I was all set to review Josef Koudelka’s re-issued “Gypsies” this week. Big name artist, spanking new monograph from Aperture. It seemed like the natural thing to do. I try to balance looking at famous photographers and newcomers, but this was a slam dunk. Write it, email it, move along.
But I didn’t like the book that much. I’m sure many of you would, as it’s filled with extremely well-made, grainy black and white photographs. Of Gypsies. It was totally expected, and that was what bothered me. If I had envisioned the series in my head before opening the damn thing, it wouldn’t have deviated much from what was printed on the page.
We’ve all seen strings of photographs that depict poverty, disease, and general misery. So. Many. Times. Before. We just tune out. Or at least I do. Additionally, I hadn’t realized before I opened the book that it was a re-issue. So in fact, it had actually been seen before. (Of course, the photos are great, and must have been fresh when they were originally released. But I’m reviewing books here, not kowtowing to history.)
Disappointed, I reached back into my shrinking stack of books. (Time for another re-up at photo-eye.) I came across a yellow and black, almost metallic hard-cover from José Pedro Cortes, recently released by Pierre Von Kliest editions in Portugal. If you think that I just reviewed another book by a dude with three names, from the same publisher, you’d be right. I did. Two weeks ago.
But once I opened this book, I was totally caught off guard. Challenged, confused, and just generally off-put at such an eccentric collection of images. (But in a good way.) First, the premise: The photographer lived in Tel Aviv, met four US born women who moved Israel to join the military at 18. After they finished their service, they stayed on. Super-specific and yet totally random. Intriguing, and (obviously) not a subject I’d seen before.
Then, inside, it was even odder. The first photograph was of a woman, from behind, in her bra and panties, looking out a over a balcony. Slightly referential of an early Dali painting, but also not what I was expecting at all. So this was going to be one more book selling sex?
Not quite. The images of the four women, in their underclothes or partially nude, were interspersed with detail and landscape shots of the city. Big flash, flattened out images, alongside ones shot with natural light. Old cars and porticos and clothing shops and puddles of water. Some color, some B&W. Over-grown palm trees and chain-link fences. A rumpled tarp that resembled a body bag.
None of it made any sense at all, as the book is non-linear and non-location specific. Then back to the undressed ladies, whom, while attractive, were far from what we typically see in a book reeking of sexual energy.
I’m not quite sure what this artist was on about. And that’s why I like it. I don’t want a photo-book to tell me a story I already know, nor do I want to be lulled to sleep with a derivative vision. What’s the point? But this book, “Things Here and Things Still to Come,” got inside my head. It made me think about why humans are so obsessed with looking at pictures of naked people?
Pornography is one of the most lucrative and perhaps destructive industries around, and yet it really isn’t discussed that often, relative to it’s cultural ubiquity. Not that this book is pornographic, but making naked pictures look so discomfiting and awkward, including pimples and cellulite, it’s not what we’re used to seeing. It was almost meta-gratuitous, like Tarrantino meets Porkys.
So let’s just say now that I’m not a silent partner in Pierre Von Kliest editions. I don’t even know who these people are. But they seem to be putting out photo books that depict contemporary life in a messy way. And nothing about the human condition in the 21st C is clean and simple. So at least they’re keeping it real.
Bottom line: Weird, potentially offensive book that made me think
Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.
I’m especially keen now at looking into how Europeans edit photographic stories because the have a very different point of view than us Americans. It’s a bit more existential and less obvious. In many ways, it’s liberated from structures that we impose on our storytelling. I love tradition, but if we are all telling stories in the same way, I think we do our subjects a disservice as well as the public.
Maggie Steber via La Lettre de la Photographie.
Still Images In Great Advertising, is a column where Suzanne Sease discovers great advertising images and then speaks with the photographers about it.
Geof Kern has been in the business for years and still continues to create beautiful and fresh images. This campaign has been on my radar for awhile so I couldn’t wait to ask Geof about it.
Suzanne: The ads for Ritz Carlton are so perfect for your sense and style. How much were you able to add your creative fingerprint to the concepts?
NOTE: When I asked Geof this question he sent me to a link where he already answered the question on his reps blog. I have copied it here so readers could see it.
When things align perfectly, the memory lasts forever. That’s the idea behind the new brand platform for Ritz-Carlton hotels. While the unspoken message of most hotel advertising may be “stay with us,” the creatives at Team One turned tradition on its head with their theme, “Let us stay with you.” It’s a strategy poised for a wealth of success. As the NY Times points out, “Since the financial crisis began, millions of wealthy consumers have decided to play down the joy of accumulating things in favor of the pleasure of accumulating experiences.” Team One’s approach appeals to this well-healed crowd by “drawing explicitly on a guest’s power of memory,” conjuring serendipitous moments that equate to “one-of-a-kind experiences.”
Of course, translating magical moments into memorable images doesn’t just happen by chance. The creative team wanted a photographer whose work was as elegant and nuanced as a posh hotel chain. But artistry alone wouldn’t cut it. As Team One Art Producer Jill Hundenski puts it, “It couldn’t look forced or faked. We needed a highly conceptual photographer. But it also had to be someone who could coordinate all the precise details.” “And trust me,” she laughs, “there were a lot of details. Even I underestimated the amount of pre-pro involved.”
Fortunately, orchestrating the impossible is photographer Geof Kern’s idea of a “very fun project.” “I absolutely loved working with Team One on this,” says Kern. “The brief was to use the concept of seeing something unexpected in the scene, as random elements realign themselves from the viewer’s perspective. In this case, ‘spontaneous’ took a lot of planning. Especially because we wanted to capture as much in-camera as possible.”
“For example,” Kern continues, “for the photograph of the woman holding the paper umbrella walking through the tea glass in an outdoor restaurant—I mocked that up completely in advance in my studio to determine the exact focal length and aperture setting…the distance we’d need between the glass and the model…etc., etc., etc. That way, I was prepared.”
As far as Team One is concerned, the preparation paid off, in spades. “Geof pulled off a very challenging concept,” says Hundenski. “We needed a master, and Geof was it.” The result is a series of photographs that draw viewers into a playful world where their own mind completes a visual pun of sorts, quite literally bringing readers along on a journey of discovery.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to ask yourself, why leave spontaneity to chance?” says Kern. For the moment, Team One is very glad they didn’t.
Suzanne: Where were the images photographed? With five concepts, how many days did you have for prep, shoot and post? The perfect location is crucial to the success of the ads.
Geof: I think I was awarded the job late May and we shot mid June. Post was complete about a month later. Took a while because of much back and forth with the agency TeamOne, and also because there were some videos for my retoucher to do post on.
Suzanne: You have been in this business for years, what inspires you?
Geof: That’s something I don’t think about much, I’ve been doing this all my life. New things inspire me, and things done well… that is, originality and craftsmanship.
Note: Content for Still Images In Great Advertising is found. Submissions are not accepted.
Geof Kern is based in Dallas where he maintains a studio to organize his shoots at home, New York, and elsewhere in the world.
APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies.
Yes, an incredibly good thing. I photographed with film for many years; now that I work in digital, the difference is enormous. The quality is unbelievable: I don’t use flash, and with digital I can even work in very bad light. Also, it’s a relief not to lose photographs to x-ray machines in airports.
— Sebastião Salgado
via The Guardian.
JB: You and I met, as I have with several people I’ve interviewed, at Review Santa Fe in 2009. I don’t think we’ve seen each other or spoken since. I’ve got to give a shout out to that class of ’09. This is right off the top of my head, but you came out of there. Susan Worsham. Jesse Burke. LaToya Ruby Frasier. Emily Shur. Ben Lowy. Susan Burnstine. (I know I’m forgetting another handful. Apologies.)
KT: It’s been fun. I’ve kept in touch with a few people from that Review as well. They’re all doing well. Kind of crazy.
JB: You went there a young guy, just trying to get his work out into the world. And in the ensuing three years you’ve evolved into a photographer with an International exhibition record, you’re represented by Jen Bekman, one of the biggest galleries in New York, you had a book published by Keher Verlag. It seems like it all came together for you in a relatively short period of time.
KT: Before Santa Fe, I had this plan to shoot a project, “In Case it Rains in Heaven,” which is the one that got published and exhibited a lot. I’d done the leg work in the two years leading up to Santa Fe. Doing the reviews. Meeting the curators. So I had my network ready. I went back to Hong Kong and shot the project, and I was able to show it to a lot of people in a very short period of time. From there it snowballed.
JB: So this was really a 5 year process for you.
KT: Yes. If I’d shot that project in 2007, before I started doing the circuit, it wouldn’t have exploded so quickly. It’s because I’d just put my foot through the door.
JB: We all have so many different things going on at the same time, it can make it difficult to give our best effort in any one avenue. You’re living back and forth between London and Hong Kong. So that must resonate with you, the struggle to be our best self.
KT: I have been working hard. Pre-2009, I was shooting a lot of events and weddings. Then that project came out, and people started taking notice. I planned an 18 month stint in HK with my family to work a different project that’s due to come out soon.
JB: What’s it called?
KT: “The Queen, the Chairman and I.” But, with what you were saying, trying to do everything at once? I didn’t. I made the decision that I would concentrate on the fine art, I didn’t do any events jobs or weddings. The benefit of that is showing. Within the last 18 months, I’ve got signed up by 3 commercial galleries, including the Photographers’ Gallery in London. I’ve had a book published, and have been working on a lot of shows. That’s a full-time job.
I think wedding photography is a full-time job. I had a wedding that I shot a year ago. A year later, the couple is still hassling me to get the album right, or get some new orders. So I had to give that up to concentrate 100% of my time on my personal work. Which involves a lot of social networking, and turning up at festivals, making book dummies.
I think that’s paid off. But at the same time, a lot of that work doesn’t pay. Which is what I’ve been struggling with.
JB: You chose to stop working for pay so you could pour all of your energy into something that wasn’t actually paying your bills. And you’ve got kids, right?
KT: In college, people hint at it, but they don’t tell you how it works. But did you see, sometime last year, Aline Smithson did a blog post about the cost of success?
JB: Yeah, I saw that. Is that what you’re dealing with now, trying to figure out how to afford to show your work around the world?
KT: Absolutely. I gave myself 2 years to shoot a new project, and really try to see if living off print sales alone could work. People tell me it doesn’t work, and I found out the hard way. I’ve been doing OK with the sales, but as Aline’s blog post suggests, every show comes with printing and framing costs, without any guarantee that you can even make your money back.
JB: It sounds like you saved up some money and saw it as a phase where you put in the time and energy now for long-term results. And now you’re two years into it, and it’s starting to hurt a little bit. Is that it?
KT: Yeah, in a sense, I’m kind of running out of money. I’d been living on print sales until August or September, and that’s when the financial markets started going a bit bad again. It is reflected. Once the stock market dropped, the print sales stopped. You realize that Art is such a luxury commodity.
JB: It’s perfect that you brought that up, because you have a solo show up right now at the Jen Bekman gallery in New York, as we speak. You came up through the ranks of the Hey Hot Shot competition. You were chosen as their Ne Plus Ultra one year. And when people think of Jen Bekman, they often think of 20×200. $10 to the artist for each 8X10 print. How does that work? You talk about surviving on print sales, but you can’t survive on $10 a pop.
KT: When I talk about print sales, I’m talking mostly about the galleries representing me. Jen Bekman has only 2 of my prints on 20×200 (2 more were launched with the exhibition). It’s only those two prints sold through her that are from $10 a pop. My other prints sell for considerably more. They range from $600 to $6000.
I think a lot of people have issues with Jen Bekman’s model, 20×200, bringing the cheap prints into the market so people don’t buy the expensive prints. But I’ve got to say, at the end of the month, they’re the only ones who guarantee me a check every month. Whether it’s $200 or $2000, they never fail to sell something. Whereas my other galleries often go through 3 or 4 month dry patches.
JB: So the fact that there are 2 images out there for very little cost is not having any adverse effect upon the higher market value of what you do?
JB: People are going to want to hear that. It’s a controversial subject, and you can only speak for yourself. But I have talked with Joseph Holmes about it in the past, who also works with them, and he’s been very positive about how the 20×200 program works too.
KT: I think it’s important what work is put onto 20×200. Obviously, they have a very strict curatorial process. They pick the best work, so as a photographer, with all the publicity it gets, it’s tempting to give them your best shots. But it’s important to put some of your best work aside.
JB: And what was the opening of the exhibition like for you?
KT: It was exciting. I had the best experience ever, last year, when I had my first museum show. That kind of spoiled me, but I had a fantastic time in NY.
In reality, I think there is a difference between having a show in New York and a show in Europe. It’s the buzz afterwards. In London, if you have a show, and you don’t manage to get the newspaper or the bloggers down at the opening, they stop talking about it, and the show just fizzles out. But in New York, a lot of people didn’t come to the opening, but since I left, it’s kept going. I think it’s a much more vibrant scene of online art critics, in New York, I find.
JB: I want to switch gears a bit. I know that you were raised in both Hong Kong and England. In one of the statements on your website, you referred to yourself an others as “Us Honkeys.”
KT: I did.
JB: So with the rise of the Internet and more affordable air travel, national boundaries seem to mean less than they used to. You’re a living embodiment of the mashup of East and West. A global citizen type. What’s your take on that?
KT: It’s funny you said that. I lived in Hong Kong until I was 13, then I went to boarding school in England, and stayed here and married here. Throughout my twenties, I saw myself as a citizen of the world. I spent a lot of time in India, and Eastern Europe. So I thought wherever I was, I was home.
It wasn’t until my daughter was born that I started feeling Chinese again. Once you become a father, you want to be prepared when your children ask you about their identity. So that’s when my work completely changed. Up until then, I wanted to travel the world, so all my projects were done out and about. Since the kids, all my work has been shot in England, Hong Kong or China. Really, I was trying to find my own identity, in a way.
JB: Do you speak any of the Chinese dialects?
KT: I do. My mother tongue is actually Cantonese. The last two years I’ve been learning Mandarin, for a couple of reasons. A., because I wanted to, and a lot of my work is shot in China.
JB: B., because you saw the writing on the wall.
KT: (laughing.) Exactly. I want a gallery in Beijing.
JB: No doubt. You’re talking about surviving on print sales. You’re no dummy. You’ve got to go where the money is.
KT: It’s interesting, actually, because a lot of the big galleries are opening branches in Hong Kong, precisely for that reason. White Cube, Gagosian. It’s definitely where the money is.
JB: Can you talk a bit about the differences between mainland China and Hong Kong?
KT: It’s hard for me to say. When I go to China, I don’t face the same scrutiny as a Westerner would. Because I don’t enter on a passport, I enter on a Hong Kong residency card. I can almost infiltrate.
JB: And unlike me, you’re not a gringo with a goatee, so you can perhaps blend in a little easier.
KT: I have no secret police following me, I don’t think. I certainly know of photographers who’ve done work in Tibet, and their room gets ransacked. But I never had that problem. Certainly, in Hong Kong, there’s lot more freedom. No doubt about it. You can openly criticize the government, which you can’t do in China.
JB: Is that something that people expect to continue?
KT: China still needs Hong Kong. Companies and now galleries like to open in Hong Kong, because things are done more legitimately. Money and Banks. There’s none of the corruption. So China needs to keep Hong Kong a certain way, but they also want Hong Kong to rely on them. A lot of the businesses and hotels and tourist industry relies purely on the Chinese tourists. So if China wanted to stop Hong Kong, they could just stop tourism. They can definitely control Hong Kong in certain ways.
JB: Do you think you’ll stay in London, or move back to Hong Kong?
KT: We’re thinking of moving back to Hong Kong, actually. It would be good for my children to learn Mandarin. And I get more work done from there, in terms of making contacts and pushing my projects, living in Hong Kong as opposed to living in England.
JB: Why do you think that is? Because China’s hot right now?
KT: No. When you’re here in England, you might know a curator, be acquainted, but they have lots to do. When I try to show my new work, I keep getting pushed further down the diary. But when I email from Hong Kong and say I’ll be in town for a couple of weeks, I tend to get the meetings. It works a lot better.
At them moment, in London, I’m struggling to meet people I know well because they’re so busy.
JB: Sometimes, we imagine that you have to be in the biggest of big markets. One of the reasons I left New York, (other than the fact that it was kicking my ass,) was that I started nosing around Chelsea, really paying attention to the CV’s in the exhibitions, and and I noticed that at least half the artists that had representation were not living in New York. They were in random and far-flung places.
It resonated with me, because I always felt like I was swimming upstream in the Big Apple. I knew if I came back to Taos, living in the mountains with the fresh air, that it was more likely that I’d make the most of myself.
KT: Living in London, my friends often get sucked into going to openings, meeting the same people. As you know, lots of photographers like to talk about themselves…
JB: Oh my goodness.
KT: So you come away from the openings completely depressed. I won’t name names, but one of my friends is a photo-journalist, and she’s so jealous of a few of the female photo-journalists that are doing well at the moment. Every time we go to an opening, they’re there, showing off, and she becomes very depressed. I’ve got to ground her a bit, and say, “If you really look at the CV, they’re not doing that well. They’re having a nice run, but you’re doing just as well.” It’s hard to distance yourself from that if you live in a city and see people every Thursday at an opening.
JB: That was what happened to me. I got really insecure, and I think that competitiveness can be incredibly destructive to one’s creativity. I’m trying to learn not to judge myself by others’ success. I want to judge myself by how hard I’m working, whether I’m growing and getting better. Learning how to avoid the problems that in the past would have tripped me up. It’s easier to say that than to do it.
KT: Very few people are living off their art. But living in a city, going to artist talks, you get the impression that they are. I think it’s important to know that’s not the case.
JB: You’re ticking all the boxes on what would be considered success, and yet you’re dealing with the same problems as all Global Middle Class citizens. How can I make enough to support my kids? How can I keep it together? Acclaim is still not equated with material success for most artists who are not already super-established.
KT: Absolutely. I went Paris Photo recently, and it is the same 8 or 10 photographers who are dominating the whole scene. It’s almost like they’re eating the main meal, and there’s another 200 photographers eating the scraps around it. And I’m not even eating the scraps.
Fast on the heels of Gannett announcing its paywall around 80 community newspapers, the Los Angeles Times (LAT) on Friday announced it will launch a metered paywall on Monday, March 5.
There’s an excellent piece in the NY Times last week titled “Why Are Harvard Graduates in the Mailroom?” that talks about the number of professions where workers accept lower-paying jobs in exchange for a slim but real chance of a large, future payday. Drug dealers have rich kingpins supported by hard working street-corner guys, ambitious accountants toil away at big firms in hopes of making partner, silicon valley startups use stock options to entice young people into working for free, Warner Brothers mailroom clerks accept $25,000 to $35,000 a year in hopes of making a meteoric leap like Barry Diller or David Geffen did, and aspiring actors watch rich people hand each other golden statues on TV each year with dreams of joining their ranks someday.
Certainly we can all see how photography fits nicely in the lottery model where there are a neat group of successful photographers at the top, a few jobs here and there that hint at a big payoff, but putting together a career in photography is harder and more lottery like than it looks. What’s really interesting and counter intuitive about the piece is how this lottery system is actually a good idea. It encourages hard work and attracts lots of potential candidates, but only lets the most tenacious through. The problem, as the NY Times notes, is that the comfortable plan B jobs are disappearing. Solid plan B jobs allow you to go for it and if it doesn’t work out you still have something interesting to fall back on for a career:
New York City and Los Angeles are buoyed by teachers, store owners, arts administrators and others who came to town to make it big in film or music or publishing, eventually gave up on that dream and ended up doing fine in another field.
I received this email recently from a reader who was dismayed at all the commenters on this blog who only look at photography as a six figure job:
I love your blog, but I am disappointed in your reader’s comments. Specifically on the article “Is editorial photography dead?“. Most of the photographers that comment fiercely oppose anyone trying to become a professional photographer and it is quite a deterrent for someone like myself just starting out. I read all the comments trying to understand where they are coming from, but I can’t, because it seems like your commenters are all photographers who used to make six figures. I was raised in a family who never made a six figure income, in fact none of my family ever went to college—I was the first. For me a good job is an income of not much more than $30,000 a year.
What your commenters don’t realize is that many people are happy making less. I have worked for several city magazines and I’ve found that they struggle to find ANY photographers to work with. It seems like most people only consider themselves successful if they work for major publications. I would love for you to highlight someone who is successful in their hometown, based on finding work at smaller magazines and local work. Many times the magazines I work with can’t even find journalists. I think smaller publications are often overlooked because they don’t pay tens of thousands of dollars for photo shoots, but I recently got a gig with one that paid over $3,000 and for just starting out, it was huge for me.
My point is, I just don’t think people actually look for the work, they expect it to come to them. I think many photographers, like other artists, are too snobby to actually go find a job. Instead, they expect publications to find them.
Did my reader miss the point of looking at photography as a high paying career? The lottery system produces talented, hardworking and tenacious photographers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The NY Times goes on to say:
It’s not clear what today’s eager 23-year-old will do in 5 or 10 years when she decides that acting (or that accounting partnership) isn’t going to work out after all. The best advice may be to accept that economic success in America will come as much from the labor lottery as from hard work and tenacity. The Oscars make clear that there is only so much room at the top. In a lottery-based economy, you need some luck, too; now, perhaps, more than ever. People should be prepared to enter a few different lotteries, because the new Plan B is just going to be another long shot in a different field.
The plan B in photography was a mid-level career, but now we see photographers who test the waters in video, writing, publishing and teaching. Looking to enter as many lotteries as possible. Seems like a smart plan.
Lots of people are driven to celebrity photography, most think its easy, just be there and get a picture and you will make money, sadly that is not the case. There are thousands of mediocre and ordinary people out there with cameras,thinking they are photographers, photographing and complaining about not making money, submitting pictures to various publications and photo agencies and waiting for great payments that do not come, why ? The photos are not good or the subject matter not interesting, to be a great “pap” you need all the skills a great photographer has…
…I have to say that it completely depends on how you define success. If success is defined as a mad dash to the top of the ladder and whoever gets there first is successful then yes having children definitely interferes. But if success is defined as quality of life as in being loved and showing love and having deep, long term relationships that cause you to question the meaning of life and love and art and help you to look at the world through different eyes well then I would say that having children helps you to be successful.
Jodi Bieber (1966) is a South African photographer mostly known for her highly publicized portrait of Bibi Aisha; the young Afghan woman who had her nose and ears cut off by the Taliban after seeking rescue from her violent husband in her parent’s home. It was this photo that won Bieber the World Press Photo Award in 2011. She has won no less than 8 other World Press Photo Awards, as well numerous other prestigious awards such as first prize for the series “Real Beauty” in Picture of the Year International Competition and Winner of the Prix de l’Union Européene at the Rencontres de Bamako Biennale Africaine de la Photographie in 2009.
Bieber is currently rounding off a hectic year of constant traveling, meeting people, being on juries and lots of public speaking. It is on this last leg of the World Press Photo exhibition, in Cape Town, that we find ourselves sitting in the gardens of the Castle of Good Hope. A place with a symbolic name as this is where Bieber is teaching a 3-day masterclass to 17 aspiring photographers organized by World Press Photo in cooperation with Iziko Museums.
Kathalijne van Zutphen: How did you get into photography?
Jodi Bieber: I originally studied Marketing because an aptitude test said I would be good at studying Law. I couldn’t picture myself doing 7 years of studying and chose Marketing because it was only 4 years. While I was sitting with a friend during a lunch-break, a piece of paper fell into my lap. The piece of paper advertised photography courses at the Market Workshop in Johannesburg. And that is how I got into photography.
After completing several short courses at the Workshop, I did a three month internship at The Star under Ken Oosterbroek in 1993. My job as an intern was to develop everyone’s film and print their work. I still found time, though, to go out and shoot on my own and scored my first front page publication on the third day. I was invited to be part of a select group of 10 photographers for the World Press Photo Masterclass in Amsterdam in 1996. I’ve always done my own projects such as ‘Between Dogs and Wolves’, ‘Survivors’ and ‘Soweto’ but have also done work for Time Magazine and Médicines Sans Frontières.
Can you tell us something about the way you work? For example, how much directing do you do?
JB: When I go out on a shoot, I am there for hours. I exhaust my subjects. As far as shooting goes, I start with framing the photograph. I will tell the person I am photographing where I want to do it, but I will not tell someone how to pose. And in case there are two or more people being photographed, I will not tell them in which order to stand. I feel you can tell a lot about their relationship from where they chose to stand. Once I have framed the image I will direct, I will maybe ask someone to move a leg or hand.
I was never motivated by the money, I was motivated by photography. I chose my projects because a subject interested me. I came to ‘Real Beauty’ after seeing the Dove billboard which showed normal women as opposed to models and I thought that was amazing. Then I met a model soon after that, who told me a lot of dark secrets about the fashion industry, and that yes, for instance, she does have bags under her eyes but that will be photoshopped out. That made me curious about what real beauty is. When I started that project a lot of women were a little apprehensive at first, but I soon received phone calls from women asking to take part. And I accepted everyone.
You speak a lot about the importance of editing well. What makes a good editor to you?
JB: Editing is absolutely crucial. Everyone is a photographer these days and where you can make a difference is with interpretation. As a good editor you have to be true to yourself but not be too emotionally attached. If you let someone else edit your work, you have to make sure you put your point of view across well and work with someone you trust.
Where do you think a lot of photographers go wrong?
JB: They rush too much. You have to take the time to edit. Don’t add photos because you think you need a certain number of photos, less is definitely more. Create piles while you’re doing it; have a ‘Maybe’ pile, as well as an ‘In’ and ‘Out’ pile. If you have difficulty saying goodbye to your photos, then keep the ‘Out’ pile in your view so you feel like you can always go back to it. And do not do it on the computer.
And when you are building your portfolio it should be like music – made up of highs and lows but not weak.
You often find yourself in quite dangerous situations. How do you cope?
JB: I believe that my openness about what I am doing is my protection. I create relationships quickly, little circles of people around a bigger situation that may be dangerous.
You mentioned during the workshop that photographers bring themselves to the shoot as well. Where do we see you in your work?
JB: I don’t know, I am not the right person to ask. My choice of subject matter will probably tell you a lot. I also think that I am pretty direct and you can see that in my work as well but it is not “what you see is what you get”.
I once heard someone say that a profession is a vehicle for something deeper. Assuming that is true, what is it that you are searching for through your photography?
JB: Photography has been a vehicle to discover things I didn’t know before. When I go out shooting, I am learning something new. I am connecting with other people; and I feel a responsibility towards them.
Speaking of responsibility, there is the age old dilemma and debate, that photographers go into a situation and take something, prey on the weak while the gain nothing. How do you feel about that?
JB: I do feel responsible, and sometimes I do feel it is a bit unfair. You get your shot but the community will never benefit. That is a difficult thing.
I really do believe that it is important to be very clear about what it is you want and what the photo will be used for. If you leave out a detail just so you can get the photograph, that detail will come back to haunt you. And if someone has a problem with what you are trying to do, then simply don’t shoot them. I make sure that the people who do agree to take part in a project get one of the Artist Proof prints (ed: out of two) that I have. It is up to them to either hold on to the print or if they want, sell it. That is my way of giving them something back.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
JB: Well, being a photographer is a lonely profession and you sacrifice one thing for another. All I ever did was photography and I am only just learning that there are thing like shoes, make-up (laughs).
After winning the World Press Photo, you must have led a very hectic and different life this year. What has been the biggest lesson?
JB: I have learned that photos speak very loudly. Not all and not all the time but when they do, then can create change. And I have learned that when you have a voice, you have to use it. Photographers can be very powerful.
What is next for you?
JB: I will be starting a new project and I have a big show coming up in Ulms, Germany.
Any last advice?
JB: Just go out and do it. You have to get out there and create the work, put in the hours, develop your own style. And don’t be where the pack is. Do your own thing. And, when you are about to take a picture of what I like to call ‘The Stare’, reconsider it.
Now and again, my young son will ask what happens after we die? They don’t prepare you for that in birthing class. So I do my best, and tell him that most people are buried in the ground, or burned to dust. Either way, I say, we end up merging back with the Earth. Slowly or quickly, we become the dirt, the trees, the flowers. He says he’d like to be a rock. Sounds nice.
Several weeks ago, I gave a lecture about Vivian Maier in class. My students are in their late teens; not-quite-college age. I asked how many would like to make photographs throughout a lifetime, put them in a box, and then have the trove discovered after death. (As opposed to having a living photography career.) Posthumous fame was alluring, as every student raised his or her hand. I was shocked. But later, not really. I was quite the Romantic back in the day as well.
Where am I going with this? I just, just put down “Francesca Woodman,” the new monograph by SFMOMA and D.A.P., released in conjunction with a major solo exhibition of her work. (The show soon moves to the Guggenheim Museum in NY. March 16-June 23) It’s an impressive volume, as you might imagine. Intriguing and challenging at the same time.
If you don’t know the backstory, (no shame, as I didn’t either,) Ms. Woodman made an impressively large body of work, mostly nudes, as a young woman in art school. She took her own life at the age of 22, and her work has been considered important ever since. The new traveling exhibition coincides with the 30th Anniversary of her death. (And there’s the context for the first two paragraphs. Thanks for waiting.)
Though I’ve never seen this work before, I like it very much. Ms. Woodman, I mentioned, used her own body as the primary subject of her artistic practice. (Though other people pop up multiple times.) As she was young, and attractive, it’s the type of work I’d probably dismiss if I saw it from a contemporary female photographer. Anyone today would clearly know that sex sells everything, and that’s about it. It’s hard to imagine many young female artists exploring these themes in a fresh way, what with our current global culture of image ubiquity and massive over-sharing. (This from the guy who writes about himself all the time.)
Yet the photographs are lovely, whimsical, evocative, and experimental. It’s clear that Ms. Woodman was pushing boundaries. One recurring theme, in which she melds herself in with the background, often in decrepit homes, does make you wonder how badly she wanted to disappear? And for how long?
I’ve also got to give props on a technical note or two. Given the importance of pacing and flow, when two color images emerge, late in the book, after an onslaught of grayscale: Pop. And the cover image is haunting, presaging the innards.
As many of you will no doubt have the chance to go see this work on the wall in New York, I’d heartily encourage it. I’d love to go see it myself. But the book communicates Ms. Woodman’s vision, or at least, how history has edited her vision. (A separate question entirely.) So this one comes highly recommended, as long as you don’t mind a lot of nudity.
Bottom Line: Great book, great work, sad story
Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.
“I think this is a wonderful time for a cinematographer,” said Emmanuel Lubezki, who shot “The Tree of Life” and is a four-time previous nominee. “You can have 65-millimeter, 35, 16 and so on, and then you have all the range of incredible digital cameras that are not like film but allow you to create wonderful images.”
via theenvelope.latimes.com thx again Steve.