pulitzer Center, informing me that my application for the grant had been successful. At that point I began my preparations and logistical planning for 6-weeks on the road. Needless to say, there was a lot to do!

The International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP) has thought outside the box since Cristina Mittermeier and several other top conservation photographers founded it in 2005. Membership in the league is by invitation only and its photographers have found innovative ways to create tangible change on conservation issues, as with their Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions (RAVEs), where a handful of photographers tackle a specific issue to produce multimedia content and raise awareness. Trevor Frost joined the ILCP staff in March as the RAVE director, and has also helped expand the organization’s use of social media as a publicity and community-building tool. Recognizing that fewer funds would be flowing to the non-profit during this economic downturn, the ILCP has embraced tools like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to further their cause for small amounts of cash — a lesson that photographers of all kinds can learn from.
©Barry Goldwater, courtesy ILCP

An image from the ILCP Borderlands RAVE. ©Krista Schlyer

Miki Johnson: How did ILCP decide it wanted to focus more on social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as online community building?

Trevor Frost: As a young photographer and explorer, I’ve had to spend many hours networking to get to where I am now. So when I joined ILCP as the Director of Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions, I thought it would be great to make a online avenue for others like me to meet and work with the accomplished photographers, scientists, and explorers that make up our organization.

ILCP already does a good job at facilitating communication between members, especially our emerging league and experienced fellows. But ILCP members have little communication with others who aspire to be photographers or conservationists, yet are not quite skilled enough photographically to be a member of the ILCP. By providing a social media platform for this communication, we can link less experienced photographers, explorers, and scientists with members of our group who are very experienced. This will help support new talent, create a community beyond membership in the ILCP, broaden the reach of ILCP, and, we hope, lead to higher conservation achievements.

©Janos, courtesy ILCP

From the ILCP Borderlands RAVE. ©Krista Schlyer

MJ: What online tools is ILCP utilizing to extend its communication?

TF: ILCP is focusing on Twitter and our new online magazine/blog to generate a community and to catalyze connections between conservationists, scientists, and photographers. With the online magazine/blog we hope to create a digital outlet that photographers will want to be published in, something they want to put on their resume. We also hope it becomes a platform for communication and critique, and offers a place to publish stories that have been rejected by traditional media.

On Twitter we are starting off by posting links to websites and news stories that feature ILCP or its photographers, affiliates, and partner organizations. Eventually we will expand this to include a wide range of interesting conservation topics. People only want to follow Twitterers with the most interesting updates.

One major goal of all of this is to drive increased traffic to our websites and multimedia pieces, which help disseminate conservation messages. The increased web traffic should also help us forge new relationships with corporate partners by offering an opportunity for brand exposure. At this point ILCP’s involvement in social media is in its infancy. Aside from our followers and fans increasing on Twitter and Facebook, we have not seen direct benefits yet. We do, however, expect to see benefits over the course of the next year.

©Ian Shive, courtesy ILCP

From the ILCP Borderlands RAVE. ©Ian Shive

MJ: Why did ILCP decide to focus its resources on social media and online tools?

TF: When people ask how they can help non-profits they almost always hear: Please donate. This is frustrating. People want to get their hands dirty. Many of the most successful conservation projects involve citizen science and participation. When people have a chance to work along side well-known scientists or photographers it, makes them VERY excited about the subject and, I believe, it motivates them to become more involved, including donating money.

ILCP membership is based heavily on one skill — the ability to produce stunning images. Thus the ILCP can seem elitist. We realize there are many photographers who take brilliant images and work very hard on conservation who are not quite to the standard of ILCP, but who could still benefit from working with ILCP in some way. Using social media, we can create an extended ILCP community without actually extending membership.

We hope that this will help our followers grow as photographers and conservationists, so at some point they can join ILCP as a member. This also fosters communication, moderated by ILCP, between emerging photographers and the extremely talented members of the ILCP. All of this empowers conservation. The bigger the army, the better!

MJ: Have ILCP members embraced this new social media initiative?

TF: I don’t have any concrete numbers or names but in the last two months I have noticed, especially on Twitter, more of our members tweeting. Even some of members with more years under their belts.

There are certainly a few of our members who are quite skilled with social media tools. Not surprisingly, most of them are our younger members or emerging members. A few names that come to mind are Chris Linder and Ian Shive. Both have helped ILCP produce the first Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition blog (Borderlands RAVE) in addition to a few other projects.

There are two upcoming Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions (RAVE): one to the Flathead basin in British Columbia in July 2009 and one to the Yucatan Peninsula in September 2009. Stay tuned for a RAVE website with field dispatches, the ability to track expedition members, and live photos and video.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: How have you used social media to lower your publicity and communication expenses? What online communities are you part of and how involved in them do you feel?

Conservation photographer Daniel Beltrá was named the winner of The Prince’s Rainforests Project (PRP) Award at this year’s Sony World Photography Awards Gala ceremony in Cannes, France. The award includes a three-month expedition to document threatened tropical rainforests in the Amazon, Africa, and Indonesia, all fully funded by Sony Eco. Daniel has turned his passion for nature and his frequent work for Greenpeace into an award-winning career, including World Press Photo, Pictures of the Year International, National Press Photographers Association, and Lucies awards — he calls his recent success “a snowball.” We couldn’t help but ask what got the snowball rolling in the first place.
Big river boat trapped on a sand bank East of Barreirinha, Brazil, during one of the worst droughts ever recorded in the Amazon. ©Daniel Beltra

Big river boat trapped on a sand bank East of Barreirinha, Brazil, during one of the worst droughts ever recorded in the Amazon. ©Daniel Beltra

Miki Johnson: You are obviously very passionate about nature and conservation issues. Where does that passion come from?

Daniel Beltra: Really since I was a kid I was passionate about nature and photography. I was interested at first in being an agency photojournalist, and I managed to get a staff position with EFE — the Spanish national agency. I was shooting all kinds of stories, but still with a taste for nature. I never finished college but I did a couple years of forestry engineering and four years of biology. Then I got tired of the normal day-to-day photographic work –- from the press conference to the basketball match to a demonstration. I wanted to do stories more in depth. I ended up quitting my job and I started working for Gamma, which allowed me to shoot stories that I selected and to give them more time.

At the same time I started shooting for Greenpeace, which opened this whole world to me as a photographer. That was really an incredible opportunity. All of a sudden I found myself traveling to Polynesia or the Antarctic or to Patagonia. So I was really on the frontier where many of these environmental issues were happening.

I got started with Greenpeace when I was a staff photographer in Spain. I talked to their local branch and they said, we do a lot with the media, so if something is going on in your area we’ll let you know. They called me one day and said they were doing a mammal survey on the Mediterranean. So I talked with my boss at EFE and he said, “Yeah right. What’s the news? And you want to take two weeks to do it?” I ended up convincing him to let me go on my own holiday time. I went with the agreement that if the story was good enough, the agency would distribute it. I was willing to go on my holiday because I was really passionate about it and I saw that it was a great opportunity.

Shooting for Greenpeace opened up this whole world to me.

I had a great time, they ended up distributing the story, and Greenpeace really liked it too. They came back to me and said, if you want to work with us, we’d be really happy to have you. But I was a staff photographer and I couldn’t. Then in 1992 I quit my job and started working with Greenpeace in Spain and also Greenpeace International, which is based in Holland. Since then I’ve been really involved with them. From 1992 until I moved to the United States in 2001 I was the Spain correspondent for Gamma. And often Gamma would say, “Are you working for Greenpeace or are you working for us?” Because I always wanted to go on the Greenpeace assignments. Of course Gamma had interesting assignments, but it’s very hard to compete with someone saying, “Do you want to go on a survey of the Arctic for three months on an icebreaker?” That was a no-brainer for me.

Greenpeace is my main client by far. They don’t employ any staff photographers; they work only with freelancers. I think they are clever the way they always want to have names in the industry that are recognized. So there’s a bit of a separation between the activism and the professional journalist that comes in. And in my case I try to keep that line separated, but deep in my soul I am very loyal to Greenpeace. But they don’t tell me what to shoot or anything. Of course they tell me they want a story about the Amazon, but once I’m there they don’t say show this, don’t show that.

Things are really changing with non-profits. I get the feeling that some non-profits can afford to pay regular market fees now. Maybe not 100%, but 75%. I think Greenpeace is very clever…they decided what are the best means to reach the public and inform the most people. And good photography or good video is a great tool. So to put someone that can do a great job in a situation that is very interesting and then they expose that in the media, it tends to work very well.

I feel that my work has more impact now than when I was a photojournalist. Not because I am better, but because of the situations I’m working in. I’m not only documenting what’s happening, but there’s a really strong will to change the situation. Greenpeace has pioneered that.


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