As a former Art Producer, I have always been drawn to personal projects because they are the sole vision of the photographer and not an extension of an art director, photo editor, or graphic designer. This new column, “The Art of the Personal Project” will feature the personal projects of photographers using the Yodelist marketing database. You can read their blog at http://yodelist.wordpress.com. Projects are discovered online and submissions are not accepted.
Today’s featured photographer is: Mark Rogers
How long have you been shooting?
I picked up my first camera when I was 9. It was a Kodak x15 Instamatic with one of those cube flashbulbs. The first image I ever remember taking was of our black cat sitting in a bed of red azalea bushes. I think the pet photography thing was predestined.
Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
Self taught. Both my dad and his dad were into photography and passed it on down to me. My grandfather was a newspaper reporter who shot his own stuff and my dad picked up the bug from him. I remember an image my dad took at a beach of a sandpiper running in the surf and thinking: “I want to be able to do that, too.” (see, animals again)
After that I did the classic shooting-for-a-high-school-year-book thing and always had a camera around but it stayed a hobby for a long, long time.
When I moved to San Francisco in the 90s I started volunteering at the San Francisco city animal shelter and began bringing my camera. Folks at the shelter started telling me the images were a lot different than the ones they were used to seeing of the animals there and that’s what inspired me to eventually leave my corporate job and spend my work day on the ground with dogs and cats instead of in a cubicle.
With this particular project, what was your inspiration to shoot it?
My career as a professional photographer had its roots in volunteerism and giving back and I continued doing pro bono work with animal welfare groups after I started shooting professionally 10 years ago. VET SOS (Veterinary Street Outreach Services) was one of the early ones. I knew immediately I’d found something special. When you go to one of those clinics and see firsthand the special bond between the homeless clients and their animals it’s a life changer. I knew it pretty much couldn’t not be a project after my second clinic. I photographed a young woman with her puppy while he got his first veterinary exam. Six months later I got an email from her out of the blue and she said she’d seen the photos online and sent one of her and the puppy to her parents. It was the first time they’d communicated in over a year but started them talking again. She moved back home a month later and was still there with her dog getting her life back in order. That blew me away.
How many years have you been shooting this project before you decided to present it?
Truth be told it’s been presented in bits and pieces the entire time. VET SOS has used a number of images over the years to help with fundraising and shots have appeared in a book on the human-animal bond as well as an exhibit in LA on pets of the homeless. I decided about 6 months ago to make it part of my project portfolio on my new website and it finally saw the light of day a few weeks ago when that site finally rolled out.
How long do you spend on a personal project before deciding if it is working?
I tend to have a hard time letting go of something once I start it so I’ll do my best to either make it work or see if there’s a way to use anything I’ve already shot on something else in the future. I find that if I stop working on something for a bit and go back to it another angle or approach becomes clear.
Since shooting for your portfolio is different from personal work, how do you feel when the work is different?
With the personal work I feel like I can stretch a bit more and worry less about specific outcomes. Portfolio and advertising jobs shoots are very planned out. They’re produced and lot more controlled. Granted, any shoot involving animals has an element of unpredictability but the VET SOS clinics are essentially veterinary MASH units set up in the middle of a street. There’s dozens of people and animals and no room for much equipment. It’s generally just me and my camera trying to stay out of the way and catch the moments so there’s not really time to plan it and do special set ups. It’s a lot more freeing but also tougher to get images you really want because of nasty light conditions or people walking in front of you at the perfect moment. I don’t know for sure if any given shot is going to work until afterwards but I also think that lack of control over all the external factors helps me focus a bit more. I don’t want to make it sound like combat photography but the element of risk of not being able to get a shot seems to make for a better shot.
Have you ever posted your personal work on social media venues such as Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram or Facebook?
I post quite a bit on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. VET SOS actually posts the images on their facebook page and a lot of the clients are on facebook and have email. That was something that really surprised me.
If so, has the work ever gone viral and possibly with great press?
Not quite viral yet but there’s more and more broad interest in tackling the homeless issue in the US and with a program like VET SOS where you have that plus the amazing bond between the homeless and their animals it’s something I hope the press and public takes more interest in.
Have you printed your personal projects for your marketing to reach potential clients?
My first book, was just published in October and many of the images in it were from personal projects I’ve done over the years. I’ve started sending that out as a piece to past and potential clients and have some other promos in the works for next year.
VET SOS (Veterinary Street Outreach Services) provides veterinary care to the companion animals of homeless San Franciscans through monthly mobile clinics. The relationships between these animals and their human guardians are some of the most profound examples of the human-animal bond I’ve ever seen and I’ve been continually drawn to them as subjects since I began volunteering with VET SOS in 2007.
Mark Rogers is a San Francisco–based pet photographer known for his ability to draw out the personalities and emotions of his animal and human subjects and the special bond they share. His eye-catching, often humorous images of dogs, cats, and other critters appear regularly in national advertising campaigns and print publications. Mark’s first book, Thanks for Picking Up My Poop: Everyday Gratitude From Dogs was recently published by Ulysses Press.
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 has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information believing that marketing should be driven by a brand and not specialty. Follow her on twitter at SuzanneSease.