Category "Photographers"

Andrew Southam’s Personal Way Of Seeing

- - Photographers

I worked with Andrew Southam quite a bit in the past, so when he told me about a personal journey he recently underwent, I asked to publish an account of it on the blog. I think you will find his honest and humble account of what happened to him inspiring.

APE: Briefly tell me about your background in photography, how you came to it and when you found success?

Andrew Southam: I started out in Sydney, Australia in the early 80’s.  I was incredibly fortunate to find a job assisting a photographer named Grant Matthews who became my mentor and great friend. I arrived in NYC in 1986 with a decent book and just got on the phone to all the magazines. A lot of people met with me and I dropped my book off everywhere else. I got assigned portraits for Rolling Stone and Vogue, some small fashion pieces for Conde Nast magazines and that began my career in America. A year later Sassy Magazine was started by an Australian publisher and art director I had worked with in Sydney, another piece of incredible luck. I started working solidly for them doing everything from covers and fashion stories to photo essays about teen suicide and a girl on death row in Indiana.

Would you call what happened next a midlife crisis or is it the result of a shitty economy and shrinking photo industry?

When you’re young and new in this industry you have a kind of allure you don’t know you have, I certainly didn’t. I had a lot of success early on which I took for granted. I just assumed it would be all up and up. I went along like that for about 15 years. Of course I had flat spots but I was what you’d call a working photographer with a good reputation. What happened next was really a kind of burn out. I started out taking very personal pictures, shooting very much my own way. This had as much to do with not having the technical skill to do it anyone else’s way as any artistic ideals! But of course over time you learn technique and wind up doing work that you have less personal investment in, money jobs. What happened to me was I lost my sense of ownership of my work, was less invested in it. Inevitably the assignments I was getting reflected this, less exciting work, not being hired to bring any point of view to the job. More being hired as a good technician who could get all the shots finished on time, run a crew, answer a budget, work with talent. All that’s great but I was feeling steadily more unhappy with myself and my career. I can’t blame the economy or changes in the industry. Of course I’ve felt the changes like everyone. But finally I wasn’t feeling inspired and it caught up with me.

What did you do to break out of the funk?

I was feeling pretty desperate. I never cared that much about the money. In the midst of this period I had some good years. But I was really unhappy with the work I was getting and doing. Finally, all credit to my wife who said “just go and stop talking about it!” I went off on a week long road trip from LA to San Francisco. The first day on the road I felt a real panic that I couldn’t take a picture without a client, an assignment, a deadline.  I’d spent so many years shooting actresses, models, portraits of people for magazines, I didn’t even see the scenery at first. But after a day I slowed down and started seeing the world and then looking at it through the camera. Then the huge pleasure of just looking through the viewfinder, composing in that rectangle, paying attention to the light returned to me and I got really excited again. It sounds so simple but it really felt like a kind of rebirth at the time.

Tell me more about the dream project you dreamt up?

While I was driving and shooting, I started to see the journey as a road movie. I imagined a man, a woman, a car of a certain kind, motels, restaurants, the road, all the emotional stuff that happens on a long journey. Maybe it starts out romantically, but at some point you’re just so over being in that car and stuck together, you sort it out, you don’t, you have sex, you argue, on and on. So when I returned home, still with that “my life is at stake” energy, and having unplugged for a week from the whole white noise of our lives now, realizing I could do that and just be a photographer and not an e-mailing machine, I buried myself into using the pictures I’d taken as a story board for a series with the man and woman. I worked with a friend who is a great stylist, Kelly Hill formerly at J.Crew. We found two actors, a real life couple, we found a 1968 Cadillac and talked the guy who was selling it into renting it to us for a few days. I wrote a page and a half treatment for my actors describing the trip, this crisis point in their relationship. It was fantastic because then everyone knew what they were feeling, they sort of lived it and I just shot away as if I was making a documentary about them. Because we were together all day, seriously all day, they stopped noticing me which made the whole thing really intimate. I had no crew except my stylist and my tech who like me is great at becoming invisible. My very large edit was then shaped by designer Matt Taylor at Matt Varnish. He helped me refine the narrative, gave the images a treatment to feel like vintage prints left on a car’s dashboard, designed the book, located and supervised the printing, and was really essential to the project being the success it was.

(click image to see more)

 

And the job that followed, how did that come about?

My agent at that time had the promo book I made of these pictures at LeBook Connections LA 2011. An Art Buyer from M&C Saatchi, Jenn Sellers picked it up and put it in front of their Creative Director James Bray who was just then looking to solve a problem, how to shoot the men’s Uggs campaign? I was called in to meet with him. I’ve now just shot their second campaign in an on going series.

Is there a lesson here? Did the industry change to be more receptive to this type of thing, did you find different clients, or did you change how you take pictures?

The lesson was pretty profound for me. Clients are out there looking for ideas and photographers with ideas, with a particular way of seeing. There are SO many photographers, so many great technicians and digital has only made this easier. What there are less of is photographers with a distinct point of view. You have to really dive into yourself and find out what you have to say or show that is your own take. My friend June Newton, Helmut’s widow says “shoot your desires, shoot your perversions”. Obviously that served Helmut well! I am not the first photographer to shoot a road trip story but I really made it my own. So when clients saw it, it was exciting to them and they recognized something they could use.  So yes, the industry is super receptive to a photographer with a body of work that is their own peculiar, fully expressed take. There is SO much imagery out there now, you can only imagine how they must be scratching their heads in advertising agencies and design companies saying “how do we do this in a different way?!”

I am finding new clients. It’s a process and I feel like I’m just beginning it in lots of ways. Which I’m very grateful for after shooting for 27 years! But I have a handful of great new clients who are asking me very specifically to do my own thing. I couldn’t ask for more than that.

I have changed the way I shoot, or rather I’m evolving. I’m trying to see photographs now in series, like a set of film stills, an unfolding narrative. Rather than trying to get the “perfect moment” I’m trying to be much looser, look for the “mistake” that will make the pictures more exciting. Now I’m arriving prepared with a treatment for the story, a clearer intention of what I want to say.

What does the future look like to you?

It has to come from me. If you look to the industry to see what will come next, it’s too late, it’s already happened. I can’t worry too much about trends, about what other people are doing. I just need to go off alone and think about my take on life and how to express that in photographs. It requires self discipline I have to work on constantly. It’s a muscle you have to develop and that never ends. It’s too easy to sit in my “beautiful cave” as portfolio consultant Beth Taubner calls it, and push around post-its and respond to e-mails.  I have to shoot more often for myself and develop that part of my brain and just keep doing it. My advice to anyone in the funk I was in would be: don’t wait to get assigned your “dream job”, it may never happen. Assign yourself and go and do it. I fully appreciate this can expensive but you have to find a way. I am always asking favors of people and seeing how I can cut corners to save money. Some friends will work for you for free. Your excitement is contagious. But clients are unlikely to assign you work if you can’t show them you’ve already done it. The good idea is hugely important in all this.

The other part is get the help and support you need. I’ve recently teamed up with photo rep Sarah Laird, someone I feel really lucky to know. Sarah’s agency is artist driven; the photographer must be absolutely clear on their point of view before she can represent them. She’s into building a career around that, finding the right audience for each photographer’s work. Sarah directed me to Beth Taubner who I’ve worked closely with and I would recommend to anyone looking to reconnect with their work or deepen it. I’ve been working on portfolio and website redesign with Bryan Fisher at Perfect Holiday who is amazing and definitely lifted my presentation. I feel like I’ve surrounded myself with great people who can help me take my work to another level. After already having had a long career I feel really excited and grateful to be doing this.

Remembering Paula Lerner

- - Photographers

Paula Lerner, photographer and photography advocate, died on Tuesday from breast cancer at the age of 52. Steve Skoll gathered these comments from those who knew her.

Steve: A collection of thoughts from friends and colleagues on the passing of Paula Lerner.

Manuello Paganelli writes: Folks I just learned the awful news that our friend, dear colleague, talented and award winning still/video photographer and former Editorial Photographer (EP), President passed away.

You all know that she was a strong advocate for photographer’s rights and was always there willing to show her wisdom and vision with the rest. She was also batting for photographers making sure magazines would pay decent day and space rates and less rights grabbing.

Today my heart just dropped out. RIP wonderful Paula…my heart goes to your husband and children.

Brian Smith, President of EP writes: I’m deeply shocked and saddened by the news of Paula Lerner’s death. As the founding Vice President of Editorial Photographers, Paula was instrumental to setting EP’s course. She was directly involved in negotiating the Business Week and Forbes contracts that raised the bar for fair deals for editorial photographers. Paula remained committed to educating and inspiring others and it is extremely sad to lose her just as she was producing the finest work of her career.

Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.

Ed Greenberg writes: It is with unspeakable sadness that we inform you of the untimely death of a great lady, Paula Lerner. Paula possessed the all too rare qualities of both bravery and courage well before the insidious cancer ever invaded her body.

While most of us are content with the safety of our daily lives, Paula was busy risking her life to bring home the intimate stories of the brave women in war torn Afghanistan. Dodging bombs and bullets on five journeys, Paula created the finest collection of photography ever created in or about Afghanistan. Paula won a richly deserved Emmy Award for her work as a photojournalist on “Behind the Veil” an in depth multi media feature which also captured an EPPY Award for Best Web Feature.

Those of us who create prose rather than images, know all to well that there is simply no “appropriate” space limitations when extolling the virtues of Paula whether referencing her work or her character. The fact that both her images and life story will become part of the curriculum at Harvard is testament to an extraordinary life that precious few of us will ever even approach in magnitude. Her images will continue to speak to us and that makes her great photographer. Her character, charity, kindness, curiosity, tenaciousness and bravery made her a great person. Her family, friends, colleagues and clients know that her kind won’t pass this way again.

Michael Grecco writes: Paula was fearless in the pursuit of the things she believed in, whether it was to fight for photographer’s rights, as the first Vice President of Editorial Photographers, or when traveling to the war zone to use her lens and multimedia skills to expose the plight of the women of Afghanistan. I was thrilled when she won an Emmy for her hard work. She was a dear friend and will be missed.

Andrew Buchanan writes: In working with Paula professionally for more than ten years, I knew I was working with someone with passion. Not coming from a photojournalism background myself, I was inspired by someone who found a cause she believed in, then used both her artistic and journalistic abilities to get the story and make a difference.

But in pursuing her passion, Paula never forgot her purpose — to inspire, to share, to lead by example. She was generous with her time, her knowledge, and her inspiration. Knowing her made me a better photographer, but more importantly she made me a better person.

Thank you for that Paula, you’ve left your mark on this world in ways you maybe never even knew. My best thoughts to your family at this very difficult time.

Link to piece on PDN: Photographer Paula Lerner, Leader of Photo Advocacy Group.

There are threads on APAGroups and Editorial Photographers paying tribute to Paula Lerner.

Michael Muller’s Underwater Studio For Shark Portraits

- - Photographers

Heidi Volpe interviews Michael Muller about his Travel Channel shark portraits.


Michael Muller was hooked at age 15 when after a year of shooting snowboarding he was getting published and paid. Now, he is an award wining advertising and editorial photographer represented by top agency Stockland Martel. I got a chance to talk to him about his recent project with the Travel Channel, Shark Shoot Fiji and the lighting equipment he developed for this underwater project: he took the studio and plunged it deep in the Beqa Lagoon.

Heidi:  How much testing did you do to develop the system?
Michael: There was a fair amount of R&D that went into the creation of these lights.  To start, I had to go through several different fabricators that delivered me products that either did not work or were so unsafe, I would not get into a pool with them, let alone ask someone to join me.  I wasted or should I say spent a lot of money getting to the place of almost giving up before I met the guys who I would eventually make the lights with.  This was a very difficult path, because continuing forward always meant that I would have to spend more money on faith that the next person would be the one who would be able to make it come true.

Once we got the prototype working light made, they happened to be delivered the day before I embarked to the Galapagos Islands to shoot the Aqua Timer campaign for IWC Watches. They arrived at my house at about 4 or 5 in the afternoon as we were packing all our gear for a 3 week expedition.  The trip was also in conjunction with The Charles Darwin Foundation and UNESCO so there was a huge amount of pressure to deliver striking images.  I had promised the President of IWC that I would create images like no one had seen before without having the lights in hand.  The weeks leading up to the departure were probably some of the most stressed filled days of my career for making these promises and going on faith that the guys would get it and make them in time.  When they did arrive that afternoon I was beyond over joyed yet still stressed that they would in fact work.  Being so late in the day with an early am departure flight approaching the following day, I put my trunks on and had the guys hook up the lights and jumped in the pool.  I was thrilled when the lights fired and that was the extent of testing.

We packed up the lights and headed out to the Galapagos the next morning where we used the lights in open ocean and did all our fine tuning on the job so to speak.  I did in fact get IWC mouth watering images like I had promised which felt very good to do.  That is how guerrilla type inventing goes when you’re not a huge manufacture of goods, I don’t have the money or man power for major testing so you do what you can do with what you have. I can say that not giving up in the face of failure was the biggest lesson.  It is so easy to throw in the towel after so many set backs but to continue on is the biggest challenge and once again I learned that you should never give up if you believe in something, don’t quit right before the miracle happens!

Tell me more about the lights.
The lights were first tested in open ocean in the Galapagos and then further used many days in the pool with Michael Phelps and all the other olympic swimmers for the Speedo campaigns I shot.  I have also used the lights for a multitude of other underwater shoots I have done.  There isn’t a whole lot of testing that needs to be done since the lights are just a basic strobe head that happens to be waterproof.  The main testing is what the light does underwater and how to control it with use of reflectors, grids, etc.  Light reacts differently underwater than it does on land.  It bounces and spreads out everywhere so it has taken many hours and days underwater with my team to get just where we are today and we still have so much to learn.  That is what I love about “light” and photography, I have been doing it for 27 years almost daily and could do it until the day I die and still know just a fraction of what there is to know about light and the use of it, and how to control it.  The minute you think you have got this thing called photography “down” is the day you should maybe put the camera down because your being very ignorant, light is something the greatest minds that have ever lived find mysterious and fascinating. Always be an explorer and try to learn something new with each shoot, never rest on your laurels thinking you’ve got it down!

Does light behave differently in salt water?
No only that Saltwater has many more elements in it.  Living particles fill every inch of the ocean and all of these things no matter what the size, either reflect or react to the light when it hits them.  A filtered pool like the one I have at my studio is the easiest place to control light, there are no waves or surge or current to deal with and the water is much clearer then what you must deal with in the ocean.  If I could have a pet great white in my pool that would be amazing, but until now they have not figured out how to do that. Honestly even if they did, I would not capture an animal like that to keep in my pool, but I sure do wish I had my own private ocean in my back yard filled with clear, warm water. That said there would be no challenge or mystery to that, so I would get very bored quickly so the way it is now is just perfect!  Wait not perfect,  because we are destroying our oceans right now, so if correct that, then it will be perfect!

On Shark Shoot Fiji, you narrated the underwater footage. How did you really communicate underwater, I am assuming that was not live? or was it?
I did in fact navigate underwater using an OTS (Ocean Technology Systems) mask system. They make the best most reliable communication system available on the market today.   Until I started using the OTS system it was a nightmare trying to communicate using hand signals with my assistants underwater.  Even in a pool we had trouble but when we were in the ocean with 18ft great whites swimming around us all, the ability to talk and direct the lights where I needed them was and is crucial for successful lit subjects!  I am so grateful for this system that I believe was  developed for the NAVY and Military.  There are some, very few benefits to battle, this being one, and one of maybe three things.  If there were no wars and I had to use hand signals underwater, then I would trade in this mask system in a heart beat!

What did you learn about the sharks that surprised you.
Every time I swim with sharks I learn something new.  I have had so many misconceptions about these creatures and to smash them has been so liberating. I had so much fear surrounding them since I was a child growing up surfing the waves in Northern California home of many large great whites. I was always fascinated with them.  Jaws had a huge impact on me as a kid as well like it did most of the planet when it came out.  That movie single handedly took the already natural god given fear we all have and injected it with steroids.  I though the sharks were coming out of the lights in my pool as a kid, not joking! So having this fear combined with the yearning to learn more about these animals has allowed me to view with my own eyes in person what gentle giants they really are.  Watching them on TV is nothing like having them in front of you in person.  Sure the TV helps lessen the fear a tiny bit but really until you are in the water with these sharks and your adrenaline is pumping like it always does even to this day with so many dives, it is just not the same.

I always have the blood pumping when I first get in the water but shortly there after my body settles down and I get in the rhythm of these animals.  They are like puppy dogs, and I know when you read that it’s hard to believe but it’s true.  They do not want us, we are not on their menu.  They are more scared of us then I believe we are of them.  They shy away from us at all times and only their curiosity similar to ours of them causes them to come in for a closer look.  I have been so fortunate to witness behaviors rarely seen by us such as being underwater as a 15ft Great White re-enters the water from a breach.  Seeing two great whites going nose to nose to see which one gets the food.  Witnessing these behaviors along with many more is just fascinating to me.  I study humans when I shoot them here on land, their nuances and personalities to try and bring them out in my portrait sessions and I have had the gamut come in front of my lens and like humans, I am as curious about the sharks as I am the fellows I share this planet with!

You have tremendous range in your work from the past 25 years. How did your previous work lead to this?
I have shot many subjects in my 25+ years of photography and have covered so many different subjects that may be very much the reason it led me underwater.  To be honest there are not a whole lot of things left that get me as excited as animals do at this point in my career.  I do love shooting people and always will.  I do love shooting commercial work but am having a desire to do much larger productions fewer times a month than many small ones which I have been doing for many years.  My passion is leading me outdoors again to the wilderness and the vast oceans to turn my lens on our planet and what’s happening to it.  Not in a way that focusses on the destruction but more the beauty of it in hopes that it will inspire the destruction to stop.  I have always loved and been fascinated with animals as I have been with people.  That said, I was not in a place like I am now to go and do what I am doing now which is taking that 25 years experience into the wild and take the skills I learned in the studio and on location, then turning it loose on animals.  I want to take photos of things in ways people have never seen before, I want to make people stop and think “how did he do that?” “how did he get that look” only by doing that can you possibly have a  chance to get people to stop and think “how can we keep this animal around?” you know?  The same approach as I have taken to get people to buy a product or see a movie I am using to try and change perceptions of our planet.  I can only try right?  Like the road blocks I hit with creating the lights, the challenge is to not give up before the miracle happens!

Was Summit to Summit the start of you adding yet another dimension to your interests as a photographer?
I don’t think it was the start but it certainly is along the lines of what drives me today.  To be a part of a movement that educates people about our planet and the lack of clean drinking water around the world is just another example of how I am trying to use my gifts today.  I don’t think I was put here to shoot the things I have shot for 25 years and continue shooting them for the next 25 years.  I am a student or follower of Darwin’s comment “evolve or die”.  I want to evolve as a person, a photographer, husband, and father.  I want to challenge myself as an artist and as a human being and what I see happening today on and to our planet does not sit well with me.  I am under no illusion that I am going to go out and take a photo that is going to change the world, but at the same time I am not going to sit back and do nothing expecting someone else to fix the problem.  I don’t know what my images will do, but that is not my business.  My job is to take pictures, give them to the world and what happens, happens.  I have to follow my heart and listen to my gut, I always have and it has never been wrong.

Where are you going from here with underwater photography?
I don’t know?  I am going where the light leads me I guess.  I just want to go out and have fun creating images and documenting this amazing planet we all share.  There is just so much to shoot and the subjects are limitless, I just need to show up!  I am planning an exhibition to South Africa this year to shoot breaching Great Whites as well as safari all in one trip, so that ought to be a fun. All I can say is that as long as I am drawing a breath and my limbs are all working, I will be out there shooting, both above and below the water.  There are a few other ideas I have that I want to try and do underwater that I think will help take underwater photography to anther level, but we will have to wait and see what happens!

 

Kurt Tong Interview

- - Photographers

Jonathan Blaustein interviews photographer Kurt Tong.

JB: You and I met, as I have with several people I’ve interviewed, at Review Santa Fe in 2009. I don’t think we’ve seen each other or spoken since. I’ve got to give a shout out to that class of ’09. This is right off the top of my head, but you came out of there. Susan Worsham. Jesse Burke. LaToya Ruby Frasier. Emily Shur. Ben Lowy. Susan Burnstine. (I know I’m forgetting another handful. Apologies.)

KT: It’s been fun. I’ve kept in touch with a few people from that Review as well. They’re all doing well. Kind of crazy.

JB: You went there a young guy, just trying to get his work out into the world. And in the ensuing three years you’ve evolved into a photographer with an International exhibition record, you’re represented by Jen Bekman, one of the biggest galleries in New York, you had a book published by Keher Verlag. It seems like it all came together for you in a relatively short period of time.

KT: Before Santa Fe, I had this plan to shoot a project, “In Case it Rains in Heaven,” which is the one that got published and exhibited a lot. I’d done the leg work in the two years leading up to Santa Fe. Doing the reviews. Meeting the curators. So I had my network ready. I went back to Hong Kong and shot the project, and I was able to show it to a lot of people in a very short period of time. From there it snowballed.

JB: So this was really a 5 year process for you.

KT: Yes. If I’d shot that project in 2007, before I started doing the circuit, it wouldn’t have exploded so quickly. It’s because I’d just put my foot through the door.

JB: We all have so many different things going on at the same time, it can make it difficult to give our best effort in any one avenue. You’re living back and forth between London and Hong Kong. So that must resonate with you, the struggle to be our best self.

KT: I have been working hard. Pre-2009, I was shooting a lot of events and weddings. Then that project came out, and people started taking notice. I planned an 18 month stint in HK with my family to work a different project that’s due to come out soon.

JB: What’s it called?

KT: “The Queen, the Chairman and I.” But, with what you were saying, trying to do everything at once? I didn’t. I made the decision that I would concentrate on the fine art, I didn’t do any events jobs or weddings. The benefit of that is showing. Within the last 18 months, I’ve got signed up by 3 commercial galleries, including the Photographers’ Gallery in London. I’ve had a book published, and have been working on a lot of shows. That’s a full-time job.

I think wedding photography is a full-time job. I had a wedding that I shot a year ago. A year later, the couple is still hassling me to get the album right, or get some new orders. So I had to give that up to concentrate 100% of my time on my personal work. Which involves a lot of social networking, and turning up at festivals, making book dummies.

I think that’s paid off. But at the same time, a lot of that work doesn’t pay. Which is what I’ve been struggling with.

JB: You chose to stop working for pay so you could pour all of your energy into something that wasn’t actually paying your bills. And you’ve got kids, right?

KT: In college, people hint at it, but they don’t tell you how it works. But did you see, sometime last year, Aline Smithson did a blog post about the cost of success?

JB: Yeah, I saw that. Is that what you’re dealing with now, trying to figure out how to afford to show your work around the world?

KT: Absolutely. I gave myself 2 years to shoot a new project, and really try to see if living off print sales alone could work. People tell me it doesn’t work, and I found out the hard way. I’ve been doing OK with the sales, but as Aline’s blog post suggests, every show comes with printing and framing costs, without any guarantee that you can even make your money back.

JB: It sounds like you saved up some money and saw it as a phase where you put in the time and energy now for long-term results. And now you’re two years into it, and it’s starting to hurt a little bit. Is that it?

KT: Yeah, in a sense, I’m kind of running out of money. I’d been living on print sales until August or September, and that’s when the financial markets started going a bit bad again. It is reflected. Once the stock market dropped, the print sales stopped. You realize that Art is such a luxury commodity.

JB: It’s perfect that you brought that up, because you have a solo show up right now at the Jen Bekman gallery in New York, as we speak. You came up through the ranks of the Hey Hot Shot competition. You were chosen as their Ne Plus Ultra one year. And when people think of Jen Bekman, they often think of 20×200. $10 to the artist for each 8X10 print. How does that work? You talk about surviving on print sales, but you can’t survive on $10 a pop.

KT: When I talk about print sales, I’m talking mostly about the galleries representing me. Jen Bekman has only 2 of my prints on 20×200 (2 more were launched with the exhibition). It’s only those two prints sold through her that are from $10 a pop. My other prints sell for considerably more. They range from $600 to $6000.

I think a lot of people have issues with Jen Bekman’s model, 20×200, bringing the cheap prints into the market so people don’t buy the expensive prints. But I’ve got to say, at the end of the month, they’re the only ones who guarantee me a check every month. Whether it’s $200 or $2000, they never fail to sell something. Whereas my other galleries often go through 3 or 4 month dry patches.

JB: So the fact that there are 2 images out there for very little cost is not having any adverse effect upon the higher market value of what you do?

KT: No.

JB: People are going to want to hear that. It’s a controversial subject, and you can only speak for yourself. But I have talked with Joseph Holmes about it in the past, who also works with them, and he’s been very positive about how the 20×200 program works too.

KT: I think it’s important what work is put onto 20×200. Obviously, they have a very strict curatorial process. They pick the best work, so as a photographer, with all the publicity it gets, it’s tempting to give them your best shots. But it’s important to put some of your best work aside.

JB: And what was the opening of the exhibition like for you?

KT: It was exciting. I had the best experience ever, last year, when I had my first museum show. That kind of spoiled me, but I had a fantastic time in NY.

In reality, I think there is a difference between having a show in New York and a show in Europe. It’s the buzz afterwards. In London, if you have a show, and you don’t manage to get the newspaper or the bloggers down at the opening, they stop talking about it, and the show just fizzles out. But in New York, a lot of people didn’t come to the opening, but since I left, it’s kept going. I think it’s a much more vibrant scene of online art critics, in New York, I find.

JB: I want to switch gears a bit. I know that you were raised in both Hong Kong and England. In one of the statements on your website, you referred to yourself an others as “Us Honkeys.”

KT: I did.

JB: So with the rise of the Internet and more affordable air travel, national boundaries seem to mean less than they used to. You’re a living embodiment of the mashup of East and West. A global citizen type. What’s your take on that?

KT: It’s funny you said that. I lived in Hong Kong until I was 13, then I went to boarding school in England, and stayed here and married here. Throughout my twenties, I saw myself as a citizen of the world. I spent a lot of time in India, and Eastern Europe. So I thought wherever I was, I was home.

It wasn’t until my daughter was born that I started feeling Chinese again. Once you become a father, you want to be prepared when your children ask you about their identity. So that’s when my work completely changed. Up until then, I wanted to travel the world, so all my projects were done out and about. Since the kids, all my work has been shot in England, Hong Kong or China. Really, I was trying to find my own identity, in a way.

JB: Do you speak any of the Chinese dialects?

KT: I do. My mother tongue is actually Cantonese. The last two years I’ve been learning Mandarin, for a couple of reasons. A., because I wanted to, and a lot of my work is shot in China.

JB: B., because you saw the writing on the wall.

KT: (laughing.) Exactly. I want a gallery in Beijing.

JB: No doubt. You’re talking about surviving on print sales. You’re no dummy. You’ve got to go where the money is.

KT: It’s interesting, actually, because a lot of the big galleries are opening branches in Hong Kong, precisely for that reason. White Cube, Gagosian. It’s definitely where the money is.

JB: Can you talk a bit about the differences between mainland China and Hong Kong?

KT: It’s hard for me to say. When I go to China, I don’t face the same scrutiny as a Westerner would. Because I don’t enter on a passport, I enter on a Hong Kong residency card. I can almost infiltrate.

JB: And unlike me, you’re not a gringo with a goatee, so you can perhaps blend in a little easier.

KT: I have no secret police following me, I don’t think. I certainly know of photographers who’ve done work in Tibet, and their room gets ransacked. But I never had that problem. Certainly, in Hong Kong, there’s lot more freedom. No doubt about it. You can openly criticize the government, which you can’t do in China.

JB: Is that something that people expect to continue?

KT: China still needs Hong Kong. Companies and now galleries like to open in Hong Kong, because things are done more legitimately. Money and Banks. There’s none of the corruption. So China needs to keep Hong Kong a certain way, but they also want Hong Kong to rely on them. A lot of the businesses and hotels and tourist industry relies purely on the Chinese tourists. So if China wanted to stop Hong Kong, they could just stop tourism. They can definitely control Hong Kong in certain ways.

JB: Do you think you’ll stay in London, or move back to Hong Kong?

KT: We’re thinking of moving back to Hong Kong, actually. It would be good for my children to learn Mandarin. And I get more work done from there, in terms of making contacts and pushing my projects, living in Hong Kong as opposed to living in England.

JB: Why do you think that is? Because China’s hot right now?

KT: No. When you’re here in England, you might know a curator, be acquainted, but they have lots to do. When I try to show my new work, I keep getting pushed further down the diary. But when I email from Hong Kong and say I’ll be in town for a couple of weeks, I tend to get the meetings. It works a lot better.
At them moment, in London, I’m struggling to meet people I know well because they’re so busy.

JB: Sometimes, we imagine that you have to be in the biggest of big markets. One of the reasons I left New York, (other than the fact that it was kicking my ass,) was that I started nosing around Chelsea, really paying attention to the CV’s in the exhibitions, and and I noticed that at least half the artists that had representation were not living in New York. They were in random and far-flung places.

It resonated with me, because I always felt like I was swimming upstream in the Big Apple. I knew if I came back to Taos, living in the mountains with the fresh air, that it was more likely that I’d make the most of myself.

KT: Living in London, my friends often get sucked into going to openings, meeting the same people. As you know, lots of photographers like to talk about themselves…

JB: Oh my goodness.

KT: So you come away from the openings completely depressed. I won’t name names, but one of my friends is a photo-journalist, and she’s so jealous of a few of the female photo-journalists that are doing well at the moment. Every time we go to an opening, they’re there, showing off, and she becomes very depressed. I’ve got to ground her a bit, and say, “If you really look at the CV, they’re not doing that well. They’re having a nice run, but you’re doing just as well.” It’s hard to distance yourself from that if you live in a city and see people every Thursday at an opening.

JB: That was what happened to me. I got really insecure, and I think that competitiveness can be incredibly destructive to one’s creativity. I’m trying to learn not to judge myself by others’ success. I want to judge myself by how hard I’m working, whether I’m growing and getting better. Learning how to avoid the problems that in the past would have tripped me up. It’s easier to say that than to do it.

KT: Very few people are living off their art. But living in a city, going to artist talks, you get the impression that they are. I think it’s important to know that’s not the case.

JB: You’re ticking all the boxes on what would be considered success, and yet you’re dealing with the same problems as all Global Middle Class citizens. How can I make enough to support my kids? How can I keep it together? Acclaim is still not equated with material success for most artists who are not already super-established.

KT: Absolutely. I went Paris Photo recently, and it is the same 8 or 10 photographers who are dominating the whole scene. It’s almost like they’re eating the main meal, and there’s another 200 photographers eating the scraps around it. And I’m not even eating the scraps.

Jodi Bieber Interview

- - Photographers

By Kathalijne van Zutphen

Jodi Bieber (1966) is a South African photographer mostly known for her highly publicized portrait of Bibi Aisha; the young Afghan woman who had her nose and ears cut off by the Taliban after seeking rescue from her violent husband in her parent’s home. It was this photo that won Bieber the World Press Photo Award in 2011. She has won no less than 8 other World Press Photo Awards, as well numerous other prestigious awards such as first prize for the series “Real Beauty” in Picture of the Year International Competition and Winner of the Prix de l’Union Européene at the Rencontres de Bamako Biennale Africaine de la Photographie in 2009.

Bieber is currently rounding off a hectic year of constant traveling, meeting people, being on juries and lots of public speaking. It is on this last leg of the World Press Photo exhibition, in Cape Town, that we find ourselves sitting in the gardens of the Castle of Good Hope. A place with a symbolic name as this is where Bieber is teaching a 3-day masterclass to 17 aspiring photographers organized by World Press Photo in cooperation with Iziko Museums.

Kathalijne van Zutphen: How did you get into photography?
Jodi Bieber: I originally studied Marketing because an aptitude test said I would be good at studying Law. I couldn’t picture myself doing 7 years of studying and chose Marketing because it was only 4 years. While I was sitting with a friend during a lunch-break, a piece of paper fell into my lap. The piece of paper advertised photography courses at the Market Workshop in Johannesburg. And that is how I got into photography.

After completing several short courses at the Workshop, I did a three month internship at The Star under Ken Oosterbroek in 1993. My job as an intern was to develop everyone’s film and print their work. I still found time, though, to go out and shoot on my own and scored my first front page publication on the third day. I was invited to be part of a select group of 10 photographers for the World Press Photo Masterclass in Amsterdam in 1996. I’ve always done my own projects such as ‘Between Dogs and Wolves’, ‘Survivors’ and ‘Soweto’ but have also done work for Time Magazine and Médicines Sans Frontières.

Can you tell us something about the way you work? For example, how much directing do you do?
JB: When I go out on a shoot, I am there for hours. I exhaust my subjects. As far as shooting goes, I start with framing the photograph. I will tell the person I am photographing where I want to do it, but I will not tell someone how to pose. And in case there are two or more people being photographed, I will not tell them in which order to stand. I feel you can tell a lot about their relationship from where they chose to stand. Once I have framed the image I will direct, I will maybe ask someone to move a leg or hand.

I was never motivated by the money, I was motivated by photography. I chose my projects because a subject interested me. I came to ‘Real Beauty’ after seeing the Dove billboard which showed normal women as opposed to models and I thought that was amazing. Then I met a model soon after that, who told me a lot of dark secrets about the fashion industry, and that yes, for instance, she does have bags under her eyes but that will be photoshopped out. That made me curious about what real beauty is. When I started that project a lot of women were a little apprehensive at first, but I soon received phone calls from women asking to take part. And I accepted everyone.

You speak a lot about the importance of editing well. What makes a good editor to you?
JB: Editing is absolutely crucial. Everyone is a photographer these days and where you can make a difference is with interpretation. As a good editor you have to be true to yourself but not be too emotionally attached. If you let someone else edit your work, you have to make sure you put your point of view across well and work with someone you trust.

Where do you think a lot of photographers go wrong?
JB: They rush too much. You have to take the time to edit. Don’t add photos because you think you need a certain number of photos, less is definitely more. Create piles while you’re doing it; have a ‘Maybe’ pile, as well as an ‘In’ and ‘Out’ pile. If you have difficulty saying goodbye to your photos, then keep the ‘Out’ pile in your view so you feel like you can always go back to it. And do not do it on the computer.

And when you are building your portfolio it should be like music – made up of highs and lows but not weak.

You often find yourself in quite dangerous situations. How do you cope?
JB: I believe that my openness about what I am doing is my protection. I create relationships quickly, little circles of people around a bigger situation that may be dangerous.

You mentioned during the workshop that photographers bring themselves to the shoot as well. Where do we see you in your work?
JB: I don’t know, I am not the right person to ask. My choice of subject matter will probably tell you a lot. I also think that I am pretty direct and you can see that in my work as well but it is not “what you see is what you get”.

I once heard someone say that a profession is a vehicle for something deeper. Assuming that is true, what is it that you are searching for through your photography?
JB: Photography has been a vehicle to discover things I didn’t know before. When I go out shooting, I am learning something new. I am connecting with other people; and I feel a responsibility towards them.

Speaking of responsibility, there is the age old dilemma and debate, that photographers go into a situation and take something, prey on the weak while the gain nothing. How do you feel about that?
JB: I do feel responsible, and sometimes I do feel it is a bit unfair. You get your shot but the community will never benefit. That is a difficult thing.

I really do believe that it is important to be very clear about what it is you want and what the photo will be used for. If you leave out a detail just so you can get the photograph, that detail will come back to haunt you. And if someone has a problem with what you are trying to do, then simply don’t shoot them. I make sure that the people who do agree to take part in a project get one of the Artist Proof prints (ed: out of two) that I have. It is up to them to either hold on to the print or if they want, sell it. That is my way of giving them something back.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?
JB: Well, being a photographer is a lonely profession and you sacrifice one thing for another. All I ever did was photography and I am only just learning that there are thing like shoes, make-up (laughs).

After winning the World Press Photo, you must have led a very hectic and different life this year. What has been the biggest lesson?
JB: I have learned that photos speak very loudly. Not all and not all the time but when they do, then can create change. And I have learned that when you have a voice, you have to use it. Photographers can be very powerful.

What is next for you?
JB: I will be starting a new project and I have a big show coming up in Ulms, Germany.

Any last advice?
JB: Just go out and do it. You have to get out there and create the work, put in the hours, develop your own style. And don’t be where the pack is. Do your own thing. And, when you are about to take a picture of what I like to call ‘The Stare’, reconsider it.

Gregory Crewdson Movie

- - Photographers

Filmed over a decade, beginning in 2000, Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters provides an unparalleled view of the moment of creation of his images. It also reveals the life-story behind the work—through frank reflections on his life and career, including the formative influences of his psychologist father and his childhood fascination with the work of Diane Arbus.

A film by Ben Shapiro.

more: http://www.gregorycrewdsonmovie.com

thx, Steve Skoll

The Impact Of Conservation Photography – Garth Lenz

- - Photographers

by Grayson Schaffer

On January 18 the Obama administration blocked the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would’ve moved bitumen and crude oil from the tar sands region of northern Alberta to refineries in Illinois, Nebraska, and eventually the Texas Gulf Coast. The pipeline’s advocates claim that it would create 20,000 new jobs and decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil. Its critics claim that employment figure is closer to 3,000 temporary workers and that the pipeline would represent a serious environmental disaster even if it never ruptured or caused a spill; getting the oil out of the ground, they argue, is already tearing up Canada’s boreal forest and would massively contribute to climate change. One thing that’s not discussed in the debate is the role photography has played in shaping the battle lines. Chances are, if you’ve seen photos of the mining operations in the tar sands region, they were shot by Canadian photographer Garth Lenz. Grayson Schaffer recently spoke with the 54-year-old Victoria, British Columbia–based shooter about his work.

Grayson: You get to chalk up last month’s decision as a win, right?
Garth: It was a great win. Of course, the Republicans can and will reapply at a later date, but one has to think that this is a very positive step. The same reasons that make the pipeline a bad idea now are going to make it a bad idea in the future—even if it goes around the Ogallala Aquifer [under America’s heartland]. There will always be a real risk of a breach in that pipeline. The bitumen contained in the tar sands crude pumped through these pipelines is far more corrosive than petroleum, so the chance of a leak is even worse. Plus, the pipeline would completely undercut initiatives for Americans to be pursuing their own sustainable energy sources.

Grayson: What exactly is the environmental movement fighting against? Is it the pipeline, specifically, or is the fact that this oil gets burned at all?
Garth: Well I think that depends on who’s doing the fighting. There are obviously a number of groups whose primary concern is the risk of a pipeline rupture. And then there are a lot of other people who look at these pipelines as the linchpin for expansion of the dirtiest most carbon-intensive fossil fuel on the planet. And the creation of that fossil fuel is predicated on the destruction of the boreal landscape under which it’s found. That part of Canada holds a significant portion of boreal forest, the most concentrated terrestrial carbon sink on the planet. In terms of climate change, it’s a double whammy. This is why NASA climatologist James Hansen feels that it is “essentially game over” in terms of maintaining a stable climate if the Tar Sands are developed, and environmental writer Bill McKibben refers to the Keystone pipeline as “a 1700 mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.”

Grayson: Explain how you think your photographs may have affected this process.
Garth: People hear so many arguments back and forth, and it can become extremely confusing. I think there is a real honesty in actually seeing the physical impact of what a development project like this means on the ground. When you’re actually there and you see the scale of impact, you really realize that we’re changing the earth in a way that has never been done on this kind of scale. I think the photography brings that home and will compel people to do their own research into the matter and form their own opinions. I think photography has the potential to convince people that this is, in fact, a huge issue and worthy of their attention.

Grayson: In writing, everybody has an opinion, even if they try to present an objective version of a set of events. When you shoot the tar sands, are you thinking about how to cast each photograph in a light that supports your point of view? Is photography inherently more honest than writing?
Garth: I don’t know that I’m going to say to a writer that photography is inherently more honest than writing, though I imagine you’re a photographer as well. Especially in the digital age the honesty of photography is being questioned, but I try to make my photographs as honest a representation of what’s really there as possible. Photographs are compelling, they get people’s attention. I think that honesty is important.

Grayson: So how do you stay honest but still advocate for your cause?
Garth: I am definitely not trying to photograph with any particular agenda, that usually results in bad photography and bad journalism. When I am photographing, I am not trying to advocate for any particular cause. Of course I care about these issues but my work is really driven by an interest in the issue and its potential for producing the kind of aesthetic imagery I respond to, and in trying to tell a story. When I am in the field, my aesthetic perspective really kicks in and is the overwhelming influence in the photographs I produce. When you’re shooting from a plane, everything is happening so fast that you’re working on instinct and intuition. I’m really just trying to make a strong, powerful, beautiful image. There are images in my exhibit for which I have been criticized for making the Tar Sands look too beautiful. Those are some of the images that I am most proud of. I like the idea of challenging peoples preconceived ideas about what these landscapes “ought to look like.” The same exhibit also has a large print of some of the work done on producing dry tailings, which has the potential to have a very positive impact on that aspect of the Tar Sands’ impacts. Some people might prefer that I not show an image that shows some of the efforts being made to try and reduce the impacts but I think it is an interesting image and an important part of the story. At the same time, some of the images are pretty graphic and challenging. The overriding influence in producing these images and including them in my exhibit was that I found them interesting and compelling visually. I’m not really thinking, “Oh, if I frame a picture this way, people are going to think that.” I am really not thinking about how other people are going to respond the them, it is really more about how I am responding to the subject matter in the moment. My overall approach is pretty intuitive. Whether I’m on the ground or in the air, my aesthetic desires take over. I care about these issues a lot and that’s one of the motivating factors in photographing these kinds of industrial landscapes. But the fact is, I find the subject matter incredibly arresting and powerful, just on its own merit. And I think even if it weren’t for the fact that these are important issues that I feel compelled to communicate, I would still find this subject matter fascinating.

Grayson: Explain what the International League of Conservation Photographers does.
GL: The ILCP was created in 2005 to bring together the best practitioners of this kind of photography. The idea is that if we work together as a network, the impact of our actions would be a lot stronger. The ILCP helps photographers more effectively use their work to support environmental causes and organizations. They’re trying to raise the credibility, the standards, and the public awareness for this kind of work.

Grayson: Awareness? You mean that Keystone isn’t just an abstract talking point for talk radio hosts to bat around?
GL: Yeah, that it’s real, and that the photographers who are covering these issues are doing so with a very high code of ethics and a sense of integrity to communicate an honest representation of the threats.

Grayson: How do you pay for these projects? Flight time is not cheap. Then there’s your time, your equipment… How does a photographer get funding to do what is essentially activism?
Garth: For me, it comes from a variety of sources: fine art print sales, editorial assignments, stock sales, etc. I’ve been doing commissions for NGOs, fundraising mostly through folks who have supported my work over the years. Sometimes you have to be creative. My first work on the tar sands was in 2005 as part of a very large project that I conceived and completed for a coalition of groups working on boreal issues. In 2010 I made three trips to the area, mostly shooting stills for the documentary The Tipping Point. The producers helped cover the cost and air time, but I retained all copyright, which allowed me to produce a huge amount of material. I think I’ve been fortunate in that I recognized early on what a big issue the tar sands development was going to become.

Grayson: What’s the takeaway here for a photographer who wants to get into advocacy? And what effect can you actually have?
Garth: I think photographers can have a huge effect. Photography is one of the most powerful ways we can communicate both the fragility of the environment and the threats that unchecked industrial development present to it. That’s one of the reasons why, in all of my projects, I never just show the industrial landscape. You also have to show what that landscape was like before it became industrialized. The hope is to make people realize how important it is to protect the places that haven’t yet been impacted. The takeaway for photographers is that you have to really care about these issues. There’s not a huge amount of compensation. You have to be doing it for the right reasons because it’s a long haul.

Never Explain Your Work

- - Photographers

I asked Ethan Levitas to tell us a little more about the picture he took for GQ that we featured on The Daily Edit last week. Here’s his response:

Jean-Jacques Naudet, the legendary editor in chief (’76-’88) of French Photo, who looks like a leading man and lives like a gentleman – and who is a gentle man – told me not to. This was years ago, at his flat in Paris, while I was showing him some rough prints of my work Broken Arm. They were strewn all over the living room floor, and as he looked them over he told me, in his deep but quiet voice, “These are great.” Then he asked, “But how did you get all the police to cooperate and pose for you? What did you say?” A bit perplexed by this, I replied, “Well, Naudet, I didn’t. And that, to a large degree, is the work.” To which he seemed to take great delight, smiled wide and said, “These ARE great.” Then he added a four letter word, poured us another glass, lit another cigarette and after a long pause looked up and said, “Never explain your work.”

And though the paradox wasn’t lost on me, I generally agree. But at the risk of stepping on my own photograph, and because I truly appreciated hearing sincerely and positively from my peers about this work, that it spoke to them, a few words.

Sam Brown’s experience is at turns unique, tragic, and inspiring. (I hope those interested will take a moment to read the text of the GQ article as well.) As I considered this sitting, I struggled to avoid any simplification that would leave the individual behind: a skin-deep representation of the trauma, a lens-based impulse to voyeurism or imposed sentimentality, or any political polemic. At the same time, Sam’s story is also Capt. Brown’s story, and cannot, and should not, be separated from the Nation which he represented and served. It is personal and it is collective. Which, incidentally, is not unlike photography itself.

Other than that, and if I may, I’d prefer at the moment to get out of the way and let my portrait, and the medium, speak for itself.

Jake Stangel – A New Chapter

- - Photographers

I’ve been following Jake Stangel’s career for several years and noticed recently that he signed with Julian Richards and this month shot a feature in Esquire Magazine. He’s been very active online helping fellow emerging photographers, previously with his forum Too Much Chocolate and now a series of posts on his blog “the four most important things you can do to become a professional photographer“. I thought we should check in with Jake and see what’s going on.

APE: Tell me about yourself and how you got started as a photographer?
Jake Stangel: I was that dude in high school whose hands always reeked of D-76 from processing tri-x and printing in the darkroom without tongs all day long. I was fortunate to go to a public school that had a great photo program and provided all the black and white film I could shoot. Photography is just literally how I’ve identified myself since I was 15 years old, it’s been ten years now. Just constantly shooting, constantly out and about with a camera, always loving it. There’s never been a day I’ve been “over” photography, and I feel really fortunate to have that kind of relationship with the medium.

I went to NYU/Tisch photo for college, really hated what the majority of the photo program was about throughout my freshman year. A bunch of 18 year old egos with pretty shitty work (myself included), listless crits, an even more listless curriculum (I hear it’s gotten better, this was in 2008). And it was expensive. I couldn’t see myself there for 3 more years, so I got out of there ASAP after my freshman year.

However, I did stay within NYU, and followed my own educational path by enrolling in a school called Gallatin, where you can create your own major. I studied photography, marketing, economics, American Industrialization, and did a whole lot of writing over those last three years in college, which was seriously fundamental. I also studied abroad by doing a semester with NOLS in Central America for full credit, which took me about as far from NYC and civilized life as one can get. I would very much advise studying a well-rounded group of subjects in college, stay aware of what’s going on around you, cause there’s alot more than photography in this world.

Living in NYC was also paramount to my development as a photographer, and I got to intern and assist for Jeff Riedel and Richard Renaldi. Both of those experiences were fantastic and I learned heaps. These internships were utterly fundamental in solidifying my desire and motivation to become a photographer myself. I got so excited and happy to be on shoots, I knew I wanted to go for it. So, if college kids are reading this, work for photographers you love and respect. Doesn’t matter how big-time they are, though it’s helpful if they are working!

What does biking across the country (three times!) have to do with becoming a professional photographer? Shouldn’t you be assisting or something?
So I’m a little deranged (or very sane) and love cycling and traveling so much that I’ve ridden a bicycle East to West across America three times over three summers, twice while still in college in 2007, 2008, and once after I graduated in 2009. About 3 months and 3,000-4,000 miles each time. Usually 50-65 towns along the way. Lots of on the bike and off the bike time.

Every summer, the camera became my journal. The trips were just as fundamental to my photographic development as anything I did in college, and built the foundation upon which I still shoot: exploratory, narrative driven, environment-focused, mood-oriented, engagingly quirky photos that are based on wonderful light and interesting compositions. Everything became part of a visual diary, and a cause for exploration with a camera.

These exploration-quests set the tone for me to always be present on the real, live moment, the situation, the snippets of life/human interaction/engagement that mark our lives, our personal experiences, our memories. It lets me shoot quickly, loosely, and lightly. It also lets me jump between locations alot quicker, and allows me be on the lookout for great light and settings to shoot in, and not worry about all 9 strobes firing or wishing I hadn’t planted all my lights in one place.

These trips were also a phenomenal way to build a giant body of personal work, which I was aware of going into it, and really tried to take advantage of every day. Almost every ride and every experience was a “William Eggleston, eat your heart out” kind of day.

After I moved to Portland, OR from NYC, I was able to leverage this portfolio alot, and it helped kind of pull me up out of assisting a little quicker. But that said, I was shooting a crap-ton of personal work every day in Portland too.

I recognized that personal work, and developing a comprehensive portfolio of reportage-y, on-location work was the key to getting commissions. So I just went for it. Assigned myself what I wanted to shoot, then showed that work around, then got actual assigned work that nicely overlayed on top of it.

Seems like you’ve hit a new chapter in your career. The forum you started for up and coming photographers (Too much chocolate) is dead and you signed with a major rep. (Julian Richards). Tell me about it?
Yeah first of all, a goddamn hacker that took the site down. I didn’t pull the plug on it. I was getting pretty overwhelmed trying to maintain it at the end of last year while shooting, and planned to put it on hiatus, but keep it live, as a reference. Then this hacker came in and destroyed it. I’m beyond bummed, it was like 2.5 years of my life and hundreds of hours of time on the site. I think I’m just going to upload a tombstone on the homepage.

I met Julian through my genial photographer friend, Alex Tehrani. I was shooting some snowboarders riding halfpipe in 2007 in Stratton, Vermont for a small snowboard magazine. I was being totally dumb/gnarly by shooting with a 4×5 Toyo camera, which is the worst cause it slows down the process about 15 times, and you just hope the rider is in the right place, took the right line you prefocused on, etc. When a shot comes out, it’s worth it, but you’re so gripped the whole time you’re shooting, thinking about the money sinking through your hands.

Anyway, Alex comes tromping down the pipe in ski boots with a 5D and a huge sloppy grin on his face, and he’s like, “Dude! What the hell are you doing?!?”. He was there shooting Shaun White or Kevin Pearce, I think, for Men’s Journal. A friendship was born.

Alex became, and still is very much a mentor to me. I love him for that. He’s got such a great attitude and life outlook. Alex had been with Julian forever, and over time, sometime in 2009 I guess, he introduced Julian to my (nascent and early) work. So from there Julian and I got to know each other in late 2010 or so, and I quote-unquote “signed” with him in the summer of 2011. It was a totally pleasant, totally slow and totally natural process. Like childbirth. I’ve been told.

Julian’s great, I’m pumped. There were so few agents I took a liking to, where the roster was fantastic and the overall vibe wasn’t “we’re gonna turn you into a slick, photo-taking machine and you’re gonna shoot for Mercedes-Benz”. I really love Julian because he lets all of his photographers be themselves, and he really finds work that snugly fits right along with our personal, natural style, as opposed to jamming a square peg in a round hole.

What’s going on in the northwest, some kind of photography movement? Every time I check out someone new and cool they’re from the NW? Maybe you guys have a gang or something?
Well I moved to San Francisco in the summer, around when I came on board with Julian, but the two happenings were unrelated. I moved cause I wanted more sun, really, and I felt like Portland was definitely limiting my chances of getting work and being as visible as I wanted to. I’d have great meetings with photo editors and at the end they’re like, “where do you live again”, and I’d say “Portland!” and they’d be like, “oh…”. So I split. But I still love Portland.

Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver also have smaller and more transparent communities, where everyone knows each other, whereas in NYC and SF you start to not have that. The Northwest is rad because everyone there is incredibly grounded and centered, they’re much more in touch with nature, the rent is cheap and the coffee is also really cheap yet terrific, and most people grow beards, which helps in some way I haven’t yet ascertained.

So, is everything starting to click for you now? In the first chapter I detected angst, like “when is this career going to start,” but now you must be feeling pretty good?
Well, it’s not like I just stepped into the club and everything started to pop off. It’s been alot alot alot of struggle and getting the angle of my Kangol hat just so and there have been lots of rainy mornings spent getting out of ruts and staying positive and directed. Just tons of hard work. That’s all I can really say. Everyone who you see doing well has worked incredibly hard to get to where they are in their career, they’re all on the grind.

If anything, and I’m sure there’s a business term for this, there was a definite tipping point where I had the ability to channel all the commissioned work I was getting back into my portfolio, and that let things snowball alot. I was no longer having to make personal work to get assignments, my assignments were getting me more assignments. So its almost like all these magazine jobs were doing my marketing for me, because not only did it all become portfolio material, but was turning up in print, and it helps you stay top of mind alot more.

Christopher Anderson- Return of the Staff Photographer

by Grayson Schaffer

On Tuesday, New York Magazine announced that it had signed longtime contributor and well-known photojournalist Christopher Anderson as the weekly magazine’s first-ever “photographer-in-residence.” In a statement released to the British Journal of Photography, New York said the 41-year-old Brooklyn-based shooter would tackle a “broad array of subjects in a full range of styles, from photojournalism to portraiture to conceptual work.” Anderson will now work exclusively for New York, at least where print magazines are concerned. The odd thing, here, is that the era of the staff photographer was supposed to have ended when National Geographic gradually moved away from the practice. We called Anderson to try and make sense of the sudden turn of events.

Grayson: Congrats. We thought the staff photographer position had gone the way of the film camera, what happened?
Christopher: I’ve had a close collaboration with [photography director] Jody Quon and [editor] Adam Moss for quite some time. They came to me and asked if I would consider taking this kind of position as an experiment—a way to reaffirm the magazine’s commitment to exciting photography. It’s a great opportunity.

Grayson: What are the specifics of the arrangement that you can share?
Christopher: The amount of time is, as of yet, undetermined. We’re going to see how it goes for at least a year.

Grayson: As much as you can produce for them? Are you like an all-you-can-eat buffet of photography?
Christopher: Well this is the real world, and of course they’re going to want to use me as much as they can. It is, in that sense, an all-you-can-eat buffet. But I don’t think that was the point. The idea wasn’t to say “Let’s put him on staff so we can use him up as much as we can.” The point was to have my undivided attention. We want to see if working together in a concentrated way like this can produce some interesting work over time.

Grayson: So it looks more like a professor’s chair than a hamster wheel.
Christopher: Right. They have my undivided attention, but I also have theirs. As a freelance photographer, you spend a lot of time trying to drum up business—shooting just to eat. Now I feel like I can focus on the creative side. I genuinely like working with that magazine, and I love the current projects they’re presenting me with. You might think your hands would be tied and you’re owned by them, but in a weird way I feel much freer.

Grayson: Why do you think staff jobs went away in the first place?
Christopher: There were never many to begin with, though there were some contracts. I used to be on contract at Newsweek. But the implosion of the publishing industry in general, and the photography industry specifically, led to the end of that practice. In the end, it’s cheaper for magazines to use freelancers. It makes economic sense.

Grayson: So how does this arrangement make economic sense?
Christopher: I don’t know that it does. It’s kind of an experiment. But my sense is it’s not about economics. It’s hard to put an exact price on the value of this kind of collaboration. This is more about a creative partnership. I think that they’ve looked at models of how this is done before, particularly by the New Yorker. That magazine has had a long tradition of staff photographers over the years: Richard Avedon, Gilles Peress… and I think this is sort of that New Yorker model where it’s about letting my identity stay independent, even though I’ll be attached to the magazine.

Grayson: They’ll probably end up with some great work to show for it.
Christopher: I hope that that will be true. I also hope that I can produce some great work for myself. I see this as a mutually beneficial relationship.

ED McCulloch On Creating A Directors Reel From Scratch

Photographer and (now) Director Ed McCulloch sent me his new reel website: http://EDdirects.com which I thought looked amazing, so I asked him about the process:

What was the impetus for getting into directing and creating your reel?
Over the last couple of years I’ve seen the needs of agency creatives change. I did not want to be left behind. Last year I was shooting a campaign with Cramer-Krasselt in Austin Texas. On set the creative director for the agency told me that if I had a reel I would’ve been directing the tv spot as well. That’s when I started seriously thinking about film and director’s reel.

How do you go about creating a reel from scratch? Walk us through the process.
It was definitely a lot of work. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to create a reel that was on the same quality level as my photography. I knew it would take time. The learning curve would be steep and keep my head spinning for months.

The hardest decision I had to make was deciding between creating a director’s reel or a director of photography (DP) reel. Did I want to direct or did I want to shoot? Being a photographer my natural instinct was to become a DP. DP’s are responsible for everything composition, camera movements and lighting. They collaborate with the director to make sure his vision comes to life. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that in my photography my biggest enjoyment came from directing the photo shoots; choosing locations, talent, wardrobe and getting the right performances out of the talent which all culminate in the final product. For me photography was always more about the story and the creative aspects, not the technical side.

After that decision was made I started brainstorming ideas and writing the scripts for the spots. That was one of the most important things: the creation of the concepts and the stories I would be telling. I chose brands that people would recognize but not brands so huge that everyone knows exactly what agency or what director shoots them. I do however have a Nike spot on my reel. The decision to use Nike as a brand was made because I was shooting an NBA player who is really sponsored by Nike.

While writing the scripts I searched for specialized crew members that were willing to help me build the reel. I did use some of my photography crew like assistants and stylists but in the end film is so much more collaborative and involved than photography so I knew I would need crew members that were also experienced in film. I definitely encountered plenty of no’s but kept pushing forward. In the end I found a great group of people willing to help me build the reel. We had anywhere from 15-25 crew members on set for each shoot.

After I had scripts and crew I set dates for the first couple of shoots then started producing them. I scouted locations, applied for permits, gathered insurance certificates, scheduled casting calls, chose wardrobe with my stylist, made compositional and lighting decisions with my DP, put together call sheets and shoot schedules etc. That was extremely time consuming and exhausting.

Next was shooting and directing the talent and overall look and feel of each piece. Shoot days were definitely the most fun. Collaborating with actors was a learning process, it’s much different than working with talent in photography. Learning the way actors think and the language they use to communicate takes time to understand. The whole process of collaborating with them was incredibly fulfilling.

After shooting came editing. I could not for the life of me find a good editor willing to help, so my DP and I had to learn it. Editing is an art form in and of itself. Editors have a unique talent for problem solving and story telling. It was incredibly difficult to learn. It takes a completely different creative thought process, it was challenging. We edited all of our pieces on Final Cut Pro 7.

Sound design was another challenge. Collecting high quality sound and laying it in the right places at the right times of the commercial is an art form. I enlisted the help of a sound designer for this part.

Put all of that together and you have a :30 or :60 second spot. Everything currently on my reel was shot this year between February and November.

What are your thoughts on taking your vision from print/digital and applying it to motion?
Yeah that was definitely an important part of the process. Having your own unique style of directing is just as important as it is in photography. I think it’s extremely important to stay consistent throughout your photography portfolio and motion reel but there are so many more variables in film to consider. This one thing caused an immense amount of stress for me. I knew how to create photographs, how do get the look and feel that I needed, how to tell a story with one frame. Initially film blew my mind in this aspect because instead of one frame I now had many many frames to tell my stories. There are so many different processes in producing and directing a commercial that it was initially a challenge to make sure ALL decisions were being made with my vision in mind.

What’s the next step, working with a production company? That seems a bit different than the photography business, so tell us how that works?
After the reel was created the next step was contacting production companies. These companies represent directors. They are the middlemen between the director and the ad agency. They take care of all the estimating much like a photographers agent would do. What differentiates them from photographers agent is they actually produce the commercials which is where their money is made. A director is assigned an executive producer within the company to work with. Production companies are represented by reps that are positioned by territory; east coast, mid west and west coast. These reps travel to ad agencies within their territories and funnel projects to the production companies they represent. Most reps represent multiple production companies, editorial (editors), music and visual effects companies.

I researched these companies and contacted the executive producers to set up the meetings. The process took about six months, they are incredibly hard to get a hold of. I was told they receive thousands of email requests each month. I’ve recently returned from LA where I met with some great production companies. I will be up and running with one of them in January.

Professional Photography Is a Relationship Business

Check out this behind the scenes video where Kid Rock has this to say about Clay Patrick McBride:

I love working with Clay McBride, because it’s fast, he gets it done. If a light needs to be moved he grabs it himself, he’s pleasant to the people he works with hes nice of course he takes great pictures or he wouldn’t be here. Once I find a good thing I kind of stick with it. They’re always trying to get me to work with different people at every level and I’m like if somethings not broke we don’t got to reinvent the wheel here. I love Clays pictures, he’s take a lot of great shots for me throughout the years album covers, magazines and other sorts of stuff, he’s just a pleasant person to be around. I consider him a friend and we work well together.

Craig Cutler’s CC52 Project: 1 shoot a week for a year

- - Photographers

Heidi: With the CC52 Project did you start out with a grocery list of photography fundamentals that you wanted to explore in unique and challenging ways? For instance: The foil triptychs seem to be a pure light and shape study.
Craig: I’ve always worked on my own, the difference now is the seven day deadline to complete a project and move to a new idea within the next seven days. Whether I like it or not, it’s mood driven.

What has been the most surprising to you about this project and what have you learned about yourself as a photographer?
I tried not to fall into a routine and allow myself to have an open mind and find inspiration from different things. The most surprising aspect has been that I thought it was going to be easier. We are in week 30 and it’s a bit harder, but the images are getting better. Plus I enjoy the freedom. When shooting editorial, the amount of freedom or lack of, can be suffocating. By time the image flows through all the channels, it can get watered down. With this project I don’t answer to anyone, I’m doing it for myself, like or it not.

I enjoyed the distillation of the everyday experiences of a melting popsicle and a burning marshmallow. How challenging was that to achieve, and make it so simple and artful?
This is where the industry is going and we need things with movement. People have a hard time taking something abstract and making something of it. How do you take a marshmallow and make it interesting?  Make things move and they become something more interesting. It also helps to have Victoria Granoff as your food stylist.

Have you always sketched out you ideas first?
When I sketch I mentally go through the photo shoot in my head. It’s here I decide to move forward or shut it down.

For CC12:Duct Tape: How long did each image take, and did you apply one piece at a time and then take a shot? How many rolls did you use, and whose car is that?
20 cases of duct tape. I had interns and lots of people to help. I spent 6 hours doing a very elaborate lighting for the car. In the very end, it was too fussy, the idea didn’t need lighting. I pulled it all off and ended up shooting it with one direct light. Two days of applying tape, 15 minutes to light it. The car took one full day. And it’s my car. No one would rent me a car like that allow it to be covered in duct tape.

In CC1:Ice Cubes Are those real ice cubes? How can you achieve that with no melt if they are?
Absolutely all of them are real ice cubes. Shooting quickly with 4×5,  I simply made a pencil mark on the set and then built the columns. I had my assistant bring out 3 industrial sized racks of cubes, we used 30-40 cubes per take and had about 30 seconds for each take. Can’t even tell you how many times it collapsed. Unless its motion everything is shot on film, and at the end of this project I am having a opening with the prints.

Do you think there will be some sense of gravity for your last segment?
I don’t know that’s a great question, it’s so far down the road!

Do you know what that last piece will be yet,  or are you inspired weekly and spontaneously?
Spontaneity is the number one important thing to me.

Tell me about this latest piece: The Vase.
Steve Meierdin, was my first assistant/ manager full time, now he freelances for me on special projects. It’s one of my favorites right now. I like it because its so simple. The  base of the idea is just a white vase and white box, everything else happens around it. High tech meets low tech here, The editing had the biggest impact on that project. We adjusted the speed of the “cycles” for the editing and the audio was a stock waterfall that we manipulated. I wanted it to be unrecognizable, but paced with the video so it’s in your head but you are not quite able to place it.

Stephanie Rausser’s Kiki & Coco Project

- - Photographers, Promos

Stephanie Rausser’s personal project Kiki & Coco, is an awesome example of how you can use the web and social media to see if there’s interest in something you’ve created then use that demand to evolve the project into other mediums. Also, there’s simply no better way to make a connection to clients than with a personal project, it speaks volumes about your passion for photography.

Rob: Tell me how the project started?
Stephanie: In November 2007 one of my closest friends, Debra McClinton, took her life. Our daughters were the same age and we had become good friends after she assisted me for many years.

I had realized things were bad for her, and I remember after a call in the summer of 2007, thinking something needed to be done – that things had turned for the worse. Three months later it was too late and to this day I have guilt and anguish over wishing I had done more. When we worked together we worked well together and often went on trips, taking turns photographing our daughters and after her death I have had this recurring dream where she moved in with us and we become business partners and photographed every job together.

At the time, I was wrapped up with my business and life and I did not intervene. What intervening would have looked like is hard to say but my choice not to has impacted me. Sometimes things happen in your life and they are an invitation to change things. Deb’s death stopped me in my tracks and it made me start to think differently. Like no other deaths I had experienced, it made me realize how fragile and delicate life is and how important it is to take care of yourself, those that you love, and to slow down. The Kiki and Coco Project came about because it was a way to not only deal with the grief and sadness that followed Deb’s death but also it was a way for me to do something out of the ordinary, something that allowed me to connect in a more meaningful and creative way.
This is how the trip to Paris with my daughter Kiki, and her doll, Coco, came about.

So, when you got back you made a video of the images from the trip (here). What was the response to the video?
The response was great. The French music we found to go with it was adorable and it seemed the images moved people. The video (slide show) was reposted on many blogs. I think too it was the final reason my agent Sarah said yes to working together. We had met many times prior but when I got back from Paris and finished this project, I sent her the video and we met one more time and that is when we started working together. I could tell she really resonated with the Kiki and Coco slide show. After the slide show was created, we designed the calendar, printed 3000, and sent them out to art buyers, art directors, family and friends.

 

What was the response to the calendar?
The response to the calendar was big and it was predominantly a female response. To this day, four years later, I still get emails from women wanting to know where they can buy the doll.

Moms especially loved the calendar. I must have gotten an email a week for months from moms asking where they could purchase the doll. They would email me and mention that their daughter would love the doll appearing in the photographs but after getting quite a few of these emails I started to wonder if it was really the mom who wanted the doll.
There is now an official Coco inspired doll and is still made and available at http://shop.jessbrowndesign.com/product/coco-inspired-rag-doll
There are also several knockoffs of the doll with the same name.

Another great response to the calendar was the ad jobs that came about. The conference calls with the art directors would start something like this: “I have your calendar and what you shot for it is in the same vein as the project we are doing….” I definitely got several ad jobs as a result of the Kiki and Coco calendar.

How did it evolve from there?
I did two more calendars after “Kiki and Coco in Paris.” One was with Kiki again in Italy (same idea: 20 days away, afternoon shoot every day, a story to tell with the preface to the start of every day being: how do I make my next photo even better and at the same time keep to the parameters of the story I have already created). I sweetened the deal for Kiki and swapped out the doll for ice cream cones, lollipops & popsicles and it was called “Sweet Italia.” Originally I had thought of taking the Coco doll to Italy but as time progressed I realized my daughter was not so interested in being photographed as I had hoped she’d be. I realized it was necessary to raise the ante; to her, ice cream and lollipops were more intriguing as she had a wicked sweet tooth. She gave me her all but after the Italy calendar project she begged me to find another model.

Also, although “Sweet Italia” was beautiful it did not have the same aura, draw, and sentimentality that “Kiki and Coco in Paris” had. I did my last calendar “I left my heart in…” (2011) in San Francisco with my niece, Zeli. Then, in the Spring of 2011, Cameron + Company, a boutique book publisher in Petaluma, CA contacted me to see if we could turn “Kiki and Coco in Paris” into a children’s book. I sent Cameron and Company the roughly 5000 images from what I shot over 20 days in Paris and from those photos they came up with a story that would appeal to children. They pulled their favorites (which I asked to re-edit because they originally wanted the photo to be from the perspective of the doll but the project was shot from the perspective of the girl and the strongest images were about the girl, not the doll) They then wrote a twist to the story that I took photos for and now we have the book, Kiki and Coco in Paris.

How do you see projects like these fitting into the job of professional photographer?
It is so important for a professional photographer to be able to tell a story that engages his or her audience, especially in the competitive and saturated climate today, where images and videos are at every turn.

When you take a big project like what I did in my three calendars, where I photographed each afternoon for 20 days, it is a creative process that is vital to honing your artistic skills. When you are in the midst of a project like this, you are constantly thinking, what tells the story the best? What can I do now that is even more unexpected or unusual within the set parameters – which in this situation with Kiki and Coco was a seven-year-old girl and her obsession with a cute little doll in the beautiful city of Paris. Where do we go next to help tell the story? What could be brought in to make for a funnier photo? What can I do that will make my viewer smile, or even better, laugh out loud? I think doing projects like this makes a photographer a better problem solver on top of the fact that when you are deep in the project, it is one of the most exhilarating places to be as a creative person. The process of narrowing down 14 final images from thousands of images (12 calendar months and a cover and back image) for each of the three calendars I did has been an enjoyable creative process like no other. If I had my way I would still be doing the calendars with kiki every summer in a far away location but it turns out she prefers to be behind the camera, like me.

Jesse Burke Interview

- - Art, Photographers

by Jonathan Blaustein

Jonathan: For good or for bad, I think it’s helpful to start at the beginning. I haven’t yet gotten into the Tarantino-style, Reservoir Dogs-type narrative. So how did you get started? How did your photography practice begin?

Jesse: I got started as a skateboard photographer in Tucson, Arizona. I grew up in Connecticut, and then I moved out to Tucson to get away from the East Coast in my early 20’s. I took a photo class at a community college because it sounded fun and I needed to fill credits. Then I piggy-backed that onto my skateboard lifestyle, which was something that I’d been doing for ten years or so at least. It was a natural progression to start documenting the lifestyle, the social things that were happening with my friends, and the action shots, us hanging out, all that stuff.

So how did you end up in Tucson, of all the places you could go?

With the skateboard community, it’s so tight, everyone sticks together. So one guy followed the first guy, I followed the next guy, then a couple of guys followed me, and a couple of guys followed them. Before we knew it, there were a lot of Connecticut transplants in Tucson. I took a class, and quickly found it was something that I was interested in. I’d always been into art, but nothing so formal as a college course. That was it. I was hooked immediately, transferred to U of A, where I found a photo community and a whole different world. I got really serious about it. I was a bit older already, when I started to attend University of Arizona. I was probably 26 or 27, so I was older than the average undergrad BFA student.

Did they call you Grandpa Jesse?

No. My youthful demeanor kept that a secret, I guess.

Really? Did everybody make you buy them beer? That’s the obvious question.

No. No.

No laws were broken.

I got a late start on a lot of things. I had the 15 year plan for college. It took a long time for me to get my act together. Once I found photography, I had a really good support system with my teachers at the U of A.

Do you want to give any shout outs right here?

Sure. Joe Labate and Ken Shorr.

These were your professors?

Yeah, they were really encouraging. And they could tell I was really serious about it. I had found something in my life, finally. Everybody’s looking for something that’s going to make them happy, something to pursue, whether it’s biology or medicine or law. Mine just so happened to be photography, and I found it in this sort of flukey way. They could tell that I was very serious, and I decided in my senior year that I was ready to go to graduate school. I had just started getting serious a couple of years earlier, and since I was a transfer student, I knew that it wasn’t the time to take a break and think about grad school, but to really seize it. And I just went for it, and they were totally supportive and helped me out. That led me back East to RISD.

And that’s where you got an MFA?

Yeah.

I bet you spend a lot of time on blogs and the Flak Photo Network, and I know I do. I feel like, on a regular basis, you see photographers asking questions like, “Should I get an MFA? What’s the point? What am I going to get out of it? Is it worth the money?” Things like that. I went to Pratt and you went to RISD. We both did get the degree. We both started late. I mean, listening to your background, it’s pretty similar to mine. Especially the East Coast moving West. You went from Connecticut to Arizona, I went Jersey to New Mexico. Not that different. So if someone asked you point blank, “Should I get an MFA? Is it worth the money? What will I get out of it?” what would your answer be?

People go to graduate school for various reasons, but two of them stand out to me. One is because they want to be an artist. And the other is because they want to be a teacher. In my case, I always wanted to be a visual artist. Teaching wasn’t even something that I’d considered, or was aware of, really, when I was applying to grad schools. For me, it was all about visual communication, and pushing that further. If you have an inclination to take a chunk of your life and a chunk of your money…I think of graduate school as a business decision. It was the first major business decision that I made. It’s so incredibly expensive in terms of finances and emotion and time commitment. If you’re ready to make that decision, then graduate school can be incredibly beneficial. It gives you a time to focus on just your artwork, where you don’t have to worry, (hopefully) about the other things in life, like having a job to pay the bills. It just depends on how you set up your system when you get to graduate school.

I knew that I needed time to work on a project. Similar to what you probably experienced, relocating from the East Coast to the West Coast is quite the culture shock. So I didn’t even know what I was getting myself into, relocating back home, to undertake a new life, with a goal of becoming a photographer. Everything I knew about photography was based in the desert of Tucson, so when I came home it was a little bit risky. Getting back to your question, “What do you get out of it?”, I think one can spend a serious chunk of time dedicated to a project, where there are no distractions. Part of what you’ll get is working in a very tight, serious community of professors and peers. You learn from other photographers, who hopefully have the same level of seriousness that you have. That’s one of the very few places where you can ever do something like that. It doesn’t happen so much in undergrad, because people are distracted, there’s a lot more going on. I think graduate school is serious business.

Do you need a graduate degree to become a good photographer? No. To be successful, or famous? Not necessarily. I certainly think it can help in many ways. It makes you a better photographer, a smarter individual, more worldly, more experienced. So all of those things will help you in your life, and your photo career.

So is it safe to say, you don’t think you’d be the artist you are or have the career you’re having if you hadn’t taken the time to get the degree?

In my case, absolutely not. Going to graduate school was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I would say the same thing. And am I right that you teach at RISD?

I do.

I want to get back to that in a second. When I go back and look, so many of the people that went to school with me are now not practicing artists, that I’m aware of. It seems like it’s an interesting conundrum. It costs so much money to get these degrees, and they can be a pathway. But some times, I wonder what happens to people who invest all that time and energy, and then go on to do something else. What’s your take on that?

Most of my friends, at this point, are either high school friends, skateboarder buddies from the past, or people I met in grad school. The majority of them didn’t continue down this path. There are so many elements involved. Some people can’t hang with how tough it is. It’s incredibly hard to keep that self-promotion wheel spinning non-stop. Not to mention coming up with interesting and meaningful work. Getting into grad school is one part of it. Getting out of grad school is the second part. Maintaining that would be a third part. Not everybody’s cut out for it. A lot of people still work in the photo industry or arts industry in some fashion. I’m not sure exactly what happens, but life takes over. Once you get out of the proverbial nest of graduate school, it’s a lot tougher to make your way through it when you’re in reality. Let’s be honest. When you’re in this cushy situation in graduate school, where you don’t have to think about real life, I didn’t have kids at the time. I had a wife, and she’s very supportive, but we didn’t have a mortgage, I didn’t have two car payments. This industry does not allow an easy segue from grad school into success, whatever success means. Shooting jobs? Having shows? Coming up with ideas? Something as simple as having a critique of your work just immediately disappears. Having that structured support system disappears too.

I want to come back to this idea of real life, and reality, because it’s an interesting through line in your artwork. But while we’re on the subject of RISD, what classes do you teach?

I only teach one class at RISD. My schedule is kind of hectic, so I’ve never really been a serious multi-course adjunct professor. I teach “Introduction to Photography for Non-Majors,” which is a really amazing course, because I’m teaching photography to people who are not going to be photographers. Architects, painters, lots of students from Brown University.

So you’ve got to be focusing on visual communication as much as anything?

Exactly. Why photography matters. What can you say with a photograph. Why is photography important?

Dude, you just opened it up. There it is. There’s my next question. Why is photography important?

We have this final project, it’s called “What’s important to you?” What I try to get across to them, when they leave my class, (beyond black and white analog skills for developing and printing film and a little bit of digital input) is understanding that the world is a dynamic and amazing place. Everybody’s story is important and that people care about each other’s stories. So what I try to stress is that what’s important to you is also important to me. I try to focus on having them figure out a way to share their personal interest, and things that are important to them, in a dynamic way to the world. Hopefully they’ll leave the class being a better architect, or a better language studies student because they can see how visual culture and photography help make the world go around. It helps them get their message across, whatever their message is, in a smarter, better, more visual way.

Cool. As far as I understand it, you shoot commercially, editorially, you shoot as a fine artist, and you teach. That, to me, sounds like the 21st Century Hustle. That’s it. It’s a little bit of everything, shake it up, and hopefully a few things are going to pop at any given time. How do you get it all done? How do you keep the balance?

I have to say, that has always been my end goal. I think that’s not true for a lot of people in the art world. They don’t want to shoot commercially. Obviously, a lot of commercial photographers aren’t interested in the gallery world. I’ve always felt that there’s been such an overlap, in terms of my photographic world, my married family life, what I like to do in my free time, what I’m interested in. All of those things overlap. My interest in academics. RISD in particular. All those things, for me, were always related. So I approached my career, even early on, from the standpoint that this is what I wanted to make happen. I wanted to have a gallery. I wanted to have a commercial agent and shoot cool jobs that related to my artwork. And then I wanted to teach a little bit to stay tapped into that academic world. I agree with you 100% that it seems to be the 21st Century Hustle, as you put it. I like that. Ultimately, it’s a really difficult balancing act. Inevitably, one takes precedence over the others.

Is that how it works for you? Does your commercial work make up the bulk of your income? Is it broken down into thirds? You mentioned two kids, two car payments. Let’s be honest. You’re living on the East Coast. That adds up. So how does it work?

Sure. Well, I will say I have a very awesome, supportive wife who has a regular 9-5 job. Without her, I don’t know if this would be possible, this freelance existence. In terms of breakdown for finances, I would say that commercial jobs make up most of my income. I sell some work through my galleries, and then RISD pays my teaching salary for one course. Which isn’t much across the board across the country. Just to be clear, I teach because I love it, not because of finances. I would do it for free if I had to, because it’s just that enriching to me. And I schedule enough time out for teaching because it adds a lot for me, and I’m giving back to the community. I think the biggest struggle, inevitably, in doing something like this, is balancing the schedule. The schedule gets really tricky. You need to have availability for commercial assignments, which means you could fly out the next morning. And then you have to be accountable to teach your class, every Monday, when you’re supposed to be there at 1pm. It can get a little crazy, but I think where there’s a will there’s a way. So for me, it’s a combination of financial reasons, but also passion that makes me keep this crazy freelance thing going.

Did your experience as a fine artist help enable to you make the jump into the commercial world?

Yes. As you go through your career and your life, as a photographer, I keep going back to this, but it’s a business thing. I think a lot of people don’t approach it from the perspective of “This is serious business.” Even your art career. Sure, you’re out in the middle of the woods, photographing dogs running around, or whatever it is you’re doing, but when you get back to the studio, it’s a business. I think you have to be smart about certain things. And approach them from certain angles where you can benefit the best. I knew that I wanted to be serious about commercial photography, and I felt that my work had enough of an overlap into the commercial market, and modern pop culture, that I thought I could do pretty well in terms of editorial and advertising photography. So I was really aggressive finding an agent. When I finally reached the goal of getting acquired by a New York gallery and having a solo show, I used that as a launching pad to find a commercial agent. This is just something that I thought was common sense. You’re having your first exhibition. This is your first foray into the real art world in New York City. Why not try to use that to catapult yourself in this other part of your career? It worked out, luckily for me. When I called and emailed people, they actually responded. Would that have happened if I hadn’t started the conversation by saying that I was having an exhibition in Chelsea? Maybe not. I think that’s just the reality of it.

That’s in the summer of 2010. You had a solo show for your project “Intertidal” at ClampArt. Coincidentally, I happened to be in New York that night and had the chance to come check it out. The place was thumping. So you were very strategic in the way you tried to leverage the exhibition as an opportunity to market yourself in the commercial world. I think that’s pretty interesting.

Yeah, I knew that this was a moment that I needed to capitalize on. I just knew, for me, that it was the first time that I thought it made sense to approach so and so and to try to make the most of my commercial potential, because of the gallery. And I found that I got a much better response than I actually anticipated. Due in part, absolutely, to having this exhibition. All of a sudden I had options.

Did you, in the end, benefit more through commercial connections through the show, or through selling prints in the show. Let’s talk about that. People want shows. That’s a given. But I think in 2011, people are starting to ask questions about production costs, and framing, and can I make my investment back? So it sounds like this is a great thing to know.

Yeah, sure. Both, maybe a bit more on the commercial end. But it’s a complicated question.

I know that. Look, to me it seemed like a positive way to ask what might have been a negative question. I can ask you “Did you make your money back from your show,” and you’re going to answer honestly or not. But before we even get there, you’re talking about the fact that you had a show and that got you work. So you’re telling us that having the experience of the big solo show in Chelsea automatically had a huge impact on your career. So it becomes less about feeling the pressure to sell the work off the wall. Is that a fair assumption?

The real question is, was it a worthwhile investment? Absolutely. I wouldn’t say that it had an immediate massive impact; it’s a building process. The thing that shocked me most about my career, that continues to shock me, is that you set these milestones for yourself. I’ve got to get a gallery in Chelsea. I have to get a book deal. I have to get an agent. I think those are difficult, serious, but “it makes perfect sense” type of goals. So I think the idea that I’m going to have an exhibition in Chelsea and that’s it, or I’m going to be in the Whitney Biennial and that’s it? Forget it. That’s not how it works. And I think a lot of people, myself included early on, didn’t understand exactly how much of an investment in terms of time and money all this stuff really takes. The end goals are still there.

Also, I have to say that I was really particular in my pursuit of the gallery. That’s a whole separate story, but back in the day, before I was exhibiting with ClampArt, I knew it was the right gallery for me for a lot of reasons. I just had to convince Brian, and introduce myself to him. That’s obviously the difficult part. But in terms of the show and a financial investment, it’s a serious chunk of change to have 30 pieces framed and exhibited anywhere. I think of that stuff as a personal business loan to myself, because that exhibition has an infinite ripple effect into my career many years later. The exhibition at ClampArt open opened up many opportunities for me in the commercial world as well. I’m working with i2i, in part, as a result of my exhibition. Lizzie, my agent, even said that to me. It certainly helped. I think that’s just the nature of the beast. And I accept that, and have no issues with it whatsoever.

It just so happens, other things from that exhibition also came to fruition. Things that are much more important to me than art sales, such as the inclusion in the “Truth is Not in the Mirror” exhibition at the Haggerty Museum (and Fraction Magazine). That’s directly because of my ClampArt exhibition. That’s the kind of thing that I don’t think I can put a financial price tag on, being included in a show that traveled, and had that much clout and respect when it was happening at the time. And showing beside some of my photo heroes, that’s not something that I could put into monetary consideration.

So it sounds like you’re really taking the long view instead of the short view.

You know, I think that’s really the only view, as far as I’m concerned. Because if you have the short-term mentality, you’ll quickly find out that it most likely won’t pan out for you.

So maybe that’s a lesson we could share with, I don’t know, the entirely of Corporate America?

[laughing] Right.

So we just decided that the entire structure of the US Equity Market is wrong.

Right. Basically.

Basically. Can we do something about that? What do you think? Should we just fix it?

I don’t think so, man. Money talks.

You don’t think we could fix it? Just like that? Make a call?

Not two photo guys.

No. Probably not. Well, we’ll set that one aside for now. So listen. All this talk about business, it has a purpose, but we haven’t really talked about art. So why don’t we shift gears a little bit. In the beginning, you brought us back to skateboarder culture, and we can all imagine you cracking your head on some concrete in Tucson. Because Lord knows they have a lot of concrete in Arizona. But now, let’s talk about the project that you showed in New York. Let’s talk about “Intertidal.” How would you talk about what your work is?

“Intertidal,” for me, was something that came out of nowhere, actually. When I agreed to take up my MFA at RISD, I knew that I was moving home, so to speak, to New England. I grew up in Connecticut, RISD is in Rhode Island, which neighbors Connecticut, so in a sense, I was going back home to my family and friends. But I’d been gone for 10 years, and in that time gap, I became a visual artist. It was culture shock for me to get back to the East Coast, in a photographic way. I sort of stumbled into this project by accident. I had always been photographing my skateboarder buddies, and an exploration of who we were as skaters. But I left that behind in Tucson, and became a serious, full-time student. Neither grad school nor my body allowed me much time for skateboarding, so I just started photographing. And the only thing that I knew how to do was photograph what I consider part of who I was, my world. I just applied that formula that I had started in Tucson to my family within New England. I started to really scrutinize, through the guidance I had in grad school, what I was doing. And what exactly was I doing? And what exactly were these pictures of?

Drinking.

Drinking…drinking is part of it.

More specifically, drinking beer.

Coincidentally, I wasn’t. But drinking beer was really interesting to me, because I came from a family of heavy drinkers. Drinking was something that I knew a lot about, in a way, but didn’t as well, because I wasn’t really part of that. It’s part of why “Intertidal” came to be. Initially, I was exploring the differences between what I perceived as my identity as a man, and how I perceived my family, my father, my grandfathers, my friends, and the rest of the typical New England male archetypes. The fisherman. The logger. The blue-collar worker. These were things I didn’t really know much about, because I took off when I was in my early 20’s. And grew up into adulthood away from my family, away from this New England identity. So when I came home, I was initially exploring the differences between them and me. So inevitably, I became more familiar with my history, with their history. And then I started to explore the notions of masculinity. And that’s where “Intertidal” ended up at, it was an exploration of the typical ideas of masculinity versus the reality of being male. So this is where the drinking beer thing kind of gets funny, because beer and a lot of things, such as the forest, hunting, shooting guns, strength, these are all just vehicles for me to talk about what I’m interested in. Not necessarily participate in. You know what I mean?

It makes a lot of sense. It’s actually where I wanted to get to. We talk a lot about reality, which we were mentioning before. When we look at this work, and I like it a lot, you’re in the work. You’re in the work drinking. You’re friends are in the work, drinking. You’ve also got images of your daughter in a separate project. You’re willing to put yourself and your family in front of the camera. So that makes me ask questions like, “Is this even trying to be real?” I some times feel, when I’m looking at these portraits of you, that I’m seeing a character. And that they’re not even meant to be the “real Jesse Burke.” It’s a fictionalized narrative. Is that a read that you’re comfortable with?

Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s part of the truth behind the photographs. I think it’s important to realize that all of this work is a production. This isn’t candid photography. Not the landscapes, per se, but a lot of the portraits. It’s all staged. It’s all very conceptual in my head. This isn’t me following my dad around, documenting what he does. This is me having an idea about how I perceive my father, and then having him fill that role, whether or not it’s true.

That’s what I thought. One of the things that I’m wondering: we talk about masculinity, and I read a quote of yours that I have right here, where you see a world where “blood and sweat mix with sunsets and snowdrifts.” We’re past the metrosexual phase. People don’t even use that word anymore. So I’m curious. A lot of the portraits you take are of shirtless men. So my question is, when you show a fine art portrait of a semi-naked man to a logger or a fisherman, to some of your friends who don’t come from the art world, what reaction do you get?

It’s an interesting question. I don’t think I get any reaction. Ultimately, my family members don’t give me an involved, dedicated response to the work. Going back to the beginnings of this project, which is “Who am I? Why am I this artsy guy in a family of not-so-artsy guys?” I didn’t expect a big response from them, or the public, or “normal” guys. I just started making these pictures that I thought were fun, and talked about these ideas that I was interested in. Inevitably, what happens is they don’t really question it. They just sort of go, “OK. It makes sense.” I think the fact that the art and photo worlds have been gracious in giving me some attention, and some exhibitions, and a book, I think that gives it validity to people that don’t necessarily follow conceptual photography, or fine art photography. I mean, let’s be honest, who are we making this work for, besides ourselves. Who’s the market? Who’s going to buy it? Who’s going to display it? Who wants to buy my book? It’s certainly not the average Joe Schmo who works in Boston. I understood that I was getting into an elitist culture, and that wasn’t an issue for me, but I knew the art world is like that. And I could have some backlash from these people. Luckily I haven’t. But I have a really hard time answering the question of “How do they respond to the work?” because quite honestly, I don’t know. We’ve talked about it, but I don’t have a thorough understanding of how my uncles read my work.

Actually, I would disagree. I think it’s a good, honest answer. Look. We could spin off and talk all day about the marginalization and elitism of art within mainstream culture. We could. But I don’t know we would ultimately tell anyone anything they don’t already know. So let’s move along. One of the things that’s crucial to me as an artist is seeking great input. When I write these articles about going to look at art, I would be going to look at art anyway. I believe the better the input, the better the things that we see, the better our work becomes. What do you look at? Where do you get your inspirational input? How does that process work for you?

I get a lot of my input from living everyday life. I watch TV. Believe it or not, MTV. Lots of sports. So I get a lot of inspiration from media, magazines, TV, cable shows. Things like that. I’ve become sensitive to what I see as the rift in masculine perception. So I’m always sort of looking for it, wherever it might lie, whether it’s in a football game, or Jersey Shore, or hanging out with the other dads at the park with my kids.

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Your guilty pleasures can be fodder for your creative practice. Jesse Burke has just given you permission to watch as much MTV as you want.

Jesse Burke is a Rhode Island based artist. You can see a site-specific installation of Jesse’s photographs at ClampArt’s booth at Pulse Miami (December 1 – 4, 2011). He is represented commercially by i2i Photography in NYC.


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