Category "Photographers"

The Greatest Pictures From 2008

- - Photographers

I’ve had my fill of the news oriented best pictures of the year lists so I wanted to create my own but I’m a little too lazy to do all the research (the bohemian would agree). Maybe you could give me a hand.

I’ll start off with two amazing covers. Peter Yang’s photo of Obama for Rolling Stone (here) and Platon’s cover of Willie Nelson for Texas Monthly (here). It’s so rare that a great photograph is made into a cover that these really had an impact on me.

Brent Stirton’s Gorilla killing story was one of those pieces that kept popping up everywhere and seems to win an award in every contest it was entered: http://www.brentstirton.com/feature-gorillas.php

Pieter Hugo’s hyena men is another incredible subject executed perfectly by a great photographer: http://www.pieterhugo.com/nigeria/index.html

Damon Winter deserves an award for breaking out of the pack of heavy political coverage this year. His Obama pictures for the NYTimes are stunning: slideshow here

Roger Ballen is of course an incredibly talented and original photographer but it was his performance/talk at the NY photo festival that had everyone buzzing.

Who else deserves recognition?

Chris Buck Interview (Part 2)

- - Photographers

“You have to be really ambitious but you have to balance that with patience. You have to have both.”

This is part two of my interview with Chris Buck (part one here). I mentioned yesterday how shoots with Chris always came in to the office with pleasant surprises in the contacts. Unexpected shots. I had assumed this was because he was coming up with ideas on the fly, but that’s not quite how it works. Read on to see how Chris manages to achieve these little surprises, how he arrived at his style and so much more.

APE: Was there a eureka moment with your photography where you thought I’m onto something or this feels really good to me?

Chris with Dr. Joyce Brothers, Fort Lee, NJ, 1996, photo by Paul Costello

Chris with Dr. Joyce Brothers, Fort Lee, NJ, 1996, photo by Paul Costello

The build up of my career has been very gradual. There were benchmarks, but they were so far into my career that it didn’t feel like they changed the momentum or direction of my career. When I was about 30, which was 6 years in there was a turning point, because I began to see the various influences on my work come into play and it felt like maybe I’d arrived at having some kind of visual style. If it existed before that I hadn’t seen it. I’d always envied the people in photo school who had a visual style right out of the gate. I didn’t have that. I had an interest in a certain subject matter, but I didn’t have a visual style. it It was probably a good instinct that I didn’t push it, because eventually it found me.

 Elvis Costello, New York, 1994

Elvis Costello, New York, 1994

Anyway, one of the pictures that felt like it had that visual style and oddly it’s an Irving Penn homage is a picture of Elvis Costello. What it has in it that feels like me is a certain discomfort with the physical body. There’s a lot of work in ’94 that I’m very proud of that show markers of on my style There’s a certain kind of awkwardness with the body, a certain kind of framing and a certain distance from the subject. Then just a little bit of a sense of humor that creeps in subtly. My pictures of Chris Farley and Julia Child would fall in there too and those were shot within a few weeks of each other.

Chris Farley, New York, 1994

Chris Farley, New York, 1994

Julia Child, New York, 1994

Julia Child, New York, 1994

I think that may also be a function of having testicular cancer and turning 30 at the time as well. I remember thinking that I had always thought one day I want to be as good as Irving Penn. But then I came to some kind of recognition that I will never be as good as Irving Penn, so I’m just going to be who I am and it will be fine. Recognizing that made me step into my skin more comfortably and in a weird way helped me to get to the point where maybe someday I could be as good as Penn.

APE: On your contact sheets there are Chris Buck moments and there are pictures of people standing around. How do you get clients to pick the Chris Buck moments?

I think to be a great photographer you have to be a great editor of your work. I look at the photographers I admire and a lot of it is in the editing. When I look at my contact sheets I think of it as being a sculptor. How they start off with this big piece of stone and they chip away till they find whatever it is they’re trying to create.

When you go into a shoot you have your intentions and your hopes, but when you look at your contact sheets you have to do the best that you can to separate those hopes and intentions from what you actually have. Because, you may have some gems in there that don’t really connect to what you were trying to get out of the shoot. You sometimes just have to go with that so you whittle down the shots to find the perfect piece in the middle. I do a first edit and then a second edit to get down to those 6 frames to hand in.

APE: Do you have a few secrets about the business that you can share with us?

You have to be really ambitious but you have to balance that with patience. You have to have both.

APE: Can you tell me something you did early on in your career that led to your success?

Living with my parents. It allowed me financial flexibility. For the first five years of my career I didn’t make much money, but I kinda didn’t need to. I lived at home and saved money and then that little bit of money I saved I brought to New York with me when I moved here and I lived off that. In New York I basically only took the jobs I really wanted, so I wasn’t sitting around thinking what compromises do I need to make to make a living. I ended up doing jobs pretty much how I wanted. Even when I did shoots that were commercial I always shot stuff for me as well, so when I got to the point where I had some success, my original vision was largely intact. That was really, really crucial.

I didn’t want to become one of these people who starts off kinda interesting with some edge and then 15 years in you have a successful commercial career but the pictures are unmoving and not very interesting. Not compromising served me well, because when I started getting commercial work, I only got top level commercial work, but there is also a price to pay. I’m not nearly as successful as I’d like to be in magazines or in advertising. There are a lot of subjects I don’t get access to because I don’t make overly flattering pictures or power portraits. In this last political year I got one call and that was to photograph Al Franken. So, I’m definitely aware of the work I lose because of how I shoot, but don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to come off as sour grapes. Ok, look there’s some bitterness about it but still in the end I will choose having the career I have, doing the pictures I like, as opposed to another career where I get all the access.

APE: I wanted to ask you about marketing. What are your thoughts about marketing and how important is it for your career.

2009 is going to be a really big promotional year for me. It’s sort of lined up with the way I’m redoing my website because besides the main portfolio I’m adding a bunch of sections that I can launch every two months, so it gives me an excuse to send a little email like “hey, I’m doing a thing” to clients and I’ll have a rotating gallery that’s themed as well. I’ve been shooting long enough that I can show all pictures with a red theme or pictures with musicians. The new site will launch quietly between Christmas and New Years.

APE: I tell photographers all the time that if you want people to come visit your site you got to put something new up there. Don’t send that email every month that says go check out my site because I checked it out the last time you sent it to me.

It seem like young photographers are better about updating their sites and portfolios maybe.

APE: Yes.

They probably have more time but they also have more to prove. They’re also getting better so the last shoot they’ve done may be the best one they’ve done.

APE: I’ve found the young photographers to be incredibly savvy and they’re using the web, blogging and projects to get their work out there.

I believe there are two kinds of photographers. There are those who look at other peoples work and there are those who don’t. I’m not one to look at someone else’s work. I find it more distracting than helpful. I tend to be generous with young photographers and I’m open to meeting with people but I don’t really look at my competitors work.

APE: That actually fits with how I would describe your photography because I think the pictures are quite unexpected. So, maybe looking at the work of other photographers would invade your thoughts.

Yeah, maybe.

APE: Is marketing a big part of becoming successful as a photographer?

I do think it’s important. There’s not a lot of opportunities for Photo Editors or Art Buyers to actually meet the photographers so if you can send out a printed piece and email that has some personality they can get a sense of who you are and how you might deal with subjects and how pleasant you might be to deal with on the phone. That stuff is crucial to getting jobs. People are still gonna hire people that they kind of like the vibe of.

Chris Buck Warwick (Chris Buck's Chris Bucks series), UK, 2005

Chris Buck Warwick (Chris Buck's Chris Bucks series), UK, 2005

I don’t market as much as I should and to be honest I got to the point where the work I was creating on shoots assignments wasn’t holding together well enough enough as a group for a little booklet to send out. So, I started shooting from scratch for my promo pieces and I’ve been shooting three projects over the last two and a half years, two of which are ready now and I’ve got one that I’m going to shoot for another year or two. The two that are pretty much shot are ISN’T, a series of portraits of celebrity look-a-likes, and Chris Buck’s Chris Bucks, which are all portraits of other people with my name.

APE: I have this idea about how you shoot, that everything happens on set. Do you know what the picture is going to be beforehand?

I do a lot of research before a portrait shoot, because I don’t want to go into a shoot scratching my head thinking what am I going to do here and I don’t really have time during the shoot to come up with ideas.

Here’s a typical shoot: I’m given an assignment, I research the person a bit, read some interview’s, then talk to the magazine and finally go away and write up 7 different ideas for shots. I’ll go somewhere quiet and sit and think of ideas. I also have a list of ideas that I’ve been building over the last 10 years or so.

APE: Wait, you have a written down list with 10 years of ideas?

Oh, it’s like 10 ten pages long, but I’ll get back to that in a minute. So, I come up with a rough list, just free association ideas like 2 or 3 pages on a notepad. Then I’ll go back and see, what can I really build an idea on here, then I’ll email the magazine and say here’s what I’m thinking but I won’t tell them all my ideas, maybe half of them and these are only the ideas I’m seriously thinking of considering. I don’t tell them all the ideas because I don’t want them to come back and say no to things that I know I can pull off relatively easily. I might buy a simple prop and have an idea that I can do with the subject that I don’t even need to tell them. I always have ideas I tell them and ideas I don’t, because if I tell them and they say no then I do it anyway, they will ask why I’m wasting time on ideas they’re not interested in.

Billy Bob Thornton, Los Angeles, 2001

Billy Bob Thornton, Los Angeles, 2001

When I actually go into the shoot I’ve learned I need to be ready to throw the ideas away if I realize they’re not going to work out or something better comes along. So, when I go to location I start over again with my pad of paper and write down places I think are interesting. Then I go back to my original idea list and say I want to throw out these and keep these. One of the reasons I mentioned this is I really put a full range of ideas from “this person will do anything” to “this person will do nothing” in case I need to find a safe shot that will still be visual. For example when I shot with Buzz Aldrin he was very uncomfortable being shot and he wanted to know why we were doing each shot, so I had to place him in a beautiful environment and all he had to do was sit there and the shot looked really cool. But there’s other people who are willing to do crazy shit and you want to be ready for that because you can’t always know. For example when I shot Billy Bob Thornton I had this idea of him urinating on the backdrop and amazingly he said yes so I try to be ready for both. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way because I’ve gotten in there with someone and they’re like “what have you got? let’s Let’s go crazy” and I wished I’d prepared for it.

You thought that I work it out on the spot but the reason why I make the notes is I get really nervous. So, otherwise I’d just forget.

APE: Ok, back to this master list. When do the ideas go on the list?

After the shoot I’ll put the ideas I didn’t use on the list. But on a new shoot I definitely go to the master list last because I don’t want to be recycling ideas I’ve already thought of. I want to come up with something new. I think the best ideas are the fresh ones anyways but when I’m not sure of what I have I’ll go back to that list, but it literally will take me 45 minutes to go through it. It’s so detailed now.

APE: Are there ideas at the beginning of the list that you’ve never done that are good ideas.

There are ideas on here that are so crazy I don’t think I will ever do them. That would be a great idea for a book, to actually shoot every idea on the list.

APE: That would take you like a year.

No, no that would take me ten years. Here I’ll break out the list and read to you from it. Alright well I actually have 2 two lists. One list is the original list I made which is broken into sections like: Working The Location, Location Ideas, Lighting, Poses, Styling, Props, Backdrops and Studios, Technical Stuff and then General Approaches. And then I have a section called Vows and Declarations which is just things I want to be doing in the future or whatever. Then I’ve got another list and it’s basically a list of people I’ve photographed and the ideas I wanted to do with them and didn’t do. So here’s the top of the list:

Moby: with a fat whore, broken glass, bubbles, pulling an actual prank, in the trunk of a car, hotel lobby with his pants down, not exciting.

Obviously some of it is very vague like “not exciting.” That could be anything. Once I do a shot I take it off the list because it’s a successful execution and I don’t want to do it anymore.

Werner Herzog: Taxidermy rooster (he thinks roosters are evil), holding a bunny, feeding an animal while dressed as the same type of animal, with a celebrity impersonator, doing something precarious, drinking from a water fountain, washing his face.

APE: What about working with publicists. It must be a challenge for you to get some of these ideas past the publicist.

For a long time I just kind of ignored publicists and if they stepped in and said “we’d rather not do that” obviously I respected their wishes but I’ve learned through experience that some publicists are shy people and they need to be invited into the process. That’s something I actively do now and it’s working out really well.

There’s often some aspect of compromise on my part. They will say “you know Chris I see why it’s an interesting picture but I don’t see our subject doing that.” I find they tend to say “we will do this but we wont do that.” I don’t present ideas that are terrible so I’ll say “I love this idea will you give it a go” and more times than not they will say “yeah, why not” or they’ll say “let’s do a test and see how it looks.” If I deal with them one to one they tend to be very open. Most tend to be very open to what I want to do.

APE: But, not always, right?

Here’s the idea I had for William Shatner: In the living room wearing a bathing suit dripping on the carpet. I told him that idea and he was like, “that’s the worst idea I have ever heard.”

So, I shot a picture of him getting arrested and crossed “getting arrested” off my list.

William Shatner, Los Angeles, 2005

William Shatner, Los Angeles, 2005

Chris Buck Interview

- - Photographers

“I think there’s a certain arrogance that goes with wanting to do something like this.”

That’s Chris Buck telling me what it takes to become a photographer; it’s one of many astute insights he had when I talked to him on the phone several weeks ago. Chris is one of my all time favorite photographers. I worked with him several times when I was Photo Directing and the best part is always when you get that box of contacts after a shoot because it feels like Christmas morning when you open it. There are the smartly executed pictures you talked about and then there are always surprises, pictures and ideas you weren’t expecting in there as well. You will discover why that happens and more perceptive insights into the business in part two of this interview tomorrow.

I consider Chris to be one of the great editorial portrait photographers of our generation, he also cares very deeply about the business of photography and was very generous with his time for this interview. Here’s what we talked about:

APE: You just had your 20th anniversary.

That’s 20 years just being a full time photographer not making a living any other way. I say that because that’s how I define being a photographer.

APE: Yeah, that’s how I define professional photographer as well.

I was the photo editor at a pop magazine in Canada called Graffiti for a year after getting out of college.

APE: I would love to get a snapshot of what you were like 20 years ago and what was going through your head.

Funny you should ask, because I just ran across this footage from 21 years ago where I was interviewing my mom and sister and they turned the camera on me and started asking me questions, “what are you up to, what are your plans for the future” and I talk a little bit about how I want to photograph bands and I want to photograph other people and just shoot portraits for a long long time. It’s amazing because I ended up saying what I ended up doing.

APE: So, what made you think you could become a professional photographer 20 years ago?

Well, obviously I wasn’t totally sure. I think there’s a certain arrogance that goes with wanting to do something like this. I was living in Toronto at the time, I looked around at the photography that was being made in Toronto at the time and thought, this is really lame, this is not the way portraits should be done. And I think that was the impetuous that gave me fuel to last me through the first five years, when I was really not making a living financially.

Chris with Peter Buck and Lional Richie, Toronto, 1986, photo by Howard Druckman

Chris with Peter Buck and (cardboard) Lional Richie, Toronto, 1986, photo by Howard Druckman

APE: That’s a pretty bold statement to make. It’s not something you would really hear from photographers today.

I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I had a fair amount of humility, I still lived with my parents in the suburbs. I considered assisting and looked around and thought there were two, probably actually one photographer that I felt like I could learn something from and so that’s how I felt. I saw the work I was doing at the time and felt it was as good and I kind of imagined what I could do and thought it was far more interesting than what was being done. I really think that’s important and If you don’t feel that way at the beginning of your career or after a year or so out of college then you probably shouldn’t be shooting.

Anton Corbijn, Toronto, 1987

Anton Corbijn, Toronto, 1987

One of the things I say to young photographers now is that what you react against is far more powerful than what you are influenced by. I loved Irving Penn and Anton Corbijn at the time and it’s one thing for me to be influenced by them and say I want to make cool pictures like them but it’s something completely different to see the mid 80’s sunset lighting with blue sky behind (that was the prominent look at the time) and think “how lame.” For me there’s no mystery to it and it’s very heroic which is also something I didn’t like, so I find my reaction against that stuff to be far more exciting

Reacting against photography was much better for me, because there were many more avenues to go down and say “this is what a portrait should look like,” instead of saying “I want to make pictures that look like this.” When you react against something you can go in so many different directions then when you are influenced positively because that’s a much more narrow influence.

APE: Ok so you meet with a lot of young photographers and you have this internship program, so do a lot of them have this attitude.

The arrogance?

APE: Yes. I want to know if it’s changed in 20 years. Do young photographers still think like this?

I think different photographers find their paths in different ways and some do start off being very influenced by someone and then they shake that off after a few years. So, I’m not saying someone who is influenced by Nan Golden or Philip Lorca DiCorcia is necessarily someone to be written off. They might develop into something really interesting but I don’t think it’s the best way to start out.

James Mahon is someone who assisted me and is now shooting fashion and we will have huge arguments about how things are done. He definitely has some arrogance and in many a ways it’s one of the most powerful things about him.

APE: It’s interesting because as a former client of yours I wouldn’t necessarily call you arrogant.

Oh really? There was that one shoot I did for you where someone who was working for you at the time sent me a shot list and I called you and said “Rob, I assumed you hired me to do what I do, is this really what you’re looking for.”

APE: Oh right. I guess I never felt you came off that way, but maybe it’s because that how I expect photographers at your level to act.

You factored that in, but some may see it as arrogance.

William F. Buckley Jr., Stamford, CT, 2004

William F. Buckley Jr., Stamford, CT, 2004

APE: That brings up something interesting because many young photographers feel like their hands are tied when it comes to client demands because the client can just go off and hire someone else. When you were young how did you behave.

Chirs with William F. Buckley Jr., 2004, photo by Paul Draine

Chris with William F. Buckley Jr., 2004, photo by Paul Draine

Honestly, it’s an issue I still deal with. I was in Austin recently and I looked up Dan Winters and we went for lunch. And I asked him “Dan, you have a reputation for handing in just one picture or however many pictures they might run. You’ve got to be kidding me, you really do this?” He was like “Yeah, I do.” We talked most of the lunch about that. It was really inspiring for me. I try to give much tighter edits now. It’s important because potential clients will look at my work in magazines and either say “Chris Buck is not as interesting as he once was” or they will say “this is a really cool picture and this is what I expect of him.”

But, you know I live in a real world too and it’s a place that’s complex and not always generous to you, so there are clients I give more pictures to, but from 2 years ago to now it’s half as many frames as I used to turn in. I went and saw Larry Fink recently and he talked about being on a shoot and being humiliated by the shooting circumstances. He’s been doing this for 40 years now and he still puts himself in those situations. It’s good for young photographers to hear that, because it’s not like you get to a point where everything is easy.

APE: Are their myths that you have to dispel when talking to younger photographers about the business that come up over and over again?

There are so many things.

One of the main things is that most people don’t make it quickly. They think that If you are meant to be successful in photography it should just take a few years and the obvious stories are about Irving Penn, or David LaChappelle. Larry Fink is a great example of the alternate narrative and one of the things I really admire about his career is that in a way his name became known to most people 30 years into his career and that’s kind of amazing. The young photographers tend to know about the people who made it in 5 years but that’s really, really unusual. If you go look at the top 100 photographers working today most of them made it in 10 to 15 years not in under 5. I think that’s really important to know. People get into it and in 3 years they’re like “I’m getting good feedback but I’m not getting a ton of work.” It took me 12 years before people started saying to me “wow, you’ve made it.”

Another thing that’s like a personal crusade for me is trying to talk young photographers out of assisting. Because, I really think it’s a dangerous road to go down. I really try to discourage it. The example I give is that assisting a photographer to become a photographer is like assisting the CEO to become a CEO one day.

APE: That’s an unusual point of view.

Well, if you look at the careers of assistants there’s a number of problems with it. You can certainly learn things from assisting, but I guess what I recommend for people if they feel any clarity about who they are as a photographer then I would really recommend that they intern rather than assist. And, I mean a real internship not sweeping floors. Don’t intern for photographers where you have no access to them or the shoots. People tell me they intern for big name photographers for their resume, but why do you have a resume. If you’re a photographer you don’t need a resume. Your portfolio is your resume, not some piece of paper.

You can certainly learn more from assisting, fair enough, but if you’re any good at assisting you end up doing it for 5-8 years. That’s a long, long time to not be focusing on your own work. And people say they’re only going to do it for a couple years but if you’re any good at it you don’t.

APE: When I think about some of the famous photographers who were also assistants for famous photographers, they didn’t really do it for too long. Maybe they assisted a couple years and they usually had a bad attitude about it too.

I was having lunch with a couple of my assistants on a shoot and one of them said “half the people I work for never assisted”. When you think about it, that you’re assisting to become a photographer yet half the people you assist for never did it. Statistically it’s kind of a crazy number. So, is that really the ideal route to becoming a photographer? I think it’s certainly one but there are other routes that aren’t really being talked about. When you’re 32 and you want to stop assisting and try and shoot full time and you’ve been making a decent living for awhile how do you transition to shooting full time when you’re not going to make any money for 2-3 years.

APE: I see the same thing with people who want to transition to Photo Editing mid career, because you reach a point where you can’t really intern or work for no money anymore.

Also, having to live as a starving artist at 32 is a really painful thing. When you’re 25 living as a starving artist is actually kind of fun.

APE: You have assistants, so as soon as you get a new assistant do you tell them about this?

No, of course not, if they’re great assistants I don’t want to lose them.

Deborah Fellner, Rockaway, NJ, 2008

Deborah Fellner, Rockaway, NJ, 2008

Part 2 tomorrow.

Todd Selby and The Selby are Red Hot

- - Photographers
Todd Selby Photo by Backyard Bill

Todd Selby Photo by Backyard Bill

Todd Selby is the talented young photographer behind TheSelby.com a website dedicated to documenting interesting people, their creative spaces and their stuff usually in New York, London and LA. It seems to have hit a critical mass online recently with a mention in the NY Times (here) and all kinds of design blogs (here, here, here and here).

Todd has really found an underserved market in media and he stands to reap the benefits of not only by becoming known as a photographer who shoots creative interiors but also for serving an audience who’s hungry for this type of photography and any collateral he can come up with to go along with it. It’s quite inspiring to see someone forge a new path and then actually begin to see serious traction. I asked Todd a couple questions about it:

How did The Selby get started?

I have been thinking a lot over the past two years about wanting to work on a photo related art project that I could do on my own and distribute on the internet. When I started taking pictures professionally seven years ago I did my first portfolio solely of photos of my friends in their homes combined with a few still-lives of their possessions. It was a natural shift to just take that work and put in on the internet. From there the concept has evolved and I have started adding new elements such as paintings, videos and hand written photo captions and interviews.

It’s completely blown up online and even made an appearance in the The NY Times. Does that translate into assignments for Todd Selby or just calls from people who think they have a cool place?

Yes, I have been getting a lot more calls from magazines, tons of interest from advertisers as well as home and fashion brands contacting me directly. I also get a lot of emails from people around the world showing me their homes and their artwork.

Any thoughts on getting pigeon holed into the guy who shoots those hip interiors?

No thoughts of that until you just mentioned it. Ha, Ha.

How do you know The Cobra Snake? Do you know The Face Hunter? Any thoughts overall on the popularity of this type of documentary photography?

The Cobra Snake is an amazing photographer as well as a marketing and business genius who’s 5 to 10 years ahead of most photographers. He helped me realize the importance of distributing your work as widely as possible and building up content that is really interesting. I think this is something you already know as well Rob. This is a tumultuous time for photographers, and I believe that the people who are going to really succeed are the ones that think outside the box and really forge their own path directly to the consumers of photography. Cut out the middlemen, do it yourself and get it out there. That is Cobra Snake’s DIY ethic which has directly inspired me to do The Selby project.

Is there ever an end to a project like this?

I dont think it will end, it is too much fun.

Do you have anything else you’re working on?

I am working on doing more of my watercolor paintings and editing photos for an upcoming show and book release which will be at Colette in April 09. Also I am producing some extremely limited edition clothing, jewelry and art collaborations for sale on my online store, http://store.theselby.com. Also look out for shows in Tokyo, Los Angeles and New York for 2009.

Bil Zelman Shoots Pro Bono, But Not For Free

- - Photographers

Bil Zelman contacted me recently about some pro bono work he’s been shooting and in particular how rewarding it is for him. Ultimately it ends up benefiting his business too with genuine interest in the work from Art Directors and nice press placement. Here’s what we talked about:

Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you arrived at a successful commercial photography career.

In art school I developed a particular style of hard-flash, in your face, street photography that landed me some museum shows. This was a handful of years ago when 6×6 transparency film and a tripod were standard for the commercial world, but things were just beginning to change. After sending out a few hundred ridiculously inexpensive promo pieces, I gained the trust of a local agency who hired me to shoot a campaign for Virgin Megastores. I took the campaign to the street with no assistants, very little experience and it turned out stellar. The work won a bunch of awards and suddenly the kid with two cameras and four lenses was getting calls. I suppose my confidence and naiveté mixed with my shooting style was something people were ready for.

I’ve always tried to bring something fresh and innovative to the table, and the believability of my shots has been well received and rewarded.

How do you determine what is pro bono and what should be paid, how do you know it’s not something the client should be paying for?

I don’t have any steadfast rules except that they have to be non-profit and preferably a charity. There are plenty of large non-profits which can clearly pay a fee for their photography. Also, many trade and lobbying organizations are nonprofit groups, but not charities so you do need to be careful.

I’ve chosen to work with non-profits which are local, for the most part, whose only budgeted alternative would be to have someone on their staff shoot stuff with a digital point and shoot. And who, after a little research, could clearly benefit from my help. I will also admit that I generally only accept projects where artistic excellence is appreciated and encouraged. Something you’re not going to find everywhere.

Also, when the entity is small and local, it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between the budget of your local “keep kids off the streets program” and someone who can probably afford you like say Greenpeace. Beyond that it’s all about researching them and trusting your gut.

Pro-bono projects I’ve worked on recently would include:

My local Sudanese Center, which clearly operates on a tiny budget. They covered $380 of my expenses and my assistants and I donated time/equipment. When the children and families found out that they were getting their photos taken for free, 80 people showed up dressed in their finest at sunset in a field I had scouted (they were bussed from the center). It was an amazing feeling…and scary, as I had imagined 8-10 would actually make it.

The the International Pediatric Neurological Society. Sound fancy? It’s two doctors I know who donate time and resources in their spare time. They could never have afforded to fly a photographer to Kiev, and Peru, but really needed the help. Because of the two trips, on which they covered about half of the cost, they now have a fantastic presentation with which they can seek out funding and raise awareness to their cause. And I ended up feeling really good about it and landing three pages in Archive.

A local, neighborhood outreach program came up with just enough money for me to shoot 30 rolls of grainy b/w on their project; A well designed, oversize brochure to raise funds and awareness. Beautiful.

Anymore it seems like the big commercial guys are not shooting as much editorial and I would suspect that at times shooting commercial can seem tedious and un-fulfilling. Does this serve as an antidote to that?

Absolutely, I manage to shoot about a five or six good editorial pieces a year and crave more, but San Diego isn’t the best place to be for that kind of work. While I’m blessed with great commercial assignments, those projects are usually confined to product placement first and artistry second.

The charity assignments I’ve done have given me grounds to test new ideas and ways of working, are usually not collaborative (Yes, it can try your patience to have someone else edit, crop and manipulate your work all the time- No matter how well it’s done, or how good the intentions).

I feel so empowered to be able to use my camera as a tool for social change, large or small. Nothing has felt more satisfying, and nothing has garnered a greater response for me than this type of work. From simple thank you letters from complete strangers to Art Buyers skipping over ad campaigns and
celeb work and asking “where where the photo’s of those children taken.” It still amazes me.

It’s also a sad fact that no matter how good that cover shot or ad campaign is, there’s a shelf life before it’s thrown out with all of the other magazines. It kills me. Hopefully people will be able to use the images I create for their causes to raise awareness and even funding for years to come. A longevity we rarely see in other media applications.

You mentioned that photographers are missing out on a opportunity by not taking on these kinds of projects. Can you explain?

The positives to taking on these types of projects are endless. To improve the lives of others, to better your community, to art direct your own piece and have total creative freedom, to travel, to see and experience things you may have never thought possible, to be reminded that not everyone is middle class.

And even the self-serving part; to draw attention to your own work and your own vision and be noticed by others in a fantastically positive light. Images from my last trip to Kiev ended up being printed in both Archive and the PDN Photo Annual. One week of shooting with no production work at all ended up getting noticed just as much if not more than my bigger budget shoots for the year.

And, oh yeah, did I mention that you’ll feel really, really good about it?

A New Website For Young Photographers

- - Photographers

Jake Stangel has a new website for young photographers called “Too Much Chocolate” and it’s already off to a great start because of a smart interview with Trevor Graves. Trevor was part of a group of talented snowboard photographers who revolutionize the snowsports industry in the 90’s. They brought in-your-face, lifestyle and grungy party photography to an industry that had been dominated by pretty landscape pictures with people walking/skiing through them. The surf/skate/snowboard genre of photography is my favorite for the way it seamlessly blends lifestyle and action photography. Trevor now helms Nemo Design over in Portland, OR.

Here are a few choice quotes from Trevor in the interview:

“Personally I hope to be exposed to a young shooters work though a respected third party.”

“We are looking and thousands of creatives a year, I may not have a job today for you but I may in the future so I want to put your website in my bookmarks folder under “something”. David Lachapelle I would put under “Fashion” or “Sexy”, Ansel Adams I would put under “Landscapes”, Annie Leibovitz as a “Celebrity portrait” photographer. Make my life easy, where can I classify your style? Is that category the type of work you would like to be doing ten years form now? I don’t want this to sounds harsh, but I have 10 minutes for you today; ask yourself how do you want me to remember you?”

“We all need to make a living in life and everyone has different standards of living and if you have a high standard of living, then go get a business degree, photography in the long run will not make you happy. ‘Starving artist’ is a cliché for a reason. As a professional photographer if the first year doesn’t break ya, the next five will keep trying.”

Raymond Meier Website

- - Photographers

Another online archive from a top photographer (here). Thanks Dude.

I remember there was a photographer who’s website I used to visit often but one day it disappeared and he told me he pulled it down so people would stop copying his work. I think those days are over now.

Steven Klein’s Website

- - Photographers, Websites

Not sure how new this is but it’s certainly unusual for a fashion photographer of this caliber to have a personal website this comprehensive (here).

This growing trend among top photographers I attribute to google searches that will turn up all kinds of strange and possibly unwanted results (and other steven klein’s of the world) if you don’t have a site dedicated to your work online. Also, growing the fan base is always a good idea.

From Steven’s artist statement: “Portraiture in the past has been regarded as a documentation of a person but for me it is a documentation of the encounter between myself and the subject. It is not meant to reveal them, nor is it meant to subject them to an X-ray; it is a departure from that.”

Jeff Riedel’s Massive GQ Photo Essay

- - Photographers, Photoshoot

I was floored when I picked up the November issue of GQ and saw in it a 32 page photo essay (online here) shot by one photographer. That’s major. There are very few photographers getting 32 pages in magazines all to themselves these days (anytime actually) and a photo essay of this magnitude is a major deal. The photographer was Jeff Riedel. I’ve worked with Jeff in the past and always admired his photography and work ethic but hadn’t talked to him in awhile so I gave him a call to discuss the piece.


November 08 GQ – Jeff Riedel Photo Essay from APhoto Editor on Vimeo.

Let’s start at the beginning. How did this come about?

Well, I think GQ is making a turn as a magazine towards content, moving further into a combination of fashion and content. This was certainly a big deal for them and reminiscent of the photo essays Vanity Fair or most recently The New Yorker might do.

Everyone has proclaimed this the most historic election of our time and GQ was the only magazine that stepped up to the plate with a photo essay of historic proportions.

They called me up back in January and said we want to do this 30 page story and we want you to shoot the entire thing. I went into the office and had this really interesting meeting because within 2 minutes it became an open forum collaboration between the writer/features editor Mark Healey, Design Director Fred Woodword, and Photography Director Dora Somosi. It became very political very fast. We started drawing up wish lists of people we wanted to go for. One of the things that came out was how Richard Avedon did this shoot of politicians back in 1976 called “The Family” for Rolling Stone. That was certainly an inspiration for the project, not in a way that we wanted to rip it off but as a point of reference. I looked at it and tried to understand what he went through to get those images. I recently saw the whole body of work at the Corcoran Gallery in D.C. He got access to everyone they wanted to get except Nixon from what I understand.

So that brings up a question I wanted to ask you because some of the pictures look like you didn’t get access to everyone and I like the overall effect on the essay whether it was deliberate or not.

Some of the things that happened were astounding. Obama was on the cover of GQ I think last December and the McCain campaign was able to manipulate that and turn it against him and say ‘see we told you Obama’s a celebrity, a fashion symbol he’s all artifice’. That’s really an outdated perception of what GQ really is. Of course McCain, ironically, had no problem being shot by GQ for our portfolio. The Obama campaign for the most part stayed clear of it. In the end we couldn’t get him for a sitting.

I think it actually works for you because you have the iconic picture of Obama. The picture that defines him in this campaign.

Yes, it couldn’t have turned out any better because his face is on the cover of Rolling Stone three times and if we’d actually gotten a sitting with Obama we just likely might have done the same and it wouldn’t have been as strong as what we got at the convention.

Did you shoot film and 4 x 5 like you usually do?

Yes, it was all shot on film. I shot a good deal of 4 x 5 for the studio, and many of the environmentals like Bill Richardson on his horse. I ended up shooting a lot of 6×7 as well. The reportage was with a Pentax 6×7 with long lenses holding my hand as still as I possibly could in low light. There’s a lot of blurry frames. The magazine wasn’t very keen on digital and I can understand why. It’s a historic election these are going to be historic pictures and there’s still an integrity to film and while we can still do it we should.

Do you shoot a lot of digital now?

Anything that’s commercial or celebrity stuff is digital. Since I now live outside of the the city it’s so much more convenient for me. I use a back on a Hassleblad 555. I need to hear the clunking of the mirror and have the weight of the camera for it to feel like photography for me. I still need that familiarity to take pictures.

Were any of the politicians suspicious of your motives?

No I don’t think any of them were suspicious and we shot some dirt bags like Jerome Corsi. Why that guy would show up for a GQ shoot I have not idea, I guess he’s desperate for publicity. By the way, he announced to me during our shoot, I think back in October, that Obama was finished. His chances of winning were nil because Obama, according to him, had just accidentally let it slip that he was a Muslim. I’m not kidding, he was really saying this shit. I thought about him on election night.

So this brings up a big question you clearly are not trying to be objective here and can you be objective in this kind of thing. The editors seem to have a point of view on this and they wanted you to bring that to the shoot. Am I correct in saying that?

There’s decisions that are made, editing decisions that do adhere to a point of view. For example on the Corsi shoot, I didn’t intend the image to translate as harshly as it did. I don’t set out to burn somebody, though I do appreciate a sense of irony in a photograph. But there’s a process that you can’t really help. You’re trying to remain as objective as possible but as soon as you put that camera to your eye the objectivity ceases to exist. It doesn’t exist anymore.

Right you can’t create something interesting without coming at it from somewhere. It wasn’t a requirement from GQ to remain objective?

It was never discussed. GQ never told me how to shoot McCain but I gave them options so they could choose how to portray him. These are politicians and they’re very guarded and aware but at the same time there are moments that are very truthful that come out in the course of a shoot. It’s interesting too that by the time the magazine was being put together things had changed in the race and perceptions had changed so the edit of the work changed to reflect that.

Can you be objective and do you have to be objective. How important is that for pulling off a shoot like this?

I don’t personally believe there’s any such thing as objectivity in a photographic image. I don’t think it exists. One can fool themselves into believing it does but there are unconscious processes that come forward when you’re shooting as well as the conscious advertent ones. But, there’s a vast difference between subtlety and trying to find a strand of irony and a complete attempt at a take down picture. I would also add that the more subtle ones tend to be smarter pictures than the obvious and overly advertent ones. and by the way, Bill Richardson can’t ride a horse.

Did you deliver as you went and what kind of collaboration was there in the editing?

I cut up contact sheets and I didn’t hand in anything that I felt strongly against but I wanted to give them some choices because it’s a pretty sizable portfolio and there’s decisions that need to happen with regard to the layout and design so I gave them a pretty wide edit. We turned in the film as we went, over the course of 9 months. We started out thinking it was going to be color heavy with some black and white mixed in and we ended up with a balance between the two. You think 30 pages is a lot but it’s actually not. It was good to break it down as we went along. We tried to do a studio and an environmental with everyone.

How much time did you get?

We got a couple hours with John Edwards. We got good chunks of time because we did a studio shot and an environmental shot. With others, we got ten minutes. It varied.

So, any thoughts on what’s happening right now to the industry?

We’re in a different world, a different environment it’s like an instantaneous change for our industry. The results were so immediate for us. Advertising shoots that were nearly fully produced were canceled and there’s a knee jerk reaction happening. Budgets are going to be scaled back and a number of magazines will fold.

How do you feel about producing work online?

I think that’s an extremely powerful tool. I think the web is very revolutionary in many, many ways. The dissemination of information from one part of the globe to another.

What is the role of photography online?

I think it’s going to play a more and more important role. The internet has changed the world but we haven’t seen anything yet. One issue for photography right now is how it’s rendered on the computer screen – how it can look great on one and like shit on another. Or what a friend mentioned to me about the GQ portfolio- how it printed so beautifully in the magazine and looked so much worse online. I think generally at this point there simply needs to be a lowering of expectations from one to the other.

What do you think of the political process now that you’ve done this?

The same thing I’ve always thought. That there’s two political parties that are bought and paid for by the corporate interests, and by extension they represent and defend the interests of that class. I much more believe that the biggest divisions in American society are those of class not race. The American presidential campaigns are the most overdrawn political events. Does it really need to be 2 years long. Why can’t it be 6 months and then we make a decision. It seems like a giant smoke screen that covers up the issues that really need to be addressed like the job losses, the economy and war.

Were you very involved in politics before you shot this work?

Yes, I’m very involved.

Were they aware of this before they hired you?

Yes, I think they might have had an idea.

Really? It’s not represented in your work.

There might have been a rumor or two about my left leaning politics.

Martin Schoeller- Look into my Lights, You Are Getting Very Sleepy

- - Photographers

Martin Schoeller has always been a personal favorite to work with and one thing you will notice on a shoot is the almost hypnotic rhythm he establishes with the film loaders, lights, camera adjustments and direction to the subject. It has a pace to it that lulls you into…

See for yourself here:


From his new book, Female Bodybuilders available at pondpress (here).

Jill Greenberg Is Not Afraid To Dump All Her Clients At Once

- - Photographers

Jill Greenberg officially took herself off everyone’s list with that little stunt she pulled with outtakes from her McCain cover shoot for The Atlantic (I’m talking about all the photoshopping not the “lit from below” picture which felt like a nice try but not quite there) and made it a little more difficult for Photo Editors to get someone new and untested past the editor and more importantly the publicist.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about Mark Tucker has links to all the coverage and several questions of his own (here).

It’s the publicists who usually vet the photographers and if you’ve ever looked at a celebrity or political picture and thought “the most interesting thing about that picture is the person in it” that’s because safety is more important than creating something visually exciting. The challenge for Photo Editors has always been getting interesting photographers past the publicists because they always google them or come with a pre-approved list just to make certain the photographer will not do something unflattering or controversial. So, I’m shocked that the McCain camp approved her given the “candy and crying children” controversy that’s not much more than a google click away (well, it used to be a google click away…) but I’m guessing that The Atlantic didn’t seem to pose much of a threat so there was no background check on the photographer.

Hit pieces in magazines are not unusual, but it’s usually the writers that are the one’s waiting till the shoot is in the can, the fact-checking mostly done and then they can finally ring the subject up and start asking hard questions. What’s unusual here is that Jill went off and did it on her own without letting the magazine know what she was up to. Usually the magazine is involved in these kinds of decisions if not directing them in the first place. So, I can pretty much guarantee she’s not interested in getting hired anymore to do “the monkey light” and really just wants to be known as someone who manipulates. Even if some Photo Editor wanted to hire her now they wouldn’t get her past the editor let alone the publicist.

The Atlantic unfortunately got burned in the whole deal but there’s no way to know when someone is going to go rogue on you and if it ever happened in the past nobody would even know about it. The 2 week embargo seems unusual to me and it’s likely a function of The Atlantic wanting really badly to do something interesting in a very crowded newsstand and allowing Jill Greenberg to lay down the rules on what it would take for her to shoot a cover (at which point I would expect a photographer to tell me they hate the person they’re about to photograph and might not be the best choice for this assignment). If I’d been the Photo Editor in that situation I would be looking for a new job because I would have had to convince the editor to take a chance on a first time cover shooter for the magazine with very little political experience and on top of it get them to reduce the embargo to 2 week for outtakes.

Ultimately I don’t think she’s suddenly screwed it all up for photographers everywhere because shoots of this nature are almost always closely watched by the publicists, the terms with the magazine are exclusive and publishing outtakes from a cover shoot will land you in court

This was a very deliberate act by a photographer who knew she was going to get blackballed by publicists and make herself un-hireable in the editorial world to make a political statement or maybe she just wanted to remove herself from the editorial world in a dramatic way because in the end who but clients visits a photographers portfolio site and if you’re tired of having clients and working with publicists and just want to make art then this is one way to do it.

A Good Resource For Finding Women Photographers

- - Photographers

You probably know how much Photo Editors like their photographer lists and really any edited group of photographers is handy when looking for people to hire or looking for new people to add to your personal list.

I think this Women in Photography website (here) will become a very strong group from which to find talented photographers to hire. I like that it has a very specific point of view as defined by the co-curators amy elkins and cara phillips.

I mentioned to someone the other day that there are many resources that serve as lists of photographers for the creative community that you can buy into. But, if you don’t agree with the list of people you’re buying into, why not just go make your own. If it’s useful and the creative community knows about it, we will use it. The Women In Photography website is a good example of this.

The Women In Photography Website

The Women In Photography Website

Denis Darzacq’s Floating People

Photos from Denis Darzacq’s new project “Hyper” (here) were all over the internet a couple weeks back and they certainly deserve the attention as fascinating and unnerving images, plus there’s no photoshop involved which makes it all the more interesting.

Here’s a behind the scenes video I found on the Lens Culture blog (here) from his book La Chute.

I suppose the only editorial application of a technique like this would be a fashion story since you need the talented street performers to do the jumps but whenever I see something like this I start to think of all the different ways I can get it into the book. Now, with all the hype certain types of photography can receive on the internet there’s a little extra incentive to find something quickly.

Peter Yang Had A Ball In Texas

- - Photographers

No, really, he ate one.

Back to that in a minute.

I’ve always had mixed feelings when it comes to hiring photographers overly versed in a subject matter. Certainly, when a photographer knows how to behave, act and dress around a subject it can cause the subject to drop their guard a bit and make for more intimate images. It also usually means they’ll be more accommodating with their time and with what they allow to be photographed so you get better access. The trade off is that photographers sometimes don’t push the pictures beyond comfort level, they won’t ask the subject to do something that might make them uncomfortable or might jeopardize their relationship with the subject.

On the other hand picking a photographer who has some distance from the subject and is not excessively concerned with their feelings or the possibility of making them uncomfortable or how they might be looked upon by the subject can result in some really spectacular work.

Anyway, this is a little more heady than I wanted to get into with this post because really I just saw this narrated slideshow over on the Texas Monthly website and I was imagining Peter Yang in his checkered vans and spiked hair dragging his cow shit covered 7b’s, c-stands and octabanks all over Texas and thought that was interesting. Of course I know Peter as a guy who shoots a lot of Rock and Roll pictures for Rolling Stone so I didn’t realize he’s from Dallas and went to school at UT and worked in Austin for 9 years and to what extremes he’d go to, to get a picture when I fired off a bunch of questions to see what the hell he was doing shooting cowboys in Texas.

Check out the slide show and audio commentary (here)

Was it really a 16 day shoot? I’m amazed magazines still do 16 day shoots. Did you have to sleep in a ditch?

It was sixteen days altogether for a cover and an 18-page portfolio in Texas Monthly. We logged 5,000 miles driving back and forth across Texas. In reality, there were six or seven days of shooting. The other days were spent traveling, scouting and investigating.

Leslie Baldwin and TJ Tucker at TM made initial contact with the ranches, but in the end, cowboys aren’t phone people. Arriving at each ranch felt like starting from scratch. I’m this Asian guy with spiky hair and checkered Vans, my first assistant is a California kid, and the second assistant is a hipster with tattoos running down her arms. We had to win them over with our charming ways.

On another occasion, we were out near Marfa. It was already ten at night and I had nothing planned for the next day. I was feeling really depressed as all I’d done that day was hang out in a field throwing rocks at a fence while the cowboys were out working on horseback. That night, we came across a bar and got to chatting with the bartender, and out of sheer desperation, I asked her if she knows any cowboys. It turns out her ex-husband is a cowboy and we ended up driving 3 hours due west and making some of the best images from the trip.

It sounded like you were shooting film. Why did you decide to shoot film?

No, I was shooting digital. I haven’t shot film in a long while. For the portraits I used a medium format digital back (Leaf Aptus at 75 S on a Hasselblad H2). For the documentary shots, I used a Cannon 1Ds2. There was a ton of dust and shit kicking up everywhere I went. For someone who rarely needs to clean his cameras, I was in my motel every night with an air blower and Pec Pad cleaning my cameras Nachtwey-style.

Cowboys, cows, horses and octabanks don’t sound like a natural combination and I suppose that’s why Texas Monthly choose you for this assignment. Did you ever feel completely out of your element like what the hell am I doing here? A New Yorker out in the middle of Texas with a bunch of cowboys sounds like a recipe for trouble to me.

Hey, I’ve only been a New Yorker for four years. I may not have grown up on a ranch (or anywhere near cows or horses), but I am from Texas.

I did feel out of my element at the beginning. I had just come out of 3 straight months of shooting my usual fare. Celebrity shoots where everything has been discussed and agreed upon and every moment of the shoot accounted for. Advertising campaigns with art directors and their clients standing in front of the monitor approving every shot frame by frame. Now here I was in Texas with no one telling me what to do. It’s a photographer’s dream, but it took a bit to get used to.

As far as trouble goes, no one was seriously injured in the process. I drank a lot of beer, ate a cow testicle or two, rode a crazy horse, heard jokes that haven’t been kosher since ’64, tried to lasso a fence post, and ate at a lot of Dairy Queens. A lot.

When you decided to do the lit portraits were you thinking this is my style and I’m sticking with it even if the 7b’s get covered in shit or were you thinking of bringing something new to the genre of cowboy portraits?

Lighting the photos had always been my plan. I’d seen a lot of images of cowboys growing up and I wanted to bring something new to the table while staying true to who they are. It rained a couple of days and there was lots of dust everywhere we went. The lights were always tarped to keep out the elements.

Of your other portrait work how much is planned and how much is just “let’s see what’s happening when we get there.”

I started my training as a newspaper photographer. As a journalist, you are not permitted to affect the environment. When I moved to magazines, this way of thinking stuck with me for years, and helped bring a candid, found quality to my photos. With celebrity work, you can’t tell a publicist “we’ll just get there and see what happens.” You have to assure them you won’t make their client look like an ass. My shoots now are much more planned and produced, but I always strive to keep some spontaneity.

Yum.

Yousuf Karsh Estate- New Website

- - Photographers

I see a growing trend here as the Yousuf Karsh estate (here) becomes the latest in a series of photography masters to unveil professional websites that will not only serve as wonderful resources for the photo community but act as a central resource for consumers and professionals looking to purchase prints and reprint rights.

During his career he held 15,312 sittings and produced over 150,000 negatives.

Yousuf Karsh Estate

Yousuf Karsh Estate

The short video clips (here) are particularly interesting to watch as Yousuf answers questions that we seem to ask photographers over and over.

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