Seems that the Gagosian Gallery of Cariou v. Prince fame can’t stay away from artists using photography to make their art. This time it’s Bob Dylan who takes photographs, repaints them and then claims they are “firsthand depictions of people, street scenes, architecture and landscape.” How about secondhand Bob:
You can’t always have the camera at your side, or up to your face – part of photography is missing things. That’s a very difficult lesson to learn as a photographer, our pursuit is dedicated to controlling and stopping time. I remember hearing a well known photographer that I respected say that “you miss photos all the time, and that’s part of photography” – it came as a real relief. We’re human, the pursuit should be rooted in pleasure and sometimes it’s good to just acknowledge that you saw the moment, framed it and captured it and stored it on your personal harddrive of neural networking.
via Tim Soter… blog..
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Harvard Business Review
Creative Director: James de Vries
Art Director: Karen Player
Photographer:Andrew KistNote: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted.
Heidi: It looks like he is on a ledge, was he reluctant to hop up on top of it?
Andrew: He was not even remotely reluctant. He’s pretty athletic and I think he had been photographed so many times that he enjoyed the prospect of doing something a little different.
How much time did you have with him?
He was very accommodating and gave us 3 or 4 hours but I didn’t need all of that time. I think he realizes that if you give yourself to the process instead of fighting it, things just come out better for everyone involved, and it takes less time.
Did he have a variety of expressions? He looks rather serious
HBR chose this particular frame, but he was really lively and friendly. IT was actually difficult to get a frame where he didn’t look friendly and affable.
Typically business men are hard to shoot, what was the most interesting aspect about the subject? Did the conversation flow?
I’ve been shooting portraits for magazines since 1998, a good number of them, portraits of business men and I can safely say I’ve never had a more conversational and really fascinating subject. I had to keep putting the camera down to talk because the conversation was more interesting than the pictures. He has written a number of books and is kind of like the Malcom Gladwell of business and efficiency, not typically very interesting subjects, but he is interested in everything and was fascinating to talk to.
Jonathan: For good or for bad, I think it’s helpful to start at the beginning. I haven’t yet gotten into the Tarantino-style, Reservoir Dogs-type narrative. So how did you get started? How did your photography practice begin?
Jesse: I got started as a skateboard photographer in Tucson, Arizona. I grew up in Connecticut, and then I moved out to Tucson to get away from the East Coast in my early 20’s. I took a photo class at a community college because it sounded fun and I needed to fill credits. Then I piggy-backed that onto my skateboard lifestyle, which was something that I’d been doing for ten years or so at least. It was a natural progression to start documenting the lifestyle, the social things that were happening with my friends, and the action shots, us hanging out, all that stuff.
So how did you end up in Tucson, of all the places you could go?
With the skateboard community, it’s so tight, everyone sticks together. So one guy followed the first guy, I followed the next guy, then a couple of guys followed me, and a couple of guys followed them. Before we knew it, there were a lot of Connecticut transplants in Tucson. I took a class, and quickly found it was something that I was interested in. I’d always been into art, but nothing so formal as a college course. That was it. I was hooked immediately, transferred to U of A, where I found a photo community and a whole different world. I got really serious about it. I was a bit older already, when I started to attend University of Arizona. I was probably 26 or 27, so I was older than the average undergrad BFA student.
Did they call you Grandpa Jesse?
No. My youthful demeanor kept that a secret, I guess.
Really? Did everybody make you buy them beer? That’s the obvious question.
No laws were broken.
I got a late start on a lot of things. I had the 15 year plan for college. It took a long time for me to get my act together. Once I found photography, I had a really good support system with my teachers at the U of A.
Do you want to give any shout outs right here?
Sure. Joe Labate and Ken Shorr.
These were your professors?
Yeah, they were really encouraging. And they could tell I was really serious about it. I had found something in my life, finally. Everybody’s looking for something that’s going to make them happy, something to pursue, whether it’s biology or medicine or law. Mine just so happened to be photography, and I found it in this sort of flukey way. They could tell that I was very serious, and I decided in my senior year that I was ready to go to graduate school. I had just started getting serious a couple of years earlier, and since I was a transfer student, I knew that it wasn’t the time to take a break and think about grad school, but to really seize it. And I just went for it, and they were totally supportive and helped me out. That led me back East to RISD.
And that’s where you got an MFA?
I bet you spend a lot of time on blogs and the Flak Photo Network, and I know I do. I feel like, on a regular basis, you see photographers asking questions like, “Should I get an MFA? What’s the point? What am I going to get out of it? Is it worth the money?” Things like that. I went to Pratt and you went to RISD. We both did get the degree. We both started late. I mean, listening to your background, it’s pretty similar to mine. Especially the East Coast moving West. You went from Connecticut to Arizona, I went Jersey to New Mexico. Not that different. So if someone asked you point blank, “Should I get an MFA? Is it worth the money? What will I get out of it?” what would your answer be?
People go to graduate school for various reasons, but two of them stand out to me. One is because they want to be an artist. And the other is because they want to be a teacher. In my case, I always wanted to be a visual artist. Teaching wasn’t even something that I’d considered, or was aware of, really, when I was applying to grad schools. For me, it was all about visual communication, and pushing that further. If you have an inclination to take a chunk of your life and a chunk of your money…I think of graduate school as a business decision. It was the first major business decision that I made. It’s so incredibly expensive in terms of finances and emotion and time commitment. If you’re ready to make that decision, then graduate school can be incredibly beneficial. It gives you a time to focus on just your artwork, where you don’t have to worry, (hopefully) about the other things in life, like having a job to pay the bills. It just depends on how you set up your system when you get to graduate school.
I knew that I needed time to work on a project. Similar to what you probably experienced, relocating from the East Coast to the West Coast is quite the culture shock. So I didn’t even know what I was getting myself into, relocating back home, to undertake a new life, with a goal of becoming a photographer. Everything I knew about photography was based in the desert of Tucson, so when I came home it was a little bit risky. Getting back to your question, “What do you get out of it?”, I think one can spend a serious chunk of time dedicated to a project, where there are no distractions. Part of what you’ll get is working in a very tight, serious community of professors and peers. You learn from other photographers, who hopefully have the same level of seriousness that you have. That’s one of the very few places where you can ever do something like that. It doesn’t happen so much in undergrad, because people are distracted, there’s a lot more going on. I think graduate school is serious business.
Do you need a graduate degree to become a good photographer? No. To be successful, or famous? Not necessarily. I certainly think it can help in many ways. It makes you a better photographer, a smarter individual, more worldly, more experienced. So all of those things will help you in your life, and your photo career.
So is it safe to say, you don’t think you’d be the artist you are or have the career you’re having if you hadn’t taken the time to get the degree?
In my case, absolutely not. Going to graduate school was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I would say the same thing. And am I right that you teach at RISD?
I want to get back to that in a second. When I go back and look, so many of the people that went to school with me are now not practicing artists, that I’m aware of. It seems like it’s an interesting conundrum. It costs so much money to get these degrees, and they can be a pathway. But some times, I wonder what happens to people who invest all that time and energy, and then go on to do something else. What’s your take on that?
Most of my friends, at this point, are either high school friends, skateboarder buddies from the past, or people I met in grad school. The majority of them didn’t continue down this path. There are so many elements involved. Some people can’t hang with how tough it is. It’s incredibly hard to keep that self-promotion wheel spinning non-stop. Not to mention coming up with interesting and meaningful work. Getting into grad school is one part of it. Getting out of grad school is the second part. Maintaining that would be a third part. Not everybody’s cut out for it. A lot of people still work in the photo industry or arts industry in some fashion. I’m not sure exactly what happens, but life takes over. Once you get out of the proverbial nest of graduate school, it’s a lot tougher to make your way through it when you’re in reality. Let’s be honest. When you’re in this cushy situation in graduate school, where you don’t have to think about real life, I didn’t have kids at the time. I had a wife, and she’s very supportive, but we didn’t have a mortgage, I didn’t have two car payments. This industry does not allow an easy segue from grad school into success, whatever success means. Shooting jobs? Having shows? Coming up with ideas? Something as simple as having a critique of your work just immediately disappears. Having that structured support system disappears too.
I want to come back to this idea of real life, and reality, because it’s an interesting through line in your artwork. But while we’re on the subject of RISD, what classes do you teach?
I only teach one class at RISD. My schedule is kind of hectic, so I’ve never really been a serious multi-course adjunct professor. I teach “Introduction to Photography for Non-Majors,” which is a really amazing course, because I’m teaching photography to people who are not going to be photographers. Architects, painters, lots of students from Brown University.
So you’ve got to be focusing on visual communication as much as anything?
Exactly. Why photography matters. What can you say with a photograph. Why is photography important?
Dude, you just opened it up. There it is. There’s my next question. Why is photography important?
We have this final project, it’s called “What’s important to you?” What I try to get across to them, when they leave my class, (beyond black and white analog skills for developing and printing film and a little bit of digital input) is understanding that the world is a dynamic and amazing place. Everybody’s story is important and that people care about each other’s stories. So what I try to stress is that what’s important to you is also important to me. I try to focus on having them figure out a way to share their personal interest, and things that are important to them, in a dynamic way to the world. Hopefully they’ll leave the class being a better architect, or a better language studies student because they can see how visual culture and photography help make the world go around. It helps them get their message across, whatever their message is, in a smarter, better, more visual way.
Cool. As far as I understand it, you shoot commercially, editorially, you shoot as a fine artist, and you teach. That, to me, sounds like the 21st Century Hustle. That’s it. It’s a little bit of everything, shake it up, and hopefully a few things are going to pop at any given time. How do you get it all done? How do you keep the balance?
I have to say, that has always been my end goal. I think that’s not true for a lot of people in the art world. They don’t want to shoot commercially. Obviously, a lot of commercial photographers aren’t interested in the gallery world. I’ve always felt that there’s been such an overlap, in terms of my photographic world, my married family life, what I like to do in my free time, what I’m interested in. All of those things overlap. My interest in academics. RISD in particular. All those things, for me, were always related. So I approached my career, even early on, from the standpoint that this is what I wanted to make happen. I wanted to have a gallery. I wanted to have a commercial agent and shoot cool jobs that related to my artwork. And then I wanted to teach a little bit to stay tapped into that academic world. I agree with you 100% that it seems to be the 21st Century Hustle, as you put it. I like that. Ultimately, it’s a really difficult balancing act. Inevitably, one takes precedence over the others.
Is that how it works for you? Does your commercial work make up the bulk of your income? Is it broken down into thirds? You mentioned two kids, two car payments. Let’s be honest. You’re living on the East Coast. That adds up. So how does it work?
Sure. Well, I will say I have a very awesome, supportive wife who has a regular 9-5 job. Without her, I don’t know if this would be possible, this freelance existence. In terms of breakdown for finances, I would say that commercial jobs make up most of my income. I sell some work through my galleries, and then RISD pays my teaching salary for one course. Which isn’t much across the board across the country. Just to be clear, I teach because I love it, not because of finances. I would do it for free if I had to, because it’s just that enriching to me. And I schedule enough time out for teaching because it adds a lot for me, and I’m giving back to the community. I think the biggest struggle, inevitably, in doing something like this, is balancing the schedule. The schedule gets really tricky. You need to have availability for commercial assignments, which means you could fly out the next morning. And then you have to be accountable to teach your class, every Monday, when you’re supposed to be there at 1pm. It can get a little crazy, but I think where there’s a will there’s a way. So for me, it’s a combination of financial reasons, but also passion that makes me keep this crazy freelance thing going.
Did your experience as a fine artist help enable to you make the jump into the commercial world?
Yes. As you go through your career and your life, as a photographer, I keep going back to this, but it’s a business thing. I think a lot of people don’t approach it from the perspective of “This is serious business.” Even your art career. Sure, you’re out in the middle of the woods, photographing dogs running around, or whatever it is you’re doing, but when you get back to the studio, it’s a business. I think you have to be smart about certain things. And approach them from certain angles where you can benefit the best. I knew that I wanted to be serious about commercial photography, and I felt that my work had enough of an overlap into the commercial market, and modern pop culture, that I thought I could do pretty well in terms of editorial and advertising photography. So I was really aggressive finding an agent. When I finally reached the goal of getting acquired by a New York gallery and having a solo show, I used that as a launching pad to find a commercial agent. This is just something that I thought was common sense. You’re having your first exhibition. This is your first foray into the real art world in New York City. Why not try to use that to catapult yourself in this other part of your career? It worked out, luckily for me. When I called and emailed people, they actually responded. Would that have happened if I hadn’t started the conversation by saying that I was having an exhibition in Chelsea? Maybe not. I think that’s just the reality of it.
That’s in the summer of 2010. You had a solo show for your project “Intertidal” at ClampArt. Coincidentally, I happened to be in New York that night and had the chance to come check it out. The place was thumping. So you were very strategic in the way you tried to leverage the exhibition as an opportunity to market yourself in the commercial world. I think that’s pretty interesting.
Yeah, I knew that this was a moment that I needed to capitalize on. I just knew, for me, that it was the first time that I thought it made sense to approach so and so and to try to make the most of my commercial potential, because of the gallery. And I found that I got a much better response than I actually anticipated. Due in part, absolutely, to having this exhibition. All of a sudden I had options.
Did you, in the end, benefit more through commercial connections through the show, or through selling prints in the show. Let’s talk about that. People want shows. That’s a given. But I think in 2011, people are starting to ask questions about production costs, and framing, and can I make my investment back? So it sounds like this is a great thing to know.
Yeah, sure. Both, maybe a bit more on the commercial end. But it’s a complicated question.
I know that. Look, to me it seemed like a positive way to ask what might have been a negative question. I can ask you “Did you make your money back from your show,” and you’re going to answer honestly or not. But before we even get there, you’re talking about the fact that you had a show and that got you work. So you’re telling us that having the experience of the big solo show in Chelsea automatically had a huge impact on your career. So it becomes less about feeling the pressure to sell the work off the wall. Is that a fair assumption?
The real question is, was it a worthwhile investment? Absolutely. I wouldn’t say that it had an immediate massive impact; it’s a building process. The thing that shocked me most about my career, that continues to shock me, is that you set these milestones for yourself. I’ve got to get a gallery in Chelsea. I have to get a book deal. I have to get an agent. I think those are difficult, serious, but “it makes perfect sense” type of goals. So I think the idea that I’m going to have an exhibition in Chelsea and that’s it, or I’m going to be in the Whitney Biennial and that’s it? Forget it. That’s not how it works. And I think a lot of people, myself included early on, didn’t understand exactly how much of an investment in terms of time and money all this stuff really takes. The end goals are still there.
Also, I have to say that I was really particular in my pursuit of the gallery. That’s a whole separate story, but back in the day, before I was exhibiting with ClampArt, I knew it was the right gallery for me for a lot of reasons. I just had to convince Brian, and introduce myself to him. That’s obviously the difficult part. But in terms of the show and a financial investment, it’s a serious chunk of change to have 30 pieces framed and exhibited anywhere. I think of that stuff as a personal business loan to myself, because that exhibition has an infinite ripple effect into my career many years later. The exhibition at ClampArt open opened up many opportunities for me in the commercial world as well. I’m working with i2i, in part, as a result of my exhibition. Lizzie, my agent, even said that to me. It certainly helped. I think that’s just the nature of the beast. And I accept that, and have no issues with it whatsoever.
It just so happens, other things from that exhibition also came to fruition. Things that are much more important to me than art sales, such as the inclusion in the “Truth is Not in the Mirror” exhibition at the Haggerty Museum (and Fraction Magazine). That’s directly because of my ClampArt exhibition. That’s the kind of thing that I don’t think I can put a financial price tag on, being included in a show that traveled, and had that much clout and respect when it was happening at the time. And showing beside some of my photo heroes, that’s not something that I could put into monetary consideration.
So it sounds like you’re really taking the long view instead of the short view.
You know, I think that’s really the only view, as far as I’m concerned. Because if you have the short-term mentality, you’ll quickly find out that it most likely won’t pan out for you.
So maybe that’s a lesson we could share with, I don’t know, the entirely of Corporate America?
So we just decided that the entire structure of the US Equity Market is wrong.
Basically. Can we do something about that? What do you think? Should we just fix it?
I don’t think so, man. Money talks.
You don’t think we could fix it? Just like that? Make a call?
Not two photo guys.
No. Probably not. Well, we’ll set that one aside for now. So listen. All this talk about business, it has a purpose, but we haven’t really talked about art. So why don’t we shift gears a little bit. In the beginning, you brought us back to skateboarder culture, and we can all imagine you cracking your head on some concrete in Tucson. Because Lord knows they have a lot of concrete in Arizona. But now, let’s talk about the project that you showed in New York. Let’s talk about “Intertidal.” How would you talk about what your work is?
“Intertidal,” for me, was something that came out of nowhere, actually. When I agreed to take up my MFA at RISD, I knew that I was moving home, so to speak, to New England. I grew up in Connecticut, RISD is in Rhode Island, which neighbors Connecticut, so in a sense, I was going back home to my family and friends. But I’d been gone for 10 years, and in that time gap, I became a visual artist. It was culture shock for me to get back to the East Coast, in a photographic way. I sort of stumbled into this project by accident. I had always been photographing my skateboarder buddies, and an exploration of who we were as skaters. But I left that behind in Tucson, and became a serious, full-time student. Neither grad school nor my body allowed me much time for skateboarding, so I just started photographing. And the only thing that I knew how to do was photograph what I consider part of who I was, my world. I just applied that formula that I had started in Tucson to my family within New England. I started to really scrutinize, through the guidance I had in grad school, what I was doing. And what exactly was I doing? And what exactly were these pictures of?
Drinking…drinking is part of it.
More specifically, drinking beer.
Coincidentally, I wasn’t. But drinking beer was really interesting to me, because I came from a family of heavy drinkers. Drinking was something that I knew a lot about, in a way, but didn’t as well, because I wasn’t really part of that. It’s part of why “Intertidal” came to be. Initially, I was exploring the differences between what I perceived as my identity as a man, and how I perceived my family, my father, my grandfathers, my friends, and the rest of the typical New England male archetypes. The fisherman. The logger. The blue-collar worker. These were things I didn’t really know much about, because I took off when I was in my early 20’s. And grew up into adulthood away from my family, away from this New England identity. So when I came home, I was initially exploring the differences between them and me. So inevitably, I became more familiar with my history, with their history. And then I started to explore the notions of masculinity. And that’s where “Intertidal” ended up at, it was an exploration of the typical ideas of masculinity versus the reality of being male. So this is where the drinking beer thing kind of gets funny, because beer and a lot of things, such as the forest, hunting, shooting guns, strength, these are all just vehicles for me to talk about what I’m interested in. Not necessarily participate in. You know what I mean?
It makes a lot of sense. It’s actually where I wanted to get to. We talk a lot about reality, which we were mentioning before. When we look at this work, and I like it a lot, you’re in the work. You’re in the work drinking. You’re friends are in the work, drinking. You’ve also got images of your daughter in a separate project. You’re willing to put yourself and your family in front of the camera. So that makes me ask questions like, “Is this even trying to be real?” I some times feel, when I’m looking at these portraits of you, that I’m seeing a character. And that they’re not even meant to be the “real Jesse Burke.” It’s a fictionalized narrative. Is that a read that you’re comfortable with?
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s part of the truth behind the photographs. I think it’s important to realize that all of this work is a production. This isn’t candid photography. Not the landscapes, per se, but a lot of the portraits. It’s all staged. It’s all very conceptual in my head. This isn’t me following my dad around, documenting what he does. This is me having an idea about how I perceive my father, and then having him fill that role, whether or not it’s true.
That’s what I thought. One of the things that I’m wondering: we talk about masculinity, and I read a quote of yours that I have right here, where you see a world where “blood and sweat mix with sunsets and snowdrifts.” We’re past the metrosexual phase. People don’t even use that word anymore. So I’m curious. A lot of the portraits you take are of shirtless men. So my question is, when you show a fine art portrait of a semi-naked man to a logger or a fisherman, to some of your friends who don’t come from the art world, what reaction do you get?
It’s an interesting question. I don’t think I get any reaction. Ultimately, my family members don’t give me an involved, dedicated response to the work. Going back to the beginnings of this project, which is “Who am I? Why am I this artsy guy in a family of not-so-artsy guys?” I didn’t expect a big response from them, or the public, or “normal” guys. I just started making these pictures that I thought were fun, and talked about these ideas that I was interested in. Inevitably, what happens is they don’t really question it. They just sort of go, “OK. It makes sense.” I think the fact that the art and photo worlds have been gracious in giving me some attention, and some exhibitions, and a book, I think that gives it validity to people that don’t necessarily follow conceptual photography, or fine art photography. I mean, let’s be honest, who are we making this work for, besides ourselves. Who’s the market? Who’s going to buy it? Who’s going to display it? Who wants to buy my book? It’s certainly not the average Joe Schmo who works in Boston. I understood that I was getting into an elitist culture, and that wasn’t an issue for me, but I knew the art world is like that. And I could have some backlash from these people. Luckily I haven’t. But I have a really hard time answering the question of “How do they respond to the work?” because quite honestly, I don’t know. We’ve talked about it, but I don’t have a thorough understanding of how my uncles read my work.
Actually, I would disagree. I think it’s a good, honest answer. Look. We could spin off and talk all day about the marginalization and elitism of art within mainstream culture. We could. But I don’t know we would ultimately tell anyone anything they don’t already know. So let’s move along. One of the things that’s crucial to me as an artist is seeking great input. When I write these articles about going to look at art, I would be going to look at art anyway. I believe the better the input, the better the things that we see, the better our work becomes. What do you look at? Where do you get your inspirational input? How does that process work for you?
I get a lot of my input from living everyday life. I watch TV. Believe it or not, MTV. Lots of sports. So I get a lot of inspiration from media, magazines, TV, cable shows. Things like that. I’ve become sensitive to what I see as the rift in masculine perception. So I’m always sort of looking for it, wherever it might lie, whether it’s in a football game, or Jersey Shore, or hanging out with the other dads at the park with my kids.
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Your guilty pleasures can be fodder for your creative practice. Jesse Burke has just given you permission to watch as much MTV as you want.
Jesse Burke is a Rhode Island based artist. You can see a site-specific installation of Jesse’s photographs at ClampArt’s booth at Pulse Miami (December 1 – 4, 2011). He is represented commercially by i2i Photography in NYC.
In the early 1950′s, LIFE Magazine decided that the pictures that were shot for them by many wonderful photographers were their property and therefore, they had the right to re-license them. The photographer’s thought otherwise, and insisted that the photographs were their property to resell at their discretion.
This went to court and after a long heated battle with TIME-LIFE the photographers won the battle. The courts decided that the copyright remained with the photographer and the magazine had just licensed reproduction rights. The original property, after the contract was concluded, returned to the photographer along with the negatives.
via The End Starts Here.
( click images to make bigger )
Creative Director: Hannah McCaughey
Photography Director: Hannah McCaughey
Photography Editor: Amy Feitelberg
Photographer: Andrew Hetherington
Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted.
We went from film to digital to CGI to video. We are always trying to learn about the next best thing and how we need to adapt to meet those changes.
I live an hour plus North of Santa Fe, so I visit often. As such, I spend quite a bit of time at photo-eye, which has one of the world’s best inventories of photo books and ‘zines. We’re kicking off a new feature where I’ll be doing quick reviews of new releases, to give you a sense of what’s new and interesting on the market.
“Presences” is an over-sized, perfect bound soft cover exhibition catalogue of Richard Learoyd’s work recently released by Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. Mr. Learoyd works with a room-sized camera obscura, and a very sharp lens, to create razor-sharp nude and clothed portraits of women, (primarily,) bathed in Dutch Master-style light. The ladies look like a cross between a Julia Margaret Cameron subject and the geek-chic type lovely twenty-something you might see in a record store circa 1979. (Or a café in the Mission District circa 2011.) They’re lovely, but not in a lascivious way. Just a fantastic collection of very well made photographs. Bottom Line: Seductive.
Visit Photo-Eye to purchase Presences
Peter Granser, an Austrian photographer, recently released a new perfect-bound soft-cover book, published by Super Labo in Japan. In a bit of amusing, literal titling, it’s called “Sun City/Austria/Coney Island/Deutsche Cowboys/Elvis Tribute Artists/Signs. 2000-2007.” If you surmised that the lengthy name gives you a pretty good sense of what the pictures are about, you’d be right. The dry “German” style is evident, true, but the images also have a wickedly ironic sense of humor, poking fun at some of the absurd and optimistic elements of the American character. (A suite of retired ladies dressed up in their old cheerleading costumes. An stooped-over-old, ridiculous Elvis impersonator dancing symmetrically in dueling portraits.) This little narrative captures the real sense of humorous adventure inherent in a good road trip: you never know what’s coming when you turn each page. Bottom Line: Witty.
Visit Photo-Eye to purchase Peter Granser…
OK, I promise I won’t write about this guy again for a while, but for those of you who couldn’t get to MOMA by September 5th, you can get your own copy of Boris Mikhailov’s genius insanity in “The Wedding.” From the looks of it, this time he hooked up with a couple of alcoholic street folks, and managed to photograph their makeshift wedding in a vacant lot. Highlights include the blushing (or at least red faced) bride holding a big dildo over her husband’s head; their smiles as wide as a Nebraska tornado storm. It’s a hardcover in white, edition of 1000 from Mörel Books in London, in case you’re wondering. Highly recommended, if you like that sort of thing. (Brilliant but disturbing. Nudity, but not the fun kind.) Bottom Line: Twisted.
Full Disclosure: Books and scans were provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase. Please support Photo-Eye if you find this new feature useful.
“It’s 105 degrees outside. [Baldwin] calls me over: ‘Sit down, sit down. Umm,’ he said, ‘I’m not going out on the boat. It’s too hot. It’s 20 f—ing minutes to get out, and you have to go 2 f—ing miles an hour. . . . I’m not doing it.’ It’s like, What do you mean? But you can’t argue with him — he’s not going to change his mind. So I’m thinking on my feet and I say, ‘Okay, what about we go to my friend’s pool?’ He looked me up and down — I’m pretty scruffy — and he said, ‘Your friend doesn’t have a f—ing pool.’ And I’m like, ‘Trust me, my friend has got a pool, and it’s about half a mile away from here.’ So he kind of looks at me and goes, ‘Yeah, all right.'”
Heidi: What made you want to create more of a browsing experience for your site?
Sam: First off, let me say I lament the loss of the independent bookstore, the takeover of the pawn shop by ebay, and the overall loss of the tactical experience of searching, discovering, and handling books, records, magazines, and the like. I am glad I grew up in an era when if you wanted to view the work of an author, photographer, or painter, you went browsing in a great bookstore. You may or may not have found exactly what you were searching for, but chances are you always stumbled on something accidentally that was equally inspiring. I wanted to re-create that idea a bit with my new website.
The site has nuances of the ibooks bookshelf. Was that so users would be somewhat familiar to this experience?
I wasn’t really going for that, exactly, but I was trying to create the experience of walking by a display window, and having book covers, magazine covers and other designed elements that catch the viewer’s eye. It has been an interesting experience trying to design these little icons in ways that make them feel like objects, and also entice the viewer to “pick them up” and browse for a while. It is an idea I have been playing with for a long time, and I finally realized that users want to have multiple ways to view content, so that they can pick the way that works best for them. So, the site is designed with traditional drop down menus, and a pretty sophisticated search function. With that safety net of knowing users could easily navigate the site, I was free to then try something a little different with the shelves.
I think it is important to realize that a website is not a portfolio. The Internet, whether you like it or not, is like a giant mall. There may be some non-profit booths set up on the streets, and lots of free performances and conversations, but let’s face it, there are a heck of a lot of storefronts. I figured, why not make the experience of going to my website more like popping into a gallery, a bookstore, a movie theater, etc.
All are the books on the shelf “books” with the exception of the images that have the grey layers, indicating multiple images?
The general layout is divided into three distinct groups of imagery. Books, which can be any length or size, and which open up and have page turn animation to be as close to the experience of reading a book as possible. Galleries, which are a series of large images in a white space that can be viewed right to left or left to right, like walking through a gallery. And Movies, which include commercials, music videos, short films, movie trailers, interactive pieces, and documentaries. I can also choose to put a single image on the shelf, if I feel it needs to stand alone.
The idea here was to be able to use the shelf in many different ways. I can change the display by moving the content of the shelves around. I can group content together (like placing a gallery of Tom Petty photographs on the shelf next to a Tom Petty music video). I can put the latest magazine cover I shot on the top shelf, indicating that it is something new. And I can use it like a blog: It is easy to see that there is something new just by seeing a new item on the shelf that wasn’t there on the last visit.
Because you do quite a bit of editorial, did that influence your embedded “book” style?
Really, the idea behind the books came from wanting a way to show people more pictures from a particular shoot. On any given shoot, I may try six or seven different set-ups. Invariably, only two or three get seen. That doesn’t always tell the whole story. I like having different options for showing the work. If you look at the book I made after I did my Elle Fanning shoot for Vanity Fair, you can see that I tried to make it just a little keepsake from the day, like a little journal. And with the Aaron Eckhart book, there are pictures from multiple shoots over several years. That book has a very different feel. And with the Tom Petty Mojo project, a gallery was the best way to show the work, because each image kind of needed to stand on it’s own.
The funny thing is that after creating the site, I realized it is already having an influence on the way I shoot. I am now thinking about how I will end up telling the story, and displaying the work. It makes me a better photographer, and it gives me an outlet to be my own designer, and to display the images in a way that brings out the character of the shoot.
Who created the site? Were the developers and the designers from the same group? Or separate?
I had a very talented designer named Ness Higson help me with the look of the site, the type, the layouts, etc. And his partner Josh Stearns, (who is a tech wizard, and also a photographer) had to figure out how to make all these ideas work. The three of us went back and forth, debating the merits of the shelf, the feasibility of having different book formats, etc.
How long did this site take to build?
Most of the time was spent on my end, trying to figure out what I wanted. I would say I mulled over the idea on my own for over a year before I even engaged designers and builders. Then, once we started I suppose it was about a four-month process before we had a working prototype. Only then did I realize the massive amount of time it was going to take to “populate” the site with content, entering information, tags, uploading and compressing video, and creating the books. And I am still a long way off from feeling like it is where I want it to be.
Are the images difficult load and change? how about for the small books
The beauty of this site is in it’s architecture. Josh and Ness made the uploading and designing of the elements so easy, and so flexible. This was crucial for this kind of site because I wanted to be able to easily experiment with different ideas and be able to quickly update the site. I couldn’t be happier with how it works.
Is this your response to the development of rich media? This interactive site and you being being involved in still and motion?
I think it is a natural evolution. With first generation photography and film websites, I think everyone was trying to establish a visual identity with varying degrees of success. Now we all want to find ways not only to reach an audience, but also to keep them coming back. For me, being somewhat of a schizophrenic in terms of careers (I was making films long before the 5D was in existence), I wanted to find a format where my photography and film could live side by side in a very natural setting. With the shelf concept, I think I have solved that problem. When a viewer finishes looking at my site, I don’t want them necessarily to remember whether a particular visual they saw was in a film or in a photograph. I just hope the whole experience can meld together, and what they are taking away is an understanding of the way my eye works.
I also like the idea that the site is deep, and expandable. There is no end to the amount of shelves I can have, and that also goes for menu items in the dropdown section. Additionally, I can use the site as a bit of an archive, by having pictures and films in there that may not show up in the menus or shelves, but if you search by name or keyword, you can find them.
I also plan on adding things as time goes on, such as limited edition printed books that you can get from the site, maybe a music element, and some other interesting sections.
The addition of type on your site is very editorial-minded with captions and chapters. Was that to allow viewers to be more informed and add to the browsing experience?
I have been a big reader my whole life. I was always as interested in the captions as I was the images when looking at books. When I first talked to Ness and Josh, I told them I wanted the ability to write as much or as little about an image as I saw necessary. So, we created opportunities in each format to write about the visuals. At the very least, I can give each image and film a title. And if I want to, I can write a whole book and just slap it up on the shelf. But the idea is, maybe there is an interesting story that goes along with a photograph, and now I have a way to tell that story. We tried to be as unobtrusive as possible with the text, and I am pleased with the way it turned out.
Are your printed books just as unique?
I feel like I am still in the infancy of the book design aspect. I have to say, I absolutely love the art and science of graphic design, and this site gives me an excuse to play with type and experiment in ways that I never had an outlet for in the past. I used to get funny comments from magazine editors because I would sometimes draw up a layout for a cover or inside spread and send it along with my edit. But the truth is, design and images are inseparable, and more often than not, I am imagining where the type goes and how the image lays out even when I am shooting it.
Right now, I have two printed books, “The Here And Now,” and “Non-Fiction,” which are both on the shelves, albeit in excerpted form. As time goes on I will ideally have more printed books and that maybe they will grow out of this website experience. Or maybe the two formats will merge (I am still trying to wrap my head around a digital version of a photography book—is it the next logical step or the end of our industry?).
Are you disappointed your site doesn’t work on the iPad
We had a big debate about Flash versus HTML 5, but in the end, we decided to go with Flash for a lot of boring reasons I won’t get into here. But I think an iPad version of my site should be different anyway, because the iPad is a different experience than a computer. I am trying to wrap my head around how to make something unique to the iPad, and hopefully that turns into another interesting experiment.
You mention this site has great range for your images because it can accommodate any photo you take.
On my old website, there wasn’t a lot of room for variation. There was a series of pictures that felt like a portfolio. I found that I couldn’t include too many pictures of one subject, because it kind of ruined the flow of the images. And I found, for example, with one-off images like the shot of the birds over the ocean in the Rob Lowe book, that there was no place for that image to live. On this new site I have the ability to create individual, stand alone experiences, and each one has their own identity, and their own flow. And perhaps most exciting, the site is now searchable, which makes finding an image so easy. I can now accommodate the client who just wants to quickly find one image or film, and also satisfy the person with way too much time on their hands.
Most portfolios / sites are very vertical in the way they are categorized, why did you want yours to be different?
Well, the drop-down menus at the top of the site are designed with the classic vertical categorization style. I wanted versatility, but I also didn’t want to exclude someone who wanted a normal photography website experience, so I made the dropdown menus in that spirit. I guess you can think of the dropdown menus as the table of contents, or the catalog of the site. The search function is for those who like to google everything, and the shelves are for those who want to browse, discover, and be surprised. Another way I thought of it was, the viewer can organize the viewing of the site the way they want to. The shelves are my personal space to curate the site the way I want to. That way we can all get along!
I know you just won VMA for the Foo Fighters, have you been having some bad days here in LA?
Ha ha, no…there is no personal message in that video. But I will tell you, ideas come from strange places. When I am trying to get an idea together for a video, I do all sorts of things. I examine the lyrics, I look at the band’s history, I watch films for inspiration, etc. In this case, I just looked at the title of the song, which is “Walk” and the movie “Falling Down” flashed across my mind, because in that film, Michael Douglas walks across Los Angeles. That was all it took to start an idea brewing, and I started writing an homage version that would have Dave Grohl just trying to get to band practice.
Do you think it has such great appeal because we’ve all had those days?
Interestingly enough, that film is not as widely known as I thought it was, and yet the comments about the video seem to lean towards a shared unity over bad day fantasies. I thought when I made it that everyone would get that it was an homage to “Falling Down,” and therefore would understand all the references, but it seems to work fine as a story, even if you have never seen the film.
How many days did it take to shoot this? How is was this different from your previous motion music pieces? Was this more story telling?
The hardest thing about making this video is that it is essentially a trailer for a whole movie, and where Joel Schumacher (the director of “Falling Down”) had two or three months to make this film, we only had two days. I wanted to have representative scenes from the whole film, so we were running around Los Angeles in a panic trying to get to all of our locations. Luckily for me the whole band is so good and so experienced at making music videos that we were able to nail most every scene in two or three takes.
I think every project, whether still or motion, is unique, and should be approached as it’s own animal. With the Foo Fighters, I had a real blueprint with the movie, and I spent a lot of time storyboarding and figuring out how to integrate all of the band members in the different roles of the film. Again, the biggest challenge was time. Most videos, if you notice, repeat set-ups multiple times in the course of a four-minute song. This video is six minutes long, and not one scene or shot repeats, so it was a lot of footage to shoot in a short amount of time, complete with effects and choreography. Preparation was really key to making our days work.
How much did you edit out? Was the Dave Grohl easy to direct?
We managed to squeeze most of what we shot into the video, but there were a few things that we just didn’t have time for, including a funny little bit at the end of the convenience store scene where Dave comes back in for a bite of the Slim Jim.
Dave Grohl was so easy to direct because of all of his experience, and also because he has directed some videos himself, so he knows how hard it can be. Having someone with experience on the other side of the camera is such a great luxury. Dave is also naturally funny, so he would find the humor in each scene. That was important because I never wanted the violence to seem at all real. I always wanted to play it for laughs, and there is no one better than Dave at doing that.
Music has always been a part of your life, I would image that plays a big role in your motion work?
I have played music since I was very young, and have played in many bands, and it is one of the most enjoyable things I do. One of the best parts about shooting motion is finding the right music to marry with the visuals, and I have been very fortunate to work on a lot of projects where I get to be really involved in that process.
One of the most satisfying musical projects I have ever worked on is the interactive video for the Cold War Kids. I have always loved multi-track recording, and I wanted to see if I could make an interactive, visual version of a multi-track recorder. The end result was that the user could make over 500 versions of the song, by combining different parts played by each musician (go check it out on the site, it makes much more sense to see it than for me to try to explain it). The fun part for me, besides figuring it all out, was collaborating with the band on the different versions of the song, and coming up with arrangements. That day was truly a melding of all of my interests, and I just love projects like that.
What is your best advice to any emerging editorial photographer in today’s market?
Don’t do it! No, I am kidding. But it sure is a different editorial world than when I started out. If you can find something that overwhelms you, consumes you, and excites you, then I guarantee good things will come of that. Find subject matter that really speaks to you, and immerse yourself in it, and the platforms for showing that work will appear. (And if they don’t, we now live in a world where you can create your own platform). I think it is important to spend as much time developing your interests as you do developing your craft (which is just a fancy way to talk about the philosophy of substance over style).
What is it about the traditional site that bores you and propelled you to do something unique?
I guess if there was one thing that bothers or bores me it is the traditional, antiseptic, linear site that makes me feel like I am doing research in the basement of the ICP. I’ve said this earlier in this interview, but the overriding motivation for me doing a new site was to create an experience where the viewer can browse the work like they are walking through a bookstore, or a gallery, and finding things in an organic way. I don’t want it to feel like work. Photography should be a breath of fresh air in our busy days, and now that we see the majority of pictures online, it is important to remember that looking at pictures can fun, inspiring, and really motivating.
You have away of opening your subjects up and allowing an unguarded moment to shine, is there a secret?
The secret is I tell them that if they will open up to me in an unguarded moment, and really shine, I will let them go home two hours early! Ha, no… there is no secret, but thank you for that nice compliment. I do believe that you have to create the right environment for the pictures you are looking to make. I try to make things fun, and easy, and have some good food around, and hopefully I make a connection with the person I am shooting.
You must have something to say. You must be brutally honest with yourself about this. Think about history, politics, science, literature, music, film, and anthropology. What effect does one discipline have over another? What makes “man” tick? Today, with everyone being able to easily make technically perfect photographs with a cell phone, you need to be an “author”. It is all about authorship, authorship and authorship.
–David Alan Harvey
I read an interesting excerpt from a book called “How Companies Win” where the authors (Rick Kash and David Calhoun) argue that we are in a state of oversupply and the companies that win are those who seek demand. They go on to say that “constant innovation–the ability to find and fulfill new demand opportunities–is essential.” We’ve gone from a supply and demand economy to a demand then supply economy. The old way of thinking was you supplied a product and built demand around it.
I’ve gotten a barrage of comments lately from people saying “nobody pays for photography anymore” and “photography is all but dead” and “technology killed photography.” And, I have to agree. “Photography” is in oversupply. If your job is simply delivering a photograph then all you are doing is adding to the oversupply. You don’t have to look further than the discussion boards on Sports Shooter where it was revealed in a deal for Gannett to buy US Presswire that photographers were happily shooting games for $100 (or on spec). How’s that for oversupply.
So, how does this new demand economy work: “the damand-and-supply world requires innovation, adaptation and flexibility.” The easiest examples of photographers innovating and reacting to demand are the those who shoot video and stills together and those who are using social media to reach their clients or their clients customers. Photographers who are creative problem solvers have always been in demand. The top tier of photography is mostly comprised of people who can solve problems.
I believe the job of photographer has always evolved (from chemist to technical guru to creative problem solver) and while this may be the most radical evolution we’ve seen, it doesn’t mean there are not opportunities for those willing to innovate. I met someone recently who started an advertising agency so he could give himself photography jobs. Sounds crazy, but really he’s just filling a demand he discovered.
Forget about the profession of being a photographer. First be a photographer and maybe the profession will come after. Don’t be in a rush to pay your rent with your camera. Jimi Hendrix didn’t decide on the career of professional musician before he learned to play guitar. No, he loved music and created something beautiful and that THEN became a profession. Larry Towell, for instance, was not a “professional” photographer until he was already a “famous” photographer. Make the pictures you feel compelled to make and perhaps that will lead to a career. But if you try to make the career first, you will just make shitty pictures that you don’t care about.
— Christopher Anderson