You Don’t Always ‘Get’ Art, But We Still Need More Of It

- - Art

Editors Note: I reached out to APE correspondant Jonathan Blaustein after seeing an old VICE article titled “I’m Sick Of Pretending: I Don’t ‘Get’ Art” making the rounds on social media. Here’s his reaction:

Rob asked me to respond to Glen Coco’s article, making the rounds 05.02 in VICE, trashing last year’s Tracey Emin retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in London. I’m sure it’s because he knows I’m not afraid to speak my mind, but it could also be that I just raved about the current slate of exhibitions presented there. It’s certainly a juicy bit of text, and has gotten a lot of people talking about Art, which is hard to do.

Mr. Coco, beyond pointedly hating the show, basically suggested that perhaps he doesn’t get Art. His credentials and opinion imply otherwise, but let’s take him at face value. What he doesn’t get about Art is not why people make it, or why they like to look at it, but rather why nobody ever has the stones to call bullshit. (Other than him, I imagine.)

I’m very, very fortunate that I’ve been able to see so many brilliant paintings, sculptures and photographs over the years. My travels have taken me to many of the World’s best museums, and I lived in major cities on both American coasts. If I haven’t said this enough, forgive me, but there are few experiences more joyous and educational than standing in front of a piece of brilliant Art. Particularly, but not necessarily, when the maker is already dead.

Art is like time travel, which is why people continue to make it, and have since we were standing upright. I figured this out while living in New York, and visiting the Metropolitan Museum on a regular basis. Take Rembrandt, for instance. Four hundred years or so ago, he made some paintings. True. But he also imbued those objects with his psychic energy. It’s in there still. When you feel your guts get all churny while standing in front of one of his self-portraits, you’re responding to the man himself. Like I said, time travel.

What, you might reasonably ask, does that have to do with Mr. Coco’s article? Well, everything. What he’s criticizing is Art the commodity. The word is out, in 2012, that the high art world exists to please the very, very rich. They’re the ones that buy super-expensive contemporary art, naturally, and they don’t like to lose money. Ever.

Brilliantly, they’ve figured out a way how to avoid it: never let the price of a work of Art, once it’s famous, go down. Ever. If that sounds a bit like a Ponzi scheme, perhaps it is. If no one ever admits that art is crap, or that a famous artist has long since lost the touch, then prices can’t and don’t fall. The same group of people trade objects, each helping prop up the market for his or her buddies. If that sounds a bit like an unregulated commodities market, that’s because it is.

And what is the result? Perhaps a world in which most people feel mystified, condescended to, and generally offended by much of what is considered “hot” or “special.” The idealistic notion that the best of what we make is meant to be preserved, left to future generations to sort out what life was like back then, (Now), is left to angry bloggers and Jed Perl to bitch about. Because normal people don’t care one bit. They’re too busy playing video games, or watching football, or buying lottery tickets.

I believe we need more Art, not less. More people out there making cool shit, pushing their brains sideways, and hopefully eliciting interesting questions from the people who look at it. More public support for the Arts will lead to more monkeys typing away, which of course will lead to a more intelligent society. Make it so.

This Week In Photography Books – Pieter Hugo

by Jonathan Blaustein

When I was a teen-ager, my family used to go to the Taos Pueblo each Christmas Eve. Some years, it was below zero, but so what. We braved the cold and wind, and marched along with countless other Taos gringos, to see the yearly celebration. Seriously dramatic, I assure you.

How so? The Pueblo is set at the base of Taos Mountain, and the event takes place just as the sun goes down, bathing the peak in deep shades of purple. As the sky darkens, they light bonfires, built as towers, that can reach 30 feet into the sky. The smoke begins to cloud your vision, which adds to the surreality.

Suddenly, you hear the chants of the Pueblo residents, who emerge, without notice, walking slowly in a chain. At the center sits an effigy of the Virgin Mary, stock still on one of those shoulder carriers that they must have used in Ancient Egypt. The chanting, the fires and the smoke are punctuated by rifle shots. Bang. Bang. Cracking across the evening sky. As a youngster, I’d always wonder what would happen if a bullet descended back into the crowd, but I’m sure it’s never happened.

Like I said, it’s dramatic. I went each year for a decade or so, then stopped cold. Suddenly, it seemed too cliché. Too Post-Colonial. Hey, look at the strange red people. Watch them dance. Like poking a monkey with a stick. Or so I thought.

Now, I’m beginning to wonder. On the heels of last week’s review of the Viviane Sassen book, I got to talking with my friend Melanie at photo-eye. I told her that my first impression was something like, “Are you kidding me?” Really, how many photographers need to point their camera at the poor brown people. We get it. Enough.

The essay eventually won me over, and of course the pictures are edgy and well done. But Melanie didn’t have the same disdain for the process, nor do many, so I began to wonder. Am I the only one with this bias? And furthermore, is the bias valid?

I ask, because, in Taos, you’re not from here unless you were born here. A lot of places are like that. So is Post-Modern theory, ironically. It was branded in any good student’s subconscious that what you have to say is inherently limited by your gender, race, class, and sexual orientation. Rebutting the vision of many a wandering shutterbug, it imposed upon a generation of artists the notion that you ought to stick to what you know. (For example, if I ever met Chuck D, I probably wouldn’t smack his palm and exclaim, “Power to the people, my brother.” You dig?)

So now I’ve begun to wonder if it isn’t time to challenge that notion entirely. Maybe artists ought not to be limited to their continent, or class, or sexual orientation? Maybe photographers keep going to the Third World because of an insatiable human curiosity to learn about different things, and tell unfamiliar stories? Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as the pictures are distinctive, and, in some way, new?

And what of Africa? Maybe the fascination stems from the fact that it’s the homeland to all humans? And its wild creatures dominate our dreams and deep fears, despite the probable urbanity of our surroundings. (Yes, I did get scared by a tiger at the Denver zoo. The bullet-proof glass did little to quell the shivers creeping up my neck. Big, scary monster. Run, dammit, run.)

With that in mind, I thought it might be healthy to head back to Africa again this week. Now, Pieter Hugo was born in South Africa, so of course my argument is already weakened. He’s from there, so his opinion matters more, according to my original line of thinking. But let’s just judge the book and photos, and then see what we think. OK?

His new book, “This Must Be the Place,” also published by Prestel, is one of the best I’ve seen since I started this column. Given that I made you read all the above, I thought I’d cut to the chase. It’s amazing. If you like his work at all, this is one to buy. Why?

To begin with, unlike last week’s book, this volume needs no introduction. No backstory necessary. (If you’re looking for some on the “Parasomnia” book, photo-eye posted a more in-depth review.) In Hugo’s book, each set of pictures is titled by image, project, place and date. It’s not hard to piece things together, especially as all the images come in groups. It gives a nice bit of context, and allows the photographs to suck you in. (FYI, I continue to assert that if an artist does not include certain information, then they don’t care that we know it.)

The first set of portraits, from South Africa, establish straight away that Mr. Hugo, like the folks at the Taos Pueblo, has a flair for the dramatic. (Not news to anyone who saw that photo of a big Naked African guy wearing a Darth Vader mask.) They are shot close up against a neutral background, not unlike Thomas Ruff, but these reek of emotion. Intense stares, albino Africans, and a blind guy with silver eyes.

Then, a set of portraits of judges from Botswana, all decked out in the garb of the British realm. Next, we’re on to portraits of dead people, wrapped in burial shrouds. Also from South Africa. No, Mr. Hugo is not shying away from the legacy that brought lots of gun-toting white people to Africa’s shores.

On to boy scouts, shirtless taxi washers, and wild honey collectors from Ghana. All well-made, but they’re just place holders for what comes next. A chilling look at the “Vestiges of Genocide” from Rwanda. Lime-covered shrieking skeletons, and bones rotting in the dust. Brilliant.

The next photo, after that run, is of a pile of rotting tomatoes on the ground, from 2006. If you read last week, you know that I wondered what Ms. Sassen was on about with her version of rotting tomatoes on the ground. Now we know. It was a shout out. Pretty cool.

The book continues on longer than I can. So let’s condense. The “Nollywood” work, which drew so much praise and criticism a couple of years ago, shines in the context of this book. (And no, Vader is not included.) The guys hanging out with Baboons and Hyenas are fascinating. (From “The Hyena & Other Men”) For all the reasons I listed above. Primal fear and our insatiable thirst for visions of the “Other.” It doesn’t get more “Other” than people who pal around with Hyenas and Baboons, IMHO.

In the end, Mr. Hugo has the guts to expose his own world, along with the others. His relatives: naked and pregnant, topless after a breast reduction operation, and his little daughter, standing in the middle of the road, pushing a pink stroller, vulnerable to any car or bus that screams around the bend just behind her. (The last picture, of course.)

This book made me rethink my own experiences. It made me question bed-rock assumptions. It even made me re-write history a bit. (I saw a show of his last Fall at Yossi Milo, and thought the work boring. Perhaps I was impatient.) Unlike many of you, I was unaware that Mr. Hugo is a genuinely important artist, walking among us. There’s a lot we can learn from a great book. This is one of them.

Bottom Line: Fantastic. A keeper.

To purchase “This Must Be the Place” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

The Daily Edit – Friday
5.4.12

- - The Daily Edit

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Dwell

Creative Director: Alejandro Chavetta
Photo Director: Anna Goldwater Alexander
Assistant Photo Editor: Julia Sabot
Designer: Cortney Cassidy

Photographer: Linny Morris

Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted

Still Images in Great Advertising- Emir Haveric

Still Images In Great Advertising, is a column where Suzanne Sease discovers great advertising images and then speaks with the photographers about it.

I was on the B&A Blog when I saw the ad you did for Mercedes C63 AMG Black Series and was drawn to the drama of the image.  I worked on the Mercedes-Benz campaign in the 1990’s for many years so this campaign is especially of interest.  I reached out to Carol Alda, whom I have known for years to ask her some questions about the campaign.  She kindly had Emir Haveric answer them while he was traveling and shooting another campaign. I truly appreciate him taking the time to answer the questions so in depth. Thank you Carol and Emir!

Suzanne:  I see on your bio that you thought you wanted to get in to fashion photography and I see that influence in your automotive work.  I think this campaign needed that fashionable flare to set it a part from other car ads.  Do you think that is why you were chosen for this campaign?

Emir:  This was one of those dream jobs when the Art Director comes to you and says what do YOU want to shoot.  The agency presented me with a rough idea and a working title for the project and then enlisted me to build on the concept and make it bigger and better.  We had the luxury of shooting a car that was so popular it was almost sold out before we started the campaign.  This meant there was not the usual pressure from the client to define this campaign as being successful only if it directly resulted in the sale of more cars.  Back to your question, I think that I was ultimately chosen for this job based on the ideas that I suggested to the art director during our initial creative discussion while bidding on the job.  Originally, the campaign had a black and white feel, and I suggested adding in the pops of color in the locations to compliment the car.  I did reference iconic fashion shoots that integrated the model, clothes, location and color mood to tell a story.

Suzanne:  The black crows make the campaign more powerful and more layered.  I do not see them in the other images in this campaign.  Was that your addition to the concept?  And did you shoot the crows or created them in CGI?

Emir:  We tried to get that layered feeling in each shot by using different elements:  fence, fog, rain or crows.  We looked for the maximum drama and did not force every element into each image we were consciously trying to avoid repetition.  And yes, I shot the trained crows – beautiful birds!

Suzanne:  I noticed that you shoot consistently for Mercedes-Benz as well as other automotive accounts. You must be very buttoned up in the production end.  There are many talented photographers but their production or personality on set results in only one assignment.  What is your philosophy on set and with clients?

Emir::  My clients always comment on how professional my production team is, especially my photo assistants.  I think they keep coming back because they know the quality of work that I will deliver; they know exactly what they will be getting from me.  They notice how hard my team is working on their behalf, and they know I am going to push the creative to the limits every time.  When the agency sees you as a partner and someone who tries to be part of the creative solution they are motivated to come back to you.

Suzanne:  I noticed in your portfolio, you have shot some fashion photography so how was you able to convince a client that you could make a model look as sexy as you could an automobile?

Emir:  For the fashion work that you see in my portfolio I was in the lucky situation that the client specifically wanted me to shoot their images.  They came to me because of my lighting style and color work, and wanted me to bring that same feeling to their fashion concepts.

Note: Content for Still Images In Great Advertising is found. Submissions are not accepted.

Emir Haveric is one of today’s top automotive shooters and an expert at shooting and composing with CGI. He has shot on every single continent several times over, including the North Pole. Emir Haveric was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia before moving to Germany at the age of 18.
 
His numerous awards include a Gold at The One Show, Effie Awards, and the Art Directors Club. He was also on the shortlist at Cannes and was a finalist in the 2009 New York Photo Festival.

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 founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies.

Sometimes You’re Just A Camera Monkey

- - Blog News

Assignment photography is a hot-dog factory where the end results are images rather than sausages. If people saw what went into some of this stuff there’s no way they’d want anything to do with it. The sad reality is that there are all kinds of reasons you’re brought in on projects, some of them more edifying than others. Sometimes you’re exactly the right person for the job, other times you’re just a camera monkey. My favourite is the “wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if” call, where everyone gets all excited about an idea that turns out to be completely impractical.

Read more on planet shapton.

The Daily Edit – Thursday
5.3.12

- - The Daily Edit

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Oprah

Creative Director: Adam  Glassman
Photo Director: Katherine Schad
Art Director: Jaspal Riyait
Deputy Photo Director: Christina Weber

Photographer: Kevin Cremens

Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted

The Freelancer Payment Protection Act

via, the Freelancers Union:

Support the Freelancer Payment Protection Act
Send Letters to Senator Dean Skelos : 394 Letters Sent So Far

What is the Freelancer Payment Protection Act?
The FPPA would help independent workers in New York collect money from clients who don’t pay.

How would it help?
Victims of nonpayment will be able to file complaints with the New York State Department of Labor. After investigating, the Department of Labor may award victims 100% of what they’re owed, plus attorney’s fees and interest.

What’s happening now?
The New York State Assembly passed the Freelancer Payment Protection Act. Now, the Senate must do the same! Email Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, urging him to pass the bill this legislative session.

If you live in NYC go here to support: http://www.freelancersunion.org/political-action/unpaid-wages-action.html

Everyone else can enter deadbeat clients in the worldslongestinvoice.com

The Daily Edit – Wednesday
5.2.12

- - The Daily Edit

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Vanity Fair

Design Director: Chris Dixon
Photography Director: Judith Puckett-Rinella
Art Director: Julie Weiss
Senior Photography Editors: Sasha Erwitt, Susan Phear 

Photographer: Mario Sorrenti

Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted

How Does A Photographer Land An Agent?

- - Artist Rep

APE contributor Meaghen Brown interviews Howard Bernstein about the most often asked question we get.

Considered among New York’s most respected photography agents, Howard Bernstein, has been keeping an eye on talented photographers for over 25 years now, and his artists management firm, Bernstein and Andriulli, now boasts a hot-list of clients ranging from Adidas to The New Yorker. We caught up with him for a bit of insight as to how the relationship between photographers and agents actually works.

MB: So how does it start? How does a photographer approach a rep?

HB: I think it kind of happens in two ways. Sometimes we’re approached by recognizable talent that we’re definitely already aware of, and in that case it’s a pretty straightforward email. Basically, “Hello Howard, I’d like to discuss possible representation.”  And that’s usually fine, but part of doing our job is knowing who’s out there and what’s going on. The other type of email we get tends to be, “I’m looking for an agent, please look at my work.”

MB: What does a photographer do to get to the point where they’re even on your radar?

HB: It’s a whole host of things. It could be that they’re shown by a gallery that we recognize or follow. It could be that they’ve published books. It could be that they shoot for magazines and we’re seeing their editorial work out there. And then there’s just being contact with art buyers and art producers at various agencies. The point is that we’re aware of who’s out there and who’s shooting with who.

MB: Once that initial email has been sent, how are you vetting those photographers?

HB: I get many emails every day, and I used to be able to look through all of them, but that’s not really possible anymore. My advice to photographers is that their website be easy to navigate. Not a Flash site, and not one that takes time to load. If I’m not recognizing the person, it’s also helpful if their note to me is more in a traditional cover letter style where they’re saying why they want to be represented by us, not just that they’re looking for an “agent,” and also how they think they would fit into the agency. That’s very helpful.

MB: How many photographers can you take on at a time?

HB: Not too many. There’s only a few people every year that get hired. Our firm represents about 50 photographers. We also have quite a few agents so the ratio is about six or seven to one of agent to talent.

MB: Do you think that allows the agents to form a strong relationship with the talent?

HB: Absolutely, there’s no other way to do it.

MB: Do you ever have trouble with photographers saying “why aren’t you getting me any work?”

HB: There’s always that question when a photographer is busy or slow. I think we try to manage that with our talent as a collective process. The photographer and agent work together to take a look at everything- from what we’re doing to the work that we’re actually showing.

MB: What is your day to day interaction with your talent?

HB: It really just depends on the talent. There are photographers who we speak to occasionally when we have work, but they may be in Europe or other parts of the world. And then there are photographers that we talk to 15 times a day because there may be work that’s going on. With some talent we may be involved with the complete management of their career.

MB: I think you touched on this during the talk you gave in Palm Springs in April, but what are the right questions that a photographer should ask when seeking representation?

HB: From smaller agencies to larger agencies, the primary question is, “who’s the actual agent that will be managing my career,” which means asking questions like: How will they manage, and what kind of personal selling will they do? How often? Are they out there nation-wide or just in a specific region? Do they cover New York, LA, Chicago and Texas; or are they just in the Northeast? What is the business arrangement that takes place? How are agreements handled? What kind of marketing dollars are involved? etc. Sometimes people do their own marketing while other times agencies do their marketing as a group, so that’s something else to be aware of.

MB: And in terms of pairing a photographer with a client, how does that part work?

HB: It’s a combination of marketing your talent properly so the clients are aware of what’s out there and then, of course, name brand talent. There are people we represent that client are very aware of and about 80% of the time, they’ll call and request a specific photographer for a specific job.

MB: Would you ever take on a photographer who was fairly ‘green’ but very talented and had maybe written you a great cover letter?

HB: Definitely. There’s a photographer by the name of Jamie Chung. I saw his work at a portfolio review at a college and basically I signed him right of college.

MB: So is that another thing that you’re doing, looking within the realms of Universities and Colleges too?

HB: Usually at this time of year, all the colleges reach out to us- whether it’s SVA or Syracuse or College of Art- different colleges come to New York with their senior class, typically wanting us to see what the students have been up to and to offer whatever advice we can. These students are about to go off into the real world. The portfolio review I attended had to do with a class. I was asked to come in and talk to the class about the business of photography and I happened to see that portfolio.

Agence France-Presse got caught with a hand in the cookie jar and will have to pay

- - Blog News

Morel, in his memorandum of law, says that AFP’s defense would fail even its own policies. On the Getty Images’ website, according to Morel’s representatives, a document titled Copyright 101 states that one of the common misconceptions about copyright is that if “an image is on the internet, it’s in the public domain and I don’t need permission to use it.”

via British Journal of Photography.

The Daily Edit – Tuesday
5.1.12

- - The Daily Edit

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Rolling Stone

Design Director: Joseph Hutchinson
Creative Director: Jodi Peckman
Art Department: Steven Charny (Sr. Art Dir.), Matthew Cooley (Deputy Art Dir.), Elizabeth Oh ( Assoc. Art Dir )
Photo Department: Deborah Dragon (Deputy Photo Ed.), Sacha Lecca ( Sr. Photo Ed.), Sonja Gill (Assoc. Photo Ed.)

Photographer: Frank Ockenfels 3

Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands, Submissions are not accepted.

Why Social Media Sites Need An Unlimited License To Your Images

- - copyright

Here’s the most clearheaded explanation I’ve ever found of the TOS rights grab that’s become standard for any social media site where you upload your content (images):

In a world where sharing a photo is strictly a matter of getting another copy made and mailing it, or getting it published, copyrights are pretty easy to keep track of and these laws hold up pretty well. Sending a physical photo to your grandmother goes like this: you either put the picture in an envelope and send it, or you get a copy made yourself and send that.

Sending your grandmother an email photo, though, might involve copying your photo five or six times; first to Google’s servers, then to another server, then to an ISP’s CDN, then to AOL’s servers, then to your grandmother’s computer. As far as you’re concerned, this feels exactly like dropping an envelope in the mail. As far as copyright is concerned, it’s a choreographed legal dance.

And so these sites have to get your permission — a license — to copy and distribute the things you post. Just to function as advertised, they need your permission to “use” and to “host,” to “store” and “reproduce.” What they don’t necessarily need is the right to “modify” and “create derivative works,” or to “publicly perform.” That is, unless they need to make money. Which of course they do.

Read the whole post here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jwherrman/you-dont-own-anything-anymore

It’s a common concern among professional photographers who contemplate participating in social media that these “rights grabs” run counter to how you conduct yourself in the real world and you shouldn’t participate. My concern is if there’s nobody using the service who understands licensing and the value or granting a license there will be nobody to raise a stink if they ever do anything that’s overreaching with their unlimited license. If enough professionals are involved their voices will be heard if that time ever comes.

New Fees Proposed For Copyright Registration

- - copyright

I received the following mass email from Stephen Best, APA National CEO and I’m sure many of you did too but it looks important enough to bring up here

The United States Copyright Office has proposed “new fees for the registration of claims, recordation of documents, special services, Licensing Division services, and processing of FOIA requests.” This includes the registration of photographs using form VA through eCO or paper filings.

The basic change for photographers would be an electronic filing that now has a fee of $35 would go to $65. A paper filing that now is $65 would go to $100. APA is concerned that increased fees will deter the registration of images by photographers because of the higher cost.

Making the registration process more expensive is not a way for the Copyright Office and the Library of Congress to fulfill its mission “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries” (U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8)

The Notice of proposed rulemaking on Copyright Fees is found here, 77 FR 18742. http://www.copyright.gov/fedreg/2012/77fr18742.pdf

The CO Office is providing an opportunity for comments before they submit the fee schedule to the US Congress for review. Comments should be submitted electronically to the Office of the General Counsel in the Copyright Office no later than May 14, 2012.

Comments are to be filed electronically and a comment form is posted on the Copyright Office Web site at http://www.copyright.gov/docs/newfees/comments/.

Let the Copyright Office know how strongly you feel. Submit comments to the US Copyright Office.