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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
[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.
Schaefer had barely added the orange-and-yellow depiction of fire shooting from the roof of a Chase Bank branch when police rolled up to the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Sylvan Street on July 30. “They told me that somebody had called and said they felt threatened by my painting,” Schaefer said. “They said they had to find out my intention. They asked if I was a terrorist and was I going to follow through and do what I was painting.”
via latimes.com. thx, charles
Heidi: The content for the health service magazine relies heavily on the art. How do you keep coming up with fresh ideas for the same stories?
Sarah: That’s one of the biggest challenges. We really work as a team on our art and photography. We also look to photographers to come up with creative, fresh ideas when we feel like we’ve hit a wall. But honestly, coming up with fresh ideas is one of the highlights of the job.
Are you part of the early editorial process?
Yes, I’m usually at the early planning meetings, along with my design director, Theresa Griggs, and we’ll shout and scream when we think the visuals are going to be amazing.
How much outdoor shooting do you do in L.A. during the winter, since you are on the East Coast?
We shoot a lot of our fitness features in L.A. or Florida during the winter months.
I saw that James White shot the cover for Men’s Health and your cover. How much crossover is there between the titles? Do you collaborate much?
Brenda Milis, the Men’s Health photo director, and I always enjoy working together. It’s fun to collaborate on a project for both magazines. Last year, we did joint covers with stars from the Twilight movies. We had Ashley Greene on our cover, and Men’s Health had Kellan Lutz. And each magazine used both stars for their fashion stories—Greene starred in the Women’s Health story, while Lutz starred in Men’s Health’s.
Are you looking for beauty photographers as well as fitness ones?
Yes, I love beauty photography. For example, I’m a huge fan of Donna Trope, who has shot for the magazine a few times. I like for our beauty photography to have a little humor or be a bit cheeky and not just be straight beauty, if it works for the story.
What resources do you use to find new talent besides e-mail and mail promos?
I look at ad campaigns, look books, Le Book creative, and portfolio reviews at schools. I love the way New York magazine found Danny Kim at a portfolio review. And just think about how many more talented people are out there! Also, I try to go to the current photo shows at the museums and galleries to get inspiration.
How much stock are you running?
I would say we run about 30 percent stock.
How often do you open e-mail promos, or is that relegated to other staff?
I always look at promos. But my staff is great about telling me when they see or meet someone they like.
If I want to shoot for you, what’s the best way to get your attention?
The best way is to e-mail me a few favorite shots and a link to an easy-to-navigate website. I’d much prefer an e-mail over a cold call.
Moreover, changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw. The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.
via Universal Hub.
Lately the pace of magazines announcing the folding of their ink on paper editions while continuing to publish on-line has increased. To those folks I have three words: YOU ARE DEAD. There is no ifs or buts about it. YOU ARE DEAD. Any magazine, that existed in ink on paper, and cannot survive in its original medium is DEAD.
via Mr. Magazine.
This new book titled Free Ride by Robert Levine a former features editor for Wired looks to be a must read for content creators. The book is currently available in the UK and goes on sale in the US onOctober 25th. Copyhype has a review of the book (here). What’s interesting and completely obvious once you start thinking about it, is this narrative about copyright being broken:
A conventional narrative has emerged of the media and creative industries’ response to the internet and digital technology. Beginning around the mid-1990s, this story has been one of old against new: stodgy, corporate executives holding on to the past versus hip digital natives embracing the future. These technologies have rendered copyright law broken according to this story; existing media industries have failed to take advantage of these innovations, relying instead on using the law to prop up their dying business models. They have failed to adapt and sued those who have.
is nothing more than “a fight between the people who make money under the old system and the people who might make money in the new system.” Simple, right. As much as technology pioneers want us to believe that information wants to be free and that free is the “The Future of a Radical Price” the bottom line here is someone wants to make a buck that someone else is currently making.
The ideology of copyright critics masks nothing more than a simple economic struggle between existing content producers and emerging content distributors. As Levine points out in an interview at last June’s World Copyright Summit, despite all the high-minded academic arguments of the copyleft, no one has so far acted contrary to their economic self-interest.
I like this quote from Jaron Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget) on the Amazon site:
“This book thoroughly documents a wide-spread outbreak of cyber amnesia. Despite libertarian delusions, industries often get Free Rides, especially in their early days, but they eventually give back. Taxpayers build roads, then get hired to build cars. The Internet gives back a lot in exchange for its Free Ride, but one thing it defiantly isn’t giving back is a way for enough people to make a living. No matter how amusing or addictive the Internet becomes, its foundation will crumble unless it starts returning the favors it was given and still depends on.”
Will the internet ever give back? I think so. I’ve experienced it in my own tiny ecosystem.
Are you an aspiring fashion photographer who shoots tests of teen models for agencies? Do you work with fringe magazines that like to publish shocking pictures? Do you put Budweisers in their hands as props? What about having them ride a motorcycle in California without a helmet? How about scantily clothed? What about sexually suggestive poses? And do you do all this while the parents are watching and the agency says it’s cool thinking they will have your back down the road? If so, read this cautionary tale as the parents of a hot young fashion model have sued photographer Jason Lee Parry (and 3 clothing companies) for twenty eight million dollars.
The original source of their outrage is the appearance of images taken by the photographer of their then 15 year old daughter on t-shirts and other clothing from 3 different companies: Brandy and Melville, Blood Is The New Black and Urban Outfitters. The parents have hired Edward C. Greenberg to file a lawsuit against the photographer and clothing companies and in the letter to all of them (download it here) he hits the photographer like a freight train full of bricks claiming “this case appears to be literally ‘one for the books'” because of the photographers “reckless disregard of any/all applicable laws.” Oh, and according to Greenberg there is no signed model release. The very last page of that document is an email back to the lawyer where the photographer says he did not get a model release because it was a test/editorial and he thought the agency had it. He aslo admits knowing about the images going on the t-shirts and trying to negotiate a deal with the modeling agency but never hearing back from them.
In the 66 page court filing (download it here) Greenberg claims perry posed her in a sexual manner, gave her Budweisers (a crime in the state of CA), had her ride a motorcycle without a helmet (a violation of CA vehicle code) and gave or sold images for apparel that are offensive and libelous all without a model release.
Many photographers have images on their websites and in their promotional material that are not model released and while most people wouldn’t allow those images to be used commercially there’s the possibility that it could be stolen and end up on a t-shirt somewhere and you could be receiving a letter like the one Jason did.
thx to Dude for the court docs.
Within… a deadly battle ensued for years, killing me softly until all that was left was photography… This is the simplest way to describe the journey, when it was over I was a stranger to my past. Photography is irrelevant and over saturated, that to be sure. Unless we are able to control it and shape it, give it life, give it spirit and soul. That is when we have found our vision…
Not all copying results in copyright infringement.
One might have hoped that [plaintiff’s] attorneys, presumably familiar with the basic tenets of copyright and intellectual property law, would have recognized the futility of this action before embarking on a long, costly, and ultimately wasteful course of litigation in a court of law.
via PDN Pulse.
I visited Washington, DC earlier this month to drop off a portfolio of my photo project, “The Value of a Dolllar,” at the Library of Congress. They acquired it a couple of months ago, and due to a busy schedule and some production difficulties, (inks dry up like mad in New Mexico’s 10% humidity), I hadn’t gotten the work to them yet. As it happened, by the time I was ready to drop it off with the local Taos fedex guys, I’d already booked a short trip back to NYC for some meetings. I was planning to spend one day at the Jersey Shore with my family, playing mini-golf and ogling the hotties, but I realized that if I shifted things around, I could take the train down to DC to deliver the work in person. Good call.
I hopped on a morning Amtrak from Penn Station in early August, well-caffeinated, and watched the I-95 corridor fly by while I worked on my laptop. Lots of trees, in case you were wondering. It was a breeze of a trip, and all was well until I hopped into a cab in the warm drizzle outside DC’s Union Station. I figured all I had do was say, “Library of Congress, please,” like some character in a John Grisham flick. Maybe the cabbie’s name would be Smitty. Then, the acerbic, stogie-smoking driver, would say, “You got it, Mister. We’ll be there in a jiffy, ” and off we would go. What he said in real life was, “Which building?” I stammered, “Are you joking?,” looked around for the hidden camera, slowly realized he was serious, then fumbled around my bag for anything resembling a specific address. Awesome. Ultimately, we figured it out, but not before I ended up looking like a complete tool.
I made it to the Madison Building in time, barely, and found myself face to face with a metal detector and a sign that said PLACE ALL BELONGINGS IN THE GRAY TUB. Looking around, ever the observant photographer, I saw no grey tubs. When I asked the security guard about it, he laughed at my naiveté, and said, “We don’t have those anymore.” Oh. Right. Because America’s broke. Sure. So I hopped in an elevator to the third floor, and began the long march to the Prints and Photographs division. I’d been hauling the portfolio box, by hand, from Taos to Albuquerque to Houston to Newark to New York to DC, so by that point, I just wanted the freaking thing out of my possession. But this being a public building, and a monumentally huge one at that, the halls just kept going. And going. All that florescent lighting. Makes me sleepy just thinking about it.
Thankfully, I arrived on time, and after the gruff lady at the front desk called back to the office, I was assured they’d take the portfolio off my hands in a few minutes. I was there to meet with Verna Curtis, the curator who led the acquisition team. While waiting, I peeked around a bit, and was surprised to find that it looks and functions kind of like…a library. Big shock, right? For those of you who don’t know, the entire collection is accessible to the public. There are rules, of course, but if followed, anyone can come in and “check out” vintage or contemporary prints from the collection, for research, or the simple pleasure of looking. Unlike a museum, which puts work on the wall for the masses, or tucks it away in the archives forever, this is a totally different viewing experience. Designed to be personal. Kind of refreshing.
Ms. Curtis arrived shortly, and led me back to the Vault. I dropped the box down theatrically, glad it was no longer mine to obsess about. Of course, there was a big bucket of white gloves right there, this being an archive, so I showed her the prints, along with her colleague Carol Johnson. Afterwards, I felt a surge of relief when Ms Curtis wheeled the box away in a pushcart. Forever. Business complete, I turned to a stack of photographs on the table. Ms. Curtis, Ms. Johnson, and another colleague, Beverly Brannan, had chosen a few pieces from the collection they thought I might like to see. Very thoughtful. As we began discussing the prints, and the collection in general, I started to take a bunch of notes, and before I knew it, we were doing an impromptu interview for you, the APE audience. Perhaps they’ll make a real journalist of me yet.
Together, the three curators enlightened me about how the institution works. I was honest, and admitted that despite the honor of now being included in the collection, I was kind of ignorant as to it’s mission and function. It seemed the better course than trying to fake it with in a room full of experts. They graciously explained that the collection began as Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, which was given to Congress in 1802. (Way to go, T-Jeff.) The original building was torched by the British in the War of 1812, and a new building was erected in 1898. (Hence the Jefferson building, right across the street)
So the Library was given to Congress, which is responsible for funding, and it has a mission to serve the members of Congress as well. The ladies explained that their goal, as curators, is to identify pressing political and social issues within American culture, almost like cultural anthropologists, and then to collect artwork that reflects those issues. I’m not sure any other curatorial team has the same mandate. At first, the work represents the Zeitgeist of the present, and then it slowly seeps into history. They said that in the late 80’s/early 90’s, they collected work about AIDS, and then of course 9/11 as well. In order to acquire my project, they first had to agree that food was a subject worthy of attention. Body issues, which they described as relating to obesity, aging, youth, Anorexia and Bulimia, is another issue that is currently the focus of collection.
Ms Curtis explained that beyond the grand topic, they seek work that delivers “subject, content and execution.” They’re interested in photographs that, “are not entirely illustrative and documentary, but have artistic merit as well…where the subject is key to our time.” It was also explained that members of Congress are meant to come by to look at work to help them get a better understanding of particular issues. Which sounds pretty cool in theory. But when I mentioned that to my friend Andreas at lunch, he laughed and conjured the visual of Mitch McConnell taking a break out of his busy day to look at some… Ah-rt. I do love me some, Ah-rt. Especially them velvet Elvises. Well played, Andreas.
Back to the Vault. The curators had brought out three groups of work for me to see. The first, by an artist Robert Coppola, was a series of small-scale injket prints of tobacco farms in Connecticut that were presented in a cigar box. It was a one of a kind object, and had a poetic feel to it. We also looked at a few gorgeous gelatin silver prints by Graciela Iturbide, which were a gift from the Mexican government back in 1998. Iturbe’s prints were striking, in a high-contrast, agressive sort of way. One image, which I’d seen reproduced before, was of an Indigenous woman tearing apart an animal in a market, a knife stuck between her teeth. Another, which I really loved, depicted an Indigenous woman, seen from behind, walking alone through the low mountains of the Sonoran desert, holding a Boom Box. Awesome. Fab Five Freddy would be proud. The entire scene looked like it could have taken place three hundred years ago, save for that one fantastic temporal reference.
The curators also mentioned that they believe it’s important for the Library of Congress to be relevant in the 21st Century. Many people see it as a dusty part of history, I was told, which is not a fair assessment of the living, evolving institution. They pointed out that the LoC was the first major archive to have a Flickr page, and that countless historical images have been tagged by the populace, crowd-sourcing elements of American history. They also have the entire 170,000 FSA archive accessible online, as they started the scanning process 15 years ago. They’re currently working with a new group of photographers and writers, Facing Change, to create a contemporary version of the FSA collection.
We finished up our visit looking at a few newly-acquired prints by Jen Davis, who uses herself as a subject of self-portraiture. I’ll be as careful as a I can with my language here, as Ms. Davis is a larger woman who uses her self-portraiture as a way of looking at the aforementioned “Body Issues.” It would be condescending to call the photographs brave, but clearly we’re not used to seeing self-portraits of people who look like Ms. Davis. If I had a dollar for every 20-something cutie that takes naked pictures of herself, I’d buy lunch for everyone reading this. But of course that’s the point. Since she’s an intelligent and talented artist, Ms. Davis is capable of making images that are delicate and subtle as they plumb a variety of themes related to being big in a world obsessed with unrealistic visions of retouched beauty. (I think everyone can relate. I certainly felt self-conscious on the beach in SoCal last month next to all those bronzed, slab-shouldered surfers with hair like Farrah Fawcett. Yes, I mean the guys…)
In one photo, Ms. Davis is at the beach with some friends, well-covered, sitting on a beach towel with an attractive friend in a bikini. Uncomfortable. In another, she’s in line, her back turned, at a hamburger stand at a State Fair or carnival. Corndog, anyone? Churro? Finally, I saw a print of Ms. Davis, slightly turned away, eating a pint of Haagen Dazs ice cream, like a secret, shameful midnight snack. All the prints were about 20×30, and powerful at scale. Anyone who’s read my previous articles knows I can be liberal with criticism, and prone to verbosity, but this work is hard to talk about. And given that the issues themselves are difficult to discuss in a country with an Obesity and Diabetes epidemic, I think Ms. Davis’ work succeeds on both the literal and metaphorical level. Great stuff.
From there, I took my leave, and trundled down the eternally long hallway to the exit. I stopped to give a shout out to the statue of James Madison, (What up, J-Mad? How YOU doin’?) read a few of his inspirational quotes on the wall, and then headed out into the city. I hadn’t been to this part of DC since I was a child, so it was like visiting for the first time. Lots of big white Classical buildings with ornate sculptures on top, and plenty of quotes incised on the structures as well. Some serious early 19th Century power architecture. I can see the thought process. Hey guys, let’s build a bunch of big, expensive buildings like the Greeks and Romans did, and people will know we’re a real country. Kind of like the Chinese are doing today with the Shanghai skyline. Expect now it’s the future, man.
I walked across the Mall, basically a long, narrow park with duck pond, and headed up the street to the National Gallery of Art, where I spent the rest of my day. I’ve gone on record, several times, discussing how much I love the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Hard as it is for me to fathom, the National Gallery is pretty close to it’s equal. And it’s free. That’s right. Free. You walk in, let the dude at the front look into your purse (or manbag), and then he says “Have a nice day.” That’s it. No money changes hands. How cool is that? Better check it out soon, as our broke-as-a-joke status as a nation will probably mean they start charging for this stuff any day now. As to the art, it’s indescribably good. (Yeah, tough adjective from a guy who’s trying to describe things.)
First thing to share: the museum is huge. Two-separate-buildings-with-an-underground-tunnel-in-between kind of huge. It’s the sort of place where you stare at the map for a few minutes, then say “Fuck it” and just wander around. So rather than trying to share my non-linear, Pacman like wanderings, I’ll just give some highlights. And there were many, as the collection of work on display here is truly remarkable. All you East Coast peoples, pay attention. Take a day and go visit. As long as your Amtrak doesn’t break down, which of course mine did on the way home, (more later) it will be an easy day, well worth it.
After spending time with some Rembrandts, because he’s the Man, I wandered into the German Renaissance section. I’ve seen a lot of art in my day, in many of the world’s best museums, but I hadn’t seen this before. The 16th Century portraits of probably-important-in-their-day German people were fantastic. I saw one, “Portrait of a Woman,” by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1522) that looked just like a Hellen Van Meene photo I’d seen at MOPA in San Diego last month. Head slightly turned, with an intense green background and strong shadow contrasting with her shocking red hair, it was so modern. Lifelike too. Accompanied by the equally creatively titled “Portrait of a Man,” it definitely gave me new perspective on the contemporary German portrait style. Many of the paintings I saw from that era, in fact, appeared to be the root of the stone-faced, unemotional, sharp and dry style made famous by Thomas Ruff. (BTW, I recently saw a Thomas Struth portrait of Gerhard Richter, also at MOPA, that was so self-serious I laughed out loud. We want the money, Lebowski.) Looking at portraits by Albrecht Durer and Hans Holbein, I noted that if one simply changed out the clothing, the German sitters could be straight out of the 21st C.
Downstairs, I stumbled upon the innocuously titled “Chester Dale” Collection. Wow. I’m excited just reading that. Wait, who? Sarcasm aside, the man knew what he was buying. I’m not sure I’ve seen a better grouping of late 19th Century/Early 20th Century European Painting. Picasso, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Degas, Braque, Renoir, Modigliani, Cézanne, Matisse, Touluse-Lautrec, Corot…and more. A diptych of Monet’s “Rouen Cathedral,” from 1894 was mesmerizing, and ought to be required viewing for every photographer. The manner in which light leads to color, and color to expressionism was laid out like a cheat sheet in a pop-quiz. Obvious but enlightening. Not to mention beautiful.
Picasso, as is often the case, was the standout. I saw two paintings, “The Lovers,” and “Classical Head,” from 1923 and 1922, respectively, that were in an almost-earnest, super classical style that I’d not seen from him before. And “Two Youths,” from 1906, featured two naked boys, around 10 years old, rendered in pale pastel orange hues. It was beautiful and haunting, and made me question some of the things I wrote about Jock Sturges last year. Not that I’m a flip-flopper, heaven forbid, but I did ask myself why it was OK for Picasso to work with such subjects, but not JS.
Soon enough, in another part of the museum, I found myself in a room with a sequence of 19th Century Gilbert Stuart portraits of the First five Presidents: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison & Monroe. (Old white men, of course) Basking in their aura of power, I thought: this is their town. I’m just visiting. They lived and breathed, they created this country, and now I’m walking around, enjoying the multi-billion dollar art collection that sprung up in their name. That was one thing I enjoyed about DC, the sense that the history of the US is alive, and that the future has not yet been written. (Perhaps I’m overly optimistic on that one.) Wherever you go, you see frumpy, serious looking people in power ties and pant suits, rushing off to solve one problem or another.
After passing the underground waterfall in the tunnel between the buildings, I found myself in the Modern wing. As you can imagine, my brain was pretty well pickled by then, but I did wander through a thorough and well curated collection of late 20th Century painting and sculpture. (No photos in sight. But the Jasper Johns Target painting and Jackson Pollock’s “Lavender Mist” are dynamite.) I didn’t see a single photograph until the end of my visit, if you can believe it. A Lewis Baltz show had just closed, and there were no photographs mixed in with any of the gallery installations I saw, until I found a tiny room off in a corner that had two Friedlanders and a Robert Cumming. I went from not remembering who Cumming was to being a big fan in a couple of weeks, after seeing his work in LA too. The show was about the alphabet, like the curators were watching too much Sesame Street, but as they were the only photographs I could find, I wasn’t going to be too picky.
Nam June Paik, considered the Godfather of video art, had a video exhibition tucked away in the top floor Tower. Given that so many photographers are now nascent video artists, this is a show to see. One piece, called “Three eggs,” 1975-82, had an old school video camera trained on a white egg, then an old, low-res video monitor of the video feed of the egg in real time, and then a real egg sitting on black velvet inside the same type of monitor that had the glass popped out. Penetrating and quiet, it was the epitome of 20th C Zen. The whole room, which had 30 foot ceilings, also had multiple, manipulated versions of a video feed of a candle, flickering huge. At first I thought it was kind of boring, but as I was leaving, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a real candle, on a stand, with a video camera trained on it. I doubled back, and saw that the set up was the basis of all the images around me. Lots of visual noise, all stemming from the silent, lonely candle, slowly melting away. Genius. I asked the security guard how often they change out the candle, and he said every day. Every day, someone lights a new candle and lets it burn itself down, in front of no one’s eye but the camera. (I also asked the guard his opinion of the piece. “It’s OK for me.”)
From there, I headed out into the DC drizzle and haze, and walked back around the Capitol building to Union Station for an evening train to NYC. Thoroughly exhausted, I lined up at the gate behind some tow-headed doofus from the Huntsman campaign who wouldn’t stop chattering into his Blackberry while finger-dancing on his Ipad. Soon enough, the train departed, and I was on my way North, ready to sign up as Amtrak’s Number 1 Fan. Until the power went dead as we sat in Baltimore’s Downtown train station. Dead as in dead. As in, not working, not planning to work, figure something else out. I happened to notice, on my way South earlier in the day, that the train tracks cut right through the boarded up B-more neighborhoods so grittly depicted in “The Wire.” So close you could touch them. And they look even bleaker in real life, if you can believe it. So I was not particularly happy about being stuck in downtown Baltimore for the night. But these things have a way of working themselves out, and my train companions and soon I bum-rushed the next Acela high speed number. I even got a seat and free Wi-f, and was back in NYC in no time. I saw some great work there too, of course, but that’s another story for a different day.