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.
British Photographer Chris Floyd, 43, has been primarily shooting portraits since 1992. More recently, he joined the growing number of still photographers embracing video—er, filmmaking. His current project, “The Way I Dress,” grew out of a series of three fashion profiles he put together for the Sunday Times of London. The series features notable men dressing themselves as they ruminate on the subject of style. “If you create the space,” says Floyd, “the time you spend getting dressed could be the most reflective of your day.”
Floyd brought his movies to former British Esquire editor Jeremy Langmead, who’d recently been poached by the popular online women’s fashion retailer Net-a-Porter to launch their new men’s site Mr. Porter. “I took the three films with me on an iPad,” says Floyd. “We watched them through and he said, ‘Yeah, great. Let’s do six.’”
Grayson: So What is your background as a photographer?
Chris: If I’m known for anything it’s for doing portraiture. It’s very difficult in this day and age to do lots of different things. I like reportage, portraiture, even architecture. But [creative directors] want to be able to put you in a box and say, This guy does portraits, and that guys shoots ice cream, and this guy does still life.
What’s your production process?
Those were with a Canon 5D. I shot three in London and three in New York. It’s me a couple of a assistants, and that’s kind of it. One of the things I’m confident about is my ability to light. So I light the space and then the guy comes along, and I explain what we’re doing. The thing you have to explain more than anything is that he’s going to have to get dressed and undressed about ten times.
So you do the whole thing with one camera?
The budget is pretty good, but it’s not enough to do it with two cameras. I don’t have any qualms about stating that I’m quite new to all this, so it’s a learning process. I would rather learn it slowly and thoroughly than try and rush it.
How do you light your scenes?
I use HMIs and gels—nothing crazy—just enough to warm them up or cool them down. I move things around until it feels right. For me, it’s very instinctual. It’s kind of like finding a woman that you love. I play around with it and then—Yeah, this feels right. I want to spend some time with her.
How are you moving the camera in these shots?
With nearly all of them, I used a jib. I have no idea what kind it is, actually. You can pan and tilt and waive it around. I think we needed a bigger one, though. There were a couple of moments where I wanted to do very slow movements, and it wasn’t quite big enough and heavy enough to move gracefully.
How do you handle your post production?
I have an editor here in London who’s got a lot of experience. The thing I like about these movies perhaps more than anything is the collaborative nature of filmmaking. It’s the one thing that’s completely different from being a still photographer. In filmmaking, you have to give yourself up to the process. The learning curve is quite steep. Stills and motion share the same alphabet, but the language is different. You look at certain points in the process and say, Oh I understand what’s going on here but it’s a bit different than what I’m used to so I’d better shut up and listen to the guy who does know what he’s doing. I think you have to surrender your ego if you want to get better at it.
What about sound?
Pay attention to it. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a great take with shoddy sound that you can’t use. We do record the ambient sound of the guy getting dressed, but the rest of it is a voiceover. I use a Sennheiser…something, plugged into the 5D. The voiceovers I record separately on a recorder. I talk to the subject for about 20 minutes. Then I go off and do the sound edit, which I kind of do on my own. I use a very basic program that’s free called Audacity. I spend about a day doing that. It makes you go back to the pictures again and look at them in a new way.
The good thing that’s come out of this Mr. Porter project is they’ve asked me to do something else, now. I can’t say what it is, yet, but it’s really exciting. They’re great to work for. They’re far less hands-on than if I were doing the equivalent gig for a magazine. It’s like, Here’s the money; go away and don’t come back until it’s done.
I was looking for strange, absurd situations, going on endless tours to festivals, campgrounds, and shopping centers. If I found an interesting place, I could stand there for hours, waiting. I often get asked if my pictures are staged. They are not, but I always try to be very visible as a photographer, and I don’t know how much I influence a situation, just by having a camera.
Many successful, serious authors are in love with the notion that they get to be serious and successful merely by writing.
There was a brief interlude, perhaps 50 years in all post-Gutenberg, in which it was possible for a talented writer to be chosen, anointed, edited, promoted and paid for her work. Where the ‘work’ refers to the writing.
This idea that JD Salinger could hide out in his cabin, write, and periodically cash royalty checks is now dying.
Authors of the future are small enterprises, just one person or perhaps two or three. But they include fan engagement specialists, licensors, new media development managers, public speakers, endorsement and bizdev VPs, and more.
No one has your back.
Sad but true. The author of today (and tomorrow) is either going to build and maintain and work with his tribe or someone is going to take it away.
That whole thing with the Medicis didn’t last forever either.
In 2010, I went back to school at the University of Miami and got a graduate degree in multimedia. In a time when media is struggling and searching for a new path, I’m finding that I’m busier than ever, telling meaningful stories in new ways for a variety of outlets. It’s an exciting time to be a photographer and journalist, and this new skill can create more opportunity for all of us. I think the most important thing any artist can do is to constantly push themselves and improve their craft.
It occurred to me the other day, after wrapping up a beginning photo class, that it’s a lot easier to teach style than substance. My students, all young, had turned in an assignment of self-portraits, and the level of stylistic sophistication was pretty advanced. Very fashionable. As to the substance, let’s just say that one would glean little about their personalities, beyond the fact that they were pretty successful in masking any inner turmoil. Now, while this might seem to have little, if anything, to do with a weekly photo book review column, I used it as my inspiration for today’s selection. Each book below carves out some serious new ground, stylistically, while looking at subjects that have been photographed to death. They use blatantly different techniques, and yet all manage to end up at hyper-real aesthetic that is so emblematic of the 21st Century.
Edgar Martins’ “This is Not a House,” is a smooth, mid-sized hardcover recently released by Dewi Lewis Publishing in England. I suspect many of you might be familiar with some of this photographs, as Mr. Martins was embroiled in quite the stink a couple of years ago. I vaguely recall the scenario, in which the NY Times had to pull his work from their website when it was determined that the images had been “manipulated,” as if we’re living in a world where anything is not. But I never got a chance to see the pictures. They’re terrific. Irrespective of the controversy (and the book’s text makes many, many references to it), I think this is probably the best visual encapsulation of the housing bubble meltdown I’ve yet encountered. We see an image of the inside of a new, traditional-style living room, well-lit, set against the window view of a golf-course and snow capped mountains. Perfect. Wood, concrete, glass and steel, all new, but vacant and post-apocalyptic, coalesce into a vision of a society where “More was More,” and now we’re left to grapple with the idea that “Less is More.” It’s definitely reminiscent of Lewis Baltz’s “Park City,” but with his strong use of strobes, and the apparent digital correction in favor of symmetry, Mr Martins’ images feel constructed, sculptural and false. They’re hollow and fictitious, all the while “documenting” a phenomenon that shared the same characteristics.
Bottom Line: Worth the drama
Suzanne Opton’s “Soldier/Many Wars” is a new, hard-cover offering from Decode Books in Seattle. It’s one of those two-books-in-one type deals that I’ve seen a bit recently. (Turn it around, start again.) And like Mr. Martins’ project, apparently the work created some controversy that I missed a couple of years back. Her portraits of soldiers, taken up close, while the subjects’ heads were resting on a table, were blown up into cryptic billboards and installed in cities around the country. I wish I’d seen one, as I’m interested in artists who are taking their work directly to the people. But of course, none of that really has anything to do with whether the book is any good or not. It is. With the “Soldier” project, Ms. Opton manages to pull the viewer as close to a contemporary warrior’s face as we’re likely to get. By photographing the sitters sideways, she automatically changes our perspective from every other portrait we’ve seen. Yes, some of them look like they could be dead, but that only enhances our interest. The photos are contemplative, powerful, and nuanced, and the slightly-off color palette and super hi-res look definitely push them towards hyper-real. Fascinating. The “Many Wars” project, in which she photographs soldiers receiving treatment for PTSD, wrapped in cloaks, was less interesting to me. But one dude is a dead ringer for Obi-Wan Kenobi, and that was worth a giggle right there.
Bottom Line: Cutting-edge
Finally, we come to Alejandro Chaskielberg’s “La Creciente.” It’s a smooth-surface hard-cover published by Nazraeli Press, with funding support by the Burn Magazine Emerging Photographer Grant. Many a documentary photographer had gone into the bush, or the forest, or the jungle to highlight the story of a group of indigenous workers, cutting into the Earth in some way or another. Been there, done that, true. These photographs, however, don’t look like any of the other images you’ve seen with that particular obsession. (And I believe they are staged as well.) Mr Chaskielberg, an Argentine, photographs only in the light of the Full Moon, (which doesn’t seem to be connected to any concept,) but that light, mixed with a healthy use of strobe lighting, creates a striking effect. With the shallow depth of field, they look a bit like tilt-shift images, but not entirely. Truthfully, I don’t love all the photos, but at least a handful are so good that the book is worth a look. “The Foreigner,” in which a beautiful woman, head turned to the side, emerges from the green grass with the sun behind her, looks so much like a 21st C Madonna image that I had to look twice. Two pages later, in “Escape,” a woman is perched awkwardly on the riverbank, a blue canoe below her in the water. It just doesn’t look real. I accept that on some level, there was a woman, and she did exist on the river bank, but my brain still reads the image as a surreal construction in a studio somewhere, or more likely a vision conjured up and rendered by a computer. Very fitting for our times.
Bottom Line: A fresh look at a familiar subject
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.
Design Director: Dean Sebring
Contributing Art Directors: Raine Bascos, Valerie Sebring
Photographer: Anthony Mair
Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted.
We now live in a world where information is potentially unlimited. Information is cheap, but meaning is expensive. Where is the meaning?
via Brain Pickings.
I’m giving my talk on photographers using social media tomorrow (Friday) at the PDN Photo Plus Expo in New York City. The talk is at 1:30.
The talk has evolved since I first gave it 2 years ago as I’ve discovered more and more photographers finding success with social media. Also, this idea that you uncover demand using social media, rather than create it has changed how I look at everything. So, if that interests you and you’re around come by and listen.
Just being there doesn’t mean publishers are there at all. How they are there is what matters. Publishers must not be distracted by the ability to iterate magazines into a digital space and they must not be distracted by the iPad. Rather, they must ask, what is the likely form and function of content going to be 10 years from today and what is the true potential of locatable, social, personalized and discoverable magazine experiences?
via The Media Online.