A Large Part Of Being An Artist Is Being Delusional

- - Blog News

What drives me to be an artist, to make the work I do and I think that a large part of being an artist is being delusional. You have to be totally delusional and slightly narcissistic. You have to be delusional to think that you’re going to think up stuff and people are going to be interested in it.

— Phil Toledano

Phil Toledano Interview

- - Photographers

Jonathan Blaustein interviewed Phil Toledano for us.

JB: I wanted to talk to you because I’m interested in looking at photographers who innovate by connecting their work to their ideas to their style to their individuality to their fearlessness. And that doesn’t happen by accident. I believe individuality is the key to our future success.

PT: I couldn’t agree with you more. The only thing that makes us different is the quality of our ideas or the individuality of our ideas.

JB: There are so many people who are afraid right now, who’ve seen their incomes evaporate, who’ve seen their lifestyles evaporate. I’ve read, but could not of course substantiate, that there are perhaps hundreds of thousands of working photographers who’ve lost their livings. I talked to a lot of people this Fall and I solicited a lot of opinions and people heaped them upon me and there is so much fear right now. I don’t know if people have caught their breath coming into the New Year or not or if people are buying cameras again, but clearly we’re living through, and have lived through, a fairly unique time, in which the radical shift was so great that people were just adrift. And watching one’s livelihood disappear is not something I would wish on anybody. So, lets talk about fearlessness. To me, it’s not that people don’t have fear, the people that we might call “Fearless,” it’s more that they’re willing to acknowledge the fear, talk to it, understand it, and then surmount it.

PT: Or you could just be idiotic enough…

Actually, this is interesting, because I’m working on a project right now and I think about this all the time. What drives me to be an artist, to make the work I do and I think that a large part of being an artist is being delusional. You have to be totally delusional and slightly narcissistic. You have to be delusional to think that you’re going to think up stuff and people are going to be interested in it.

JB: Well, I wouldn’t use that word, delusional, personally.

PT: I use it for me.

JB: I would say “ego.” Clearly, it has to be there. Anyone who, chooses to take it out of the shoebox and put it on the wall, and say, yeah, you ought to look at that, there’s a confidence and an ego, and perhaps a sense of delusion.

PT: The parallel I draw is it’s like being a dictator. You’re an artistic dictator. You create ideas, you create themes, you create concepts. You create this world, and then you have to populate that world with believers. Much like a dictator does. For me, it’s delusion, because you have to believe, you have to delude yourself into believing that what you’re saying is of importance, not only to you because you’re interested in it, but it’s of interest to the world at large. That, for me, is delusional because I don’t have any fucking idea if people are interested in what I have to say. I’m interested, and I’m just going to assume that somehow, other people will be interested. That may not happen.

JB: But you don’t make it for your audience, you make it for yourself.

PT: You’re right, but for me, part of being an artist is understanding that at some point, there’s going to be an audience. I’m not interested in doing stuff only for myself, if it would end up only in my closet. I have to make the art that I make, but the second part of the equation is that there are going to be people who want to look at it. For me, I’ve always wanted to do stuff that speaks to people, that addresses issues, that talks about the world we live in, that makes people feel things. I remember saying, even when I was a kid, that if I could just make stuff that made people think differently about stuff, then I would feel happy.

JB: I read that and I’d like to dig a little deeper into it. What I’m curious about, is the decision that you made and correct me if I’m wrong, but you worked in advertising as an art director/creative director for about a decade, right?

PT: Yes.

JB: One can imagine that you were well compensated. It’s not a chump change industry. I don’t need to see your bank book, but can we assume that it was at least somewhat lucrative in a way that it created a lifestyle for you?

PT: Yes, a lot more lucrative than being a photographer.

JB: Well, that didn’t just happen by accident.

PT: Fuck, you’re making like 200, 300, $400,000 a year when you’re doing that. Here’s what drove me out of that. I realized that I had, at best, a mediocre career in advertising. And I wasn’t interested in that idea. I think about that a lot, particularly in light of my parents dying, that we only have one go at the whole thing. You’ve just got to lunge at whatever it is that you think you might be good at. If it doesn’t work out… I mean it’s sad, because as you get older, you realize that everything is a cliché, and that all the clichés are true.

JB: Thank you, because there’s my money quote. That’s what I wanted to hear you say. That’s what I’ve come to believe myself. And the more I’ve embraced the idea of risk-taking, and having confidence in my own ability, and digging deeper into what I need to know about myself, it has translated into people taking notice.

PT: It’s a good question, man. Here’s the thing. I remember, when I started being a photographer, I remember thinking this very clearly, I was going to put together a portfolio of stuff that interested me and only me, and if people were interested in it, then that would be some kind of divine sign that I was on to something. I talk to people all the time, particularly when I go and talk to students, and it’s amazing to me how many kids and people feel that they have to create work… they’ll look at the market and create work that fits for that market, and I think that’s a terrible, terrible mistake. And what happens then is what you just said, hundreds of thousands of people lose their job. Because what happens is they’re not being original thinkers, they’re just providing content that already exists in a slightly different form. You can’t do that.

JB: Well, certainly not anymore, no…

PT: I don’t think you can ever do that, if you want to be…well, I guess it depends on what you want to be. For me, I just like to make art, so…even if you want to be a photographer that’s surprising and have a long career, you have to have something new, you’ve got to say something new, and it can’t be a technique, it can’t be cross-processing or desaturation, or whatever the fuck it is. You know what I mean? It has to be something inside your noggin. It has to be an interesting idea.

That’s my advice. Do exactly the thing you want to do. It’s really hard, to separate yourself from the gravitational pull of the norm, and the gravitational pull of what sells. For me, that’s the only way that you’re ever going to be successful.



JB: OK, but when I look at your work sequentially, on Mr. Toledano, with “Bankrupt” and the early work, I see work that is really stylish and graphically interesting, but I didn’t see a lot of YOU. I didn’t see a lot of soul or emotion or personality, I saw, “Hey, this looks like art and the subject matters are interesting.” I mean, empty buildings sure, but I didn’t see you… they’re very commercial. And then, all of a sudden, we hit the thing that everyone wants to talk about, the “Days with my Father” project, and it’s like, BOOM. GUT PUNCH. THERE HE IS. There was something in the early pictures that was lacking. To me, pictures can’t be visceral, can’t communicate emotion if they’re not embedded with emotion.


Days With My Father

PT: It’s interesting, I was talking about that yesterday, with a friend of mine. I think, certainly, that since “Days with my Father,”… well, you see all of those ideas, like “Bankrupt”, or video gamers, you’re right in the sense that there’s not a lot of me in them, but it’s a cerebral kind of me. There are different volumes of Phil, so there are ideas that I find really intellectually interesting, and there are things that are like, my soul, nakedly exposed, right? Like “Days with my Father,” or “America, the Gift Shop” is also very me. I mean, did you see that project? (An installation series that showed at Hous Projects in NYC)

JB: Yeah, I saw the pictures of it, sure.

PT: That’s also very me. They’re all aspects of me, it’s just that it depends on what you respond to as a person. Some people find the intellectual aspect more interesting than the emotional aspect.



JB: What I respond to and what I consider the best work is that which marries both. There was a lack of humanism in the early pictures. In the Gamers I thought the pictures were kind of cruel. You’re looking down on these people, literally, and they look really bad. They’re unflattering photographs, and of course I understand the idea, and I don’t want to nitpick here, because they were nice pictures. The difference is, and this comes back to fearlessness, that you made a decision, as an artist, to take a big risk and you decided to bring yourself, your family and your life into the work. I’m a big fan of the plastic surgery photos, “A New Kind of Beauty.” I saw them in Fraction, and I love them. To me, they’re a marriage of the idea and the execution. There is a humanism in the way you’re relating to these people, a dignity that is there, despite the fact that there is an overt sense of criticality for the phenomenon. There’s restraint.


A New Kind Of Beauty

PT: I would say, there’s never been any sense of trying to criticize what’s happening. I’m just interested in what’s happening, and the direction we’re going as a race, evolutionarily speaking. Look, you can’t look at that work and not expect people to feel emotion or repugnance. That’s not my intention at all. I just want to make that clear. It’s too easy to criticize that stuff in the same way that with the “Phonesex” work it would have been to easy to make that a joke.

JB: Of course. But you can’t fake dignity.

PT: I’m with you on that.

JB: Most people are going to say, “Hey, look at the freaks.”

PT: Exactly.



JB: And you know that, but you didn’t. And to me, that’s why the work is great. So what I’m suggesting is that in looking at the trajectory of the work, what I saw was there was a moment in which you decided to take a chance as an artist.

PT: I don’t think you’re wrong on that. I mean,”A New Kind of Beauty,” was done as the same time as the stuff with my Father.

JB: They were concurrent? I didn’t know that.

PT: Yeah, they’re very connected really. Because in those pictures with my Dad, I was essentially waiting for him to die and I was thinking about mortality all the time. And so of course I started thinking about ‘What is plastic surgery if not the denial of death and aging?’ And then I started thinking about evolution, and where we’re going as a human race, and the things we’re doing to ourselves.

JB: Let me come back to that. I’m hoping with this conversation that we can encourage a bunch of people to figure out how connect to their inner abilities, to their inner risk-taking, so that they can shift. What happens in recessions, the end result of shakeouts like this is that people lose their jobs, they lose their livelihoods, and then out of necessity, out of desperation, they scratch their heads and say, OK, I’ve got no choice, there’s no job being offered to me, how can I make a job, what am I good at, what do I care about, where is my passion?

PT: You know what I say to that, man, is you make a job by surprising people. I know that sounds simplistic, but ultimately, the reason, that “Days with my Father” and “A New Kind of Beauty” are interesting to people is that they’re surprising. They happen to relate to people in a particular way that I never thought they would. It’s originality that surprises people. The last four projects were totally inward facing, and are much more interesting for me to do.

JB: What I saw was a guy who’s making interesting enough pictures with smart ideas and then all of a sudden, they became great. That’s part of an evolution as an artist and as a person. But when I went into the backstory, I saw that you had in fact been in the advertising industry, you knew it in and out, and the fact that the work was graphic and somewhat easy. It almost seemed to me that you were doing what you knew how to do, making it look good, and then you committed to the process, you had that ah, ha moment where it just kicked into gear, and it’s all came together.

PT: What you were saying about the pictures being graphic and all that stuff doesn’t have anything to do with advertising, ever since I was 12 or 13, I’ve been taking black and white photographs of buildings. They were very graphic, and very architectural and that’s all I took pictures of. I was just obsessed with that for 15 years. I never liked pictures of people because I found them uninteresting. And, generally speaking, I still find that without an umbrella idea over a portrait series, I don’t find it that fascinating. That’s why “Phonesex” is interesting to me, because they’re phonesex operators, or people who’ve had plastic surgery. But I’ve never been very interested in random portraits of people, you know, like the old guy with the wrinkly face, and it’s black and white, super contrast.

Beauty is not enough for me it’s interesting for 10 minutes and I need more than that. If those pictures of my father were not a whole body of work and part of a thing I wanted to do to remember my Dad, to say goodbye in my own way, it would not be so fascinating.

JB: Of course. It’s about ideas. Let’s shift gears for a minute. You just showed these photographs, “A New Kind of Beauty,” at Klompching and you had a solo show in New York for the Fall season and you actually debuted the work on the Internet. You have just lived through what is the lifetime goal for many people. I can’t speak for everybody, but if you ask many, many photographers, the idea of the big, gleaming, New York City solo show, in the Fall season, is it. And clearly, though, for you it isn’t it, because your life didn’t end. You didn’t punch the clock and say, “All right. I’m out. I’m going to Tahiti, bitches. WooHoo.”

PT: I’ll just order some fucking donuts, watch TV, I’m done.

JB: Let’s talk about how your vision and your goals evolve when you’ve done something grand like “Days with my Father.” I’ve heard the number 1 million people? Right?

PT: A million and a half, actually.

JB: A million and a half? Well, Mazel Tov. OK. Now, I read a lot of your interviews, and you’re constantly defending the idea of intuitive. You’re like, “Don’t roll your eyes, but, it’s intuitive.” Or, “I know this sounds silly, but…I made something that spoke to people.” And then I read something where you said, “I want to get people thinking. I want to impact culture in a mass way.”

PT: But I haven’t done any of that.

JB: That’s where I’m headed. So I want to know how you want to use this platform, what do you think of the artist’s responsibility and ability to enact change? What aspect of culture would you want to change?

PT: I might be naive, or I might have misconstrued the idea of art, but I always assumed the idea of art was to make the world better and to be an accessible, interesting thing for everyone. Exactly why a project like “Days with my Father,” had a million and a half people look at it, and the reason why it turned into a book, and the reason why it’s going to be a movie now, which is kind of insane…

JB: Oh my god. A movie? Am I breaking that? Is that an exclusive?

PT: You can break that.

JB: Well, I think your work reached an incredibly cohesive and gorgeous level when you allowed the humanism and optimism in, and it married with the conceptualism. So how can you encourage others. Do you even have to? Is your story enough? Will people say, what can I make work about that matters?

PT:  Listen, there’s two different things. It’s tough. I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier, about the first half of my work versus the second. When I first did Bankrupt, I really thought that work mattered. What those pictures were supposed to be talking about were the human cost of economic collapse, and I thought they were portraits of people without the people in them. But I understand the the emotional reaction to them is going to be totally different from the emotional reaction to “Days with my Father.” Or the series about my kid, or the plastic surgery stuff. You know, for me, I feel like I’m not going far enough out. I think to myself, I am just so reigned in. I am just not far enough out. I’m not on the edge enough. I’m not pushing myself far enough. I’m constrained in my work. But I have made some progress. It’s all about releasing. And that’s why the delusional part is so important, because you just can’t give a shit. The moment you start caring, that’s when your work gets shit. Caring about other people. Caring about the reaction. Any of that stuff.

JB: But almost everybody in the world cares deeply about what other people think of them.

PT: Yeah, but that’s the problem, because I care enormously. My wife is always abusing me, because if someone writes something good about my work, I’ll read it and re-read it, because it makes me feel great. If some geezer in Shanghai who I’ve never met likes my pictures, fantastic. But at the same time, I’m incredibly driven to do work that I’m interested in, even though I feel like I don’t make work that sells very much. I mean, plastic surgery, it’s very hard to buy that work and the stuff with my father, it sold very well as a book, but as a gallery show that’s very hard to buy. And the project I’m just about to finish, the stuff about self-delusion, nobody’s going to buy that fucking stuff. It’s all oil paintings and bronze sculpture.

JB: It’s interesting. I don’t exactly know where to go with that, because I’ve said some things critical of the gallery industry in New York, despite the fact that like anybody else, I’d love to have the work on the wall. I’m no hippocrite… we like the white walls, we like the acclaim, we want the respect, but we want the income as well. It’s a hard mix. The commodification versus the purity of the ideas and the objects. I’ve got a heap of questions about that. I know Rob’s audience skews heavily towards working, commercial photographers. I’m curious about how you balance the two.

PT: The commercial work is not that different from my art. In the sense that they’re all ideas. It’s like I said before, it’s just a question of volume. Doing editorial work is fantastic, because it’s kind of like going to the gym. I’m exercising my mind. There are doors that have been opened to me into subject matter and thoughts that I might not have had if someone hadn’t said, “Hey, can you just take a picture of this thing for us.” It’s interesting. Like that plastic surgery thing. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I shot a photograph of a guy who’d had a lot of work done for a magazine in England. And when I took his picture, I thought, Fuck, this is fascinating, I’m really mesmerized. I find the editorial stuff really valuable, because it keeps me alive, in a way.

JB: Understandable.

PT: No, I’m talking mentally, but yes, also financially. But mentally it does too.

JB: I don’t know that we can do justice to it at this point, but the competing motivations of having to pay bills and commodify our ideas, versus trying to get them out there in the purest way possible as art…

PT: But I don’t think they’re competing. I think that’s where the problem lies. I think that’s where people make mistakes. The only reason I have any career in editorial at all is because when magazines see that I can conceptualize stuff in a very peculiar kind of way, and that’s a very valuable commodity. But that’s exactly the way my art is. The root of what I do is exactly the same. It’s just the way it manifests itself, whether it’s art or editorial may be slightly different, but the root is the same. I think that’s the problem. People feel that their art and their commercial stuff should be different. I think they should be the same. And when you make that realization, then you can be successful, I think.

JB: I noticed that both the “Bankrupt” and “Hope and Fear” projects were both used as advertising campaigns. Right?

philadvertisingPT: No. What has happened with my art is that often agencies will say, “Well, that would be a good ad campaign.” So for “Bankrupt,” people had me shoot stuff that was like it. Or with the “Hope and Fear” stuff, it’s not that they used those particular images for advertising, but they were inspired by that stuff to do ads that were similar to the work.

JB: I think it’s interesting how the two do dance back and forth.

PT: Sure.

JB: I’m interested in the evolution of your work, because I saw the switch get flipped. When I looked at the “Hope and Fear” work, and to and extent the “America’s Gift Shop” work, the symbology was just very direct and very simple. And to me, I think ambiguity is a really important part of great work.

PT: I’ve always said that I always want everything to be like an unfinished sentence, and yet when I look at a lot of my work, it’s just all very straight forward. Like this new project, do you know who Kim Jong-Il is?

JB: Did you say who I think you said?

PT: Yeah.

JB: Our dear leader? Don’t we all know who he is?

PT: Well, I’m doing a project called “Kim Jong-Phil.” It’s also straightforward. (PT now sends me a photo from the project via Skype.)Every word I say is mesmerizing 30x40
That was a revelation for me, was this parallel between artistic self-delusion and narcissism, and how a dictator is fueled by the same kinds of desires and urges. So what I did was I found paintings and murals from North Korea, photographs of them, and I had them copied in China into 30×40 oil paintings, and they replaced the dear leader with me. So this is a project about me, again, because since “Days with my Father,” everything has been inward facing. Did you see that? (the photo he sent.)

JB: Yeah, I got it.

PT: So there’s a whole series of these oil paintings, and also bronze sculptures of other assorted dictators. What do you think of that thing?

JB: It’s pretty funny. So it’s going to be shown as a painting, right?

PT: Yeah, they’re all paintings.

JB: It’s actually a nice little opportunity for a segue. I think it’s clear that for the folks in this industry who are going to rebuild things, that clicking a shutter, only by itself, is not enough for most people. That there has to be some sense of being capable or literate in multiple media, or combining knowledge bases into the photography. Video is the obvious connection for a lot of people, but I think that a lot of people are going to have to figure out where their talents lie beyond just clicking the shutte,r so that it can become a gestalt thing with other abilities. You are already working, as an artist, with sculpture and installation and painting. As an artist, how would you suggest people surmount the fear of not knowing what to do? Do you have any ideas on that?

PT: It all comes back to the same thing, man, which is listening to yourself. The reason why I make things like sculpture or painting or have other people make them for “America the Gift Shop” is that I’ve always said that the idea determines the execution. And I really believe that. So those ideas were better as oil paintings or sculpture. Actually, I’ve got to send you one of the sculptures, because they’re mental. Hold on…(PT sends me another photo.)Mr-Toledano-as-Saddam-Hussein-20-inches

JB: There it is. Time travel now exists for information. You just clicked a button, and here it is. And I’m 2000 miles away. That’s instantaneous. (Laughs.) It is interesting. I think that by working so much, it brings out different sides of yourself. There’s obviously a humor and a directness in some things that are obviously a part of you, and then there’s the subtlety and the emotionality and the ideas. I’m a big fan of Caravaggio, and I spent a lot of time in Rome at one point and got to live with the work directly…you use the word restraint before, and I used that word in my notes before, because as over the top as “A New Kind of Beauty,” is, there is a kind of restraint. You’re using chiaroscuro properly, and that’s what makes the photos as great as they are. They should be better than what you did ten years ago. We won’t always get it right, but if we aren’t growing then what the fuck are we doing?

PT: That’s exactly right. But you talk about this fear thing, and what should people do, and I think, you can’t say “Don’t be afraid,” because that doesn’t work. No one’s not afraid.

JB: I think we all have fear.

PT: You have to just say “Fuck it.” That’s the best advice I can give to people is to just say “Fuck it.” Just do the thing you want to do. If you want to take pictures of your balls, then take pictures of your balls. I’m serious. I know that’s not the kind of advice that Rob can probably publish, or you can write, but I really mean it. Because the world is composed of millions of people always telling you things you can’t do or shouldn’t do. There’s always a reason “why not” for everything. So that’s why I find this Kim Jong-Phil thing so resonant with me as a person, is because I spent my entire life being a pathological contrarian. It’s a reflex, it’s in who I am. I have to do the thing that I want to do. I just have to do it. And the more people tell me I shouldn’t do it, the more I want to do it.  The more wrong it seems like it might be, the more I’m interested in it. So that’s the thing. People don’t do stuff because fear is immobility. So you just have to be moving at all times. Which is why I’m terrified right now because I have no projects in front of me. “Kim Jong Phil” is done, “A New Kind of Beauty” is done, “The Reluctant Father” is kind of done, so I have nothing in front of me so that terrifies me because I feel like I’m going to start slowing down and I’m going to sink to the seabed.

JB: Well we both know we never make our best work in our comfort zone, so it sounds to me like you just figured out what you need to do, which is to dive into that. If your biggest fear is not working on something, then there you go.

PT: I know, you’ve got to be reckless, because that’s the only way that all that interesting shit happens. I see stuff online all the time, and think, “Why didn’t I think of that.” I think the best ideas are the ones that are right in front of you. The most obvious things are the most interesting, most of the time. I have a secret formula, which won’t be a secret any longer when I tell you, which is that stupidity and genius are neighbors. So you can do an idea that is so fucking stupid that it’s genius.

Ask Anything – Should I Hire A Photo Editor?

- - Ask Anything

Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.


I am a Photographer trying to branch out to a new market, Travel and Leisure. Do you think its important to have a photo editor edit my website and portfolios. I have been getting the comment of I like your work I wish it had a tighter edit and little more focused. I have been mixing high end commercial jobs with some of my photo journalism travel work. Any advice on this would be appreciated.


My first choice is to hire a photography consultant. This person has been an expert in the industry for both Advertising and Editorial. They specialize in tightening up both your portfolio, website and marketing plan. I am not so sure that a Photo Editor at a magazine would have time to sit and edit a photographers website and portfolio. Unless you are really good friends with them!

If your budget is tight then a DIY approach is possible. Visually research the current issues of the magazine you want to shoot for and their back issues by a year. Make sure to check out who is working there on the masthead, and check the back issues masthead to see if the cast of characters working there is the same! The style of the people hiring photographers is well represented.  Study the magazine visually. What type of photo should lead a travel story. Is it a landscape shots that are common then throw in a bunch of those. If there are portraits of people in the travel environments, put those together, and if there are signage and local flavor shots of restaurants, tourist places, shopping and details shots put them in there as well.

I don’t think commercial and editorial photography mix very well. Most magazines have well over half the pages filled with commercial photography in the form of advertising and so I feel like it’s our job to not only make sure there’s clear separation between the two but also give the readers some variety and pacing in what they’re looking at.

Additionally, I look at advertising books and think: this person needs tons of cash, lots of retouching and plenty of direction to make something happen and all of this is in short supply on the editorial side.

With regard to focus, while I believe it’s possible that photographers can shoot many different genres well, I’ve found this to be then exception. They shoot something very well and everything else is mostly mediocre. Placing them together in the same book or website only emphasizes this fact.

Finally on editing, when looking at portfolios you can easily tell within a couple images if this is someone you want to work with. After that it’s all about finding reasons why you don’t want to work with them. Editing out the crap is essential because everyone takes bad pictures. Not letting anyone see them is your job and mine.

To Summarize:
Focus is the main theme here.  Get your style tight, show consistent work that speaks the language of your client (the magazines you hope to work with) and tell the story of the place you are capturing (the landscape, the people, the food, the local activities and those vignette moments).

Call To Action:
If you need to develop your work, and travel is your focus, start taking local trips to document where you live.  Read magazines to get ideas and creative directions.  Once your budget allows, take a vacation and shoot like you were on assignment, make people want to come to that location.  Keep shooting and your body of work will grow and strengthen.

If you want more insight from Amanda and Suzanne you can contact them directly (here and here) or tune in once a week or so for more of “Ask Anything.”

The Big Picture Creator Moves On

- - Blog News

Two and a half years ago, Alan Taylor started The Big Picture at the Boston Globe; he basically ran the site in his spare work time as a web developer for the company. Now he’s moving on to The Atlantic, where he will edit a new photo site called In Focus.

Smart move by The Atlantic, which is increasingly looking like one of the media properties that may make a smooth-ish transition from print to online/app media.

via Kottke.org.

Observations From Photo LA 2011

- - Events

John Eder sent me this entertaining report from Photo LA 2011.

I went with my buddy the location scout – he got into that after a career as an assistant. We were gonna play a drinking game where we would have a shot if we saw pictures with:

empty swimming pools
Russian hookers
Indian hookers
any kind of hookers
Indian brothels
deserted strip malls
incredibly sharp images of banal intersections with gas stations
enigmatic pictures that look like stills from movies that never happened
girls in gowns underwater in swimming pools
Anything with 20 of the same thing in a grid pattern – watertowers, neon motel signs, etc.
Anything with North Korea in it
Douglas Kirkland – in any form – on the wall, in person, endorsing something, in a workshop, advertising for a future workshop, anything

We didn’t do it, tho, which is a good thing cos we would have gotten hammered!

Anyway, by Sunday, when we went, all the vendors were bored stiff and would talk your ear off. The gal from Light Works was cool and expounded at length about their really great programs for photographers – residencies, grants, access to their print lab. I’m into that! The guy hawking beautiful ltd. editions of my one-time instructor Jerry Uelsmann let me paw thru all his stuff even when I told him I didn’t have $5K to buy one. Jerry’s work still holds up for me, even in the digital age. I could have sworn the two babes manning the booth for some gallery from Santa Fe were flirting with me, I wonder if they hooked up at the after party with the guy from another gallery who sounded like Cary Grant, or more like Tony Curtis imitating Cary Grant in “Some Like It Hot.” Counted five female patrons with shaved heads, just in that one afternoon. Lots of dudes in designer eyeglasses along the lines of Hockney or Phillip Johnson.

What was striking was the lack of anything really all that new. Nobody from this yrs MOMA “New Photography” show – Alex Prager, Roe Etheridge, etc. No Gursky this year. Only one by Kahn and Selesnick, kind of tucked away, odd cos they seem to be making a big splash with their cool work http://www.kahnselesnick.com/. No Jill Greenberg, who is usually represented. Some truly weird stuff – one thing where you could take your picture in this booth and they photoshopped it into some kind of weird Buddha garden thing. None of the big NYC galleries like Yancey Richardson or Yossi Milo, I guess they don’t have to, no Clampart, nothing like that.

I was thinking about the Clint Clemens interview you did as well, regarding China – there was one Chinese gallery represented, which had a spiffy booth and some nice giveaway postcards, but they were dealing in vintage images of stuff from the 50s in China, which was visually nice but nothing leading edge.

If I had $100K to buy for a zillionaire’s loft, you could have gotten a lot of cool stuff, tho not necessarily for a song, but reams of famous vintage images from the worlds of fashion/ celeb/ journalism available for under $10K. Fetching BIG prices was Helmut Newton. You could have gotten some nice Lillian Bassmans for relatively cheap – one well heeled West Side type power couple were mulling over a purchase as “She’s going to die any minute and they’ll triple.”

Hardly any imitation Eggleston, except for something called “LA Matrix La Brea”, which was heavy on the intersections with gas stations incredibly sharp, Steven Shore involved there along with younger types.

I think the most of one thing we saw was Antarctica/the Arctic/ frozen wastelands with scary icebergs – tons of that! Lots of photo-shopped, manipulated landscapes, which were neat to look at for the most part, tho some of them a little hokey. Also, as usual – we should have put this on the list for our drinking game – there are ALWAYS a million pics of Muhammad Ali at this thing, as was the case this yr.

One of the best things about it, from an overall industry view, was it was way more heavily attended than last yr., and stuff seemed to be selling, even the smaller galleries said business had been good; they felt justified in the outlay of putting up a booth. Last year it was like oh my God the sky is falling, it was not so hot saleswise. There was a lot of stuff with red dots on it, for sold, so that’s encouraging.

I think my fave thing – that stopped me in my tracks and made me laff – was this Corey Arnold pic, on display as the cover of his book:


OK that’s my entirely unsolicited review.

Social Media Marketing Talk

- - Events

I’m giving a talk next week in Boise, ID on social media marketing for photographers. If you’re going come say hi afterwards. Here are the specifics:

Social Media has quickly changed the way people communicate and do business. If you’re like most photographers you have Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and maybe you’ve done a bit of blogging, but you haven’t figured out how this fits into your marketing plan. You’re not alone, long established media and advertising businesses were caught off guard as social media revolutionized their industry. Staying informed, making a plan and taking action is essential for anyone running a business in this new environment. In this presentation Rob Haggart will help you make sense of how these new tools work, show you photographers who are finding success with social media and inspire you to take action.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011
7:00 PM – 10:00 PM

Hotel 43 Downtown Boise
Longitude Room
981 Grove Street
Boise, Idaho 83702

Students $5
ASMP Members Free
Non-Members $15

/sponsored by me.

Real World Estimates – Food and People Shoot for Hispanic Ad Agency

by Wonderful Machine producer Jess Dudley

We recently helped one of our food/people photographers quote on an ad shoot for an agency that specializes in reaching Hispanic audiences. The ad agency’s client was a major food brand, and the product they were promoting was a household name. The campaign was aimed at Hispanics and was to be used only in Spanish language media (primarily grocery store point-of-purchase). The agency needed pictures of a celebrity chef (standing, wearing chef jacket, looking at the camera), a recipe she makes using the product, and four still-life pictures of various products in their product line. All of the pictures would be shot on white background, at a studio near the agency and talent, in one shoot day. The usage was six images for “unlimited use in the U.S. for one year.”

When I build an estimate, I like to figure out the production costs first because it helps me really understand the scope of the project, which can influence the licensing/creative fee. One of the things that made this estimate interesting was that the agency asked us to use their estimating form (see below). That was nice because it gave us prompts for all the information they expected to see. And from their perspective, it makes it easy to compare quotes.

Production Crew. The photographer would have to fly in from another city for the shoot. She would plan to take her regular first assistant. She didn’t feel the need to add on a local assistant. My ideal is having one assistant who is familiar with the photographer traveling along, and one local assistant who is familiar with the local people and places who can help get us out of a jam when the unexpected arises. I put in for one assistant shoot day and two assistant travel days.

I find that hair/makeup, wardrobe, prop, and food stylists tend to be in the same general price range. But for this job, the food styling was the most critical component, so I budgeted more for that. The product itself isn’t very glamorous, so the recipe really needed to shine. In addition to looking through every food stylist website I could find, I spent a lot of time talking with local food photographers, folks at kitchen studios, and local magazines, to make sure I knew who the best food stylists were in that area. I planned on a day of prep for the food stylist to sort out the recipes and to buy the food, and a day on set for the food stylist and their assistant.

For this type of shoot (one subject, non-cosmetics shoot) one person can handle both hair and make-up. One stylist could handle the wardrobe (which would be provided) and propping with one prep day and one shoot day. Even though the wardrobe was to be provided, we still needed someone on set to steam the clothes and fuss with the fit. Chef uniforms are not the most flattering, so some time and attention would need to be spent pinning the uniform properly to give it a more fitted appearance.

I factored in three days for the production coordinator (me). It would mostly be pre-production to pull all the elements together and make the travel arrangements, and then just tying up loose ends after the shoot. The shoot was simple enough, and due to the photographer’s needs and the client’s budget concerns, I didn’t need to be there for the shoot.

Photographic Medium. We put in 300.00 for basic digital workflow. That’s less than we normally charge for a project like this, but it reflected the photographer’s comfort level. The retouching needs would mostly be file clean-up, smoothing wrinkles, smoothing skin, and fussing with the food a bit. I figured an hour for each image. The client requested a proof print of each of the final images because the final colors of the labels and product itself are so important.

Studio Rental. I had a couple places in our database, and got some more from some friends in the area. We found a great studio with a nice cyc wall close to the agency. As I’m checking on price and availability for all my support services, I generally put my favorites on hold. That way, I don’t have to scramble when the job comes through. When you put someone on hold, it’s like a tentative booking. If something else comes in for them on that date, they call you and ask you to confirm or release them from the hold. If you confirm and then cancel, you are obligated to pay them whatever cancellation fee you have negotiated. If you release them from the hold, or if the job doesn’t come through and you haven’t confirmed, there’s normally nothing to pay for.

We expected a cast and crew of about 10 people for a light breakfast and a normal lunch. I normally factor in about 40.00/head for that. If I have time, I’ll make some calls to confirm that with some caterers. If not, that amount is a safe bet to account for.

Equipment. The photographer was traveling with her own gear, for which she was charging a modest rental fee.

Location. Just needed a certificate of insurance for the rental studio.

Travel. We’d need round-trip transportation for the photographer and her first assistant. Estimating travel costs can be tricky. Airfares can vary wildly depending on when the travel is taking place and how much advance notice you have. Between the time you quote on a job and when you get it, fares can double—especially if the shoot dates change. Make sure you’re clear in advance about who is going to pay/get the difference when the fare goes up/down. In this case, we were charging our actual cost on the expenses and the client understood that it was subject to change. I normally figure on single occupancy hotel rooms. It wouldn’t be unusual to ask two assistants to share a room if the budget is tight, but it would have to be an extreme case to have the photographer share a room with the assistant. I chose to rent a car so we could run last minute errands. But I could have shaved off a few bucks by using a car service to and from the airport. Excess baggage is important to pay attention to these days. It’s a good idea to have your own scale to make sure your equipment cases don’t exceed 50 pounds. And unless you’re flying Southwest, you’ll have to pay close attention to the baggage charges, because they add up fast. In the past, I’ve been able to get discounts from airlines for photographic equipment (especially if the photographer had a valid press credential). But these days, with airlines trying to make money any way they can, it’s rare to get that kind of treatment.

Props, Wardrobe and Sets. The pictures required only simple plates for the food, no props for the chef and just white background for all the pictures including the product itself. But it’s better to have extra stuff that you don’t use than wish you had a wooden spoon or an oven mitt to put in the subject’s hand when the art director feels inspired. I talked to the prop stylists and the food stylists to get a better sense of what I should budget for plates, pans, place settings and the food. Depending on what else they’re responsible for, it would be reasonable to have the food stylist or the prop stylist handle the cooking-related props. It’s not unusual for food stylists to bring along a small selection of serving dishes which can fill in for whatever the prop stylist gets. Just be sure to be clear on who’s bringing what avoid any confusion on the shoot day. And of course, you can plan on the prop stylist being able to buy and return items that don’t get used.

Talent and Casting. The celebrity chef was the only talent and we didn’t have to pay her out of the photography budget.

Miscellaneous. The client requested delivery by DVD. More often we simply upload the files to our FTP and send the client a link. The “Shipping and Messengers” is actually a car service for the chef.

Photography Fee. Lastly, I nailed down the fee. The key points to consider were: national brand enlisted a mid-size agency and relatively unknown “celebrity chef” to promote a small segment of their business to the Spanish-speaking population of the U.S., using six images for one year (see “usage license required” on last estimate page). Some of these factors create upward pressure on the value and some push it down. The fact that only 17% of the US speaks Spanish as a first or second language seriously limits the audience of this campaign and drastically lowered the licensing fee. This brought the fee down from what would have otherwise been 10-12k to under 7k. Majors and minors refer to the prominence of the image in the ad. In this case, they expected to use the portrait and a couple of the other pictures big, and the rest much smaller.


Six Basic Rules of Negotiating

- - Blog News

You’re going to hear ten “no’s” for every “yes” so don’t take a lost negotiation personally. Don’t burn bridges. I like to think of it this way: each person in a negotiation is just doing their job. The prospect’s job is to get you to work as inexpensively as possible. Your job is to shake the last nickel out of his or her pocket. Each person is just doing his or her job.

via Blake Discher – Shakodo.

Tablets Everywhere – CES 2011

- - The Future

If you followed the news coming out of CES this year it seemed like every third post on Engaget was the unveiling of a a new tablet. That along with all the high powered smart phones makes 2011 an exciting year for people who produce content for these types of devices. Photography and video are a natural fit, because of how well they scale, so it’s really about publishers getting on board and producing lots of content to consume.

Voted best of CES was the Motorola Xoom:

Motorola Xoom

You can find a good tablet wrap up (here).

Francis Ford Coppola: On Risk, Money, Craft & Collaboration

- - Blog News

How does an aspiring artist bridge the gap between distribution and commerce?

We have to be very clever about those things. You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

via The 99 Percent.