Shot entirely on a Cannon 5D Mark II, photojournalist Danfung Dennis’s film Hell and Back Again has been racking up the awards (2 at Sundance for best doc and cinematography). And, while I’d seen the crazy footage from the front line that had appeared on PBS I hadn’t seen the trailer for the movie until I found it on the Apple trailer site (here).
Looks like he turned some compelling war time footage into a well rounded story. The film is opening this fall and needs help in getting it to as many theaters as possible so spread the word if you like what you see.
An oil painting of a burning bank that sparked a pair of Los Angeles police investigations also ignited an international auction frenzy. Artist Alex Schaefer has sold the 22-by-28-inch canvas depicting a Chase Bank branch in Van Nuys going up in flames to a German collector for $25,200.
via latimes.com, thx, Charles
Uh oh, looks like orphan works is going to be one of those perennials until something is figured out. To Recap, there are books, movies, music and photography in the possession of archives and libraries where the author is unknown or cannot be found. These “orphan works” are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced or incorporated into new works (e.g. a documentary containing footage and photographs) without violating copyright law. Recently google tried to scan and make available out-of-print/orphan books after reaching a settlement with publishers so that authors (and publishers naturally) would be paid each time a book is viewed online. The agreement was opt-out (meaning you had to tell them to remove your book which meant orphaned books would be included) which caused Judge Denny Chin of the US District Court to reject the deal because it went too far in granting Google rights to exploit books without permission from copyright owners.
Now, the Author’s Guild is suing the University of Michigan and other college libraries for their plan to digitize and make freely available, books whose author cannot be found. According to PaidContent.org:
The universities want to make digital copies of the orphan works available to their students and scholars beginning in October. Librarians say they will make a careful search for the author before they make a book available and that they will “turn off” the digital copy immediately if an author comes forward. They believe that these steps will make the sharing “fair use,” meaning they would not be liable under copyright laws that call for fines of thousands of dollars every time a work is copied.
Authors’ groups are having none of it. Author’s Guild president Scott Turow called the scheme a “preposterous ad-hoc initiative,” and the lawsuit says the plan risks the “potentially catastrophic, widespread dissemination” of millions of books. The suit was filed in New York federal court in the name of writers groups from the U.S., Australia and Quebec, and individual authors like Faye Weldon. The suit asks the court for a series of dramatic remedies, including the permission to seize millions of digital works from the Universities of Michigan and California and to order the schools to cease cooperating with Google. The search giant is working to scan all of the world’s books, a project that some librarians once believed would take more than a thousand years.
Paul Aiken, executive director of the Author’s Guild, defended the proposed measures by saying writers’ were worried about the “security protocols for seven millions books” and that the schools had disregarded the law by embarking on a maverick project with Google. “There’s nothing in the copyright law about orphan works—this is their own hand-drawn definition.”
There are serious problems with simply “turning off” a digital copy in the internet age, because once released it can be copied forever. And, I agree that’s a ridiculous application of fair use. The biggest problem with orphan works in general is that everything we put up on the internet is potentially an orphan in the future unless you carefully register it in a central database. People like Seth Godin who argue that there’s nothing wrong with sharing dusty old books whose author and heirs cannot be found are missing the point that someone (google) will be making money off these books and the probability that in the future we will be swimming in an ocean of work that is completely untethered from the author will make our current situation look like a joke. Copyright is a balancing act that providing benefits to the authors of new works and then limited use of that work to benefit society and further creation of new works. Finding the balance in orphan works will be an important part of this.
Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right – and that includes federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties. Unfortunately, there is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs from public places, and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply. Learn your rights here >>
We’re taking the rest of the week off. See you next week.
I found out last week that Susan White, Vanity Fair’s long-time Director of Photography, was leaving to join Trunk Archive as their Executive Director of Licensing. I sent her congratulations along with a couple questions for the blog:
APE: Tell me how you got your start as a photo editor and how you ended up at Vanity Fair?
Susan: I had been a fashion assistant to Polly Mellen at Vogue Magazine when an assistant photo editing job with Elisabeth Biondi opened up at Vanity Fair. Then I worked my way up through the ranks.
Do you have any techniques for dealing with the outsized personalities that Vanity Fair specializes in?
It’s a cliché but I try to stay calm and flexible…and give them as much room as they need.
If you had to pick one picture to be remembered by what would it be and why?
It’s impossible for me to boil my years down to one image. I’ve had too many collaborations with too many great photographers to single one out. I suppose I’d like to be remembered as a supportive presence for all of the photographers I’ve worked with over the years. I certainly learned that my aesthetic had to be modified to a certain point to suit the magazine. In the beginning I was eager to work with very creative and painterly photographers like Jahvier Vallhonrat but the truth was that this kind of work was often too rarified for a commercial, general interest publication. I considered it a small triumph when I was able to have Nick Knight shoot Bridget Fonda and it actually made it to print (this was so long ago, I cannot give you the year off hand).
Still, the one photo that stands out and had a fairly significant impact was Annie Leibovitz’s cover of a pregnant Demi Moore. That may seem obvious but it really did seem to shift things a bit not only for its beauty, but for the impact it seemed to have in terms of so-called celebrity photography. As I remember it, that shot was never taken as an actual cover. Annie sent it in because the image was so stunning it had to be seen. I believe it was taken as a personal photo for Demi. The shoot was actually one of two and was the follow-up sitting. Our intention was just to get a head shot for the cover. Charlie Churchward, the art director then, laid it out as a cover to be provocative, not realizing that the female staff would have such a strong reaction. Every woman in the office who saw that photo with the VANITY FAIR logo lobbied hard to get it to the newsstand. It was a memorable moment.
Trunk Archive seems like a good match for you, but you must be feeling bullish on the future of stock photography. Can you tell me why?
I am not sure that I am as bullish on stock photography as I am on Trunk Archive. I am very bullish on them. In fact, I never think of the word “stock” in relation to what they have and what they do. I think of “luxury option” instead. As to the future of stock photography, well, let’s accept that dwindling budgets will continue to have an impact on how much original assigning can happen. The budget tightening we’ve all experienced these past few years is now the norm. No one seems interested in bringing back bloated shoot budgets. We’ve learned to do fairly well by artfully combining existing imagery with assigned work. Because Trunk has such high standards it seems to me a safe and sure resource for editors and art buyers to locate selective imagery.
Are you excited for the change after so many years working on VF?
It’s certainly a thrill to take on something new after the long tenure I’ve had at Vanity Fair. I’ve got quite a bit to learn, so I’m looking forward to working with the incredible team at Trunk Archive.
I visited New York City in early August. It took me 15 1/2 hours to get there. You read that correctly. That’s enough time for a New Yorker to have a cup of coffee from the bodega, catch a cab to La Guardia, and have a dinner of dolamdes in Istanbul. Or for a San Franciscan to wake up to a nice latte, BART down to SFO, and graze on sushi in Tokyo. It’s also enough time to watch an entire season of Breaking Bad, and then cook up a small batch of meth afterwards. In other words, I live in the boonies for real. (I’m actually writing this from a horse pasture at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.)
So this will be the story in which I drop in on the world’s biggest media empire, (My apologies, Herr Murdoch), do a 60 Minutes walk & talk style interview with the photo world’s preeminent Kickstarter expert, and finish up with a visit to the world’s most transgressive art exhibit. If that sounds a bit like a 21st Century Jewish guy’s version of an Odyssey, it certainly felt like one to me. It all began with the aforementioned insanely long travel day from Taos to Washington Heights. (My apologies…Hudson Heights.) I started the day listening to the ravens squawk before sunrise, and ended up in my cousin’s apartment above the GW bridge. Guest rooms being a rare commodity in New York, I crashed on a trundle bed below a bunk bed shared by a four year old and his seven year old brother. No, I’m not making that up. (Big ups to Nathan and Noah Burak. Thanks, guys.)
Regardless, I slept well, and woke up on a Tuesday excited to make my first visit to the New York Times. I understand that there’s an inherent name-dropping quality to these articles, and I do hope you don’t think the less of me for it. But there I was, at 11am on a not-so-opressively-hot early August morning, standing under the big gray lady’s corporate logo, wondering how it all came to pass. (Yes, I did take a photo of myself for my parents. Yes, I do know this makes me a huge dork.) I was there to meet with James Estrin, the photojournalist and editor of the Lens Blog. We’d met earlier in the summer in Santa Fe, and after I thanked him profusely for changing my life, we got to talking about our respective educational initiatives. Mr. Estrin, along with Adriana Teresa of Visura Magazine, recently started the Envision Foundation, which sponsors digital photography programs for teen-agers in locations around the world. (China, Haiti, the Bronx, and Mexico City.) Last year, I created a similar program to work with rural youth from the mountain communities of Taos County at the local UNM branch, so we found we had a lot in common. He invited me to partner my program with his, and there you have it.
I traveled back across the country to meet with Mr. Estrin to chat about photography, and get some of the details squared away. As we agreed to meet in the Times building, I was getting a chance to peek behind a very famous curtain. Of course, given that I always seem to manufacture a mishap on these adventures, I got in the wrong elevator. Turns out, in the fancier buildings of today, some elevators only go to certain floors. Who knew? But I sorted it out without any stress, and soon arrived on the 4th floor of the recently built Renzo Piano skyscraper. First impression: it is a beautiful building. Modern, with lots of steel and glass, but there are huge swaths of red everywhere. Mr. Piano is apparently involved in the interior design as well, and insisted upon the crimson invasion. I love it. One would imagine that a contemporary newsroom would contain oceans of gray, so the enforced color was a welcome touch.
It’s funny, but I’ve been a working artist for fifteen years. My career has been a slow-build, with lots of one step forward two steps back phases. But the last year, as many of you know, has had a bit of a wormhole feeling to it, so walking around the Times was totally surreal. I was aware that they weren’t going to kick me out or anything, but I had this sense of being a kid trailing his dad at take your child to work day. I tried to hide it a bit, but also thought that since it was authentic, I might as well go with it. Mr. Estrin kindly showed me around, and I got to meet and thank Kerri MacDonald, who wrote the Lens story that continues to bounce around the world. Everywhere I went, really smart, witty people were crashing into each other in impromptu meetings, discussing photographs and the state of the world. The place was massive, with the third and fourth floors open to each other, and the sound of fingers tapping away madly on Apple keyboards reminded me of an atonal Phillip Glass symphony. A far cry from the roosters and horses and magpies to which I’m accustomed.
Meetings are meetings, so I’ll spare you any further descriptions about what we were talking about. But I did have a one-of-a-kind-photo-geek moment that I’ve got to share. At some point, Mr. Estrin, who had briefly stepped away, came thundering around a corner and motioned for me to follow. As I emerged from his office, I saw a not large man holding court a few feet away. He was unremarkable, save for the fact that he had some shiny, metallic artificial legs. Joao Silva, in the flesh. When I was 12, I met Joe Montana on an airplane on the way to Superbowl XXI. When I was 19, I met Bruce Springsteen outside a waterfront restaurant where I was working at the Jersey Shore. In both cases, I felt like a bashful fanboy, basking in the glow of grandiosity. This was no different. I’m guessing almost all of you already know, but Mr. Silva is the Times journalist who was blown up by a land mine in Afghanistan, and continued to shoot pictures from the ground, whilst his legs were ripped off his body. So the awe I felt was understandable, but of course I had nothing interesting to say to him. Really, what do you say? “Mr. Silva, it’s a pleasure to meet you. You’re an inspiration,” or something like that, right? You try not to gawk at his legs, and fail. You try to be casual about the whole thing, and fail again. It was clear that he did not want to be ogled for his disability, and his matter-of-factness only made him seem tougher. A friend reminded him to sit, as to make it easier on himself, and he ignored the entreaty. One tough dude.
That was the highlight of my Tuesday, obviously, but I did see three albino triplets riding Razr scooters outside Rockefeller Center, so it wasn’t quite the landslide victory you’d imagine. And I finished the day at an Irish Happy hour joint in Midtown where my friend Adria and I wondered aloud if the bartender had earned her boob job back in tips yet. Adria, ever the cynical New Yorker, voted no. (I believe what she actually said was, “With that face, it’s no surprise she went for the boob job,” but I wouldn’t swear to it.)
My Wednesday was spent in Washington, as was previously chronicled, and I awoke on Thursday with a plan to visit the Ryan Trecartin show at MOMAPS1, followed by Boris Mikhailov at MOMA proper. As I lounged around, slowly packing my back for a trip to Jersey later in the day, I got a call from my friend and fellow photographer Manjari Sharma. We’d made plans to get together previously, but as I hadn’t heard from her yet, I assumed she’d gotten too busy. I told her what my plan was, and by the time we’d hung up the phone, we’d agreed to go see the Alexander McQueen show at the Met instead. (It was about to close, and since has.) Ms. Sharma is among the most persuasive, persistent people I’ve come across, which I find amusing and endearing, and of course she brought me around to her way of thinking. There’s a lot to be said, in this world, for not taking no for an answer.
So off I headed, rolling my newly purchased travel bag, for the trip from Hudson Heights to the Upper East Side. A train to a train to a bus, in case you were wondering. As I crossed Fifth Avenue, the Metropolitan Museum in sight, I realized that our plan was likely to change. There must have been a thousand people lined up outside, snaking up and down the block. I’ll say this for New Yorkers, they take “culture” seriously, and I commend them for it. But my day was not playing out according to plan. Does it ever?
Expect the unexpected. It’s the perfect, oxymoronic cliché for New York. Of course it’s impossible to follow the advice, but when I lived in Brooklyn, it was a daily mantra. That, and “It’s always something.” You’re late for a big meeting? Plan on the subway car stopping in a tunnel for no reason. You forgot your umbrella one day, for the first time ever? Well, then, you know a Noreaster is imminent. Have two bucks in your pocket for slice of pizza? Well, of course that’s the day they they raise the price to $2.25. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love New York. It was a bitch for me to live there, but I love the place. I just accept that the city is an entity, like Godzilla, and she’s always in charge.
Back at the Met, I decided that since Manjari texted that she’d be late, I might as well get in line and see what the future would hold. My travel suitcase was new, and just a bit too big to fit in the overhead compartment, but looks a lot like a backpack. So there I was, rolling it two feet at a time, slowly shuffling along with everyone else, starting to get a bit excited to see a show that people were this gaga about. Moving. slowly. moving. slowly. Mind wandering. The sky looks pretty today. Why do those kebab carts always smell great and taste like crap? When’s Manjari going to get here?
After 25 minutes, I was starting to settle in. Getting comfortable with the idea that things would work out. Whammo. An authoritative, blue suit wearing, security guard type guy, who looked like an aristocratic Jason Statham, was walking down the street, towards me, and I happened to notice him. Without breaking stride, he looked at me and said, “We won’t let you in with that suitcase,” and just kept going. That was it. You can’t come in. Too bad. So sad. I was stunned. Where was I supposed to put my bag? They have a coat and bag check, so what’s the problem? My bag was too big, I suppose. I stood there a moment, and then continued to shuffle along with the line. Maybe he was bluffing, I thought. Maybe I can charm my way in.
I was deep in thought, trying to figure out a solution, when someone said, “Hey you, are you trying to cut in line? Where did you come from?” It was loud enough that it shook me from my reverie, and when I looked up, I found that some bald, tight t-shirt wearing dude was talking to me. “Excuse me?” I replied. “Are you trying to cut in line? I didn’t see you here,” he followed. “Listen, jerk,” I said, “I’ve been in this line for 25 minutes. What are you talking about?” “Ok, sorry,” he said. “Don’t take it personal. Calm down.” Just curious, but at any point in human history, has the advice “Calm down,” ever worked? So I started to mutter to myself, and then turned around to give him one more dirty look. “I said, don’t take it personal,” he shouted, and that was enough. It was clear I would not be seeing the Alexander McQueen show on that day.
So I went over to the steps to sit down and wait for Manjari. I started to laugh about the whole expect the unexpected thing, and put my head down to take some notes. Not ninety seconds later, out of nowhere, the sound of a capella, Motown music shocked me out of my thoughts. I looked up, and not five feet in front of me, at eye level, was a five piece band, belting out some great, old school stuff. Right in front of my face. And they weren’t there when I sat down. That’s why I love New York.
Manjari arrived shortly, and it took quite a bit of explaining on my part before she accepted that I would not be getting in to the Met that day. We spoke with several other guards, because as I mentioned, she’s not the type to take no for an answer. One guard even suggested that I take the bag up the street to the Guggenheim, as they might have more lax luggage restrictions. But alas, the Guggenheim is closed on Thursdays. Finally, I convinced Manjari to accompany me to MOMA, where I’d hoped to go anyway, and where we could get some food and catch up before seeing the Boris Mikhailov exhibition.
And that is where I morphed into Steve Kroft, walking and talking my way thirty blocks South, rollerbag in tow, and interviewing Ms. Sharma about her insanely successful Kickstarter project that recently met it’s funding goal. Earlier in the morning, she’d asked me to look at her Kickstarter page, in the hope that we might chat about it. I was blown away. I’ve been preaching to a friend for quite some time about the moment when photographers started to marry their creativity, 5d Mark II cameras, and ubiqutious broadband connections into the proper primordial soup for the birth of easy video. And that time has now come.
Manjari had posted a terrifically slick and approachable promotional video, speaking directly to the Kickstarter audience, explaining what she was trying to achieve as an artist, and why she needed help. You must see it. At the time, she told me it was in the process of going viral, with publicity from CNN, Wired, and NPR. It was easy to understand why. The video includes exposition, footage of Manjari at work in Mumbai, some terrific animation, and even a digital rendering of what her work will look like huge on the wall of a major museum. She discusses her heritage and spirituality candidly, and asks the audience to support her vision of making work. Not to buy the prints once they’re done, as the model has been for so long, but to actually fund the creation of the work beforehand. Of course, grants and fellowships have been around forever too, but this was definitely something new. Kickstarter has funded countless projects by now, but the video was the key difference here. It was just so well done. Ten years ago, I can’t imagine what the budget would have been for a three minute promo piece such as this.
She talked quickly, as we navigated the potholes and construction barriers, and made it clear that she was certain her project would fund. It was still early in the process, but she’d seen a $3000 jump (give or take) in just the previous day or so, as the viral sensation took off. People around the world were spanking their credit cards, through Amazon of course, because they wanted to see what these proposed photographs would look like. (And also for a small reward, depending on the funding level.) Ms. Sharma, who moved to the US for college in Columbus, Ohio, was originally from India. At present, she is trying to recreate important Hindu dieties as large scale photographs based upon live models. The process requires huge crews, and also a hefty travel budget to get back and forth to Mumbai multiple times. So she asked the digi-verse to help her raise $20,000, and I’m happy to report that she succeeded.
As I said before, the video was the key, as was her frank explanation within it. Fortunately, her husband is an illustrator, and another friend did the video editing. So she saved a ton of money on the production that way. I mentioned to her that not everyone would have that luxury, and Manjari pointed out that we all have our own networks and inherent advantages, and we have to work with what we’ve got. So if you don’t know any animators, skip the animation. But the reality is that a 5d Mark II can make as nice a video as anything else out there, and including motion and sound changes the experience of consuming media on the web. (If you don’t belive me, check out the Jörg Colberg video about the death of photography that made the rounds earlier this summer.)
Eventually, we made it to the Museum of Modern Art. While Manjari tried to talk her way into getting an artist membership, (successfully, of course,) I found myself hoping that this museum would take in my tired, weary traveler’s bones. As I approached the coat check, my heart sank at a sign outlawing luggage such as mine. But I decided to take Manjari as an inspiration, and see if I could twist some arms. I walked up to the window of a beautiful, young, smiling African-American coatcheck attendant. She looked down at my bag and frowned. Before she could say no, I begged, “Please, help. I have nowhere to stash my bag, and just walked 30 blocks from the Met because they wouldn’t let me in. Please.” With that, she smiled again. “Really,” she said, “they wouldn’t let you in at the Met?” “Really,” I assured her. ” And that was that. She empathized, bent the rules, and I was a happy man.
We had a nice lunch, but I’ll spare you the details. It’s not a food blog, after all, and I am not Tony Bourdain. (Under no circumstances will I ever eat an animal’s testicles. Ever.) But by then, after the Times, DC, and the debacle uptown, I was pretty tired. So rather than get a whole tour of the museum, I decided to save my remaining brain cells for the Boris Mikhailov show, which I was dying to see.
Let’s be clear from the start. This is probably the most transgressive, offensive group of photographs I’ve ever seen. I can imagine, now, how it must have felt the first time people saw some of Mapplethorpe’s more graphic fisting images on the wall. This collection of photographs eviscerates some of the biggest taboos I can imagine, and I loved it. I was neither offended, nor shocked, and that says a lot about the world in which we’re living. But I’ve got to assume that many people have been and will be offended by these pictures, (and whatever I write about them,) so quit reading here if you’re that type of viewer.
The photographs were made in the Ukraine in 1997-8. Just picture it. Boris Yeltsin was still in power, and was probably chugging 3 quarts of vodka a day by then. Vlad Putin was lurking, probably practicing his “I crush your head” move like that guy from Kids in the Hall. All the assets of the Communist empire were being grabbed, groped and auctioned off to the most connected Oligarchs: a tidal wave of Capitalist greed, organized crime type power, and pent up demand for Western baubles. (If you think I’m kidding, look at how Brooklyn’s favorite Oligarch, Mikhail Prokorov made his wealth. From acid wash jeans to investment banking to owning a secret resource mine in Siberia in no time.) That’s the backdrop in which these photographs were made, in a perfectly bleak little former Soviet town in winter. Seriously, do they even have summer in Russia?
As to the images, let me try to describe the premise. (As usual, I didn’t read the wall text until afterwards, but it’s pretty easy to put it together.) Mr. Mikhailov made the acquaintance and earned the trust of a group of quasi-homeless people in a certain locale. He hung around them as they did their thing, got to know their stories, one would imagine, as they navigated the local park, and whatever divey little shelter anyone could afford. And then he messed around with this sorry group of junkies, drop outs, and lunatics, doing his best to create the most ridiculously offensive poses anyone could fathom. I can’t believe he got these people to do this stuff, without offering up some crack or meth, but let’s suppose it never came to that.
The exhibition consisted of 17 photographs, somewhere in the range of 8 feet tall, pinned naked to the wall. Some were shown individually, some in groups of two, and there was one 5 image panel as well. Together, they tell the story of a group of people living in the bleakest, poorest conditions imaginable, all the while some artsy photographer dude poses them like cranked out rag dolls in a dystopian present. Fat old ladies hold up their shirts and pull down their pants, pimples asses here and there, scars abound, and black eyes too, shirts up pants down everywhere, one crazy dude wields an axe, and everywhere are ugly naked body parts that you never thought you’d want to see. And you don’t want to see it, of course. It’s not pleasant. But it is brilliant, at least in this man’s opinion.
What’s that old saying, in the world of the blind the one-eyed man is king? Something like that, right? Well along those lines, art made about a chaotic, miserable, nihilistic violent time, made in a chaotic, miserable, nihilistic violent place cannot be both authentic and soft cuddly beautiful, right? If it’s going to capture the essence of something terrible, it kind of has to sink down into the muck to be relevant, right? Well, if you’ve answered yes to those questions, then go see this show before it closes on September 5th. And you’ll thank me.
If you answered no, but have a strong stomach, you should probably still go see this show. You just might not like it. Is is exploitative? Absolutely. Almost perfectly so. Is it degrading? Hell yes. But how different is it than the milliions of photos of pretty naked Eastern European girls that swim around the cyberweb each day. Not to mention the countless girls from this region that are sold into sexual slavery. And that’s today. These photos were made almost 15 years ago, which in my book makes them prescient.
As I was looking, again, it was easy to see that these photos were not straight documents. The poses were often classical, which does not happen by accident. And the use of color was fantastic. Often in the form of a plastic bag placed just so. Or in the repeating theme of “red eye,” which here brings in color and the reference to the snapshot aesthetic at the same time. Amazing.
Ultimately, what I most appreciated was the gaze of the subjects into the camera. The look that they gave Mikhailov, and by extension, me, the viewer. It was clear, I thought. “What, you want my dignity? Here. Take it. I don’t need it anyway. It’s worthless to me. What, you think you can humiliate me? Impossible. It can’t be done. Because there is a sea of cold infinity at my core, and it’s stronger than your camera, or my purported government, or even the paint thinner that I huffed this morning. Fuck you.”
And that was that. I tried to look at the permanent installation show, but my mind was shot. So I reclaimed my bag from the saint of a girl downstairs, and headed out into the innocent madness of the City. Off to Penn Station, rolling along, and then a train to New Jersey, chugging along, for a nice evening with my nice relatives. Who never, not for a moment, suspected I had such twisted, horrific photographs backstroking through my brain.
‘Most of the photographs in your paper, unless they are hard news, are lies,” says Martin Parr. “Fashion pictures show people looking glamorous. Travel pictures show a place looking at its best, nothing to do with the reality. In the cookery pages, the food always looks amazing, right? Most of the pictures we consume are propaganda.”
— Martin Parr
When I give my Social Media Marketing talk to photographers I like to break up all the talk about blogging and tweeting with an example of a good old fashion newsletter. Because, as much as things change they remain the same… meaning, a blog or series of tweets or concerted effort to post things on facebook is no different than producing a newsletter to attract potential customers and win fans for your work. I use Michael Clark as my example, because in this soured economy his success continues to grow and he churns out a good old fashioned newsletter as part of his marketing efforts.
APE: Give me a history of the Newsletter: How did it start, how has it evolved and where is it now?
Michael: I created the “Michael Clark Photography” Newsletter over ten years ago in the Fall of 2000. In its early form it was a one-page, front and back sheet that was printed and sent out to a select group of photo buyers and art directors. I printed about 200 copies and sent them out quarterly to photo editors that I worked with or wanted to work with. The newsletter included updates on recent clients and assignments, equipment reviews, an editorial or two and, of course, samples of my latest work. At that point in my career a lot of the photo editors I worked with were also avid photographers so I decided the equipment reviews might entice them to actually read the newsletter. Looking back, I will say that those early issues of the newsletter were pretty rough looking compared to how it looks now.
I created the newsletter initially as a marketing tool. I was looking for another way to keep my name in front of photo editors and art buyers in addition to my other marketing efforts. I got the idea of the newsletter from the Bulletin sent out by the ASMP. At that time lots of businesses sent out Newsletters and it seemed like a good way to offer something more than just a postcard. And the response was great from the get-go. I had editors calling me every time they got the newsletter asking for certain images or just calling to talk about my latest gear review. Either way, it allowed me to create a relationship with a lot of photo editors.
In the fall of 2004, I started playing around with Adobe InDesign and realized that it would allow me to expand the newsletter and send it out as a PDF via email with no printing costs. And because it was a PDF I could send it out to a much larger audience without any additional expense. This new PDF version still had the same types of articles as the printed version but I was able to expand and enhance those articles because with the PDF, I pretty much had unlimited space. The PDF version of the newsletter includes editorials, updates on recent clients and assignments, greatly expanded equipment reviews, a portfolio section, digital post-processing tips, feature articles on recent assignments and a lot of images. It is basically a PDF magazine that runs anywhere from 15 to 30 pages depending on the content – and how much time I have to put it together.
After I started sending out the first few copies of the new PDF version, I realized that I should offer it for free on my website and let people subscribe to the newsletter via a mailing list. Little did I know then that so many people would be interested in what I had to say. I suppose a big part of the draw for the newsletter was the equipment reviews. Early on, I got a lot of emails with questions about gear and I thought I could nip those in the bud by giving an unbiased professional opinion on the gear that I use and abuse. It proved to be quite popular, especially among amateur photographers, and it has led to a number of sponsorships with distributors of imaging software and photo equipment.
It takes a lot of work to put together. At a minimum, it takes about four days of solid work to lay it out and write the articles. I certainly wouldn’t say I am a great writer but I can get the point across and I am efficient.
One of the other great things about the newsletter is that it is unique – and that counts for a lot. I have seen a few other photographers try to copy it but they usually give up on the concept after a few issues when they realize how much work it takes. I don’t know of any other photographer out there producing anything like this. I also realized a few years ago that creating a following for my work was very valuable – and the newsletter allows me to create that following and tap into it as well. I can advertise e-books, workshops and market my work to would-be clients all at the same time. And since the newsletters are linked to my website they are great for SEO (search engine optimization) because they all show up in searches on Google.
The newsletter now goes out to over 6,000 photo editors, art buyers and both amateur and professional photographers around the world. It has led to numerous assignments, sponsorship deals and other great career opportunities. My first big break, a major assignment with Adobe, was a direct result of the newsletter, as was my first published book. The editors at Lark Books got a great sense of my writing style via the newsletter and approached me to write a book for them. That book, Adventure Photography: Capturing the World of Outdoor Sports, was published in December 2009. I am currently working on a third book which closely resembles the newsletter in style and content. In fact, I’d say if it wasn’t for the fact that the newsletter gets me work pretty much every time I send it out, I would have stopped producing it years ago. It is an insane amount of work.
The newsletter has been and continues to be the best form of marketing I have ever done. I wouldn’t be where I am today in my career without it.
A PDF newsletter seems so old fashioned. I’m sure you have your reasons for continuing the format, can you tell us why?
These days the PDF newsletter is old fashioned. I’ll give you that. Back when I started sending out the PDF version in 2004 it was a pretty wild idea and people sat up and took notice. Maybe it isn’t the most cutting edge publication now, but the reason I stick with the PDF format is that it allows me to control how the viewer sees my work and the content. I can control the layout, the fonts, how the images are presented and their resolution. It looks like a magazine and even though it is a simple PDF document, I think it is well laid out and graphically pleasing. It is something people will remember and that is half the battle when it comes to a marketing tool.
You told me you are having your busiest year ever, can you attribute this directly to the Newsletter? Can you help us understand why clients respond to this over traditional marketing?
Yes, I am having my busiest year ever right now. And before this year, last year was my busiest year ever. It just keeps getting better and better. I’m not sure I can say this year’s or last year’s success is a direct result of the newsletter. The newsletter is just one piece of my overall marketing strategy. I think my success this year is a result of 15 years of really hard work, having a book published last year, making an effort to show my portfolio around and continuing to reinforce all of my other marketing with the newsletter. However it has come together, I feel really blessed because there are still so many people struggling out there in this economy.
I think clients respond to the newsletter because they remember it, and as a result, they remember my work. I once wrote an editorial about “Finding Inspiration” and one of the people I worked with at a major software company told me he quit his job after reading that article to go do what he really wanted to do. I strive to discuss and talk about current events in the industry that are timely and relevant. And, as in the case with my editorial on “Finding Inspiration,” every once in a while I really connect with a reader.
Do you do traditional marketing in addition to the newsletter?
Yes, I do a lot of traditional marketing. I send out e-promos every six weeks or so and postcards every now and then (but not as often as I should). I have a blog. I go in and meet with clients as often as possible and set up portfolio reviews. And I send out the newsletter four times a year. I also write for two other blog sites: Pixiq and Outdoor Photographer Magazine.
This is still a tough profession to make a living in so I think we have to do everything we can to get our name out there and market ourselves and our work. After all, it isn’t just our work we are marketing, it is ourselves. We are the product just as much as our work is. Are we easy to deal with? Can we come through with the goods? Are we professional? Those are all part of the equation, and the newsletter serves as a good reminder to clients that I am professional and will come through with the goods when they give me an assignment because they can read about my latest assignments and see the images I produced.
I see you’ve got some instructional e-books and you are leading workshops. Is education a significant part of your business model? Do you think it should be a part of most pro photographers business models?
Education makes up about 20% of my income these days. I teach anywhere from four to six workshops each year. The workshops range from two-day Lightroom workshops to week-long Adventure Photography workshops at the Santa Fe Workshops and the Maine Media Workshops (I’ll be teaching in Maine later this month). I also do a few workshops in tandem with other photographers like the Surfing Photography workshop I’ll be teaching in January 2012 with my good buddy Brian Bielmann, who is one of the world’s top surfing photographers. Teaching workshops is rewarding, tough and exhausting but I always learn from them and it is a burgeoning business for photographers.
I’m not sure I would say teaching or education should be a part of every photographer’s business model. It depends if you enjoy it and are good at it. I will admit that teaching workshops can be quite draining. It isn’t for everyone. These days there is a lot of competition in the photography workshop business. It seems like everybody and their dog is teaching a workshop and rightly so, because there are thousands of amateur photographers out there craving knowledge and yearning to further their skills. And there is a lot of money to be made in workshops, especially if you are a big name photographer who enjoys teaching and can attract students on a regular basis.
My e-book, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom: A Professional Photographer’s Workflow, lays out my entire digital workflow from in the camera to delivering the final images to the client. It has been wildly popular and I don’t think there is any other book like it on the market. I wrote it after working on assignment with Adobe. I am still a beta tester for them (and teach workshops on Lightroom) and that really helps me to keep my workflow dialed. I got the idea for the e-book from my newsletter and through teaching workshops. In a workshop, it is nice to be able to give the students some materials, and early on I simply outlined my digital workflow and handed it out as a Microsoft Word file. The e-book grew out of that and is in its fourth edition. Each edition was massively expanded and adapted to the new software and post-processing techniques and for $24.95, it is heck of a lot cheaper than a workshop.
As you can see, my business model is very diversified. I think this is also a big reason things have been going so well the last few years. I learned early on not to trust any one single source of income. Hence, I do a little bit of everything: commercial assignments, editorial assignments, stock photography, books, e-books, fine art prints and whatever else comes my way. I am still predominantly an assignment photographer but all of the other income streams ad up significantly .
Do you have any advice for photographers looking to create unique ways to market themselves?
I did a presentation for the ASMP New Mexico chapter here earlier this year about “Staying Relevant in the Current Economy.” In that presentation I spoke about a number of topics that I think are key to marketing yourself effectively including creating unique images, perfecting your craft, being professional and making sure your marketing and branding are up to snuff. None of those topics are revolutionary by any means, but I do think that we greatly underestimate just how important it is to create unique images right now. If you have something different from the rest of the pack then you’ll go far in this industry. As a photographer I realize it is easy enough to say, “Just go out there and create unique images,” but the reality is that creating something unique and different is really hard.
In that presentation, I also spoke about building a following. This idea isn’t new but it also isn’t obvious. In this world of social media we can now connect with people around the world and share our work, get feedback and talk about the work via a blog, Flickr or any number of avenues. Right now, I think it is very important for professional photographers to build up a group of people that follow your work. Doing so helps when you need to fill up a workshop, market an e-book or a regular book, or even for an assignment. The workshops idea is pretty obvious. If you have a following of amateur or pro photographers that want to learn from you and you have a means of connecting with them and marketing to them then you’ll be able to fill up workshops easily. A good example of this is Joe McNally. The guy is killing it on the workshops front. Another good example, perhaps less well known, is Andy Biggs. He fills his very expensive safari-style workshops routinely and his clients come back thrilled with the experience.
Having 6,000 people on my mailing list is helpful when I need to market an updated version of my e-book. It also comes in handy when a publisher approaches me to write a book because they know that I have a following that might be interested in the end product and I have a marketing vehicle (the newsletter) to get the word out – and it doesn’t cost them anything. By choosing a photographer with a following, the client already has built in marketing. This is what Chase Jarvis has done so well. Some clients come to him because they want to tap into the huge number of photo enthusiasts that follow his blog. He has even done the marketing for the companies while he is on assignment by posting the behind the scenes details of a multi-day shoot as it is happening. How much is that worth to a client? If you have a following like Chase does then that is obviously huge.
Of course, having a group of people follow your work isn’t a guarantee of any kind. People make up their own minds if they are interested in something or not. You have to provide something that is interesting and valuable to them. Marketing to this group and offering them quality information and services that they want is the key. They get valuable information; you get to make a little extra money. Amazingly, once you create a following, doors start to open and new marketing opportunities will pop up that never would have or could have otherwise – and this is the real reason to create that following.
Now, the reality is this is a long-term process. You don’t just go out and build a following. You have to offer up solid information or something that people want for a few years or more.
In the end, I don’t think there are any real secrets in this business. There is no magic bullet. It all comes down to hard work and really, really wanting to “make it” happen. I still think one of the best forms of marketing these days is meeting with art buyers and photo editors in person for a portfolio review – if you can get a meeting set up. I think I got very lucky with the newsletter. I didn’t know it would become such a great marketing tool when I started it. Early on I just had more time than money and it was a good way to promote my work. Now, I have to make time for it. Because the newsletter is a very ‘unique’ marketing tool it not only gets me work but it also helps me to get in and set up meetings with art buyers that I want to work with. It is just one part of my marketing effort that helps support the rest of the effort.
If you would like to check out the newsletter you can download the latest issue at:
Also, if you are interested in reading more you can download back issues of the newsletter at:
And finally if you would like to subscribe to the newsletter please send an email to Michael at email@example.com.
[Larry] Price, who has served as the director of photography for the Dayton Daily News — the largest daily newspaper in the region — on Aug. 29 surrendered his job in a rare move of self sacrifice. Only three days earlier, Price was asked by management to lay off up to half of the paper’s photographers, a move he simply couldn’t support.
“It didn’t take me long to make the decision. Before I turned out the lights Friday, I knew I couldn’t go through with it,” Price said.
via Dayton Business Journal thx, David B.
( click images to make bigger )
Editor: Mark Jordan
Senior Art Director: Paul Duarte
Digital Prepress Director: Wes Ducan
Photographer: Devon Balet
Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted.
Heidi: Where were you to get the opening shot?
Devon: The article was featured in Decline Magazine from a recent trip to Chatel France. The opening shot was taken from the take off of this dirt step up to step down feature. It was really hard because there wasn’t much room to stand. I had about one square foot and I was right on the edge about 15 feet off the ground. I used the live view feature and held the camera above and behind me slightly. I did have to be a bit of a jerk to some other photogs that wanted to squeeze in with me, in the end I am glad I did it.
Is it hard to get access for the shots you want?
It can be extremely difficult. Sometimes I wish I had a Go-Go Gadget pack to float in the air and get to where ever I want. At big events like this one you are always battling it out with other photographers to get the angle and a clean view. I am always amused by course marshals yelling at me to be careful. After eight years of doing this professionally, I have yet to be hit by a rider. Key word, yet.
How do you edit for the drop sequence?
I used PS to morph that shot, a pretty simple technique. You open all the individual images in PS as layers, this stacks all the images onto one file. From there you use the Align feature, this evaluates all the images and lines them up perfectly for you. Once the files are all lined up, you simply mask away parts of each layer to leave you with the sequence. This is a super fast way to line up sequences.
How much of a rider to do have to be to do this kind of work?
That is a matter of opinion I would say. Myself, the one thing I do just as much as photograph is ride bikes. I recently shot for a week at the Breck Epic, a six day mountain bike race in Breckenridge Colorado. I pride myself in putting forth extra effort to get far out on course. I found myself putting in anywhere between 5-20 miles with a fully loaded camera bag every day. One of the days I hiked to 12,460 feet to get photos of riders topping out Wheeler Pass. The racers were always surprised to see me, especially twice a day in different locations.
What is the heaviest your gear pack has been while on your bike?
Way to heavy! I have never actually weight it, which I should do. There as been times that my pack has been well over 40lbs. One year shooting the Red Bull Rampage I was assisting Ian Hylands and was carrying my own camera bag and a second for him. Still trying to find a photo of myself with a pack on my back and front. I will regularly go on trail rides with a 25-30lbs pack. I am always blown away by how well I ride with no pack.
When I first saw Massimo Gammacurta’s Lollipop project I knew he had a hit on his hands. 2 years later I wanted to know how a great personal project translates into paying jobs.
APE: Ok, take me back to the beginning. When did you create the lollipop project and what was the process for creating and photographing them?
Massimo: Two years ago I had this idea about making some lollipops shaped like fashion logos. I was intrigued by the possibility of “eating fashion”. When you eat food it goes into your blood, into your system and I felt that it would have been intriguing to make an edible Gucci or a Chanel lollipop. Also, the other idea was about oral fixation, “suck fashion” or it could have easily been…”fashion sucks”. Once I had the idea, then I had to deal with the process of making it. I had to learn how to make hardball candy from scratch and also how to make the molds. It wasn’t easy at all but I felt like I had to do it myself.
Can you tell me more about the process for making the candy and molds? You don’t have to give me any secrets.
I never made hard candy and it is a very volatile media. I had to heat the sugar at 300 degrees and it becomes as hot as lava, is very dangerous and it dries very fast. What makes this pieces unique is the fact that are “sloppy”. All the details work that happens after the base mold is done is what makes them interesting. I played with humidity, double dipping splashing it and ever chill blasting this pieces so they can crack internally. Believe it or not the hardest thing to do was to carry them into the studio. They are lollipop size and they are extremely fragile and i lost many just by carrying them into the studio.
What did you think would happen once you started promoting the project?
I didn’t promote it at all. I just uploaded on my site and I forgot about it for like 2 or 3 days,
Then what happened?
Someone must have seen the images on my site and started tweeting and blogging about them. I woke up one morning and I had 5000 entries on my website in one night and I couldn’t understand why. So I googled my name and the lollipops were all over the internet. Basically it started a chain reaction and I was all over the web.
Tell me about the brands you used, there was some negative reaction at first wasn’t there?
Actually the 1st email I got about this was from a store in Tokyo that wanted to order 5000 lollipops, they wanted to sell them for 12 dollars a piece. Also, I had a lot of legal firms from all over the world checking my site out but nothing really happened apart from a letter from a big fashion group that advised me to stop using their logo. We later talked to them and once I explained that it wasn’t my intention to mass produce these candies and they stop bothering me.
Tell me about the book. How did that come about and what was the result of that?
I really loved the 4 original lollipops I made and I thought it would have been cool if I could make a lollipop book of all the logos I liked. It took me a year but in the end I made and shot 50 pieces and started to send it to publishing houses until I found one (BIS publishing) that gave me a book deal and printed my book.
Now, tell me about the payoff, what jobs came because of it?
The Lolli-Pop project made a lot of noise on the internet and helped me tremendously in promoting my photography business. I shot a candy number story for Wired Magazine, started to shoot major catalogues and editorials and recently I just shot a campaign in which I used all my fine arts techniques and ideas in a commercial shoot.
Was’t there a point when you wondered if it would just make noise on the internet and not result in any paying jobs? How long was it between when you first created the project and the jobs came in because of it?
Yes it took more than a year. I think that many people thought that these were either photoshop or CGI generated. Also some were under the impression that i bought it somewhere and asked where to find them or even thought i was some kind of candy factory producing these myself. It became hysterical and frustrating at the same time. I think when Wired commissioned me the candy numbers is when people started to take notice. After that i would go into meetings with my books and a lot of people in the business knew about the “fashion lollipops”.
And finally I understand Chanel just bought some prints, but wasn’t a lawsuit a possibility at one point?
Yes, but once we explained to them that these were not mass produced pieces but art, they stopped. I’ve already sold a few prints through my gallery in Paris (http://www.visionairsgallery.com), but when Chanel approached me about a month ago to buy 2 prints for their permanent art collection I felt for the first time that this idea had come full circle and the originality of the concept had finally paid off.