Heidi Volpe interviews Patagonia photo editor Jenning Steger.
Heidi: What a bold move to put a spread photo by Oskar Enander in the catalog, was that a hard sell since the rider isn’t one of your ambassadors?
Jenning: No because the photo is so stellar it did not leave much room for discussion, it’s a fantasy photo, ambassador or not everyone wants to be him. I admire and respect the Chouinard’s for having the courage to let a commercial entity operate with a photojournalistic heart. It’s more about the spirit of the photo rather than the logo being seen. This is why I love my job.
How many people work on producing this catalog?
Lots, we are an ‘in house agency’ more or less, so we touch almost every aspect of the project minus cranking the wheel on the press and licking the stamps.
The main group consists of:
Catalog project coordinator
Product photo shoot- studio, stylist, photographer, clothes steamer
Creative Director final sign off
How do you submit work for consideration? I can’t imagine you can get back to everyone who submits work.
We work primarily on ‘spec’ meaning a photographer submits images on the speculation that we might purchase them. We sometimes offer up-front assignments if the story involves: a Patagonia athlete/ambassador, an original idea, or has an environmental focus. We try our best to get back to everyone but it’s impossible. That being said one of my favorite things about this job is communicating with photographers. I pick up the phone and call to chat as often as I can, its an important part of being successful at this job, communication is key so we can meet our photo needs. The use of social media has helped, customers can post photos to our Facebook page. The rest of our pro photographer’s submit via FTP. We strive to be a paperless dept abd are always trying to improve workflow to be more time efficient, so we have more time to edit.
How much of this catalog was spec?
90% of the Patagonia Winter catalog was built on ‘spec’ photo, the parting shot was on a company partnership trip to Alaska and we had some staff photographers around the same day the photo of Forest on page 17 was shot.
You can see some video of that day here:
When helicopters and high production costs come into play, that shows a level of drive on the photographers part since you don’t cover that cost and in essence these are personal projects. Are those photographers hard to find?
I think since we don’t operate under a typical commercial photo structure most of our photographers have some personal interest vested in their images, it goes hand in hand with working on spec. You would not work on spec unless you loved what you do, because there is some risk. For Patagonia, finding photographer’s is never hard, because we treat our talent really well, but I guess it would be a lot easier to find a commercial photographer where all elements are mostly controlled. I always encourage photographer to embrace personal projects even if they take years to accomplish. To fund the big expeditions a photographer might have a variety sponsors all chipping in to pull the trip off financially, this can complicate things, but is necessary in some instances to join forces for the greater good.
How much direction do you give the photographers, if any?
We rarely set up shoots, of course this varies per project and purpose of shoot and image needs. If we do offer an up-front photo contract we get a general who, what, where, where, why from the photographer, and then supply a basic shot list, art direction and product. From there we let the photographer run with it and embrace their creative eye.
We had a good snow season this year, does that makes your image pool richer?
Yes, especially for ‘backyard photos’ which are always a pleasure to see. It was a fantastic season to be a photo editor in North America on 63 page color winter action sport catalog. I had a blast with all the eye-candy and loved to see the high snowfall combined with a late season which yielded insane photos. Also the chica’s stepped it up this last snow season, one of my favorite photos in the catalog is on page 44 of Holly.
How much post do you have to do on these images? Of course Photoshop is a no-no as your visual approach is more photojournalistic.
We do very little photo manipulation, every once in a while we take a logo out to keep us legal if we were unable to clear permission (this is how we differ commercial vs. editorial, logo permission, model releases etc are mandatory. We had to try to get Tropicana logo permission last week, the big corp companies are different than the outdoor industry, its hard and time consuming). In the 5 years I have worked here I have removed 1 snowflake coming out of a rider’s nose and 1 rock at edge of the frame for type legibility so very little to no photo manipulation. What you see is what the photographers saw and shot. Each frame is a piece of original art and I am not the artist so I have no right to alter. We are kind of old-school like that, we like well composed images that are captured in camera vs. in computer (post).
We do about 2-3 rounds of color with our separator fine-tuning how image will print on our recycled paper, next to or in-line with what color product etc.
Who are your new riders this year for the ski/snowboard team?
In addition to our fantastic team already in place we welcomed, Forrest Shearer, Josh Dirksen, Carston Oliver, Aidan Sheahan and Ryland Bell. Check out our entire ambassador roster here:
Jay Beyer’s work is heavily featured in this issue, is that a new find for you?
Jay Beyer has been contributing to Patagonia for the last four years, but in the last two years we have been publishing him a bit more regularly. It’s been fun to watch him grow as a photographer, he is a pleasure to work with and gets the Patagonia quest for authenticity.
Do your new athletes also bring in new photographer’s since many of these images are authentic? Meaning it’s a good powder day with your friends, and you capture it.
Yes and no, it goes both ways. For sure ambassadors bring new to Patagonia photographer’s to the photo dept as well we sometimes try to connect the dots between some of our core snow photographer’s to the ambassador’s depending on location, riding style, etc. I also do my homework and am always looking at photographer names of shots I adore in the top editorial mags. Group dynamics and safety are very important in any trip so I can make photographer suggestions to an athlete but it has to happen naturally and there has to be a trust relationship. Some athletes come with their own set of photographers and we honor that relationship and look forward to collaborating with new talent.
I’ve worked with Christian Pondella over the years, he is such a solid photographer and athlete. What do you enjoy about working with him?
The things that stands out the most for me is he is a true ski mountaineer photographer. It’s one of the few sports where the cameraman has to have the same skill set as athletes/rider to get the shot.
The photographer has the burden of humping in the camera on his back or skiing with a brick on his chest. In order to correctly shoot they have to essentially ski the same line safely and quickly, they must always be two steps ahead. He isn’t afraid of a little bad weather and submits comprehensive XMP data which makes a big difference. Our photo dept receives over 60,000 unsolicited images a year, (less than 1% of those are published approx).
The shot of Carston on Mt.Baker is pretty sick, how did Jay get that image?
I enjoyed seeing Jay’s Mt.Baker photos as we see a lot less Cascades ski imagery than we do of AK or Utah so it’s refreshing. Grant Gunderson has been up there for years producing exceptional work. Grant is somewhat responsible for putting Baker on the world ski map through his photos. Mt. Baker holds the record for the largest single-season snowfall in the world (1999, proximity to the ocean and prevailing west winds). I also like Baker partly because it’s the anti-resort, I am much more comfortable publishing an in-bounds photo of Mt. Baker than a shot off KT-22 one of the best chairlifts for terrain access in North America. Something about the Baker crew seems so tough, raw and real. We like gritty photos here at Patagonia.
I remember one discussion I had with Jay regarding winter photos. Almost every photo shoot he went on he was by himself, meaning not joined up with a film crew to shoot for the day. It’s good for the athlete when there is a film crew and still photographer but not necessarily good for the photographer. Last year Jay primarily shot by himself, meaning no film crew, just an athlete or two. It’s a bit of a risk on the photographers side but I admire him for having the confidence to skip out on the larger production. For Jay in my eyes, it was more about the skiing than the shots and it worked, he got the sweet shots cause his head and heart had the spirit of skiing. I appreciate photographer’s who are not afraid to shoot in bad weather, life isn’t always bluebird, a sense of atmosphere is good.
Here is what Carston had to say about that shot:
That photo is actually kind of an interesting one, because it is in a slack-country zone at Mt Baker that gets skied all the time, but I don’t think that particular little flute has been shot or skied before. It’s on the wall of a popular chute, but is located right at the end of a mandatory straight-line, so nobody skiing the chute ever notices it because they’re going too fast to focus on anything other than what is immediately in front of them. Also when approached from above, it’s pretty much a cliff that either gets aired, or passed by to get to a pretty rowdy pillow line. This shot was taken on the first day of our trip to Baker last winter, and I was showing Jay around because he had never skied there before. The only reason we found it was because I sent Jay down the chute on our first run while I went to ski the pillows. He ended up side-slipping down it instead of just pointing it like everyone else, and looked up to see this perfect mini-spine/flute. He then shouted to me to ski it, guided me into it from below, and shot it from a spot tucked up against the wall of the chute. It’s pretty cool how a new set of eyes can find a new feature in a zone that get’s skied so often, particularly when almost everybody through there ski’s past within a few feet of the thing.
Check out their new iPad Snow app for more images, avail for download in iTunes.
What do Richard Avedon Alfred Eisenstaed, George Silk and Ansel Adams have in common? They all shot cringe worthy covers for Life Magazine. Never underestimate the ability of great photographers to produce some real stinkers. The key is not letting anyone see them…
See more here: Life’s 20 Worst Covers
The truth is no portrait of substance has people smiling. Look at the history of painting, Rembrandt, Titian, Goya, Velasquez, Sargent, Vermeer, DaVinci, etc., the subjects gaze to the viewer is neutral at best, neither inviting nor forbidding. It is there for the viewer to see and feel. Smiling is like much of American popular culture, superficial and misleading. It is part of our vernacular, but it should be expunged in photographs.
Just curious, but am I predictable in my unpredictability? If so, some of you must have seen this week’s column coming. Last Friday, we showcased some low-pro, under-the-radar type books you probably haven’t heard of. So of course, today, I’m busting out the big guns. Today, you get a sneak peak at three new photobooks by guys who are all over the place right now. A little fashion, a little journalism, and a bit of art to ease you into the Thanksgiving vortex. Will next week’s books be all about turkey slaughter and obesity? Stay tuned.
Speaking of Mr. Richardson, I suspect that some of you probably know him personally, this being a tight-knit industry and all. I’ve never met the man, but am quite familiar with his work. Last Friday, I showed his blog to my students, and the lead feature was a video of Terry making out with Chloë Sevigny, who was dressed, improbably, as Terry Richardson. (Just curious, but would you make out with Chloë Sevigny if she was dressed as Terry Richardson?) If you’ve ever stopped to ask yourself how anyone would end up like that, then you need to check out “Mom & Dad,” a new double-book production just released by Mörel Books in London. Two, minimalist black soft-covered books come together in a simple black slip cover. Mom, and Dad. Each is a raw, emotion-laden little ride through Terry Richardson’s past, through a documentation of each of his parents. Who, not surprisingly, seem like they’re bat-shit crazy. For all of the gloss of his editorial work, I think these volumes are intimate, and the photographs are well made. I can’t say it’s disturbing, even when his mother flips the bird to the camera, or shows off her octogenarian boobs. Because you kind of expect that from him. It’s tough to continue to shock, when the bar has already been set so high. The project is an edition of 1000, so grab one now, if you’re into this sort of a thing.
Bottom Line: Surprisingly tender, unsurprisingly crazy
Our next book, “Iraq/ Perspectives,” by Benjamin Lowy, comes to us from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke, by way of William Eggleston. Mr. Lowy, who once offered me the chance to touch his shrapnel, (I assumed, incorrectly, that he was joking), received this book as a prize for winning the 2011 CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography. Mr. Eggleston was the judge, which gives the volume a high-art imprimatur. The smooth, black, hard cover consists of two separate projects shot in Iraq, where Mr. Lowy spent years documenting the war for various news outlets. The first is a set of pictures shot through the bullet proof window of an armored Humvee, and is intentional in it’s depiction of Iraqi street life at a remove. At first, I was put off by the lack of viscerality, of any real emotional connection to the subject matter. But then I realized that it was a metaphor for the way Americans actually experienced the war, which ate up so much of our hard earned cash, and left a trail of blood and detached limbs across that desert country, so many miles from here. Most of us probably couldn’t tell the difference between Basra and Tikrit with a gun to our heads, so the cool detachment of the photographs seems appropriate, upon proper reflection. The second set of images were shot through Military-grade night vision goggles, so they too present a green, altered perspective. One photo of some bound, gagged presumed prisoners of war will likely stay with me for a while.
Bottom Line: New-style journalism for the 21st C
Finally, we come to “Interlacing,” a canvas-wrapped soft cover book released a few months ago by the Fotomuseum Winterthur in Switzerland, and Steidl. It was published in conjunction with a major retrospective of Ai Weiwei’s career photographic output. By now, I’m guessing you don’t need me to tell you about Ai Weiwei, as his nasty detention at the hands of the Chinese Government has made him the most famous artist in the world. (And somewhere in London, Damien Hirst sheds a diamond-studded tear.) This particular book was sent to me in response to the article I wrote on Ai Weiwei’s behalf earlier this year, but it’s also available at photo-eye. As such, I thought it was appropriate to review it. Let me cut to the chase, for once, and just suggest that you buy this book. The breath of work to be found is astonishing, from early photos of the artist and his Chinese hipster buddies running around NYC in the 80’s, to the famed middle-finger images that include a Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona, the Duomo in Florence, and a sheep meadow in Xinjiang. It presents documentation of the rise of some now ubiquitous contemporary Chinese architecture, a set of cell phone images shot in 2009, and a series of individual portraits of the Chinese citizens that Ai Weiwei brought to Kassel Germany for the Documenta 12 festival in 2007. (That was his project: transporting 1001 Chinese citizens to visit the show as a cultural exchange.) There are probably 20 other sets of images here, beyond what I’ve already mentioned. It’s dense with prose as well, including reprinted Tweets. I may be biased, but this book makes a compelling case for why Ai Weiwei might be the best artist in the world right now.
Bottom Line: You should buy this book
Full Disclosure: Books and scans were provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase. Please support Photo-Eye if you find this feature useful.
Someday there may be invented a machine that needs but to be wound up an sent roaming o’er hill and dale, through fields and meadows, by babbling brooks and shady woods–in short, a machine that will discriminatingly select its subject and by means of a skillful arrangement of springs and screws, compose its motif, expose the plate, develop, print, and even mount and frame the result of its excursion, so that there will remain nothing for us to do but to send it to the Royal Photographic Society’s exhibition and gratefully to receive the “Royal Medal.”
Edward Steichen, Camera Work, No.1, January 1903, p.48-
via Ben Rains. thx, Jeff Weddell.
I’m not particularly trying to make a living purely from photography but want to balance it with my existing (writing) work. I don’t think any of my classmates are naive enough to think it’s going to get them jobs – we all just wanted to grow as photographers and people, cheesy as that sounds.
Jonathan Blaustein: I thought you’d have an interesting take on the way photographers essentially have to have two careers: the getting it out there phase, and the making the work phase. In the last interview i did, Jesse Burke called it the “wheel of self-promotion.” He said “the wheel of self-promotion is always spinning.” I related to that. I know a lot of people relate to that. Right now, I feel like I’m trying as hard as I can to de-emphasize it and remind myself of why I do what I do. Of all the people I’ve talked to in the last few years, you seem to have your head on straight as to why you make work. So I thought maybe we could talk a bit about how you see your motivations as an artist.
Susan Worsham: Well, what you were saying about the “wheel of self-promotion?” I guess, I don’t even think about self-promotion. The contacts that I make are more based on me being me, and the people being them. It’s about natural connections, as opposed to trying to force a connection. My “By the Grace of God” series is about me going out into the world and making connections. Right now, the connections are not about making it, or getting ahead. It’s hard for me to explain.
JB: That’s OK. You said it right away. You don’t consider the “wheel of self-promotion.” You don’t care about it. I feel like of all my friends and colleagues, you’re the only one that when you say it, I believe it. That’s kind of why I wanted to talk about this. I feel like so many photographers, certainly fine art photographers, have gotten distracted by the 24/7, all encompassing noise of the Internet, and the blogosphere, and FB and Twitter. People put so much energy into the other that they lose track of the root causes of why we started making art to begin with. I thought that you might be able to share a little bit of your perspective on that.
SW: It all happened for me in a natural, one thing led to another way. At Review Santa Fe, the reason that I even went was that someone nominated me for the Santa Fe Prize, and I had to look up what that was. When someone nominates you for the Santa Fe Prize, you get to go to the portfolio review. And I’d never really heard of a portfolio review before. Someone that interviewed me recently asked me, “Are you really that naive?”
SW: Yeah, but I wasn’t upset by it. I answered, “Yeah, in this case, with this particular subject, I am naive.” I don’t come from a publishing background, and I didn’t go to school for photography, so I’m not going to know everything that everyone knows. Frankly, none of that really matters to me. It’s the art that matters to me. But the reason that she asked if I was really that naive, to prepare for my first portfolio review, I had to google portfolio reviews to see what people brought. I saw that people were bringing what’s called “clamshell boxes,” so that was the first thing I did. I ordered myself a clamshell box. So I kind of feel like I’m just being me. And my art work is how I connect with the world, and how I get my feelings out. And that’s really mine.
JB: That’s what I wanted to talk about. I gave a lecture yesterday at UNM, in Albuquerque. At the end of class, the professor, Jim Stone, asked what advice I would give the students. I said “Don’t do this because you want to make money or get famous. It’s too hard and too degrading.” The business aspects of what we do, even when things are going well, it always feels like a crapshoot. So if that’s why you want to be a photographer, my advice was clear. “Do something else. If you want to be famous, try to get on television. Make work because you have to, because it’s a part of who you are, and if these things don’t come out as art, they come out as insanity or kicking a dog.” That’s where it comes from for me. I wouldn’t have dealt with 15 years of rejection by choice.
SW: I recently had a younger photographer email me, and say she was in my city and could we meet. So I said sure. I always feel a connection to other photographers, because we share a passion. She said, “You’re all over the place right now. How did you get that?” I said, “Gosh, I’ve been taking photographs for at least 20 years.” It’s not something that just comes all of a sudden. You make work that’s important to you, and at some point, someone is going to see it. I just don’t think about money, when I’m thinking about photography. When I leave my house, and I’m in my car, and the lighting is just amazing, and it’s hitting someone’s back yard, I freak out. I just follow that beautiful light. That’s what inspires me. It’s really simple.
JB: I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this, because I know it can be tough to talk about.. As photographers, we’re primarily visual communicators. But when you’re out there shooting, do you feel like you’re actively looking for something, or you’re waiting to find something?
SW: One of the things that’s funny is that when I go up to people, and I ask if I can take their photograph, sometimes I explain that I’m doing this series called “By the Grace of God,” and it’s kind of just like this. I’m meeting you right here, this light is beautiful. It’s not like it’s a religious thing. I find myself often having to explain that I’m not a crazy nutbag religious person.
JB: (laughing) Did you say nutbag? Because I want to keep that. You better not make me cut nutbag, because that’s too good.
SW: No, no, no. Nutbag is fine.
SW: Sometimes the title of the series helps. I actually walked into what I thought was an abandoned dilapidated church, right into a small service. I ended up standing up and talking about my project, and even got a few hallelujahs. I’m definitely a talker, but when you put me in front of a group of people I tend to freeze. And it’s funny that the first time I stood up and talked about the work was to a non photography crowd in a church service. I believe in a higher power. I am not someone who goes to church all of the time, or even reads the bible all the time. It’s more of just this feeling inside, when I’m taking photographs. It’s following what’s in my heart. Now that I’m older…… Let me give you an example. I used to be in my car, or even out walking, and see something and say, “ Wow. That’s awesome. I’d love to take a photograph of that.” And I wouldn’t stop. Now it seems like I’m listening to myself more, and I’m stopping and taking the time to follow what just made me really excited. Why extinguish that and keep on driving? Why not go ahead and turn down that road, and then usually when I do, and I take out my camera, and I meet someone, it seems like I was supposed to turn down that road and look at this beautiful thing that happened.
JB: When you say, “Why not stop?” I think it’s a great way to cycle back. I think a lot of people don’t stop because they don’t have the time to stop, or because they’re staring at their Iphone, and they don’t see it to begin with. I’m the last guy to be critical of anyone who tries to navigate the system, because certainly I have. But at the same time, within the last few months, I’ve just been pushing myself again and again to be more patient and to take more time. Through our past conversations, I feel like you’ve inspired me to reconnect to that. So…
SW: I’m going to interrupt and talk about patience for a minute. Gosh, patience? I have a lot of patience.
JB: I know. I feel like most people have a problem with it. I don’t think I’ve gotten my mind around how to be patient until very recently. I’m still learning.
SW: I’m actually still learning too. Sometimes, I have to wait a year. I often photograph one of my oldest neighbors, Margaret Daniel. All my family’s gone, and she’s my oldest neighbor from my childhood street, Bostwick Lane. She still lives at the top of it. I photograph her a lot. I’ll give you a bit of background story on her. I was in her basement, and there were all these boxes. They were labeled by the years. So I went upstairs and said, “Margaret, what are all the boxes in the basement?” And she said, “Well, honey, those are my walnuts.” It turns out that she collects walnuts as they fall from her tree, and labels them by the year they fell. It’s since been a very big part of my work with her. One day she was eating walnuts from her parents’ tree that she had brought with her. I call it a dowry of sorts. One fell, and made a tree. Now, it’s 50 or so years later, and that tree is just huge, taller than any house on Bostwick Lane. But the interesting thing about Margaret, and the funny thing is now I forget what the question was… but patience. That’s what we were getting to.
So I really wanted to photograph Margaret. I call her my Black Walnut Bride. I wanted to get photographs of her walnuts, and I had to wait, I would say two years. I said, “Margaret, tell me when the walnuts are going to come. Tell me when the walnuts are going to come.” And she was like, “Honey, the tree was barren this year. That happens every so often.” And so I didn’t get to photograph them, and I was quite upset about it. Now this year, they are plentiful, and I have had to go and help her collect them every day to where my back hurts after picking them up for hours. And we’ve made a walnut bed in her garden. Another metaphor. The woman is rich with metaphors. And she told me, “Honey, we’re going to make a walnut bed. Collect them and put them over there in the garden.” And so that’s the patience that I’ve had to learn, to wait two years for the walnuts to come. But they’re such a big part of her, and now of me.
You know, waiting is fine. You can go off and take other photographs. I don’t consider a series quite finished yet. A lot of people probably think that my “Some Fox Trail in Virginia” project is finished, but I’m going to go on and photograph Margaret, probably, until she is gone. That would be when that series would end.
JB: I didn’t realize the project was still in progress, but when I went to your website, I saw images from “Some Fox Trails” that I hadn’t seen before. When we talk about patience, I feel like everyone else is going in the other direction. There’s this pressure from the outside world that people feel to come out with the next project. To tie a bow around something. To have the book done. I feel like when we get caught up in that, it takes us away from the things that motivate us to make our best work: the quest for knowledge and the desire to improve. We need to kind move around and sit down into something, and I find that of all the people I know, you seem to understand that on an intuitive level. You’re patient with people. You listen. Certainly, I could be accused of loving to talk. But often I try to remind myself that we learn more, and we find the good stuff when we listen.
SW: Exactly. Getting back to Margaret’s walnut bed, to me, the metaphors that come every time I photograph her, the work is getting stronger, and I’m getting stronger as an artist. Just spending time with her. She’s very old, and I know she’s going to pass. I don’t know how long I have with her. The walnut bed, when I look at it, enables me to deal with death. I use a lot of metaphor in my work, and I’ve begun to see the world in metaphors. So when I go to her yard, and see that mound of earth covered in walnuts, she’s not only my Walnut Bride, but that becomes her Walnut Deathbed. In photographing her, she’s helping me come to terms with death, or deal with death, in kind of a poetic way.
My brother was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. On his first visit home, he took his life. He just wasn’t a person who could live without the use of his legs. Margaret Daniel was the last person to see him alive. She had made him his favorite, which was her homemade bread. When I was photographing her for the very first time, she told me the story of his last day. She brought him his favorite bread, and she took it up the stairs, and she buttered it for him. He kept on saying, “Margaret, can you bring me some more bread?” She said, “Susan, he finished the whole loaf.” Then my mom and Margaret went for a walk. When they came back, he had shot himself, and then died shortly thereafter. So the metaphor of that being his last supper. I don’t know if a lot of people know that’s one of the reasons why I concentrate on Margaret, because she’s the last person to see my brother alive, she’s the last of my family, since my family’s passed. It’s all getting connected for me now.
JB: I know this might sound crazy, but I went through your whole website, and the one photograph that I kept up on my screen to talk about, that I’m looking at right now, is the photograph called “Risen,” the freshly baked loaves of bread on the countertop. Of the 150 pictures on your site, that’s the picture that stuck with me. I had no idea of the backstory, and I had no idea that it was your brother’s last meal.
SW: I’m a little shocked. Not knowing the story behind it. Sometimes I think someone might think that was a boring photograph. But for me it has so much meaning.
JB: But the title…let’s sit here one more second. The title: Risen. We see the loaves of bread. And there’s this glowing light. The title has all those spiritual connotations. So between all that, it felt to me like there was really a lot more there. You have a very sharp lens on your 4×5, but there’s always a sense to me that you have a very insightful eye. To me, there was a story here, and I didn’t know what it was. I’m looking at the photograph right now.
SW: There’s always a lot more there. I’m finding out a lot about myself, through the series, and in turn, when I work on “By the Grace of God,” it allows me to get that close with other people.
JB: Whether you’re shooting in Syracuse, New York, or at home in the South, your stomping grounds, whether people are white or they’re black, time and again, no matter what class people come from, or their background, you manage to find a grace and a dignity and a respect. When I see that, that you’re depicting people with respect, then I make this mental assumption that’s how it works on the street. That you meet people, young or old, and they sense that respect, and it creates a rapport. It’s not like, “Hey, there’s a freak, let’s take their picture, and it will be freaky, and then we’ll sell that picture for $10,000.”
SW: I have a little story. I used to go play pool a lot. I met this older black gentleman. His name was Larry, and he was kind of a pool hustler. Larry would put a quarter down on the side of the table while I was playing, and tell me to aim for the coin. I would get four balls in with one shot. He was a very interesting character, and one day Parliament was playing on the jukebox.
JB: P-Funk? George Clinton?
SW: Yeah, P-Funk. So he asked if I liked that, and I said “Yeah.” He told me that he used to dance for Parliament, and they called him the Rubber Band Man. I believe there is a song about him by another band. Now I always believed Larry. He was someone that actually taught me a lot about patience, and reading people. He worked at Tysons Chicken Farm and everyday after work he would ride his bike up to play pool. And I hung out with him quite a lot. So here is this guy, working at a chicken farm in Virginia who travelled the world with George Clinton. I don’t think he even had a phone, but he told me he still had a closet full of fancy costumes. That’s life. That’s how it works. But none of my friends believed he was the Rubber Band Man. I remember once I was outside, and I was talking to Larry. A drunk guy stumbled up with a bottle in a paper bag. He was like “That’s the Rubber Band Man. Do you know who that is? That’s the Rubber Band Man. How do you get to be talking to the Rubber Band Man?”
And that’s kind of how my life works. I wasn’t taking photos at the time. There are just so many stories, and so many special people out there. Everyone has a story. What I’m coming to terms with now is the patience that you talk about. I can’t take all the pictures that I want to take.
JB: There are a million different people out there making pictures a million different ways, but we can only talk about what we know. Irrespective of the fact that you place all the value on the process and not the business aspect, fortunately the world has come to respect your work. You’ve wona book award from Blurb, you’ve had a slew of exhibitions, including the recent Lishui Photo Festival, you had an artist residency at Light Work in Syracuse, and in 2011 you were chosen as a member of the PDN 30. There seems to be a lot of mystique around that list. I was wondering if you might be able to talk about what impact, if any, it’s had on your career?
SW: I remember me and another person that got the PDN this year talked on the phone, and talked about how we weren’t sure if we were doing everything that we should be doing with that award. I think the year that you’re PDN 30 is the year that you’re supposed to use that. That’s your chance to get appointments with galleries, and do that sort of thing. You know, network more because you have that behind you. We didn’t know if we were actually doing that. Because… I don’t know…I use natural light and an old view camera. So it’s hard for me to start doing commercial work. I guess we were both feeling bad, like, “I haven’t done anything with it, what about you?” This is the time we should be doing it. For a commercial photographer, the Photo District News award is amazing, because you immediately are going to have so many people looking at your work, and maybe giving you jobs because of that. Which is wonderful. I wasn’t at the point to take any of those jobs, because again, I use a view camera and natural light. So it would take quite a while for me to develop and then scan, and give a photo shoot back to someone. I think I got Fraction Magazine because of PDN 30, though I don’t know if that came before.
JB: I wanted to talk a little bit about the South. Out of high school, I went to college at Duke in North Carolina. Looking back, it’s hard for me to imagine how I could have spent three and a half years in Durham, North Carolina and learned, essentially, nothing about the South. I probably didn’t leave campus very often. I had hush puppies at least ten times. The sweet tea was good. But I can’t believe I squandered the opportunity. You were just included in an exhibition at the Danville Museum in Virginia as a Southern Photographer. People tend to relate to a lyricism and romanticism and sense of visual literature, when it comes to the South.There is a sense of place that is so deeply rooted in your work. It’s a place that I think a lot of people are fascinated by. Certainly since the Civil War. You probably just see yourself as Susan, but what’s your take on that?
SW: That’s the weird thing. Now, I’m beginning to see it a little. Really, when you say sense of place, a sense of home. Everything I’m doing in my work lends itself for people to say, “Oh, it’s very Southern.” But really it’s just me. Often, when I photograph a backyard that’s dripping with overgrown weeds, with an old rusted swing set, to me I immediately see that and I see it as a graveyard of my childhood. A family that lived in that house and is now gone, the children have all gone off to school. I just recently went to my childhood home, last week in fact, and noticed that the kudzu was completely overgrown. Every time I go back it was just growing more and more because the house is deserted right now. So all of the things that I am using to represent life and death and memory and past. It all happens to just lend itself. I don’t think too much about being a Southern photographer. When I do went to my artist-in-residence at Light Work, I had a few days to take my camera out where I wasn’t working on my computer. Maybe four. And the photographs that I did get, people told me, “Wow. Somehow you made Syracuse look like the South.” To me, it just means that going around with my camera to places that I wanted to photograph are the places that reminded me of home. You know?
JB: And what was it like to be included in your first major museum exhibition at home in Virginia?
SW: I’m having a very Cinderella moment. Earlier, when you talked about the Danville Museum show, when I was at Light Work, Elijah Gowin happened to be coming through just for like two hours. I had told someone that I wanted to get a wedding ring portrait of some of the first Virginia photographers whose work that I saw, and maybe Elijah Gowin also. It was a big coincidence, but I got to know him a bit.
Not too long after, I got an email from a curator at the Danville Museum in Virginia. He said “Elijah came home at Christmas time, and showed me your work.” Apparently, he really liked it. He asked me if I wanted to be in a show with Emmet Gowin and Elijah, and Jeff Whetstone, all of these photographers whose work that I knew. And it was funny because they were all academics. They all taught at Universities. So when I went to the opening, I was the waitress. So that’s the stuff that is neat in my life. I can be hanging in a museum show, with all of these important photographers, and I’m a waitress.
Susan Worsham is a Richmond, Virginia based artist. She recently exhibited her photographs in the Lishui Photo Festival in China. To see more of her work, visit www.susanworshamphotography.com.
“Copyright Industries in the U.S. Economy: The 2011 Report”, underlines the size and significance of the US copyright industry. The report found that it added over $930 billion in value to the U.S. economy, represented almost 6.4% of the total GDP, employed nearly 5.1 million U.S. workers (nearly 5% of the total private employment sector), with jobs paying an average of 27% more than the rest of the workforce; and accounts for $134 billion in foreign sales and exports, significantly more than sectors such as aircraft, autos, and agriculture.
Erik Kessels (KesselsKramer, Amsterdam) | Photography in abundance
Through the digitalisation of photography and the rise of sites such as Flickr and Facebook, everyone now takes photos, and distributes and shares them with the world – the result is countless photos at our disposal. Kessels visualises ‘drowning in pictures of the experiences of others’, by printing all the images that were posted on Flickr during a 24-hour period and dumping them in the exhibition space. The end result is an overwhelming presentation of 350,000 prints.
What a fantastic idea and an important reminder of the era we’re living in.
Then, I saw this press release yesterday :
Aurora Photos is excited to announce the launch of the myPhone Collection of stock photography, a collection of images taken with iPhones and other mobile devices by some of the world’s top photographers and iPhoneographers, and now made available to pictures buyers for both editorial and commercial licensing.
What struck me was how worthless I think iPhone images are and how I can’t imagine anyone licensing them. Obviously, this blanket statement cannot be true since it’s never mattered what photographers used to take their pictures with but I can’t get over the feeling that pictures taken with a camera in a phone that everyone owns have no value. I think iPhone images only have value when they depict breaking news or when they are curated by someone to understand a bigger picture.
Creating value beyond how a picture was created and what the picture depicts is the most important challenge facing photography professionals today.
…seeing Rhein II being sold for more then $4m most certainly gave me a funny feeling. The photograph is unremarkably mediocre…