“I’m a child and photographer of the digital generation. My work usually doesn’t exist outside of ones and zeros on a computer, and to have it physically now gives it life. It’s been reborn in a very different way, and it gives it an existence in the real world that will live on whether or not there’s electricity. It took years for me to get a book from Iraq published. I had to win an award to do it because no one wanted to publish an Iraq book. Photo books take a loss financially, and then for it to be about Iraq, a subject that most Americans and Westerners want to forget…”
The Critical Mass 2011 top 50 is out and as always it’s an outstanding resource for anyone looking for photographers to hire. Take a look and congratulations to those who made the cut. Go here to see the list with pictures.
Jane Fulton Alt
Mary Ellen Bartley
Nigel Gordon Dickinson
Kenneth O Halloran
Philipp Scholz Rittermann
Geoffrey H. Short
There’s never been a better time to do creative work than right now. You can get stuff started. You can get it out to people. And you can turn it into a business if it’s decent. And there are more ways to get work to material. And it’s easier to get work. We are at a peak. Everything about our country is going to hell. Our politics, industry — like this is the one part of America which is actually going great.
As we’ve discussed in a previous post, structuring photographic fees on the basis of a day rate vs, space is customary for many national magazines and is generally the most equitable for both the photographer and the client. But we’re increasingly seeing publications prefer to pay flat fees for photo shoots. While working this way can keep the costs predictable for the client, it puts all the financial risk on the photographer. Any unforeseen expenses can eat into your creative fee quickly if you’re not careful. Here are a few things to consider as you negotiate your next magazine job.
For starters, it’s important that you don’t immediately jump into a budget discussion when a client first contacts you. It can be disconcerting to a client, editorial or otherwise, if you show more interest in the money than the project. Yes, it’s important to understand their budget, but save that conversation until after you’ve expressed an interest in the assignment and an understanding of the concept.
Once you’ve heard the details of the shoot, ask the client if they have a contract or if they’d like to work with yours. Then, ask if they have a budget set for the shoot or would they would like to see an estimate. Unlike a lot of commercial projects, most magazines have a pretty clear idea of what they expect to pay for a given assignment. If the client is offering a flat rate, that can mean one of three things. Either it’s a flat creative fee plus photographic and travel expenses, or it’s a flat fee including photographic expenses plus travel expenses (like this assignment for Fast Company). Or, it’s a flat fee including all expenses.
When presented with a flat budget, it can be tempting to decide on the spot whether the rate is satisfactory for the time, skill, licensing and expenses involved. But in most cases, it’s prudent to call the client back after you’ve had a chance to run the numbers and review their contract. What seems like a lot of money at first may be less impressive once you subtract off all your costs and account for the licensing. And of course, be clear before you hang up the phone about what the “flat” rate covers and what it doesn’t.
Figure out how you’re going to execute the job and then list all of the expenses you’ll incur—subtracting them from the total budget. Compare what’s left to the amount of work involved and the licensing required. Is it reasonable? If it isn’t, don’t assume that it’s a take-it-or-leave-it situation. Most clients are willing to negotiate if you handle it in a thoughtful way. Determine what would make it work for you. Then try to understand which items are important to your client and which aren’t, so that you can make an offer that satisfies their needs without giving away the farm. For some clients, the rights are most important and they’ll be willing to bend on price. Other clients will have a strict limit on what they can spend and they will be more willing to negotiate the licensing. We were recently negotiating a contract with a casino whose legal department completely rewrote our contract. It didn’t take a genius to see what their priorities were. So rather than giving them limited licensing for a moderate fee, we gave them all the terms they wanted and simply raised the rate commensurately.
In another recent situation, we were presented with a contract from a custom publisher that specified that they could use all “works” created on the assignment for editorial use forever. We felt that the fee they were offering would be reasonable for their initial needs (which was four images), but that to have use of any or all of the images from the shoot was excessive. The photo editor was sympathetic to our concerns, but her legal department wasn’t willing to modify their contract. Then we saw that it was actually the assignment brief that defined what constituted the “works.” So the photo editor just rewrote the brief to define the “works” as just four images and specify that use of additional images would be negotiated separately (which they later were). This simple change was enough to satisfy the photographer, the photo editor and her legal folks too. A win-win-win.
Here’s an example of one magazine’s flat rate contract:
Most of the terms are similar to our day rate against space contract, except for paragraph 2:
COMPENSATION – The Client will pay the Photographer a flat fee, inclusive of all normal expenses, to be agreed upon per assignment, for a specified usage.
Once the contract is in place, all you have to settle on for each assignment is the fee and the usage. We’re normally comfortable with a simple email from the client saying, for example, that for xxxx.xx including expenses they would use a full-page opener plus an additional half-page picture.
There are a lot of limitations in the rest of the contract that you can negotiate to keep in or take out. But as with any contract, the main thing is to be clear about what you’re going to get and what they’re going to get.
For more information on Wonderful Machine’s consulting services, please contact Craig Oppenheimer at email@example.com or 610.260.0200.
“Entertainers try to please their audience – artists do what they do and the audience comes to them. I don’t think about my audience whatsoever.”
Suddenly I felt like a cheap carnival hawker. Not only do I consider the audience for my work, I confess that I aim to entertain. Is this pathetic? I guess it depends on the definition of entertainment.
Check out this behind the scenes video where Kid Rock has this to say about Clay Patrick McBride:
I love working with Clay McBride, because it’s fast, he gets it done. If a light needs to be moved he grabs it himself, he’s pleasant to the people he works with hes nice of course he takes great pictures or he wouldn’t be here. Once I find a good thing I kind of stick with it. They’re always trying to get me to work with different people at every level and I’m like if somethings not broke we don’t got to reinvent the wheel here. I love Clays pictures, he’s take a lot of great shots for me throughout the years album covers, magazines and other sorts of stuff, he’s just a pleasant person to be around. I consider him a friend and we work well together.
Knowing how strong-willed these business leaders were, I gave the assignment to the photographer Albert Watson. The project needed a photographer who possessed not only a sharp eye, but an equally strong will.
via SPD.ORG – Grids.
A few weeks ago, I outed myself for having created a male-centric photo-book review column. Rather than embracing the gender bias, I sought to rectify the problem, good feminist that I am. (My wife went to Vassar and Smith, so my credentials are solid.) So of course, this week, just to keep you guessing, I’m offering up a week of guy books. Most men, as we all know, like cars, sports, and blowing stuff up. With that in mind…
“The New Cars 1964” is a blue, hard cover book by Lee Friedlander, recently released by Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. (Not content to merely put on exhibitions, those guys are a serious publishing house as well.) In our aerodynamic present, where a Hyundai can look like a Mercedes, and Nissan commercials mock the Chevy Volt for having a gas tank, it’s hard to imagine anyone bragging on a new gas-guzzler with a bitchin’ set of shark fins. Big, heavy, lumbering behemoths from Detroit are a part of our nation’s history, not the present. Which is what makes this book so much fun. It’s just straight up vintage. Apparently, Mr. Friedlander was commissioned by Harper’s Bazaar to photograph the secret new 1964 models, and he did it in a style to which we’ve since become accustomed. The photographs, not exactly glamorous advertisements, were rejected, and sat in a box until very recently. The images are busy, witty, and headache-inducing, as we might expect. It’s a cool opportunity to see a bit of Americana, timestamped in (mostly) Motown circa 1963.
Bottom Line: Never-before-seen vintage work
“Weird Sports” is a smooth, hard cover monograph by Sol Neelman, recently published by Keher Verlag in Germany. Does the title give away the content? You bet it does. This is not a book that will make you feel like you are boning up on brain cells in a quest to cure cancer. It will, however, make you chuckle, and develop an appreciation for the absurd and countless ways people choose to amuse themselves. If you were to sit down, get stoned, and write a list of the silliest things that anyone could invent and call a sport, you probably wouldn’t be as creative as the lunatics that Mr. Neelman found in his global quest. Doubt me? Here are some examples: Extreme Pencil Fighting, Lingerie Football, Mutton Busting, Live Monster Wrestling, Head Pulling, and Cardboard Tube Fighting. Obviously, there are some less ridiculous offerings in this book, but it’s a terrific collection of images, and must have required a hefty travel budget. Between Mr. Neelman’s wit, well-constructed compositions, and facility with color, I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t enjoy “Weird Sports.” (Though I’m sure you’ll let me know if I’m wrong.)
Bottom Line: Hilariously human
Though I joked about mens’ love of blowing shit up, and my tone thus far has been breezy, there’s nothing funny about “Antipersonnel,” a new hard cover monograph by Raphaël Dallaporta. This edition was published by the Musée de L’Élysée in Lausanne and Éditions Xavier Barral, though I believe there was an edition of this project previously released. The book contains a suite of stark images of land mines, shot straight up, in studio, against a black background. Killing machines, decontextualized. Each image is paired with a text page that gives the code, country of origin, size and a description for each bomb. It’s a dry, categorical approach to looking closely at a messy, destructive, borderline evil subject matter. The viewer supplies the emotion through our imagination, as we mentally project the screams and shrieks that each model has no doubt produced. The project was supported by Amnesty International, and it’s easy to understand why.
Bottom Line: Important
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You know, what we put into our pictures is not a smart idea. What we put into our pictures is our whole life and our whole intellectual discourse. Everything we know and everything we have done and everything that’s in our history goes into every single picture we take.
— Fred Herzog
via Street Reverb Magazine thx, Howard
Tricia Scott of Merge Left Reps sent me an email recently about a new cooking app called Matt’s Pantry that was shot by one of her photographers, Matthew Furman. What caught my attention was that the agency produced the app. I’ve talked with many photographers recently about providing finished products to clients where photography and video are only components of what’s being delivered. This is along those lines, so I asked Tricia a few questions to find out what she was up to.
Rob: Why did you decide to produce this yourself?
Tricia: I wanted to own the content and it was a bit of an experiment. I feel like the business has gotten so out of control, everyone is complaining about it but not doing anything. I wanted some control over my destiny. The photography industry is shrinking, fees are shrinking and usage is being squeezed. Why not own the content and the actual app itself.
Shouldn’t you go looking for someone producing a cookbook app to hire your photographers?
I love producing work for our clients, but to me, the future of photography is uncertain. I hired a developer and kept the rights to the wireframes, so I can now reach out to others who might have a need for this type of app, and create it for them. We had a meeting recently with a medium size book publisher that we’ve shot for before and they are interested in the app because for them, it’s an unknown still and I’ve done all the legwork.
Do you think this could be a real revenu stream?
The production costs and time of a cookbook app are high, but Matt Furman shot it, the chef brought the recipes to the table and I brought the money. We will all get proceeds and everyone is happy. The key to making money with an app is in the marketing and that is where you really have to put a ton of time. As a photo agent, I don’t have that time, and need to delegate that responsibility.
It was really a great project for Matt, since he isn’t a food photographer, but of course did a beautiful job. He and the chef grew up together – and we all had lunch one day. I left there thinking I wanted to do an app with them, and here we are – it’s done. I think pigeonholing photographers is in the nature of the business but it was great to see him out of his comfort zone and pushing himself to do something he wouldn’t normally do.
What about producing apps for clients, is that something you see happening?
I have more ideas for apps cooking (no pun intended) – I have a good relationship with Soho Interactive – they developed it, who I met through an art director client, Todd Lynch.
I’ve had people politely, even regretfully tell me they didn’t care for my work. I am kind and respectful towards them, because I don’t expect the majority of people to like my work. I tell them they’re in a majority. And I’m cool with that. This makes them feel better. Sometimes it even makes them feel better about me. And on occasion, it has made them feel better about my art. A win-win all around.
In graduate school, I learned a valuable lesson. We never make our best work in our comfort zone. It doesn’t happen. So one of the most beneficial things we can do as artists, I believe, is to step out of what we know from time to time. Challenge ourselves to do things we wouldn’t normally do. Learn and grow whenever possible. Nobody likes to feel like an idiot, but sometimes we have to delve into the unknown to discover a new process, or perspective, or piece of core knowledge.
So with that in mind, I set off from Taos to Reno, Nevada a few weeks ago. (Yes, it was a long trip: 13 hours. Yes, there was a travel delay: 6 hours in Denver. Maybe one day I’ll live near an airport so I can stop complaining.) Why Reno, you ask? Fair question. I got a tip from a trusted advisor about the Art + Environment triennial conference that was being held at the Nevada Museum of Art. Somewhat surprisingly, the institution has come on strong in the last decade, building a concrete and glass modernist temple just down the street from all the neon nonsense. (A bit too far down a dark street for my liking, but thankfully I didn’t get jacked.) The NMA has developed a focus on Environmental Art, including a terrific collection of contemporary photography that is currently on display. (The Altered Landscape exhibition, btw, and all you Bay Area readers ought to consider a road trip.) I’m almost a year in to a new, double-secret project with a strong Environmental focus, so I decided to go to the conference to learn more about what was going on in the Eco-Art scene in 2011.
I knew nobody, and hadn’t heard of most of the speakers, but their bios were insanely impressive. Whitney Biennials, Tate Modern Solo shows, LACMA, MOMAPS1, the National Gallery of Art, MaCarthur Genius grants, that sort of thing. Basically, it was an insider art world shindig, featuring a bunch of really smart people who were far more accomplished than I. Given that I’ve had some success in the last couple of years, and teach photography at UNM-Taos, it seemed like a good time to go back to being a student. Learn from people who knew more than I do. And to get to schmooze with artists who are so successful seemed like a no-brainer.
But stepping out of your comfort zone is a funny thing. It’s kind of like wearing those awkward platform shoes to try to increase your vertical leap. You look like a doofus, you can’t feel it working, your calves burn like hell, but you tell yourself it will be worth it some day. So of course, that’s what happened. I felt like I’d fallen through a wormhole back to college at fratty Duke, ever the outsider, walking in circles trying to catch someone’s eye. Let’s be honest. The art world is famous for it’s ethos of exclusivity, and this was a perfect example. I’d grown accustomed to being able to chat people up easily, work a room, have a few laughs, sort it out. But in Reno of all places, I was a no-name nobody. I sat by myself each day, hour upon hour, listening to the lectures and checking my email. Thankfully, someone had suggested that photographer Blake Gordon, an APE reader, reach out to me the day of the conference, so we met up and had a beer each night. Good dude. Other than that, I was just some random guy, and it was a seriously unpleasant feeling, after having worked so hard to build an audience for my work. I’d watch people check out my name tag, decide I wasn’t worth talking to, and then move on, all without moving their heads or breaking stride. Ouch.
Before you tell me to quit whining, let me state right here, unequivocally, that this was one of the most helpful and beneficial feelings I’ve had in a long time. I even chatted with my wife about it in real time, savoring the potential of all that insecurity slithering through my bloodstream. Feeling a range of emotions allows us to increase our capacity for empathy, as artists, as human beings, and I knew that as crappy as I felt in the moment, that it would lead to new veins of creative energy. So that’s why I’m sharing this story. I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me because I was a loser for a few days. Just the opposite, I want to encourage the process in others. We all work so hard to construct our worlds, our networks, our daily schedules, so that we feel like we know what we’re doing. So that we fool ourselves into thinking that we have just the tiniest bit of control in an anarchic world. And sometimes, it’s really important to leave it all behind and remind ourselves how little we really comprehend.
Aside from feeling like a misfit, I did learn a tremendous amount from a ridiculously intelligent group of people. The short version is that I realized that in order to push myself further, I need to raise the ambition level of my projects. Audacious, absurd ideas lead to innovation, and I came home with some crazy new concepts in my back pocket. Collaboration is also huge right now, not surprisingly, as almost everyone who spoke was working in a team-based approach: artists linking up with scientists, environmentalists, and community organizers. Public gardens, soil testing centers, sewage treatment plants, even the Bay Bridge were all discussed as venues for and subjects of contemporary art.
Oh yeah, and I should probably mention that the general consensus was that Global Warming will kill us all. The drastic and irreversible effects of Climate Change were accepted as a given, and most of the projects were therefore discussed within a context of “How Can Art Save the World?” And of course, ever the cynical Gen-X’er, this is what gave me the hardest time. There we sat, a whole basket full of educated white people, well-ensconced in our modernist glass bubble, discussing how to save the world, 1% at a time. We’ve heard quite a bit about the 1% in the last few weeks, but I couldn’t help thinking that given the scope of the problem, why was nobody talking about engaging with the wider world outside the fishbowl? It was just so surreal to be in this air conditioned, insular micro-community in the middle of downtown Reno. New York or Paris might have made it a bit easier to swallow, but Reno? The conference had blocked a suite of rooms at a huge casino on the strip, so my weekend was divided between that museum world, and the overweight, depressing, recycled air universe inhabited by the all-you-can-eat-buffet loving, red-bull-and-vodka drinking citizens of the USA.
Can you imagine? The seedy, down-scale, brothel-ads-on-the-top-of-taxi-cab type experience outside, elitist, global art-star scene on the inside. And never the two shall meet. Really, haven’t we all had enough of a world where the best art is never meant to be seen by 99% of the world’s population? That was what I felt was lacking through the weekend of high-minded discourse. Thus far, I think it’s fair to say that if artists have had a strategy of engaging the masses, (which I doubt,) then we’d have to declare the project an abject failure. Isn’t it time, I thought, for artists and thinkers to try to embrace new tactics, at the very least, to enlarge the tent? Especially in a room full of people who were dedicated to saving the world?
Chris Jordan, an artist that I greatly admire, was on hand as a part of the photography contingent. (Along with Subhankar Banarjee and the amazing Edward Burtynsky, whom I got to meet as well.) Mr. Jordan spoke repeatedly of his feelings of grief and panic in a world of bloated, incomprehensible over-consumption. He showed photographs, which have since been released, of Elephants with their faces hacked off for ivory, corpses rotting in the middle of a Kenyan game preserve. He also projected photos of the stomachs of dead baby birds on Midway Island, piles of un-digestable, non-biodegradable plastic. He spoke of not knowing how to communicate the depths of his despair in the proper fashion. I’ll be the first to say that as a human being, I was moved by his experience. The world needs courageous men and women to witness atrocity, to witness mindless destruction, to record moments for history, to bring the story back to the rest of us. It’s vital. I get it. But as art, I wonder if images that are so literal, that communicate only misery, can really engage people and motivate action? I’m sure that most of you might disagree with me, and to be clear, I’m not criticizing Mr. Jordan, who I’m sure is a saint of a guy. I’m just wondering why I didn’t hear more about how we, as artists, can use a variety of skill sets and methods to expand the reach of our work, to recruit new viewers, to communicate a message in a manner that will speak to more people, without dumbing down the art in the process. Because if the alternative is that, you know, billions of people die in the resource wars to come, then I think it might be time for us to get off our asses and try something new.
There were a few artists, namely Fritz Haeg, Leo Villareal, and Amy Franceschini who presented projects that don’t reside in galleries or museums. Mr. Haeg is famous for planting public and private gardens as art installations. He also produced an outdoor, nature-based exhibition for the 2008 Whitney Biennial that sat out on Madison Avenue. Ms. Franceschini has done some similar work with garden installations, if you can believe it, and also built a sculpture in Italy that she literally took from town to town, actively engaging the inhabitants of small villages in Abruzzo. Mr. Villareal, a New Mexico native based in NYC, has installed LED light sculptures on the outside of BAM in Brooklyn, MOMAPSI in Queens, at Burning Man, and has a project under consideration for the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. So while there may not have been an particular dialogue on the subject of breaking out of the white cube, several of the presenters, each of whom has succeeded at the highest levels of the art world, planted seeds in my mind about how to push things further.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a travel story to a strange, surreal gambling mini-Mecca if I didn’t share at least one anecdote about the ironic absurdity. One of the reasons I love places like this, if you can avoid getting mugged, is that you get to experience the world as if you’re on mushrooms without having to deal with the horrible taste. So on my last evening, with nothing more than a few beers in my system, I was walking back to the hotel to call it a night. The sky glowed neon pink, the waters of the Truckee river shimmered with day-glo reflections. Then, right in front of me, rolling through an intersection, I saw a tinted-down, chromed-out black Denali, windows down, big dudes hanging out the windows, hip-hop blasting. I clicked the mental shutter. Then, immediately thereafter, I looked up and saw a denim-shirt and jeans wearing, worn-brown-leather boot stomping, big-old cowboy hat having, bushy-mustache sporting, craggly-faced cowboy walk right past me. Click. Then, and I swear I’m not making this up, the very next people to walk by were two 5 foot Asian guys holding a 4 foot pink plastic bong. Click. One, two, three, all in the span of 15 seconds. Thankfully, what happens in Reno stays in Reno, so that’s all I’ll say about that.
I left town on a Sunday morning, with the remnants of a truly awful $15 buffet in my mouth. While I know I’ve said some unpleasant and critical things in this article, I’ll stress here that the A+E Conference was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long time. I’ve probably made more photographs and had more crazy ideas in the last couple of weeks than in the 6 months prior to the event. My mind has yet to slow down, and, thankfully, my ego has already recovered.