Category "Working"

The Art of the Personal Project: Agnes Lopez

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The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Agnes Lopez

Over the past year I worked with filmmaker Eric Torres, directing a documentary about Filipino food and the Filipino chefs in Jacksonville, Florida. Jacksonville has the largest Filipino population in the Southeast, yet Filipino foods are generally absent from the area’s culinary scene.

As a food photographer and a second-generation Filipino-American, I want the next generations of Filipino-Americans — and all food lovers! — to see and taste the rich and delicious culinary culture of the Philippines.

Our documentary, #MORETHANLUMPIA: JAX Filipino Chefs, is in the final stages of filming and will premiere in October at a special screening at the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville, Florida.

There is a global Filipino Food Movement taking place right now, and believe it is time for the city of Jacksonville to join it. We want people to see that our food is more than just lumpia and pancit, and that serious Filipino culinary talent is already here in some of the most revered kitchens in the region.

The JAX Filipino Chefs documentary is part of a larger campaign to highlight the incredibly skilled and accomplished Filipino chefs of Northeast Florida who are looking to share flavors and dishes from their backgrounds and imaginations, inspired by their culture, through events, pop-up dinners, social media, and community outreach.

You can see the teaser trailer for the documentary and read about the chefs at jaxfilipinochefs.com and @jaxfilipinochefs on Instagram.

James Victorino, Executive Pastry Chef, One Ocean Resort

Jojo Hernandez, Executive Sous Chef, The Florida Yacht Club

Leni Rose Magsino, Pastry Chef, Valley Smoke Restaurant

Melanie Cuartelon, Sous Chef, Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa

Rick Laughlin, Chef de Cuisine, Salt at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island

Wesley Nogueira, Executive Chef, Khloe’s Kitchen

To see more of this project, click here.

To attend one of their events, click here

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s.  After establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information because she believes that marketing should be driven by brand and not by specialty.  Follow her at @SuzanneSeaseInstagram

 

#DiversifyTheLens: Why Your Brand Should Hire More Female Photographers

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Guest post by Amy Cooper, Owner and Artist Representative at Trove Artist Management

The current boom of female-first initiatives is transforming the creative industry, providing opportunities for women to find mentorship, addressing discrepancies in pay, and helping women rally together to drive new policies and practices. Actions such as the 3 Percent Movement50/50 Initiative and #TimesUpAdvertising have thrust these issues into the spotlight and gained significant attention and traction.

But we can do more.

Women photographers are still grossly underrepresented when it comes time to hire for big advertising campaigns and magazine covers, despite the fact that women account for:

·  roughly 50% of photographers and advertising industry workers

·  80% of art and photography school graduates

·  the majority of art buyers and photo editors

One report indicates that male photographers account for as high as 96% of advertising photographers. With a quick glance at the top photography representation agencies in the U.S., it’s clear that women comprise only about 10% of those agency rosters.

A Call to Action

“This movement is a specific request for advertising agencies to include at least one female photographer in each triple-bid.”

There is a huge population of highly talented, underutilized female photographers who are ready to put their unique vision to work. It’s time we create policies at both the brand and agency level to ensure they are given the opportunity to do so.

Introducing #DiversifyTheLens.

This movement is a specific request for agencies and other media to include at least one female photographer in each “triple-bid,” or make female (and non-white) options at least 50% of the consideration when selecting image-makers.

Doing so will not only help level the very uneven playing field for women photographers, but it will also benefit business across the board.

Female Photographers Click with Female Consumers

“…with the unprecedented rate at which women are amassing wealth and influence, it’s almost insane from a business perspective to misunderstand them.” – 3 Percent Movementmission

Women influence more than 80% of consumer spending, but more than 90% of women feel that advertisers do not understand them. To reach and influence the female consumer, advertising imagery has to portray them authentically, reflecting their motivations and needs. Female photographers have a unique ability to do this, and not including their perspective, especially in the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, is not only a missed opportunity, but a massive business (and cultural) failure.

A Cultural Shift

Getting more women photographers working requires effort on the part of both the creative talent themselves, and those with the power to hire them. Typically, female photographers are less aggressive in marketing themselves and seeking representation than their male counterparts. This is something I am actively working to change through Trove Artist Management’s programs and my personal consulting practice, helping women learn to stand taller, pursue opportunity and promote themselves more confidently.

In the meantime, I encourage those of you with the hiring power to help facilitate this shift by searching harder to fill more of the gaps in the photo industry, advertising industry and the professional world at large with talented, hardworking women–and pay them what they’re worth.

“I want to further amplify this message by asking celebrities, fashion designers and influencers to specifically ask for diversity in photography when they are being featured or creating campaigns.”

My hope is that other photographers, creative directors, art buyers and editors will join this movement to ensure that more campaigns truly #DiversifyTheLens. I want to further amplify this message by asking celebrities, fashion designers and influencers to specifically ask for diversity in photography when they are being featured or creating campaigns.

My goal is that we all share this challenge widely so that more female photographers can be recognized and rewarded for their talent, which will benefit us all.

Together, we can make a difference.

Helpful Tools and Resources

To help you find the talent you need and spread the #DiverifyTheLens mission, I’ve compiled the below resources:

·     A list of my favorite female photographers

·     Alreadymade, a directory of established commercial photographers curated by Jill Greenberg

·    GirlGaze an organization dedicated to closing the gender gap, founded by Amanda de Cadenet.

·    Women Photograph a listing of female photojournalists

·    #DiversifyTheLens Ambassador materials, including a guide to disrupt the underrepresentation of women in photography and downloadable campaign photos.

This list will be continually updated as I find and develop additional resources for women in the creative field. Please bookmark this link and share to help us build our database.

Have a resource of your own? Let me know about it!

Join the Movement

Hiring more female photographers and having their perspective fairly represented will not only benefit photographers, but the entire creative industry, the global economy and women everywhere. To take it a step further, I believe that the creative vision of women in the marketplace will help us understand women, and each other, better and connect us in a way that is sorely lacking and needed today.

If we work together, it can happen.

By sharing this article, spreading the #DiversifyTheLens mission and seeking out more female talent for your own agency or projects, you can help shift the creative culture.

Thank you.

Sign on to join the mission to #DiversifyTheLens and we will send you an ambassador guide as well as occasional updates.

Written by Trove Artist Management founder Amy V. Cooper in collaboration with Mary MaguireErica Boynton, and Jennie Trower. Special thanks to Cindy Villanueva.

The Art of the Personal Project: William Coupon

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The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  William Coupon

THE APPEARANCE OF PORTRAIT IMAGES:

When you are taking portraits the main thing to remember is you are capturing the veneer, the mask.   However, within that context you are also making a declaration, if you are fortunate, of a certain insight into the person.   Faces are like Jungian models ~ they are symbols only.  It is entirely up to the viewer to digest and make their own decisions about who these people really are.  It’s mostly point of reference.

When you photograph celebrities, the viewer has pre-conceived notions of the person.  They are recognizable.  We feel we know them already.  In fact, the celebrity is so used to being photographed that they oftentimes fall into a more familiar pose, and they have a tendency to appear more like “forced naturalism.”

With the many people ~ the non-celebrity ~ that I have sought out for portraits, they are much more raw, much more spontaneous in spirit.  And much more mysterious.   They are mostly unfamiliar with the process, as compared to a celebrity, who would tend to stereotype their own appearance.   It’s as if they, too, like the viewers, have already recognized their own preferential veneer, because it corresponds with their own self-image.

A common person does not have that burden of trying to “be someone.”

I have been lucky to have photographed a fair assortment of noted personalities as well as the unknown, the unfamiliar, since 1978 at Studio 54.  I then went to the Mudd Club and then on to making many cover shoots for the New York Times, Smithsonian, Esquire, The Washington Post, CBS Records, Apple, HP, and the Robin Hood Foundation.  In the end, I like them both, but shooting a celebrity for a Rolling Stone cover is very different from being in the villages of Italy or Brazil, or Panama, or Mexico.  Their masks are more raw, yet sometimes even more fearful, as their unfamiliarity with that type of environment makes them a bit unsettled, and because so, far less hidden.

Aboriginal Man

From a series on The Traditional Dutch, from Scheveningen, Holland, reminiscent of the early Dutch paintings of Rembrandt and Holbein

Haitian Mother & Child Photographed in Jamcel, Haiti

Kayapo Chief

Beauty Contestant photographed near Mountain Home, Arkansas

To see more of this project, click here.

To Pre-order this book, click (Amazon) here

Or here (Barnes & Noble)

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s.  After establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information because she believes that marketing should be driven by brand and not by specialty.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Or Instagram @suzanne.sease.

 

Dora Somosi’s Journey From Photography Director To Photographer

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aPhotoEditor: Can you tell me how you came to work at GQ?

Dora Somosi: I studied art history in college, and I had aspirations of being a photographer, and my incredible, but very practical, Hungarian immigrant parents encouraged me to find a career that would make it possible for me to support myself. I didn’t want to abandon photography, though, so I got a job at Magnum Photos—the agency that owned the archive of a photographer I idolized, the Hungarian photojournalist Robert Capa. I like to say that Magnum was my graduate program in photography history. My time there overlapped with Natasha Lunn and Justin O’Neill, both currently brilliant photo directors, plus uber-agent Liz Leavitt, David Strettel of Dashwood Books, and Chris Boot of Aperture—all formidable influences at the start of my career in photography. It was a brilliant time to work there—because of my co-workers, of course, but even more because of Magnum’s 50 internationally renowned photographers. I got to work with them every day, and every day was hilarious and inspiring, working together as a cooperative, even if sometimes all those talented and strong-willed people in one place made it operate more like an uncooperative. After the experience of being an agent at Magnum, I knew I wanted to be on the assigning side of photography, and so I worked my way through magazine photo departments until I landed my then dream job as the Director of Photography at GQ, working with the design force, Fred Woodward.

aPE: GQ had such a strong reputation for photography during your tenure, can you tell me why it was such a focus for the magazine?

DS: Thank you for saying that. I worked on the visuals for GQ for a decade, and it means a lot to receive praise for all that I accomplished during my tenure there. I was fortunate to arrive at GQ when Jim Nelson was just starting out as editor-in-chief, and he invested a lot of money and attention on modernizing the GQ brand through the use of photography. He let me build a roster that could include a wide breadth of visual styles — Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Martin Schoeller, Robert Polidori, Ben Lowy. He also gave me the latitude to develop new talent in fashion photography while also being as ambitious as possible with the biggest names in the industry.

aPE: After working with such talented photographers, what made you think you could become one?

DS: I didn’t set out to become a full-time photographer after I decided to leave GQ. It happened organically. I left in large part because I wanted to spend a lot more time with my family and more time outdoors. Maintaining work-life balance everyone talks about had become untenable for me. At the same time, I had identified myself for so long as a successful working woman, and my identity was completely bound up in that professional success. I felt really lost for that first year. That’s when I started taking my own photographs, documenting our family time together in upstate New York.

Once I developed a new body of work, I began sharing it with friends and trusted former colleagues. I feel lucky to be surrounded by so many strong women who appreciated the work and who backed up their words with assignments, shooting artists and interiors and travel destinations.  It was incredible meeting all those other creative women who weren’t at corporate jobs, or on paths to their next job, and who were also successful and fulfilled. In my previous career, I’d come up through institutions, in the editorial and commercial fields. My evolution as a photographer has taken a very different path. My work is personal, and primarily landscape photography—pretty much the precise opposite of glossy shoots for which GQ is so renowned.

aPE: Tell me about your journey from hiring photographers to becoming one?

DS: I was introduced to black-and-white printing at an early age by my step-grandfather who was an accomplished amateur photographer in Hungary, where I was born. I remember pouring over his documentary photography dating back to World War II, in particular, the Russian occupation of Hungary. I’ve been taking photographs since high school, and I studied at ICP when it was still a dilapidated mansion on the Upper East Side. I published work in magazines and had one brief stint as a set photographer on low-budget movies, including one with Michael Showalter. And I took lots and lots of portraits of friends and other people I knew.

When I left magazines to go back to making my own pictures, it was a means to find an identity for myself, one that was just for me and wasn’t tied to being a mother or a wife or a picture editor. I had a successful side business consulting for photographers and independent brands, so I had the room to explore without the pressure of having to sell work.

I learned post production and master printing, and I educated myself about the technical side of making fine-art prints. I studied with Ben Gest at ICP—a brilliant fine art photographer and the most patient teacher I’ve ever known.  I was taking landscapes and still lives, then printing them large scale. In the beginning, they were pure homages to nature—the healing power of the natural landscape, and a sort of love letter slash thank-you note to upstate New York for rescuing me at a crossroads in my life.

But then the 2016 election happened, and suddenly nothing looked as pretty to me anymore. I poured my feelings into my work, digitally manipulating the landscape, and once I started to mess with the images, I could feel my voice emerging as a photographer. That body of work resulted in my first show in Brooklyn, Altered Landscapes. I had a lot riding on that show—I was worried that if I didn’t sell any prints, it would be a clear sign that I should give up. Instead, my show nearly sold out, and my pieces are now in the collections of trustees from renowned art institutions, business leaders, accomplished interior designers wonderful former colleagues from GQ. That show gave me the confidence I needed to keep at it.

aPE: Can you reflect on what it feels like to now to be on the other side and pitch yourself as a photographer?

DS: Well, that has been a real revelation! I wish I’d been this vulnerable while I was a picture editor. To know what it feels like to spend years pouring your heart and soul into this collection of images, and then show them to someone who’ll spend maybe 15 minutes flipping through them with you. I now understand just how thick-skinned you have to be. I always think about my mentor, the late George Pitts, who I worked with at Vibe Magazine and who gave every photographer all his time, his care and his insight. I think his decency came in part because he had his own work, and like all of us he was surely a little fragile about how people reacted to it, and so he treated everyone’s photographs with the care he’d like to receive himself. I’m learning on the fly just how brave you have to be now just to create a body of work from scratch, but also share it with the world, in galleries, in meetings, on social media—everywhere. I’m also seeking out teaching opportunities at places like SVA, mentoring students and working with photographers to help them achieve their vision. When I was working in magazines, I didn’t have the luxury of that kind of time. Now I do and it helps me connect my experiences in agencies and magazines with my current practice.

aPE: Tell me about your show at NeueHouse in LA?

DS: This will be my second solo show, and this time I’m working with a curator and a whole team of people, which is very exciting. Making my photographs is pretty solitary work, so this is a welcome break from that—a chance to collaborate with other creative people on a larger show for a wider audience. This show will focus on a body of work I made in Mexico City. These images, like my other work, begin with a layer grounded in reality, in this case, architecture, and then through color collage, they build into a fantastical, hyper-real expression of my interaction with the city, its people, and its kinetic energy. There are strong influences of Josef Albers’ work in Mexico, the colors from Luis Barragán homes, and the Bauhaus movement.

The show will also highlight my floral work, which will also be on view at ICFF in May. This work has parallels to the Mexico City work in terms of its use of saturated colors, and the tondo format. The florals—records of moments both happy and sad—achieve an eerie sense of perfection, fragile and fleeting, whose authenticity is meant to feel dubious. The flowers, though ravishing in life as in death, serve as the vanitas: a reminder of the inevitability of change. I invite viewers to look with attention at such seductive natural beauty without forgetting all there is to lose. And finally, there will be a preview of photographs I am currently at work on—seascapes, meditations on the horizon inspired by Hiroshi Sugimoto. The simplicity of the seascapes is meant to draw the viewer’s attention to the building blocks of our existence, and the ease with which we can squander the most fundamental elements of life, water, and air.

The Color of Air, an exhibition of new and recent work exploring architectural and environmental abstraction will open at NeueHouse Hollywood on June 28, 2018.

See more of my work at dorasomosi.com
and through IG – @dorasomosiphotography

Jeff Stockwell on Testing

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Interview by Andrea Stern of SternRep

Jeff Stockwell is a car + lifestyle photographer based in Long Beach, California.  His client list includes Mercedes, Adidas, Vans, Car and Driver, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Cadillac and more.  Jeff came into this business about four years ago and hit the ground running bringing in big name clients quickly. As his rep, I have to believe it is in part because he tests often. He constantly provides me with new images and keeps his portfolio fresh always having new work to show off. I wanted to do this interview with Jeff about his testing because I see it as one of his greatest strengths and something that really sets him apart from the pack.

Andrea Stern: Why do you test so much?

Jeff Stockwell: Well, I guess there are a couple different reasons. I test a lot because I feel like every time I test I get better at shooting.  Being behind the camera is the only way to learn. I try to push myself beyond what I normally create, approach something different styling wise, use a different location or a different model.

In this day and age with Instagram, it can be hard for a photographer to be banging out content all the time, so sometimes you have to shoot things for yourself.

People want to see new work.  If you are trying to be a commercial photographer and you come out with work every 6 months, and your stuff looks the same all the time, that’s a problem. You have to keep yourself relevant.   That’s what creatives want to see, they want to be inspired by someone. They want to get a sense of your commitment and passion for photography and they also want to know what you shoot on your own time.

What is it that you, and no one else, would bring their shoot to take their project to the next level?

Andrea Stern: Recently you did a test where you hired a model and a producer, got a permit for a location and had the images professionally retouched, this is a big investment, what was the inspiration and motivation that led you to do this level of testing?

Jeff Stockwell: That’s what it takes now. This test in particular I was going for a different age demographic. A lot of my work has highlighted young people. From a creative’s perspective, it might be hard to imagine an older person in my work and I wanted to show what I could do.

I pushed my boundaries by using an older male model, someone with a prestigious and refined look, a high class overall feel, and rented a really nice car etc. I even got hair and makeup for a guy, which is uncommon.

The permit was not very expensive and the stylist, hair and makeup artist and producer all offered their time for the test, for their own portfolios. I spent the bulk of the money on renting the car, my assistant, lunch/coffee etc.

Andrea Stern: Right! The producer, Courtney Zupanski had actually reached out to me around the time this test was happening. The timing was perfect and I asked her if she wanted to help with your test. Rather than just “helping” she ended up taking the initiative to go out and find a stylist, location scout, organize hair and makeup, sent out a call sheet, organized lunch and was there all day at the shoot. She blew us away and is now bidding on a job with Jeff, because of how impressed we were with her.

Andrea Stern: Did you have a budget for your test?

Jeff: No. But it did end up costing over a 1,000. It was an investment. And definitely worth it.

Andrea Stern: How did you plan for your shoot?

Jeff: I scouted the day before. I knew what the light was going to look like at what time and where.

I had two specific shots I knew wanted to get in my mind.  But generally, I like to keep it off the cuff. I might look at some inspiration the night before, but I want it to be my own vision. I want it to be real and fresh.

Andrea Stern: How did the shoot go?

Jeff: Images came out great. It was the exact look and feel I was going for. It is kind of crazy because when it came down to the actual time that we shot it took four hours. And I shot a LOT.

Andrea Stern: Do you enjoy testing? Why?

Jeff: I really do love it.  It doesn’t feel like I am going to work.  I especially enjoy testing after all the hair and makeup is done and the clothes are on…all that stuff. I despise the other part of it, which is contacting people and trying to get people lined up, but the creative aspect I love.

Andrea Stern: What is your attitude around testing?

Jeff: Some of the tests you are going to do are not going to work out. You have to be able to be like, ok that did not go as planned, next time I am going to scout more thoroughly or know what I am getting myself into, reach out to an agency and get better models, etc. You do tests to learn.

Andrea Stern: Have you ever had a test lead to paid work? If so, what?

Jeff: It’s a little bit hard to say but I do have an interesting story about that.

Recently, a production company for Adidas sent out a mass email to about 30 reps, looking for a photographer for an upcoming product/lifestyle shoot in LA.

I put together a PDF of all the athletic and sneaker work I had done. I had recently shot a test with a basketball player and the images turned out really well.  I had never done an athletic test quite like that before, and it definitely filled a need in my portfolio.

And you know what, out of thousands of photographers…I got hired.

So, it’s kind of hard to say whether that test “got” me the job, but when the job came to light, I had the right thing to put forward, and they liked my work.

Andrea Stern: One piece of advice for photographers?

Jeff: JUST GO TAKE PICTURES. ALL. THE. TIME. You aren’t going to learn unless you are behind the camera. Pick up the most basic camera and just go shoot.

And always bring what you do best to the shoot. Not just what is asked of you!

To see more of Jeff Stockwell’s work: www.Jeff-Stockwell.com

Project produced by Courtney Joan Zupanski (www.CourtneyJoanZupanski.com), styled by Luke Langsdale, hair/makeup by Nicola Hamilton, model Travis Marshall, Next Models, and retouched by the awesome Gloss Post Production team. (www.GlossRetouching.com)

 

Celebrity Shoots Count

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Guest Post by Cybele Sandy, August Image

This piece arose from the blowback I’ve recently had from artists on the subject of shooting celebrity. The reaction was so severe that I felt like my extremely proper Post-Colonial West Indian delivery was somehow morphing into the vilest of curse words. This is my unequivocal stance on the subject: Celebrity Shoots Count. Perhaps in this era of Kardashian dominance, the idea has morphed into an unappealing, congealed mass. The majority of my career has skewed toward working with celebrity art, so I have had considerable experience with the genre. In other words, I’ve seen first-hand the propellant power of a celebrity shoot.

I know that there are photographers who insist on channelling their efforts toward fine art, or to the gravitas of contemporary photojournalism, and that’s a terrific goal. You should be aware, though, that relying on your fine art portfolio to shop for paying commissions (be they advertising, custom content or entertainment buyouts) can be a risky proposition. Fine art can be challenging for the viewer to interpret, especially given the environment of a quick go-see with an art buyer. An image of a recognizable celebrity can compellingly deliver your aesthetic. It doesn’t have to be Angelina Jolie, but there should be immediate name recognition. A buzzy stylist, up-and-coming musician, hot new model or emerging fashion designer can do just as well.

Celebrity editorial dovetails nicely into the career facets I’ve spoken of previously: personal work- >editorial work-> advertising/commercial projects-> licensing. In other words, bringing the aesthetic honed from personal work to a celebrity shoot may lead to more editorial and commercial projects, with the editorial being of huge benefit to your licensing archive.

[Sidebar: When awarded a commission, always give serious thought to whom/what you shoot. How will this serve my career? Will this work for licensing opportunities down the line? In the words of my Glorious Leader, William Hannigan, licensing is a photographer’s 401K.]

Here’s why:

1. The recognition factor provides an instant point of connection between yourself and the reviewing photo editor/ art buyer.

2. It’s nice segue into the messaging you want to leave behind in terms of your art: talking about your experience shooting said celebrity can break the ice and calm any nerves you may be feeling.

3. It provides an immediate boost to your social media profile and buzz for your brand.

4. They provide an “in” to the PR world and to publicists who hold a tremendous amount of leverage in terms of who gets to shoot.

5. It provides a terrific, real-world test for your nascent team. Can they hold their assigned ground in a pressurized situation where there isn’t a whole lot of time to deliver the money shot?

However, this is all predicated on a recognizable celebrity. It doesn’t have to be Angelina Jolie. It can simply be someone with a strong pop/ cultural profile- the star of a hit tv show or a fashion/ media personality.

Things to Bear in Mind For Celebrity Shoots:

Pre-Shoot:

  • I’ve worked on shoots that have gone extremely well, as well as shoots that have been extremely painful. Do your homework. Ensure that you know the sublime to the mundane- what’s their upcoming project, what sort of music would they like to hear on set?
  • Ensure that all the players have a clear understanding of all of the elements before-hand. The theme of the shoot and looks to be worn, as well as hair/ makeup should have been agreed to prior. This will forestall on-set drama. (Not always, but we live in hope.)
  • It’ll be stressful, so make certain that what is in your power to control day-of-shoot is done well: being on-time and set up early will go a long way toward keeping the environment calm and upbeat.

On-set:

  • Keep the chatter to an as-needed basis. Save that great joke for your buddies at the bar.
  • Art Streiber, during his lecture at this year’s PhotoPlus, delivered these words of guidance: “Treat celebrities like ordinary people and ordinary people like celebrities.” Keep it cool and respectful, yet make sure that you maintain control of the set.
  • Everyone working in sync is the very best demonstration of credibility that you can offer.
  • Make sure you have the contact information of all of the players before they leave.
  • A great on-set experience is the shortest route to being recommended by a celebrity for other editorial and even for advertising jobs.

Post- shoot:

  • Gratitude makes for good karma and certainly, a good old-fashioned paper Thank You note can count for a lot these days. Certainly send one to the celebrity and his/her publicist, as well as the assigning editor. A print from the shoot is always a nice takeaway.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that music & film festivals are actually a nice segue into the genre for my photographers. It’s resulted in relationships that have led to more incredible opportunities in more intimate settings, and the art itself becomes a calling card. The Shayan Asgharnia image of Erykah Badu below (shot at the Roots Picnic Festival) is what made me reach out to him. In its turn, it was part of a body of work that I showed the veteran agent Angela De Bona on my ‘phone over lunch, which in turn led into her signing him for assignment representation.

Another talented artist I represent, Taili Song Roth, managed to capture an arresting, classic image of Clint Eastwood at the Palm Springs Film Festival.

So the takeaway is: take a step back from your less than savory view of this genre of photography. There are ways to approach the work in a smart, credible manner that will not hurl your artistry onto the funeral pyre.

And you will come to realize that it is in fact a sound investment, one that will prove to be a strong, long-term ally to brand-building.

Erykah Badu/ Shayan Asgharnia/ AUGUST

Clint Eastwood/ Taili Song Roth/ AUGUST

The Best Work I Saw at Photo NOLA: Part 1

 

I’ve been to New Orleans four times in my life.

Each visit, I’ve gone in December. It’s not entirely a coincidence, as that’s when the Photo NOLA festival takes place. (I’ve attended in 2012, ’14 and now ’17)

Despite the fact that New Orleans is situated on the Gulf Coast, and is reputed for its lovely winter weather, two of my visits were met with freezing-rain-ice-storms that made me want to cry in a pillow.

(The other two times I was met with humid, sunny, 70-80 degree weather, so I guess it all depends on luck.)

The fact the weather was awful this year was mitigated by the fact that I’d planned the trip with little time scheduled outside the International House Hotel, where the event is held each year. (It’s just a few short blocks outside the French Quarter.)

Mostly, I was either in the hotel or adjoining conference center, or safely ensconced inside a bar/restaurant/museum/gallery/party/Uber. So any whinging I now provide is mostly for comedic effect.

There was a brief moment, the first night, when I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the heat in my hotel room, and I actually did cry into a pillow, but beyond that, I had a smashing time at Photo NOLA last month.

Like many portfolio review events these days, Photo NOLA is run by a non-profit, in this case the New Orleans Photo Alliance, which is a member-supported organization. (We did an interview on the subject years ago with Jennifer Shaw, if you’d like to learn more about it.)

So Photo NOLA is imbued with a sense of mission, and everyone clearly loves being a part of such a vibrant local photo community. Like Filter in Chicago, another of my favorites, this festival puts heavy emphasis on socializing, as they have several parties and events lined up, including a gala at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and a yellow-school-bus-led gallery tour.

Photographers have a lot of choices these days, as far as review events to attend, so I think the fact that you can have so much fun at Photo NOLA, in addition to the fact they clearly get a few reviewers each year who normally aren’t on the circuit, makes it a very wise place to invest your obviously-limited resources.

(If you’re one of the few out there who’s doing really well, getting rich off of being a photographer, you can ignore the previous comment, but have the decency to keep it to yourself, OK?)

For whatever reason, I had a lot of people visit the table this year who were looking for advice and feedback, but weren’t quite ready to be shown here. I do the best I can to help, obviously, but only publish work in the column that demonstrates a high degree of craft, if not concept, over 8-10 pictures.

As such, I’ll show you a handful of projects today and next week, and then we’ll be back to the book reviews. I attend most of these events in the summer and fall, so this will be the end of the review stories, for a while.

As usual, the photographers are in no particular order.

Ok, they’re in no particular order beyond the fact that I’m starting with Jared Ragland. His work was the most complete, compelling project I saw, and I voted for it for the Photo NOLA prize.

Jared used to work with Pete Souza in Obama’s White House. (An era that now seems like Martin Sheen’s TV presidency, for all the similarities it shares with contemporary reality.) But Jared is originally from Alabama, and returned home to turn his attention to the meth epidemic that is ravaging the NE part of the state.

The pictures are genuinely visceral, as they make a viewer feel uncomfortable. They show something decidedly ugly, and real, but the strong aesthetics give the ride a bit of turbo boost. Additionally, Jared worked with a sociologist to give the project a sense of academic rigor.

Brilliant stuff.

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
jaredragland.com

Ellie Ivanova had a new take on a subject matter we’ve all seen before: war re-enactors. It’s not hard to see why people are drawn to the subject, as it’s incredibly visual, and also goes pretty far down the road of creating the impression of time travel.

I feel most photographers neglect to really push the element of time in their work, so when the clothing and props are already there for the taking, it’s not hard to see why people with cameras get curious.

Ellie is from Bulgaria, but based in Denton, TX, where she got her MFA degree. She is using a fairly original analog technique to make prints that don’t look real, using some strange acid trick. The chemistry acts in funny ways, and eats away at the emulsion, so the visual effects enhance the emotionality, I think, and also imbue the subject with a bit of originality.








I first saw Amilton Neves‘s work during the portfolio walk, and stopped in my tracks, as it is clearly compelling. Luckily, he had a review with me the next day, so I got the full backstory.

Amilton recently moved to Tampa from Mozambique, where he was both a photographer and an anthropologist. Back home, he became intrigued by a community of women who’d been encouraged to write letters to Portuguese colonial soldiers during a war of independence in the 60’s and 70’s.

Portugal was eventually ejected, after 500 years of Colonial exploitation, and the women were deemed enemies of the state. Surprisingly, they’re still demonized, all these years later, so Amilton photographed them in their homes, and gained access to some of the letters as well.

I think it’s a striking project, and look forward to seeing what he comes up with down there in the craziest state in the Union. (Keep f-cking that chicken, Florida.)

Jo Ann Chaus and I got along swimmingly. She’s a Jewish grandmother from Northern New Jersey, and we openly discussed how hard it can be to focus on a career in the arts, coming from that local culture. (I’m sure I wouldn’t be an artist today if my folks hadn’t left for Taos in the 90’s.)

Though I admit women of her generation doing self-portraiture-based projects is a bit trendy at the moment, (which I told her,) I found an honesty, and visual strength, in many of these pictures, and heartily encouraged her to continue, and push it even further.

Lisa M Robinson and I go way back, as she used to be married to my friend Ken. (Who featured in the ridiculous Marfa article series we published in 2012.)

Lisa, who’s represented by our friends Klompching Brooklyn, got a lot of traction years ago for her project, and Kehrer Verlag book “Snowbound.” They were lovely, meditative, large format images, which she followed up with a series about the sea.

Though I know she was not enamored of Tucson on first site, apparently she made her peace with the desert, because I think this new group of pictures, Terrestra, rocks. I saw it at the portfolio walk, and the prints, trimmed borderless, were the best I saw in NOLA. (The show is up at Klompching as we speak.)

All images © Lisa M. Robinson/Courtesy of Klompching Gallery, New York

We’ll end today with Rich Frishman, a funny guy who’s based in Washington. I was talking with Frish Brandt, the Director of the Fraenkel Gallery, who was my table-mate, when Rich walked up to my table, and she said he was her brother.

They both smiled, and I was totally sure they were spontaneously busting my balls. You know, two people who get in on the joke immediately, like improv performers.

But no, they insisted, her name Frish came from Frishman, the two hugged, and then she told me he should have been a better big brother when they were young. (He confirmed as much.)

In all my years reviewing, it was one of the most surreal little moments I’ve had. (Is there a book in that? All the craziest stuff I’ve seen at portfolio reviews? Probably not.)

Rich’s pictures are panoramic visions of Americana, shot across much of the country, and are meant to be printed very large, so people can dive into the details. The photos are obviously likable, and kitschy, but I told him the more visually compelling they were, the more people would engage with his vision.

©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Allen’s Filling Station on US Route 66; Commerce, Oklahoma
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Total solar eclipse over McDonald’s; Baker City, Oregon
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Midway Drive-In Theatre; Quitaque, Texas 2016
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Segregation wall at Templin Saloon; Gonzales, Texas 2016
The wall was constructed in the early 20th Century and is decorated with an original pre-1929 Dr. Pepper logo.
At the time of its construction (circa 1906) only Caucasian customers were allowed to sit in the front of the saloon. All Hispanic, Latino and African-American customers had to sit behind the wall.
When the saloon was remodeled and re-opened in 2014 the wall, no longer used for its original purpose, was retained as a historical reminder.
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Stark’s Sporting Goods in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin features an assortment of items, including boats, booze and bullets. One stop shopping American-style: shots of whiskey and shotguns.
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

See you next week with more great photography. (If we don’t get nuked first…)

The Best Work I Saw at Review Santa Fe, Part 2

- - Working

 

Everyone I know hates this time of year.

People get sick.
It’s cold and gray.
The dried grass is brown, outside my window, taunting me for lack of snow.

Trying to turn my SAD upside down, I recently started limiting my time on social media, and replacing it with a strenuous 45 minute hike up the hill that rises above our family farm.

It sounds like a headline from the Onion, I know: “Bougie artist discovers exercise is better then sitting on your ass!”

But seriously, I’ve decided to trade the incessant internet chatter for bird calls, and the occasional barking dog. (Until it’s frozen and icy, I’ve made myself a good trade.)

Not sure it would work for you, but since when have I been shy about giving advice?

Today, on the hill, there was a moment that took my breath away. A raven, (we have many) was soaring in the sky when all of a sudden, in an instant, he tucked his wings in and dove down.

It was straight free-fall, but he/she was totally relaxed. It was only for a couple of seconds, and then the wings were out again, but it was so graceful, the nosedive.

Falling, effortlessly, because it’s much more energy-efficient than doing anything else.

I thought immediately about falling into this, the hardest part of the year. Then end, when my family is always crisper than a bagel that’s been left in the toaster for too long. (Translation: very crispy.)

There are so many jokes we could make about 2017, this endless year, but Twitter, (which I’m cutting down on, wink wink,) has been ablaze with them.

Here are a few of mine.

2017 has been longer than Donald Trump Jr’s collective community college transcript.

If 2017 were a greeting card, it would say, “Hey, Fuck-face, why do you think you deserve a card? Nobody deserves anything in this world, unless I say so. Life is difficult, and merciless, and only the strong survive. Get used to it!”

If I got to write one tweet, pretending to be President Donald Trump, wrapping up 2017, I would write: “Who needs #280? Hillarys a witch. And a LoseR! Burn her. Obamas muslim. Access tape faked, just like the news. See you in 2018. Trump out!”

Ok. Ok.
I’m done.

I think it’s a bit cathartic, for me, making fun of a sad situation. But let’s turn that frown upside down.

If you saw the headline today, you’ll know this article is the second, (and final) installment of a brief series about the best work I saw at Review Santa Fe 2017.

We’ll begin with Amy Lowey, who was my last meeting at RSF. We were both fried, as it was the end of the festival, and there was a moment where I thought it was going to go wrong.

But before you know it, we course-corrected, and had a deep conversation, in which she showed me work I found captivating. In particular, her black and white digital prints, on what seemed like a coated rag paper, were exquisite.

Her story was a sad one, as Amy has to be a care-taker for her husband, who has a degenerative, and likely fatal disease. It takes a toll, as one would imagine, and she goes for nature walks to calm herself down.

Amazingly, and symbolically, Amy has zeroed in on trees in the forest, particularly ones with symbiotic connections to other trees. Wow. I’m choking up just thinking about it.

Like Amy, Ward Long is a recent graduate of the excellent Hartford low-residency MFA program.

I spied his prints, with the side-eye, as I walked along at the portfolio walk on Friday night. The quality of his image-making, likely with a big camera, caught my fancy. I’d say it’s a part of that Southern-poetic-aesthetic, and having looked at his website, I feel comfortable making that call.

I had a similar experience with Mitsuharu Maeda’s work, in that it grabbed me as I walked down the busy aisles at the Santa Fe Farmer’s market, battling the throngs. (It really is an excellent venue for this sort of thing. Kudos!)

As Haruki Murakami is likely my favorite author, I’ve always been a sucker for elements of Japanese culture. In particular, imagining the cold northern mountains of Hokkaido.

So I was always going to like these snowy pictures.

Melanie Metz had recently moved to Santa Fe, so it was nice to meet a new member of our Northern New Mexico photo community. (Welcome, Melanie. Lucky for you, there’s no official hazing ritual anymore, after the Bad-Burrito-Incident of 2010.)

Melanie had some cool photographs of her hometown in Florida, which was not-too-far inland, but had all the horse-farm vibe of a Deep South or Western ranch. We discussed that I preferred her color to her black and white work, and I suggested it was normal for one “eye” to be more advanced than the other.

But she’s still pretty young, so I’m curious to see how Melanie’s work evolves over time.

Oren Lukatz, an Israeli, had some really interesting pictures of Israeli military soldiers, often with dogs. I questioned the addition, as it seemed random, but Oren told me the dogs are drafted too, just like the humans. Even better, their “master,” the solder who’s in charge of them when they retire, gets to keep them as a pet.

Pretty cool.

Finally, last-but-not-least, we have Kiliii Yuyan, whom I did not meet at all at Review Santa Fe. He was there, and he reached out a bit afterwards to say he had wanted to meet, or get a review, and it didn’t happen.

Several times, in the past, I’ve included such people in the round-up, if I liked their work once I checked out the website. In this case, it was hard not to like.

Kiliii is an indigenous artist from the Arctic, making work from inside his community, rather than from an outsider’s perspective. That’s another conversation I won’t make us rehash, after the big series in Summer 2017, but clearly these pictures have something extra.

Do yourself a favor and watch some of the videos on his site as well. Talk about getting into a meditative state? Like a diving raven?

I think you get the point.

Generations of Iñupiaq ancestors lie in this snowy cemetery in Utqiagviq. Says Jana Harcharek, “We are proud to be Iñupiaq. When our ancestors look down on us and see us living with our culture, we feel we know who we are.”

As Iñupiaq have become deeply enmeshed in a market economy, traditional crafts have become important for families to survive on. This polar bear is being carved from a walrus tusk, and is donated by hunters to artisans in the community.

Elder Fannie Akpik stands in front the Barrow cemetery, where many of her family members rest. When Christianity was adopted by the Iñupiaq, it marked a major change for the culture. Today, the social forces of global media and communication mark another cultural pivot. Fannie Akpik is a strong advocate for regaining cultural identity and language through education in Iñupiaq schools.

Polar bear skulls and seal harpoons rest against the wall in an Iñupiaq home. Native life in the Arctic is lived with little separation between indoors and out. Time spent indoors is often just preparation for days away on the sea ice.

Six-year old Steven Reich examines his father’s umiaq, or skinboat used for whaling. His father Tad, captain of Yugu crew, expresses nervous excitement to bring Steven out whaling on the ice for the first time: “I am proud of my son; he’s here to learn to be a hunter.”

High above the Arctic Circle on sea ice a mile from shore, an Iñupiaq whaling crew watches from a blind for a passing bowhead whale by the light of the moon. The Iñupiat have hunted whales here for at least 2,000 years, but the forces of climate change and globalization are rapidly altering the culture of this remote region.

Floating on the Arctic Ocean, a towering piece of multiyear sea ice rests. Not long ago, the majority of sea ice looked like this– meters thick and capable of supporting great weight. For Iñupiaq hunters, the thin ice that covers the sea now is significantly more dangerous than just a decade ago.

Iñupiaq elder Foster Simmonds has been a whaler since he was a child. Since then, whaling has seen subtle changes.

A rare calm day out on the Beaufort Sea belies the instability of the sea ice– day by day vast sections break away and float along with the current, often stranding subsistence hunters.

An umiaq, or whaling skinboat, waits on the edge of the ice for gathering arctic ice fog to pass. Iñupiaq whaling crews wait patiently on the sea ice for months, enduring subzero temperatures, howling winds, and incessant freezing fog.

Polar bears present an ever-present danger to the whalers when out on the ice. Attracted to the scent of fresh blubber, they prowl the edges of camp, but are usually scared off by rifle shots and noisemakers. During whale butchering many people stand guard against the bears circling nearby and keep children close to camp. This bear at Akootchook’s whale was one of thirteen seen in a single day.

As a baby whale is discovered in the process of butchering, the hunters have a moment of silence. For scientists studying bowhead whales, the baby is a unexpected gift, as hunted whales afford the only opportunity for researchers to take direct samples and measurements. Much of what is known about the bowhead has come from the traditional ecological knowledge of Iñupiaq whalers.

The Art of the Personal Project: Michael Weschler

- - Working

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this new revised thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist: Michael Weschler

Sometimes, when we’re looking closely enough, time stands still, reminding us to stay grounded.  There are few people I’ve met who are as present and in the moment as Ray.  The tragic accident that paralyzed his body has empowered him to move beyond the things we take for granted, like crossing the street, and to accomplish tremendous feats of incredible athletic ABILITY.  We are all fighting battles, but there are few heroes like Ray who raise the bar and through their triumphs, help us to change our perspective.

Ray Diaz, Team USA Paralympic Sled Hockey All-Star

Ray Diaz, Team USA Paralympic Sled Hockey All-Star

Ray Diaz, Team USA Paralympic Sled Hockey All-Star

Ray Diaz, Team USA Paralympic Sled Hockey All-Star

To see more of this project, click here

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s. After establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information because she believes that marketing should be driven by brand and not by specialty.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.

The Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival: Part 3

 

It’s a tough week to be a man.

My gender has not come off well recently, what with the “me too” movement proving that almost every woman in America has been groped, molested, raped, or abused in some way during her lifetime.

Totally disgraceful.

As my own wife typed those words into Facebook, in conjunction with so many friends and colleagues, there’s not much I can do but shake my head and wonder how we got here.

Because where we are is pretty fucked up. (I should also mention the recent, horrifying news about the murder and dismemberment of Swedish photojournalist Kim Wall, which is the worst story I’ve heard this year.)

Then today, in the very same week, Women Photograph came out with a set of statistics that show just how few gigs at the major news organizations are going to women.

The numbers are awful.

I’ve said many times I’m a strong feminist, as my wife went to Vassar and Smith, and educated me since I was 23 on the ways of the patriarchy. As I’m now 43, you can imagine how many times I’ve been schooled on the depth of misogyny here in America.

I may have morphed into a super-liberal, highly conscious male in 2017, but I grew up a suburban-Jersey-boy, obsessed with sports and girls, so it was no given that I’d get where I am.

It took a lot of intervention from the Smith posse, and I’m forever grateful.

In fact, I can still remember what it was like, visiting Northampton back in 1998, partying with all those lesbians. I knew nothing of “butch” and “femme,” or “top” and “bottom,” and was seriously insecure to be in a crowd I didn’t understand.

In the beginning, I struggled with how to handle it. Frankly, I was uncomfortable, and out of my depth. But there was also something thrilling about encountering worlds so different from my own.

Then we moved to San Francisco, and were hanging out with the Bernal Heights lesbian crew all the time, and soon what had seemed strange became a part of my normal life. (In particular because these women, soon-to-become social workers, were such kind, impressive, intelligent people.)

Over time, my repeated exposure allowed me to relax, and begin to appreciate that these ladies were remarkable. Sure, they were different than I was, but at some point, we’re all people.

Now it’s 20 years later, and I am a much healthier, more grounded and accepting person, in particular because I had exposure to people of different races, classes, and sexual orientations in the ensuing years.

That opportunity to mesh with people, outside my Taos bubble, was one of my favorite things about my visit to Chicago, at the Filter Photo Festival last month. (This will be our final post on the subject.)

Because this last bit of synchronicity may be the best of all, and it was directly connected to who sat down at my portfolio reviewing table, ready to show me some work.

It began with the last review of Saturday afternoon, when I was pretty fried from all the looking and talking. A young man took a seat, introduced himself as Matt Storm, and began telling me a bit about his background.

From the first moment, I thought, “It appears he’s transgender. Like he used to be a woman. I hope it will come up in a natural way, so I don’t end up looking like an asshole.”

I gently made some further observations, and asked a few appropriate, polite questions, and it turned out I was correct, that Matt was cool with discussing it, and that I managed not to make a fool of myself.

The work is pretty genius, and I don’t use that word flippantly. Turns out, Matt’s grandfather passed away earlier this year, and they were close. So Matt came up with a project in which he impersonates his grandfather, while wearing the dead man’s clothes.

Even better, the pictures are hilarious, absurd, subversive, and perfect. In fact, in some of the photographs, Matt has posed in front of family pictures in the background that include him, as a young girl, if you know where to look.

I can’t imagine a smarter investigation of gender in America, and the fact that it is funny, rather than strident, is not coincidental.

The next day, in the morning, Kris Sanford sat down across the table, and also had a project looking at issues in Gay America. Kris had made black and white portraits of gay Americans in their homes, back in 2000, (before Will and Grace,) before there was even a widespread discussion of gay issues in our broader culture.

Then, she went back, found the same people, and re-photographed them 16 years later, in color, as symbolic representations of change over time. (Those are my words. She’d probably say they’re just portraits.)

But as Matt is in his 20’s, and his pictures represent a certain of-the-moment-ness, Kris is in her 30’s, and the project seems to have a different vibe reflective, perhaps, of a different generation.

Finally, right after Kris, Zoe Perry-Wood met with me, and she’s also a lesbian artist making work about gay rights issues, but  of an older generation than Matt and Kris. In Zoe’s case, she’s been photographing Boston’s gay youth prom for 10 years, making studio portraits of young people celebrating in an inclusive environment where they can joyously be themselves in public.

Zoe mentioned that over time, she’s seen changes in the demographic. In particular, the students have started coming out younger, and there are now more transgender students than their used to be.

Through the pictures, we can see the way changes in the culture at large are reflected in the bodies and spirits of these young people. And the photographs are technically strong as well.

So as strange is it may sound to some of you, I’m now in the process of curating a 3-person show by these excellent artists. I think it’s important for people to look at, and experience, different perspectives, and even though I’m just a straight white guy, I’m hoping to use my energy and effort to help get the message out there.

Moving on, I saw Jim VanBibber’s work out of the corner of my eye at the portfolio walk. Someone had mentioned it to me, so I headed his way to see for myself. Pictures like this need little introduction, as Jim is making wet plate collodion portraits of Lucha libra wrestler toys.

So. damn. cool.

Alice Hargrave had a review with me, and I needed to focus, as there were some pretty heavy conceptual strains pulsing through the pictures. One set was actually a visual, abstracted representation of birds, made by color-coding the sound waves of their calls. (Trippy, yo!)

She also had pictures she made at night, of verdant spots in cities, primarily, and I thought they were lovely. Really great use of color, texture and mood, so that’s what we’re showing here.

Next, we have the work of Julie Pawlowski, who spent several years living in Shanghai. (Her husband worked for Smuckers, of all places.) Though she was only a temporary resident, Julie was impacted by the rampant development in her adopted city.

In particular, she noticed that as traditional neighborhoods were razed, brick walls were put up to block out peeping eyes, or curious feet. So Julie has made a photo series that examines the changes in the urban landscapes, and uses those bricks as a repeating motif.

Finally, yes finally, we end with a small artist book by Kevin Miyazaki. I met him at Review Santa Fe back in 2009, and have been an admirer since. (Kevin was one of the first people to organize a print-for-charity process, with his collect.give program.)

In this case, Kevin gave me his book, about taking a trip to Japan as a Japanese-American who doesn’t speak Japanese. It’s a hard situation to imagine, though it affects many Asian-Americans. Looking like you belong, yet being marked as outsider because of your dress, language, or inability to understand certain rituals or traditions.

The book is beautiful, and seems an appropriate place to end this month-long look into what I saw, and who I met, in the coolest city in America. (Chicago, in case you’ve forgotten.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Work I saw at the Filter Festival: Part 2

 

This might seem like a long story, but bear with me.

Back in the Spring, as I walked across Central Park with Patrice, a gray-robed Chinese monk stepped into my path, reached out, grabbed my hand, and put a wooden-beaded bracelet on it.

He was quick, like a Shaolin monk, before I could think to refuse.

So I said thanks, reached into my pocket and gave him a dollar. I turned to walk away, but in highly broken English, he pointed to his list, and showed me the previous person had given him $20.

I looked at him, he pointed at the list.

I said, “You want more money?”

He nodded yes.

I reached into my pocket, took out 2 more dollars, gave them to him, and then he blessed me. I bowed back, and moved on, not sure exactly how that had come about.

It felt really deep.

Later, downtown, my friend Felt mocked me, saying the whole thing was a scam, but it felt real to me.

Turns out, I wear that bracelet all the time. I’ve really come to like it. And I began to feel bad that I’d only paid $3, as it’s worth more than that to me.

Had I shortchanged a monk?
Isn’t that bad karma?

I swore the next time I saw a monk like that, I’d give him some more money instead, to make sure I was all good with the powers that be.

And sure enough, as I walked towards the lake in Chicago late last month, just up the street from the Art Institute, (with my friend Kyohei in tow,) who do I see but another gray-robed monk with a handful of bracelets.

I show him mine, thank him, and give him a few dollars. Again, like the last time, he asks for more, so I give it to him. But as I don’t need a bracelet, as I’m simply paying into the cause, he gives me a Bodhisattva blessing card that says “Work Smoothly Lifetime Peace.”

Then he bows in blessing, and we’re back about our business.

But since my spiritual moment slowed us down 2 minutes, by the time I got back to that very same spot, (after getting my press ticket,) I bumped into a photographer I knew in Santa Fe, 7 years ago.

I’d recommended she go to Chicago for her MFA, as I’d heard such good things about Columbia College, and she did. We said hello, and once she told me she was now the collection manager in the photo department, I jumped into journalist mode, and asked what the special places were to see?

It was she who gave up the intel on the secret Japanese galleries, and who later arranged to have the photography curator, Elizabeth Siegel, come meet us in the gallery to give us a little talk about Hugh Edwards.

How random, or coincidental, or meant-to-be is that?

Because I stop to give money to a Buddhist monk, because of my Jewish guilt, I get the inside scoop on some amazing Buddhist art inside the museum?

These are the things that keep happening to me when I’m in Chicago, and why I really can’t wait to go back. I’m sure different cities do this for different people. but I’m so comfortable there that I end up talking to everyone.

Inside the gallery in the Hugh Edwards show, (a terrific exhibition inspired by the Art Institute’s legendary former curator,) I started chatting up an African-American security guard.

She admitted she found the show boring, and I asked if it was because there were so many rectangular, black and white pictures in black frames with white matte boards, and she said, “Yeah, that’s it.”

I said I understood, and as my friend and I were both artists and professors, we were able to get excited for all sorts of geeky reasons.

I told her I’d give her one tip, and she could see for herself if it opened anything up about photography.

There is, in the exhibition, an amazing suite of about 10 Robert Frank prints from “The Americans.” (Hugh Edwards was the first curator in America to show the work.)

I told her about my favorite diptych, maybe in the History of Photography: on the left, a fancy car in Los Angeles, covered, shimmering in the fancy light, with the swaying palm trees. On the right, a dead body, covered by a dirty blanket, lying by the wintry side of Route 66 in Arizona.

Two strong pictures, yes, but the context supercharges them.

I said my goodbye, and walked deeper into the show to see work by Eugène Atget, and Duane Michals. There were daguerreotypes in the exhibit, and more.

Kyohei and I ended up talking about the show with an African-American couple around our own age, and some Asian-American schoolgirls.

Random, in-public discussion.
Yet again.

By the time we were ready to leave, the security guard walked up to me and said, “I went and looked at those pictures, and you’re right. That’s powerful right there.”

We all get off on photography, or you wouldn’t be reading this. (Except for you, Mom and Dad.) And when it leads to discussion, to dialogue, to a deeper understanding of the world we inhabit, then I’d argue the art form has done its job well.

So today, I’m glad to share the second batch of work from the the 2017 Filter Photo Festival.

Donna Pinckley, based in Arkansas, had work that I was sure I had seen somewhere, but I couldn’t say where for sure. The project had gone viral, she said, so it could have been any number of places.

Donna has strong, large format black and white images made of inter-racial couples, and includes text written on the bottom of each print. (Racist, nasty comments that people have made before.) It’s really strong work.

It reminded me of Jim Goldberg’s “Rich and Poor,” but Donna and I agreed that just because someone else had written on pictures, (as Duane Michals did also,) then it’s no reason not to do it, if the situation is right.

Mayumi Lake works at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she went to school, and showed me a couple of projects that weren’t quite right, for me. But art is subjective, and she clearly knows what she’s doing.

As is often the case, we might resonate with something else, in a different box, and that’s what happened here. Mayumi is Japanese, and these flowers she makes out of scanned bits of vintage kimonos are so cool.

Sleek and colorful, vibrant and personal. I liked them very much, and think you will too.

Kalin Haydon, a graduate student at Columbia College, showed me a project about bingo hall culture in Southern Illinois, as she grew up around such places. (We discussed the bingo hall sub-plot in “Better Call Saul,” and both agreed it’s stellar.)

I thought her strongest images were really tight, as they walked the line between being respectful, and showing a vision that might in some ways be perceived as pejorative.

It’s the hard part of doing a story from the inside, knowing you want people to appreciate what you do, and share your respect for the subject, while also being aware of the visual elements people are sure to find compelling or salacious.

Adam Davies was in from Baltimore, where he is an Artist in Residence at Creative Alliance. He presented a project of large format, urban, structural, architectural photographs that featured subtle use of graffiti. (Found, not made.)

There were certain perspectives that felt dangerous, like, “how the hell did he get up there?,” and overall I found them to be striking. I mentioned the few that I thought looked too much like other people’s images, but in general, think the work is excellent.

I met Susan Keiser, and showed her work here, after Filter in 2015. (She’s the first Filter alum to make it back into the post-festival round up.)

Her exploration of dolls fascinates me, as that would be a subject on my “cliché/don’t do this” list of things I’d give to students, if I had such a list. (I don’t.)

But I always challenge students to see if they can bring a fresh take to well-trod terrain, because who doesn’t like a good challenge?

This time out, Susan is shooting through ice, using vintage dolls from the 40’s and 50’s that she collects on Ebay. Even better, they’re small, so she has to use a macro lens to capture the scenes that she renders with the dolls.

Susan is also a painter, so the use of color and composition is right, leading to an overall creepy-but-not-too creepy vibe I really like. Crazy pictures.

Finally we have Allen Wheatcroft. Here, we return to that question of when are pictures appropriate or when are they exploitative? Or is it OK to be exploitative anyway?

Allen had street photographs from around the world that often (but not always) featured a lone figure in a crowd. Someone Allen described as off, or not-quite-right, but not hardcore junkies or homeless folks.

We discussed whether these people weren’t proxies for him? Whether he didn’t see himself as awkward or uncomfortable, unable to easily connect? Allen agreed that he did, and it was a really interesting way for me to understand the pictures.

He asked me if I thought they were too Bruce Gilden, or inappropriate towards the people in the images?

I don’t think so myself. I find them a bit intimate, and strange, and more endearing than critical. A bus driver in Stockholm? A guy on the beach in Chicago? More odd than off-putting.

We’ll end here today, with a group of pictures that represents some of the best the street has to offer…

Synchronicity.

This Week in Photography Books: Michael Crouser

- - Working

 

I’ll be honest with you.

I’m pretty fried at the moment.

It’s been a long year, and a long summer, and right this second, my brain’s a little spent. Just when I thought I was getting caught up with things, my Dad told me I had to get on this Equifax shit-show, and nothing brings up stress chemicals like the fear of identity theft.

That said, a weekly column is just that, as it requires me to feed the beast.

And so I shall.

Last week, I reviewed a book that was squarely in my old comfort zone, back when we worked with photo-eye: a small-batch, edgy, art-school type project that was more off-putting than embraceable.

My main criterion for reviewing a book has always been, does it compel me to sit down and write? If the ideas flow, then the book is interesting.

I don’t have to love it, and you don’t have to love it. I’d hope that, over time, we all enjoy far more books than we dislike. Given the feedback I get from you, I think that’s probably true.

So this week, (as is my wont,) we’re going completely in the opposite direction. This book couldn’t be more different than “Married to America.”

Seriously, if you tried to come up with a more antithetical project, I doubt you could. (But if you want to try, we do still have a comment section.)

I interviewed Michael Crouser here a few years ago, as he’s a talented photographer who makes pictures that yearn for yesteryear, and often lack visual markers of present day. We discussed how his black and white photographs, when shot in Europe, actually look as if they come from a previous era.

It’s like a photographic equivalent of “Midnight in Paris.” (The only good Woody Allen movie I’ve seen in the last 15 years.)

So I wasn’t surprised when “Mountain Ranch,” his new book, recently published by the University of Texas Press, turned up in the mail. Apparently, the project was just shown at ClampArt in NYC as well.

This time out, Michael spent 10 years, (2006-16) photographing the declining ranching culture of North West Colorado. If last week’s pics were the epitome of edgy/uncomfortable, these are as earnest and heart-warming as it gets.

Frankly, they’re not my favorite style of photographs. I like a bit more bite. But most of you will probably dig these pictures, as they’re so well-made, and really hard to dislike.

If last week’s review was Ted Cruz, this week we’ve got Oprah. Everyone loves Oprah, right? (Yes, I’m going to Chicago next week, so I wanted to kiss a little ass, as I think Oprah still runs that town.)

As you know by now, I grew up in suburban New Jersey. Nothing could be further from that experience, all cars and green lawns and manicured highways. But now I live in the Rocky Mountains, and can personally attest that ranching culture, with all the cowboy accoutrements, is alive and well.

This America, the one in these photographs, is alien to almost all the urbanites out there. It looks like a Red-State fantasy camp, but really, it’s a way of life that has existed as long as Westward expansion was a dream.

The book features some powerful, first person accounts, by the ranchers, of why the lifestyle is dying. Property taxes, inheritance taxes, a younger generation that wants an easier life.

Michael Crouser wants to document this world, to show us his passion, before it disappears. And today, I thought it was appropriate to share it with you. Because if I’m too cynical to enjoy some lovely pictures, then I should probably get a new job.

Bottom Line: Lyrical, old-fashioned pictures of Ranch Life in Colorado

To purchase “Mountain Ranch” click here

If you’d like to submit a book for review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com

 

The Best Work I Saw at the LACP Portfolio Review Part 1

 

Hollywood is hip these days.

It’s always been popular as an idea, of course.
As “Hollywood.”

But I’m talking about the actual part of Los Angeles; one section of the many that stitch together the Megalopolis. In that respect, Hollywood is just the North-Central part of LA where Hollywood Boulevard sits just above Sunset as they intersect with Vine.

The place where the Hollywood Walk of Fame resides, and Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

It’s like Times Square in New York, or Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, in that it’s clearly built for, and subsists off of tourists. There are trinket shops galore, hotels aplenty, and lots of bars next to drunk-food-restaurants.

No lie, on Selma, 1 block from my hotel, a high-end Tao sat across the street from Danny Trejo’s Mexican bar & taqueria, which was itself next to a Poutine joint. (Which I couldn’t resist.)

The guys working the counter, where they sling the cheese fries and gravy, were dressed like Canadians, in lumberjack patterning. They told me they only open up outlets next to bars or colleges. (Makes sense.)

I got accosted by some drunk guys, as I awaited my poutine, even though it was barely 8pm. They took me for Israeli, which never happens, and pretended to slap me in the face as I stood there, daydreaming.

Minding my own business.

Cursing myself for being gluttonous enough to order cheese fries and gravy for dinner.

They offered poutine topped with bacon, beef, chicken, or lots of other artery-clogging-to-the-point-they-should-have-a-cardiologist-office-next-door toppings, yet I stuck with the plain version.

And boy did it give me indigestion later that night. Big mistake, getting the cheese fries and gravy for dinner.

Wait.
Where was I?

Right.
Hollywood.

I was there to work, of course, so I didn’t sample the clubs or the bars. Instead, I limped my tired dad-bod around the neighborhood to grab food, (lacking a car, as I mentioned,) or I was next door reviewing portfolios at the LA Center of Photography.

The organization, which is now non-profit, was long known as the Julia Dean Workshops, so Julia Dean is now the Executive Director of the LACP. Apparently, they changed the structure and name about 4 years ago.

Their portfolio review, Exposure, is held in their school space there on Wilcox, and also at the DNJ Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. (Hence the multiple Ubers.)

It was a well run event, and the people in charge are genuinely helpful and friendly. (Here’s your shout out, Brandon and Sarah.) The organization has been around for a while, but the review is relatively new, as it was the first time they were bringing in reviewers from the outside. (I was joined by Brian Clamp and Elizabeth Avedon, two New Yorkers.)

Most of the people at the reviews have taken classes there before, and many had studied with Aline Smithson, who teaches Fine Art Photography for the LACP, and has for years. We’ve shown many of her students’ work here before, and I’ve been consistently impressed.

But others were less trained, so as usual, I tried to be helpful, and point out to people where their strengths seemed to lie, and where they were weak.

Today and next week, we’re going to feature the best work I saw at the review. As usual, my criteria for what to show you are based on a few simple concepts.

1. Are there enough contiguous images to show you a proper sample of someone’s ideas? (Meaning 2 or 4 good pictures is never enough.)

2. Does the selection show a well-executed vision?

3. Are these pictures at least visually pleasing, if not genuinely brilliant?

If I see that range in someone’s portfolio, I’ll try to show it here.

As I’ll be doing 3 more portfolio reviews for you guys this year, (in Chicago, Santa Fe and New Orleans,) I thought it was worth the slight diversion to explain how I choose what’s worth publishing.

So let’s get started, and, as always, the artists are in no particular order.

Silvia Razgova recently moved to Los Angeles from Toronto, having spent the previous few years living in the United Arab Emirates. (I think I’ve got that right.) She showed me pictures from the UAE, that were cool, but I was far-more-seduced by these medium format gems from her hometown of Hradok, in Slovakia.

Her color palette is pretty dreamy, and I liked a few of these very much. But overall, they fit the conditions above, as they’re well made, consistent, and show us a slice of her world, which we’d otherwise never see.

Anto Tavitian was amazed when I guessed he was Armenian. (I felt confident I was right, but you never know.) Later, he realized my trick.

“Was it the ‘ian’ at the end of the name,” Anto wondered?

“Yes,” I said, “you got me.”

That said, Anto showed me the deconstructed book pages from his BFA project at Cal State Northridge. He’d made a photo narrative about his immigrant Armenian-Syrian parents, and included the repeating motif of the tight shot of a coffee cup.

As coffee was so important to the story, he also stained the book pages with it, creating a dappled-brown effect. And the few text pieces, and one drawing, that were interspersed are cool too.

Jamie Siragusa is currently enrolled in a one year program at LACP, and was working on street photography. She’s interested in photographing children, but didn’t want to do it in a conventional way. So she’s focusing on kids at political protests.

We all talk abstractly about what our actions will mean for our children, or grandchildren, so she wanted to make pictures about those descendants now. In particular, kids who are being vocal with their disapproval by protesting in public. (Mostly with their parents, of course.)

Dan Lopez showed me a book, “Constellation Road,” which featured these LA cultural landscape photographs. I thought his sense of color and composition was really strong, and he definitely captured some of the bright harshness of the California sun as well.

(Sidebar: part of why I didn’t go on huge walks through Hollywood, rather than snobbery, was that the sun is so damn strong in July. Be forewarned.)

I told Dan I thought it was hard to separate his work from the photographers who’d come before in this tradition, as he admitted being influenced by the usual suspects. (Shore, Eggleston.) It’s tough to find an original voice, I admit, but the more we try to push away from the things we’ve seen a million times before, the more likely we’ll get there.

Last, but not least, we have Brian McCarty, whose work is the edgiest of the bunch today. Brian makes a living photographing toys, as it’s his commercial specialty. (So he’s really good at it.)

As such, he ended up doing a project in which he tries to use toys to help children in war zones, particularly in the Middle East, to process their trauma. He’d just gotten back from Mosul, in Iraq, which is an extremely active fighting spot, and admitted that he’d been shot at twice, and had been lucky to survive.

He and his organizational partners, (he mentioned the UN,) ask children to make drawings of their horror stories. Then, they re-create the situation, sometimes quite literally, with toys, and Brian makes the resulting photos.

They are strange and cool, and some of them are very sad. He often exhibits them side-by-side with the drawings, so people can see the source material. Not surprisingly, the drawings are quite tragic.

That’s enough for today, so we’ll be back next week with part 2.

The Best Work I Saw at the NYT Portfolio Review, Part 2

 

Today was meant to be a book review.

Aaron Hardin, whom I met at the New York Times portfolio review in late April, had given me a copy of his self-published photo-book, “The 13th Spring.”

Aaron’s a Southern photographer who got an MFA from the Hartford low-residency program, and lives in Tennessee, where he teaches college. His pictures are of that genre of Southern photography that is lyrical, poetic, vibrant, evocative, (insert appropriate adjective here.)

We’ve discussed the genre many times in this column over the years, and Aaron’s work reminds me a bit of my friend Susan Worsham. But that’s the point: from Eggleston through Sally Mann and right on down, photographing the South is a grand tradition, and I never hate on anyone for being an adherent.

I think Aaron’s pictures are strong, and he’s able to communicate a warmth and emotional sensitivity that separate his work from many a Southern photographer.

The book chronicles the time around his daughter’s birth, which a poem, (at the end,) says happened during a birth year for cicadas. Hence the little bug dude on the front cover, which was imprinted on a stately piece of canvas.

The second photograph, of a snake trying to sneak into a house, (despite the two door obstacle,) is pretty fantastic. He swears the snake was trying to get in, that it wasn’t set up in the least, and I believe him.

But it’s a photograph I’m sure he’ll get asked about for years.

The peacock as a repeating motif is pretty cool too. We’ve got the bearded, Jesus-looking guy, the tree growing up through a house, a white cat, a boarded-up shotgun shack, and some nasty bug-sex. (Hence the title.)

It’s a very cool book, I must say. Really well done. Alec Soth and Doug Dubois teach at Hartford, and one can see the influence of their styles, which make for an interesting mashup with Aaron’s Southern roots.

It’s like how the Three Six Mafia represents Memphis, but still sampled from artists on the coasts too. (Big shout out to “Hustle and Flow.” That movie never gets old.)

But like I was saying in the beginning, Aaron was going to get a book review all to himself.

Was.

Past tense.

No sooner did I plan a column on his book alone, than two journalists I met at the review, Evgheny Maloletka and Emelienne Malfatto, emailed me after getting back to internet service in the danger zones in which they were shooting.

Given what we discussed last week, you almost couldn’t make this up. Evgheny was working in the war zone in Eastern Ukraine, near where he grew up, and Emelienne is down in the chaos of Venezuela.

As such, I’m able to show you some of their work as well. So Aaron’s will have to share the spotlight a bit, but as he’s a nice guy, I’m pretty sure he can handle it.

Emelienne Malfatto is a French-Italian documentary photographer who is rather itinerant. When we met in New York, she’d come off of a stint in Iraq, a country at war at the moment, but then jetted off to Caracas, which is not a safe place. And then she pushed off to the hinterlands of Venezuela.

Pretty hardcore.

She showed me pictures of a community in Iraq that had risen against Saddam Hussain, and to retaliate, he drained the swamps of their native lands. I thought some of the pictures were great, but she wasn’t able to access those for me, being out in the field with little internet.

Emelienne is resourceful, though, and managed to transfer me a group of photos she made in the Kurdish area of Northern Iraq. They’re dynamite.

Evgheny Maloletka and I met at the review in New York, and then again on the F train to Brooklyn. Zenhya came up and introduced himself before the review, and was the only person to do so. Given that we use this blog to help educate young professionals, (among other things,) I have to say, things like that make an impression.

He said he had me on his list, and Good Morning, nice to meet you, I hope you have a good day.

You remember things like that.

Even better, his pictures were great. He showed me photographs of the war in the East that were so raw, but were made with visual sophistication, which is a difficult combination. Like Aaron’s pictures are clearly of the South by someone from the South, I’d argue a foreigner would be hard-pressed to make such emotional news photographs.

We also looked at a series about young cheese-makers in the Carpathian Mountains that had echoes of a medieval lifestyle, here in the 21C. And then we saw a project about a community of Romanians who were trapped in Ukraine, when the borders were redrawn.

We’ll look at the war photographs today, but I could easily show you any of the three projects. The dude is very talented, and I expect all three of the young people we’re featuring today will go on to have great careers.

Overall, I was thrilled with the quality of the work I saw in New York, and am glad to be able to share so much of it with you guys. Enjoy the beginning of summer, and we’ll be back with a book review next Friday.

The Best Work I Saw at the NYT Portfolio Review

 

Though art and news photography commingle these days, artists and journalists are very different breeds.

I studied art at the undergrad and graduate level, and spent the last 20 years learning to understand the language, so it’s pretty natural to me, at this point.

The journalistic ethos I’ve learned on the fly, as I went from starting a little blog here in New Mexico, (that nobody read,) to writing for the New York Times in 4 short years.

Artists mostly do the work for themselves, because they enjoy it. Maybe it’s a path to sanity, or for those with ambition, to having a conversation with an audience of strangers.

But while a small group of artists are overtly political within their practice, for most, it’s about personal expression. (I paint the mountain because the mountain is there.)

Journalists, though, are more mission-driven, on the whole. They might have been nerds in high school, rather than hipsters, but they use their intelligence for the greater good.

Journalists face tough job prospects here in America, and dangerous violence in other places around the globe. Six Mexican journalists have been killed this year alone.

This very morning, in fact, the Republican candidate for Congressman in Montana physically assaulted a reporter from The Guardian, because he asked the man a question.

And just when things seem like they could not possibly get more surreal, the Fox News team, who were about to interview the politician, supported their British colleague as fully as possible.

Their first-hand accounts led to the jerk’s arrest. (And he’ll still probably win the election.)

The point is, while most artists have a cushy, if poorly paying job, many journalists, in order to tell their stories, are forced to put their lives on the line.

When I went to the New York Times portfolio review last month, I was very aware that the young journalists I met were on something of a quixotic trip, as far as careers go.

It’s been said that data, and information in general, are the world’s most valuable currency. Reporters and photojournalists traffic in highly dangerous information, and it makes them targets for murder. More so now than ever before.

I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but it truly is a slippery slope from reporters being beaten to reporters being killed. If we’re not careful, we’ll find our voices here in America, creative or journalistic, have been intimidated into silence.

Most, but not all of the photographers I reviewed came from the journalistic arena. Beyond admiring their gumption, several times I offered technical criticism suggesting the photographers consider embracing a more geometric, formal, “artsy” structure into their compositions.

Clean crops and solid shapes help pictures pop, in my opinion, whereas most news compostions care more about dynamism than structure.

I wasn’t able to procure images from all the photographers I met, but a quick memory-trip tells me they hailed from Colombia, France, China, Egypt, Ukraine, Nigeria, Argentina, South Africa and the United States. (Plus, the Argentine was based in Mexico.)

Today, we’re going to show you the best work I came across at the review. As usual, the photographers are in no particular order.

Miranda Barnes caught me completely off-guard, because she looked like she was 12 years old. Her big smile was disarming, and then her story was even more interesting. She’s born and raised in Brooklyn, and was currently studying law. But she’d fallen in love with photography.

I highly encouraged her to keep both things in her life, for now, because it can be so hard to make a living in photography these days. Miranda taught herself how to use a medium format camera, and then scan the negatives, with a truly impressive level of skill.

She showed me two series; one looked at Upper East Side rich folks after Trump’s election, and the other, which we’re showing here, featured African American Twins. When I asked her why she chose the latter subject, she said that when she’d looked up twins in Google Image, there were no kids of color at all.

Annie Tritt, who shoots editorially, had a project “Transcending Self,” about transgender and gender expansive children. It’s a subject that’s getting a lot of media coverage, so I appreciated that the pictures were topical, as well as being well-made.

We discussed whether she might want to do a deep dive on one particular subject, rather than a survey of many, so that the viewer can get a richer, more nuanced take on an issue that can be hard for some people to understand.

Yan Cong is a Chinese photojournalist and blogger, and she showed me a pretty strange project. Apparently, Beijing is preparing for the 2022 Winter Olympic games, which I didn’t know. That, along with the city’s wealth, created the need for ski areas in Northern China, within range of Beijing.

Yan is documenting the changes in one small town, as it’s transformed over the next five years. But that project is ongoing, and not ready to show, so I checked out a multi-media piece she’d made about the trafficking of Cambodian brides in China.

I found the audio track to be remarkable, and extremely sad. It’s worth a watch/listen, as it’s a good lesson in how adding to the photographic experience can increase a viewer’s emotional connection.

Rujie Wang was also from China, and was finishing up her BFA at the School of Visual Arts. I really loved her project, “Made in China,” in which she photographed cheap crap from the dollar store, alongside her friends from China, who were the models.

Eventually, she started composting in the studio, so the kitchy objects and neon palette create a visual aesthetic that is very contemporary. Even better, she’s begun to turn the photographs into .gifs, in which certain image layers dance around the surface of the picture, like characters out of Pokemon Go. Once she’s sorted out the proper way to exhibit the .gifs, I think they’ll be massively successful.

David “Dee” Delgado was my room captain for the review on Sunday, and we chatted a bit during breaks. I always offer to look at people’s work once I get home, if we can’t sit down, so Dee sent me a set of files the other day.

Apparently, for “Bike Life,” he’s shooting street riders in his home borough of the Bronx. I’m always telling you guys I want to see things I’ve never seen before, and these pictures definitely qualify. The high-contrast, hyper-real, black and white look makes them feel of the moment as well.

Lujan Agusti had maybe my favorite work, at least of the things that were totally resolved. Though she’s Argentine, she’s based in Veracruz, Mexico, the Western Hemisphere’s most dangerous place to be a journalist.

Lujan has photographed indigenous Mexicans from the area, in the clothing they wear for local festivals and ceremonies. I love that she updated a trope by bringing the subjects into the studio, and using their costume fabrics as backdrops.

Along with the creepy-clown vibe, the colors and patterns give these pictures some major visual tension. They’re great, and I love the way they manipulate color to channel the festive, reverential spirit of the ceremonies they’re meant to represent.

Portrait of dancing clown with the typical costume. When they use their masks they prefer not to reveal their identity. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.

Detail of typical bonnet used by dancing clowns. Each member creates his/her own bonnet, they sometimes put religious images on it. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.

Portrait of dancing clown with the typical costume. When they use their masks they prefer not to reveal their identity. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.

Detail of hand with castanets, usually used while dancing. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.

Portrait of dancing clown with the typical costume. When they use their masks they prefer not to reveal their identity. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.

Portrait the leader of the gang, showing the images of the Virgin of Guadalupe. He represents a Spaniard and is in charge of giving order to the dancers. Many of the clowns go out to dance by promise to the Virgin of Guadalupe.From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.

Jose Luis takes off his mask. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.

Portrait of Claudio. The use of the handkerchief is also typical. They do it to reveal even less of their identity, and wear it under the mask. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.

Detail of typical costume and fabric used by the dancing clowns. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.

Portrait of dancing clown with the typical costume. When they use their masks they prefer not to reveal their identity. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.

Portrait of dancing clown with the typical costume. When they use their masks they prefer not to reveal their identity. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.

Portrait of Mayra. There is no requirement to participate in the gang, and people of any social class participate. They should only respect the leader’s orders, not drink alcohol, or have uncontrolled or violent attitudes during the dance. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.

Detail of typical bonnet and mask used by dancing clowns. Each member creates his/her own bonnet, and mask. The mask is used to hide their identity, and dance freely. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.

Last, but not least, we have Andres Millan. My editor Jim Estrin grabbed me, at one point, and said I had to talk to this young guy, so I said sure.

Andres had two projects I thought were very cool, the first of which featured panoramic images of Colombians battling illness. They were excellent, and the odd aspect ratio definitely helped them to stand out.

The other project, “The New Gold,” which we’re featuring here, contains pictures made in the Amazon basin. I liked that he intervened in the landscape, painting things gold to match the title, as it made the pictures more memorable. (Always a good thing at an event where you’re seeing so much work in a compressed amount of time.)

Jerry Saltz: My Life As a Failed Artist

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But then I looked back, into the abyss of self-doubt. I erupted with fear, self-loathing, dark thoughts about how bad my work was, how pointless, unoriginal, ridiculous. “You don’t know how to draw,” I told myself. “You never went to school. Your work has nothing to do with anything. You’re not a real artist. Your art is irrelevant. You don’t know art history. You can’t paint. You aren’t a good schmoozer. You’re too poor. You don’t have enough time to make your work. No one cares about you. You’re a fake. You only draw and work small because you’re too afraid to paint and work big.”Every artist does battle, every day, with doubts like these. I lost the battle. It doomed me. But also made me the critic I am today.

Read More: Jerry Saltz: My Life As a Failed Artist

Drone Imagery from Archeologists in Jordan

 

For my seventh birthday, my parents took me and a few friends to the movies.

In case you’re GenZ, “the movies” was a physical place, a theater really, where you’d go to see films and buy candy. These moving pictures would be projected onto a very large screen, and you’d watch the movie, in its entirety, in the company of total strangers.

Weird, right?

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” was such a big deal at the time, it’s hard to come up with a contemporary cultural parallel. Maybe if Drake and Rhianna had a son, Raptor, who grew up, was in a band with Ivanka Trump, and they had an affair, which led to another child, (the one born to Raptor and Ivanka Trump,) who grew up to be President.

Like Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, his Indiana Jones reeked of charisma. It was the old Hollywood story: people either wanted to do him, or be him.

And Indiana Jones, in case you are under 20, was actually an archaeologist.

A scientist, for God’s sake.

He was a classic cinematic hero: handsome, dashing, brave, he could fight, had a trademark bull whip, and battled Nazi’s for a treasure bestowed by God himself: the lost ark of the covenant.

There must have been thousands of young boys who grew up in the 80’s wanting to be archeologists. Indy made it seem sexy, and thrilling, and I’d bet almost anything there are a ton of  “scholars” sweating in the field today because of those Steven Spielberg stories.

I almost wish I could ask an archeologist.

What if I could?

Yorke Rowan is an archeologist who works in Israel and Jordan, and he and his project partner Austin (Chad) Hill, have an exhibition currently on display at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. It features their aerial drone photographs of petroglyphs and archeological sites in “The Black Desert” of Jordan.

I stumbled upon a web description of the exhibit, and the OI was kind enough to put me in touch with Yorke, so I could learn more about the show, and see some pictures.

First things first, when I asked Yorke about my Indiana Jones hypothesis, he threw dirt on the fire immediately, because he said he was too old for the movie to have been seminal.

But he disputed that an archeologist’s job included “going in, stealing things, and running from the natives.”

The duties are far more mundane, apparently, as he described the work as “trying to make sense of the junky, broken parts of ancient people’s garbage.”

Just when I was beginning to believe him, (about the job being over-hyped,) he told me the story about how, back in the 80’s, he’d lived in Egypt, and then traveled on transport trucks down the Nile, all the way to Khartoum, Sudan.

For fun.

As soon as he arrived, he got word, (having called his parents collect,) that he was due in Sicily for his first big dig, so he turned around and headed back the way he’d come.

No.
That doesn’t sound romantic or dangerous at all.

His project partner, Chad, who grew up in the 90’s, was addicted to remote control aircraft as a kid, in Northern New Jersey. His father was into the hobby, and Chad has been flying things since he was 3.

From what I can gather, Chad knows about as much about flying drones as anyone out there. As he’s in his mid-30s now, and began putting 35mm cameras on balsa-wood planes when he was in High School, I’d say his street cred is solid.

I asked Chad if he felt like a cross between Indiana Jones and MacGyver, and he laughed. But then he said, deadly serious, “I enjoy that description, but I would not actually describe myself as either Indiana Jones or MacGyver.”

OK, then. We’ll play this straight.

Yorke and Chad have been working for years at two sites in “The Black Desert” of Jordan. Apparently, the aerial view is extremely important in archeology, so photography has always been a key component to the work. At the end of each season, it’s important to chart the changes in the site you’re working, so before/after mapping is a must.

They used to hire planes, helicopters or hot air balloons, which was extremely expensive. This in a field of diminishing resources, as it sounds like academia is strapped for cash, just like the photography world. (Though Yorke was clear to state their support from the Oriental Institute is substantial.)

At one point, when they were working in Israel, Chad had the idea to jimmy-rig a drone, like he’d done when he was younger.

“This was 2011, and I said, ‘Hey, when I was in High School, I did all this aerial photography myself. We could buy our own equipment, put a camera on a model airplane that we can buy locally in Jerusalem, and take our own aerial photography at the end of the season.

We can do it whenever we want, we would have our own control over it, and it would cost us less than one time of getting this professional company to shoot for us.’”

“So we did that,” he said. “The first year, we bought an off-the-shelf model airplane, and mounted a GoPro to it. I flew it fully manually, as this was not a high-technology drone.”

These days, they still use some homemade technology, but DGI gave them a Phantom 3 quad copter, and Chad confirms its ease of use is the main reason behind the super-popularity of drones.

“The newest crop of drones, you have no experience, you go and buy a $1000 drone. You watch a couple of videos maybe, and you press a button and the drone will fly. You can intuitively make it go where you want it to, and if you get into trouble, you press a button and it will return to you, and land,
without you having to figure out how to make it land.”

“The barrier to being able to effectively control them has dropped dramatically
in last 5-6 years.” In the old days, he said, “you needed to know a lot or you would crash.”

What first caught my attention, when I looked at the pictures and video they sent me, was the fact that the Jordanian desert reminded me so much of the volcanic fields outside my window here in Taos. The pictures were familiar and exotic at the same time.

Beyond the initial jolt, I was myself entranced by the formations on the desert landscape that looked like Nasca Lines, the famed geoglyphs in Peru.

What could those be?

It turns out, the low rock walls are called “kites.” Unlike the Nasca Lines, which were actual images meant for some deity in the sky, kites are not visual at all. Rather, they were Neolithic hunting traps that run for long distances in a given direction.

The kites, designed between 7000-10,000 years ago, funneled gazelles, like a crude maze, towards an ultimate spot, (or killing field,) where our ancient forebears could hunt with relative ease. Some kites even used the edges of the basalt mesa tops to hem in their pray.

“One of the things I find most fascinating about the kites,” Yorke said, “is that not only did they take a lot of planning and thought about where they’re going to go on the landscape, and how they’ll go up the side of a mesa, and spread out on top, using the edges as further barriers so the the animals can’t escape that way, or they fall down the side of a cliff.”

“What’s more amazing even than planning that, and setting it up across the landscape for kilometers, is that we’ve started to realize they’re linked. There are actually chains of these kites going hundreds of kilometers across the desert, all of them open to the East, which must be the migratory patterns of the gazelles.”

Yorke, Chad and their colleagues did not discover the kites, which were first spotted by English pilots flying mail between Baghdad and Cairo in the 1920’s. But their drone technology makes it that much easier to make photographs of them, which can be used as scientific evidence, as well as art.

They have discovered some interesting things, in particular that huge slabs of basalt were actually roofs on pre-historic houses. The size, and difficulty moving such slabs, implied people spent more time in the inhospitable climate than one might imagine.

This also suggests there was more water there than there is now. One site, the Wisad Pools, is so remote that the team has to take an extra vehicle with them, each time, in case the main transport breaks down. Two flat tires at the same time might be a death sentence, so the archeologists plan ahead, even if the extra car ends up mostly serving as a wind block for the kitchen.

Though the drone technology has enabled this work to exist, and the archeologists to function on smaller budgets, it turns out that the drone revolution is creating some serious backlash. They reported that drones have recently been banned in Kenya, and one of theirs was confiscated by the Jordanian government, despite their previous openness to the technology.

“The downside in general, is that there are so many drones, it is not wrong to be concerned about them being used by bad actors,” Chad said. “Those people who don’t know any better. Who don’t think bad things will happen to them using their drone, and don’t think the rules should apply to them.”

“And one thing we haven’t talked about is that even though lots of these new drones fly exceedingly well, they also occasionally fail. They tend to fail at some point, and they can be dangerous. They have fast-moving blades that can cut you, and they can fall out of sky and into people.”

I still remember the time my family and I were given a drone demonstration above our horse pasture here in Taos, a couple of years back. My kids were cheering on the little flying machine, as if it were Indiana Jones running away from that huge boulder.

Run, Indy. Run!

But I was pretty impressed too. It made me think of the future, in which we’re obviously living. (Now that flying cars are real.)

It makes one wonder what our ancestors, 10,000 years ago, fresh from a gazelle hunt, might think if flying robots descended from the sky?

Maybe someone will write that one up as a screenplay one of these days? I don’t know about you, but I’d pay to see it.

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Chris Buck: The Story Behind Newsweek’s Michele Bachmann Cover

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On August 11, 2011, Newsweek ran a photograph of Congresswoman, GOP presidential candidate, and tea party darling Michele Bachmann that ignited a media firestorm. The image taken on assignment by Chris Buck earned her the nickname, “Crazy Eyes” and marked a turning point as she went from leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination to eventually abandoning the race in 6th place. Newsweek Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown defended the image choice and headline “the Queen of Rage” as merely portraying intensity, but many felt it was unnecessarily unflattering and sexist. In May of 2013, under investigation for ethics violations, Michele Bachmann announced she would not seek re-election in 2014.

The image also marked a turning point for Chris Buck as he had spent the previous year campaigning photo editors to assign him serious political work and this breakthrough image sent him on a path shooting more and more A-List covers in the years to come.

On November 11, 2011, I interviewed Chris about the cover and he was refreshingly candid about how it all went down. Unfortunately, the controversy had just simmered down and Newsweek was afraid to reignite it again, so we shelved the interview. Luckily, Chris has a new retrospective book out titled Uneasy (https://www.chrisbuckuneasy.com/buy-now) and this image is included so we can now tell the story behind the Michele Bachmann cover. I think you’ll find it just as relevant today.

— aPE

Rob Haggart: I want to start with Newsweek calling you to shoot a politician for the cover. That’s not something that probably happens very often with you, is it?

Chris Buck: Let’s go back to the 2008 presidential election, which I felt was such a special time, because the electorate was ignited in a way that I’ve never seen in the years I’d lived in the US. I was upset about having not gotten any of those jobs. So I decided to do whatever I could, to try to get that work for the 2012 cycle.

Rob: What did you do to try and get that work?

Chris: I put up a section on my website of political portraits. Then I made an e-mail newsletter addressing that question specifically. I featured my shoot with William F. Buckley Jr. from 2004 and had the portrait of him plus some funny out-takes. Then I contacted a number of clients more directly who I knew commissioned political shoots, like GQ, New York Magazine, and ultimately Newsweek.

Rob: It worked…

Chris: I have now shot three politicians in this election cycle for different magazines. It’s all very, very last minute. I’m basically given the heads-up a few days ahead and then I just sit around waiting for the phone call where they’re like, “Go to the airport now!” And I rush off to the airport.

Rob: And that’s because of both the approval process and the scheduling?

Chris: There’s no approval process.

Rob: They don’t have people who approve photographers?

Chris: Not that I know of. I would imagine that it could come up as a First Amendment issue if politicians were appearing to pointedly dictate terms to the press.

Rob: It’s not the same as with a celebrity then? I guess I just assumed it was. Ok, how did the assignment go down?

Chris: Newsweek contacted me, the photo editor emailed me saying, “Would you be available for this?” and he said, “It will be either Sunday or Monday, or on the weekend, we’re not sure.” My schedule was open enough. I said, “Yes, just let me know.”

I put the assistant on hold, got together the equipment I needed and just waited. Then, at the last second it was, “Go to Washington. No, no, go to Iowa. No. Go to Washington. No, no. Wait. Wait. Go to Iowa.” In the end I went to Iowa. We were actually in Iowa for a day with the campaign and then went to Washington the next day, which is where the portraits were made. The scheduling was quite chaotic.

Rob: Why do you think Newsweek hired you to shoot Michele Bachmann? Did they want something besides the traditional power portrait for the cover?

Chris: I’m not going to go into detail about my conversations with Newsweek but I think that it’s reasonable to assume that they hired me for what I do. My guess is that they wanted something a little bit more human and vulnerable.

Rob: They said, “Do your thing.”

Chris: We had a more detailed conversation than that because it is a cover. But, yes, they did say something along those lines at some point. Of course I know since it’s a cover I need to get a variety of shots. I feel a professional obligation that I give them some choices, partly, even to surprise me. Maybe it would be something I wouldn’t think of as my first choice and maybe that would be the most interesting thing. You never know.

Rob: Take me to the shoot. You’re in D.C. now.

Chris: Her campaign team were staying at the Willard Hotel; I met up with Ms. Bachmann and her people in their room. They were pushing for me to shoot there but I didn’t want to, I didn’t like the idea that the space I was going to shoot in was also going to be the suite of rooms where they are spending the day doing their business. It just made me uncomfortable. So, I looked around with the hotel staff and found another space to shoot and rented it.

Rob: How much time are they giving you to do the pictures?

Chris: We were told we’d have a half an hour.

Rob: OK, that’s good.

Chris: I didn’t realize how little time politicians often give, but it turns out that wasn’t bad. With Rahm Emanuel for Bloomberg Businessweek, we followed him around for a day, and they were trying to give us 60 seconds at a time for portraits. And I was like, “That just won’t do”. And after three long conversations, they got me a five-minute block, which they considered very generous.

Rob: Wow, OK.

Chris: So half an hour seemed kind of reasonable. If the subject is cooperative and you’ve got time to prepare ahead of time, it’s totally workable.

We had different setups in this suite of rooms. The back room was a small conference room, so we moved the conference table over, and set up the blue backdrop and some lighting. I closed the drapes so I could see what my model lights were doing. It was now a semi-dark mini photo studio.

The candidate came in a little bit late and then we waited a few minutes for the makeup artist. I went over to chat with her and she was really distracted, barely acknowledging that I was standing there. I was kind of surprised, because at the rally she was very engaged with people. And even when I saw her earlier that day, she was relaxed and happy to chat.

Rob: Did you get a sense at all that she didn’t trust you, or didn’t trust Newsweek, that she thought they had an agenda behind what they were doing?

Chris: I didn’t really know what to make of it. I just thought that she had something on her mind, and that once we stepped into the other room that she’d be engaged and it would be all good. But that’s not what happened.

It’s very important that I have a meaningful or even non-meaningful conversation with a subject as we’re going into a shoot. It’s not necessarily that I want my subjects to be super-relaxed, but there is some basic level of decorum. We’re moving into this space and we’re going to work together on this. A portrait is collaboration, and it’s laying the groundwork for that. In doing my reading ahead of time I try to pick up on little details about them and their stories, so that they know that I’ve done my homework, and I’m genuinely immersed in what’s going on. I think it shows in the work too.

So we go in the room, I have her in the frame, and she is very stiff. I said, “I’d like you to relax, and maybe even if you want to gesture a little bit, we can even talk so you can be more relaxed. I want something more animated with more life.” And she said something like, “I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to look foolish for you. I’m not going to gesture in some way that you’re going to capture that’s going to make me look foolish or awkward.”

Rob: [laughs] Holy crap.

Chris: And she said “I’m not going to be portrayed this way by the left-wing media. I’m not going to let the left-wing media frame me in some way that is going to be damaging to me.” I’m paraphrasing, but it was along those lines.

I was shocked, because one, it’s amazing for someone just to speak their mind so directly, but two, we had really just begun. And I was asking for something pretty standard, you know? Not to say that she has to do everything I say, but there are other ways to deflect or refigure something without directly accusing me and my client of trying to disparage her.

She also started talking about how when Obama was running. “He was always portrayed so favorably, and that’s the kind of treatment I want.” I was just… I mean, I didn’t know how to respond to this. And she started talking about specific Time Magazine covers that she thought were unflattering. She mentioned one of Laura Bush. I had never seen this picture, but she described it as a black-and-white picture of the first lady where every pore and line is showing.

And she asks, “that’s not how this lighting is, right? That’s not this kind of lighting?” And I said, “Well, we’ll show you or your representatives a frame so you can see how the lighting looks.” So we did a few frames so we could show her one that might look good.

Rob: So you showed them a frame to try and get her to relax.

Chris: Yes, and basically what I said to her was, look, Newsweek wants a really interesting picture, and you want a picture where you look great. And I kind of did this gesture of two circles in the air. And I said, you know, Newsweek wants this — and then I added one with my other hand — and I said there’s this other circle, and here’s where they overlap – like a quarter of each circle kind of overlaps in the middle. “Let’s find this sweet spot in the middle where you can feel confident about the way you’re portrayed, and they’re going to have a really great, interesting picture. Let’s aim for that.

And she agreed. But as we tried to move towards something I realized that, basically she agreed in theory, her attitude was already set. She was already upset and defensive. One of the things I found surprising about the whole thing that it wasn’t one of her staff who was saying, “We’re hoping we can do something like this with the candidate. Can we start that way at least, and see where we go?” That’s the kind of conversation that usually happens with a handler.

Rob: There are no handlers involved in this?

Chris: Well, there were handlers there, but surprisingly it was the candidate who was fighting her own battle.

Rob: So, you’re four minutes in, the clock is ticking down and you’re arguing with Michele Bachmann. She said, “I’m not giving you anything.” And you’re trying to tell her, “Let’s try and meet in the middle,” and she’s still refusing. So when does this picture happen?

Chris: I’m shooting and talking, it’s just a photographer’s instinct, you don’t stop shooting, at least not entirely. Of course, part of my thinking is “I’ve got to get something.”

Rob: And snap, you took the picture. Amazing. So she basically came in super defensive and said “I’m not going to give you anything,” and as she was saying that the picture that you made is the one…?

Chris: I’m not 100% sure, because I’m shooting as we’re talking. But looking at it, clearly she has either just finished talking or she is about to talk.

Rob: Incredible. Then what?

At a certain point her people are like, “Look, she needs to get back on to the Hill to do a vote. We need to leave in 10 minutes.” I’ve learned to be stubborn about protecting the time I’ve been promised because people will happily take that away from you. I said, “Look, you’re not ready to do this. You should leave. Go do your vote. Go do whatever obligations you have. And I hope you can come back later, maybe in an hour and a half, two hours or whatever, and we can do this right. Think about how you might want to do this in a way that we can both be happy.”

Rob: Wow. So you sent her away because she’s not giving you what you need.

Chris: My feeling is it’s much better to come in positive but cautious than to come in negative and defensive. No one looks good when they’re saying, “I don’t trust you.”

Rob: OK, so take me through the second session. What happened?

Chris: I’ve worked out some locations that her handler felt would help the candidate relax. I was wary about shooting outside because it gives us less control, and it sucks up time, but he felt that she’d be more relaxed in a real-world environment. He said that the room with the blue background, because it was small and dark, spooked her.

So that’s what we did first when she first came back, and clearly they had spoken with her and she was much more relaxed. Plus, she had gotten some of her duties out of the way and her schedule was less pressed. Some of the pictures from this next section are much more relaxed, and she looks great.

We shot there a bit, but I wasn’t really liking what I was getting. I was feeling like, for both my client and for myself, that these were looking like PR pictures.

Rob: Right. They’re not cover pictures.

Chris: I still needed to get something that was a great portrait for Newsweek and hopefully point towards something really interesting as a photographer for me. So, we went to this semi-rooftop of the building, and we did some more outdoor shots there. She was a little bit more relaxed but her hair wasn’t looking so great. She had already had a long day and she’s a little distracted now, and some of these pictures don’t have the same kind of focus as earlier. Then we went down to the oval room, and we shot maybe a dozen frames and that was it. But it was really a shame, if they’d given us another 20 minutes; I think we could have found that sweet spot that would have been a great Newsweek picture as well as something that she would have felt more comfortable with.

Rob: So when you’re doing your edit and you see this picture, are you thinking, “Yeah, that’s a Chris Buck shot”?

Chris: I turned in 21 images and I think we did five different set-ups, so I handed in a mix from two frames to five frames from each scenario. I had three favorites. The one that became the cover, the one in that Oval Room that became an inside picture, and then the one I showed as an outtake on my blog.

By the way, one thing I’ll mention to you, is that I did something I almost never do, which is when the shoot was done I let the handler who was there hang around and look over our shoulders a little bit while we were looking at the material. I wanted him to know that what I had said before was genuine, that I really was trying to find a place that both the candidate and the magazine could be happy.

Rob: So he saw all the pictures?

Chris: We didn’t sit and specifically walk him through the pictures because the last thing I want is for him to say something like, “That picture is something I don’t like. I’d rather you not use it.” But he knew perfectly well he wasn’t there to influence the edit.

Rob: So Newsweek orders the high res…

Chris: They order four high res: the praying shot, the one that became the cover, the oval room picture, and then one at the rally.

Rob: Did you know that this shot was going to be the cover?

Chris: No, when he gave me the image order, he said, “We might come back and ask for more.” In fact, on Friday night, he came back and asked for two more. And one of them was one of the rooftop shots and one of them was another shot from the blue background set-up.

I was a little worried because those shots were more conventional and less interesting to me, I was really pleased with their initial edit and I told them so. A lot of people assume that the edit was entirely Newsweek’s doing and ultimately what ran was their choices, but I know if I include something in my edit, it could be used. I stand by my edit.

Rob: Did you have any idea of the controversy that would come after running this picture on the cover?

Chris: I did have some idea, but the scale of it was larger than I expected. They released the cover to the media on Sunday night, so I Googled, “Newsweek Bachmann cover” and already it was on “Gawker” or a site like that. They sent out a pretty high res pdf of the cover. So sites were blowing it up really big, just on the face, and it was already being talked about as being like a controversial cover. Let’s just say, I didn’t sleep very well that night.

Rob: [laughs] You didn’t?

Chris: No.

Rob: Really? You were distressed?

Chris: I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I was pleased they picked a really interesting picture. But at the same time, I’m a human; ultimately I would love it if people liked the pictures I take of them. It’s not my first thought, it’s not my first obligation, but I’m human. I prefer they like it, than not like it. And I understood that she was unlikely to be happy with this choice.

Rob: Then you must battle with that constantly because I can’t imagine ever hiring Chris Buck and not trying to get some kind of moment like that.

Chris: I’m not saying that it’s not fair and that it’s not reasonable. I included it in the edit not only because I think it’s interesting but because on some level I feel that it captures something of who she is, something of her character and something of her campaign. It was one of the most intense and aggressive photo shoots that I’ve ever experienced in my career. So in a way, she helped make this portrait happen. The edit reflects the environment in the room; it conveys the intensity of the session.

Rob: And that’s what makes it an amazing story, but also understand that doing that is what makes you Chris Buck, what makes you a unique photographer. I can name a dozen photographers that will shoot a heroic portrait no matter what happens in the room and so it’s just how you approach photography. It’s who you are. It’s also what makes you an interesting choice, for Newsweek and any other magazine shooting politicians.

Chris: Thanks. I find it surprising that the media is quite happy to write about politicians as being flawed and yet when doing portraits sittings they seem hesitant to go down that line. They kind of fall into the convention of doing the power portrait instead of doing something that might be a little more challenging.

Rob: And, as far as your body of work goes, without the controversy that this cover created does it stand up on its own with the other pictures that you’ve made?

Chris: Oh, absolutely. One of the things I really like about this is that the two pictures I was best known for before this were the one with Steve Martin with the bread hands and the Citibank ad where the dog has fake teeth, so this being my best-known picture is something I’m much more comfortable with. It shows a little awkwardness.

People ascribe an anti-Republican or anti-Bachmann thing to me because of the impact it had in the culture, but it’s not how I feel about it. As a portrait, I stand by it. I don’t champion the right or the left; it’s not the point of this. The point was, as a photographer, to do good work for my client, to make interesting work for the public, and also to reflect, from a subjective viewpoint, what she might be about.

Photographer’s on-set note book for the Michele Bachmann session. Note “throw punch.”

Representative Bachmann accused Buck of submitting a light test for the Newsweek cover. This is the actual light test frame.

Chris Buck’s portrait of Michele Bachmann, as it appears in his 30 year retrospective UNEASY.

Buck’s favorite frame from the Bachmann sitting.