Treesaver, a startup founded by Roger Black and Filipe Fortes, is a platform for combining text and pictures in a layout that scales to fit any size screen. I was pretty excited about it when their teaser video came out several months ago and here’s the first story using the technology: http://www.publicintegrity.org/treesaver/tuna
It seems very workmanlike. Not sure why they didn’t create something super glossy to demo the features of this platform, but maybe there are serious limitations that prevent real design to occur (effing algorithms…). One thing I’ve never understood is why photographs get smaller online. When space is not an issue, most of the photography (if it’s good) should fill the page. Using photography to decorate a page is a waste of time, money and effort. Nice try.
By Jess Dudley, Wonderful Machine Producer
One of our still-life photographers was approached recently by a major brand to quote on a series of product photographs to promote a low-cost line of glassware that they sell through a big-box store. The client needed pictures showing several variations of each of the bowls, plates, and cups so that they’d have different options for use on packaging, point of purchase displays, and on their e-commerce site. They wanted everything shot on white background. Their in-house designers would process the raw files and handle the silhouetting and any retouching. The client would plan to bring a hard drive with them and simply take all the raw files with them at the conclusion of the shoot.
The creative challenge was to make simple bowls and cups look interesting on their own. The technical challenge was to light clear shiny objects and have them show up on a white background. After discussing the project with the photographer, she told me she could comfortably handle 3-4 items/day. So I would need to plan on a four-day shoot.
We’re normally inclined to quote creative fees by the picture rather than by the day. That tends to align the interests of the photographer with those of the client. If a photographer is charging by the day, her incentive is to run long and the client’s incentive is to finish early. If the photographer charges by the picture, everyone is going to be incentivized to work as efficiently as possible. There are exceptions to this rule, however. In cases where the client (or the client’s client) is in control of the shooting schedule (like on a corporate project where the photographer might be at the mercy of the subject’s or facilities’ availability at any given moment).
This project, however, is the type of shoot that a lot of clients have a need for, and that photographers customarily charge by the day for. Rather than upsetting that apple cart, I thought it best to go with the flow and quote the photography by the day. I’ve found that product photographers can command anywhere from 3000.00-5000.00/day for this type of work, with this licensing for a national brand. Whether I quote the high end or the low end is going to depend on how prominent the brand is, the complexity of the pictures, how prominent the photographer is, how busy he is, and the exact licensing. The number of shoot days and the regularity of the work is a factor as well. If a one-day shoot suddenly becomes a five-day shoot, I would probably discount the additional days.
Location of the photographer and the client can also factor in. If the client (even a big one) is in a smaller market and you’re competing with other photographers in that small market, you might not be able to charge as much as for a similar project taking place in a bigger market. In this case, the client and the photographer were in a big market, and I felt that all of the other factors together pointed to about the mid-point of the range, so I quoted 4000.00/day. The client specified the exact usage they needed, which I quoted on the estimate (below).
I chose to include a digital tech as well as a regular photo assistant for this project. For bigger sets, I would want to have at least two assistants, but for table-top, one was enough. I’m also finding that most assistants now have most of the skills of a digital tech, so the personnel (and the fees they charge) are starting to become interchangeable. (Of course, digital techs with extensive software and hardware knowledge, or those who bring their own computers or cameras, will always be able to charge a premium.)
Since there was so little pre-production necessary (just arranging the catering and the assistants), it wasn’t worth breaking that out as a separate line item. And while some shoots might require a pre-light day, this one was simple enough that I couldn’t justify breaking that out either.
Sometimes product photographers bundle the studio and equipment charges into their creative fees. Other times it makes sense to show separate line items. (Either way, it has very little to do with whether the photographer has “his own” space or “his own” gear. Some photographers naively charge clients based on the cost to them rather than the value that they’re bringing to their client. Equipment and studios are expensive whether you rent them by the day, by the month, or own them outright.) There are pluses and minuses to either approach. Bundling the charge might make your creative fee seem fat. Separating those expenses out might make it seem like you’re nickel-and-diming. Generally, I do whatever I think is customary for a given situation. Here, I chose to separate it out.
For catering, we’ll normally do a light breakfast (muffins, bagels, fruit salad, juice, water, coffee) and a casual lunch (sandwiches, salads, chips, cookies, brownies, water, soda, coffee). For productions with more than 10 people, or if you’re shooting more than a few days in a row, it starts to make sense to go a step further. We’ve sometimes gone as far as offering made-to-order omelets, pancakes and oatmeal for breakfast, lasagna and other hot options in addition to sandwiches for lunch, and snacks to keep people going through the afternoon. For people (clients especially) who spend a lot of time on shoots like this, it’s nice not getting stuck with an Italian hoagie every day.
Naturally, the client provided the product. But they also provided the stylist, which we were sure to note in the estimate. The shoot took place in the photographer’s own studio so travel and certificates of insurance were unnecessary.
The client liked the estimate and signed off on it, and the shoot went as expected. (Not all estimates go through as easily as this one did. I promise to get into negotiating next time!) One thing you might ask is, “what does the photographer charge if the shoot takes five days to complete, or if it only takes three?” Good question. Strictly speaking, we’ve quoted this as an estimate rather than a bid. With an estimate, the final cost will vary depending on actual conditions. With a bid, you’re saying that the cost is fixed for the result you’re delivering. However, in this case since everything about the shoot is going to be either predictable or within the photographer’s control, there would have to be very unusual circumstances to justify billing for additional shoot days. But at the same time, most clients would expect you to only charge them for the three days if that’s all it took. This “heads I win, tails you lose” effect is one more reason I prefer to bill by the picture rather than by the day.
If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating or producing one of your projects, you can reach Jess at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Fashion photography is too often thought of as superficial and unworthy of serious consideration, despite its imaginative uses of narrative, its cultural relevance and the profound influence it has had on ‘fine art’ photography for the past 30 years. Fashion photography is a burgeoning field internationally and we’re excited to take the lead in offering a graduate program specifically devoted to the medium.”
Jonathan Blaustein reports on a visit to several blockbuster photo exhibits during his trip to NYC.
I went to see Gregory Crewdson’s show on a Friday, the day before it closed at the Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue. It was an imposing, New York City-gray-type-building, with an express elevator to the 6th Floor gallery. The aura of money and power was intimidating, and I couldn’t help smacking myself with the front door in full view of the slinky gallerina sitting at the front desk. Suave, I was not.
For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Crewdson is one of the foremost art-star photographers on the planet, and a professor at Yale as well. He rose to acclaim a while back for innovating the cinematic, labor-intensive-faux-reality picture style, alongside Jeff Wall and Philip-Lorca diCorcia. His most famous images are large scale, well lit moments observing people’s introspective silence, or overturned buses in the pavement, or women on the front lawn at night. The images were revolutionary, as he hired film crews, set up huge lights and directed the action to get photographs that appear “real,” but are not. The movement of which he was a part shattered the expectation of veracity in photography, and then buried the notion of “truth,” and then spit on the grave.
The new show, called “Sanctuary, ” was a departure. The photographs are more traditionally sized black and white inkjet prints. They are somewhat flat, and and lack the snap of a good gelatin silver print. But I suspect that’s intentional. The series functions as a narrative, shot on location at Cinecittá Studios in Rome, the famous Mussolini-built film lot where Fellini worked back in the day. (And Scorcese shot the flawed but greuesome “Gangs of New York” there as well. Yes, Bill the Butcher still gives me the heebiegeebies…)
Anyway, I thought it was a pretty smart move to go from cinematic photographs to photographs in a cinematic parallel universe. And that’s where this project really stands out: on the symbolic level. The show begins in a small room with two photographs in it. One on the outside of the fence, looking at the wall that delineates the studio from the outside world. The next faces the security gate, at night, a lone woman working in the guard booth. She’s the only human in the series, and a nod to Crewdson’s previous imagery.
The rest of the images navigate a tour around the abandoned studio lot. The photographs are bleak, with a beautiful decrepitude. Here a lone tree, there a Roman arch, here a puddle of water, there a solitary bedsheet on the cobblestones. There is an undeniable post-apocalyptic sensibility, and it builds as one moves from picture to picture. Occasionally, we can see a block of utilitarian apartment buildings outside the walls, but aside from one image with some Italian text, there is no specific sense of place outside the Roman ruins. And plenty of scaffolding has been left to rot. References to Lewis Baltz, Thomas Struth and the Bechers are pretty evident, but not heavy-handed. Everyone loves a good shout out.
The photographs are quiet, lonely, sad, graceful, and specifically composed. The craftsmanship is evident, which is why the subtle prints hint at aging, lending meaning to the work. (And I did learn a bit about his process, by good fortune. A Yale photography professor was lecturing in the gallery alongside one of her graduate students. Apparently, the digital images are a composite of photos shot at different focal distances to create maximum sharpness and image clarity.)
The show ends with a path to the exit gate. We approach this little world, we circumnavigate, then we leave. Mr. Crewdson has prepared a journey for his viewers, with symbols to spare. I was moved. To be fair, a few days later a smart photographer friend asked whether I’d have taken the time to delve into the work if it had been done by an “unfamous” artist. Would I have had the patience to parse the meaning? Good question. If I’d seen it in some random gallery in Chelsea, I probably would have done a glance and go. But that’s not how we engage with art. Context is important. So in the temple of Gagosian, with knowledge of Mr. Crewdson’s previous work, he had earned my patience.
From there, I walked South two blocks to the Whitney to see Lee Friedlander’s “America by Car.” At least three people went out of their way to say “Don’t miss it,” so my expectations were pretty high. I got there less than an hour before the pay-what-you-want program kicked off, but decided to pony up the cash so that I wouldn’t be crushed by the onslaught of bargain-hunting art patrons. I knew I had to report back to you, the APE audience, and thought that I owed it to you to get a clear look at the work, instead of having to bob and weave all night.
The show is great. Consider it reviewed. Now can someone get me a cup of coffee? Just kidding. But it is superb; the equivalent of getting a big bowl of wisdom soup from a master at the tail end of his artistic journey. I’m not saying Mr. Friedlander is going to kick it any day now, but he’s coming from a place of age and experience, and it shows. Cindy Sherman, he’s not.
The exhibition contains 192 square photographs; a succession of vertical diptychs. Each image in the pair was taken in a different part of the US, though there were a few from Canada thrown in for who-knows-why. My natural inclination was to compare and contrast each image, then move down the line. Two photos. Two Americas. (Sorry, John Edwards.) Red State or Blue. Republican or Democrat. Urban or Rural. This or that.
That’s how we process information when it’s presented as such. We compare and contrast. If we’re given a line, we follow it. But after 25 or so diptychs, my head began to hurt. And then I looked down the room and into the next, and thought: I’ll never make it. No one was meant to play this game 96 times. That’s not what he wants. It’s not what he’s trying to say.
So then, I stepped back. I began to look at the exhibition in it’s entirety. Each photo was shot from inside a car, some with flash, and the shapes of the windowpanes and the dash boards were interesting as visual structure, for sure. They create a uniformity of language that delivers the message well. But the message was enticing to me. America. By car. One country, not two. Mr. Friedlander did an admirable job of collecting symbols of the once-and-perhaps-again-great nation of ours. Churches and Bars, Horses and Semi-Trucks, Factories and Gas Stations, Snowmen and Skyscrapers…
I started to look at the entire vision, and it began to make sense. A few urban enclaves aside, America is a nation defined by the car. (Just ask Robert Frank.) It’s a big place, and beyond diverse. But Mr. Friedlander was presenting one vision, not two. He was profiling one country, with his requisite humor and penchant for chaotic compositions. I came away inspired. It’s easy to divide and deliniate, and of course easier to decontruct than construct. As a viewer, albiet one intent on finding something interesting to say, I felt like this was an art show wrapped around a philosophical statement. A photo exhibit that presaged Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity.” A group of new pictures that belied a well-worn attitude: Enough already. Get over it. We’re one country, whether we like it or not, so let’s find some common ground, in this case a perfect encapsulation of an American symbology, and move along. Lee Friedlander channeling Rodney King.
By Tuesday, six days into my couch surf, I was done and ready to go home. I rewarded myself by spending the day looking at art. Yes, I had to take notes to write this piece, but all that was required was to look and think. And while some might disagree, I think the best thing about New York is the vast array of brilliant, epic and historically important things to see. Especially art.
I headed to the Metropolitan Museum, which is my favorite building in the world. I had two and a half hours, which forces one to be targeted and tactical. After hitting up the Chinese wing, which always inspires, I went to see the John Baldessari retrospective. My good friend Scott B. Davis, a photographer from San Diego, saw the show at LACMA earlier this year and told me it was the best thing he’d seen in years. Scott is not given to hyperbole, unlike, say, me, so I took him seriously. And I made sure to allow a good 45 minutes, which was not enough. But one can’t have everything.
I’d seen a few original pieces by the artist in LA, and photos in books through the years. I came into the show more aware of his reputation than his brilliance. I left feeling that Mr. Baldessari was as good as Andy Warhol. There. I said it. Now Andy’s ghost will smite me where I sit.
The best I can tell you about this exhibition, beyond “Go See It,” is that Mr. Baldessari figured out how to incorporate his curiosity, humor, irreverance, and intelligence into a broad and surprisingly relevant mega-collection of great work, across a spectrum of media. Albert Brooks once said that they don’t have a special line at the bank for being ahead of your time. I doubt Mr. Baldessari is hurting, but he definitely got there before everybody else.
Encoding, interactive gaming, implied/manipulated narrative, identity, the myth of California, the culture of beauty and retouching, so many 21st Century ideas seemed embedded in work that was made in the 60’s and 70’s. The pictures were direct, but funny. Original. Profound and silly, which is an almost impossible concept to imagine, much less pull off. I’m reticent to describe some of the pieces, as they just have to be seen. (The artist singing a Sol LeWitt art manifesto? Yeah, it’s that funny.)
Art is meant to be seen. Though it’s a JPG world and we’re just living in it, sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes, you’ve got to get off the couch, or step away from the Crackberry, find half a day, and go feed your brain. I’m intentionally lacking specificity about the Baldessari show for this reason. It’s genius: the real deal. But I can’t narrate it for you. It’s not that kind of art experience. It’s not meant to be compressed by an algorithm. Just go see for yourself.
In rejecting H-M’s motion to dismiss the Wood claim, the judge wrote: “The gist of Lankiewicz’s deposition testimony, in short, is that under his understanding of industry standards, a copyright license that specifies a print run of 40,000 copies simply does not limit publishers, which could reproduce over a million copies of the copyrighted work without seeking further permission from, or paying additional fees to, the copyright holder.”
The judge wrote off Lankiewicz’s testimony as “facially implausible and self-serving claims” and “perhaps even nonsense” on his way to ruling that no jury could dispute the meaning of a license limit of 40,000 copies.
I received an email from Photographer/Director Jason Mitchell of Purebred Photo challenging me on a assumption I made in a question to Clint Clemens about how photographers are simply shooting motion cheaper than traditional motion crews can. He was correct to challenge me on that, because it was simply a hunch I had without anything backing it up. I love hearing from people in the field and found his comments so interesting I asked him to expand on them with some examples for everyone to see. Here is Jason’s response:
I think it’s important to talk about the cost of motion production and the idea that photographers can somehow do it cheaper. I think that this is a misconception born out of the often smaller production costs of shooting stills as compared with a motion campaign, and sprinkled with the cost of acquiring on dSRLs vs. high-end motion cameras. If in reality the cost reduction is due to a smaller crew count, less expensive cameras, cheap lights and reduced overhead, then most motion production companies are already doing that. However, they do not talk it up as they prefer to focus on the larger jobs that pay better, have a properly skilled crew, and often better results. It boils down to the level of quality and control you can achieve when you are approaching a project as a solo vs. cooperative effort, the difference is in the details.
I bring this up because in your question you feel quite certain that photographers can do it cheaper. I feel I must put it back to you that everyone can do it cheaper (and already have been). But what motion teams are good at also incorporates another element (other than the obvious editing and sound as Mr. Clemens addresses): the evolution of a story. The deeper you dig into the motion world, the more you will come back with the idea that the story is king.
The barrier to entry in motion production for photographers is not all that high. The simple answer is to hire the same people who have been doing motion work for decades. It is up to the photographer to incorporate this collaborative effort, decide which elements to focus on and which to delegate. And their approach may be more novel as they are coming with fresh eyes and fewer presuppositions on what the ‘requirements’ are for solid motion production. But the costs of production relate directly to the ability to support and communicate the narrative.
So, here are two examples that I could offer up to support the rhetoric — where we kept the budget low but strove for higher quality.
Job A: OOH targeting transit in NY, SF and London and Viral still and motion banners for [Redacted] through agency [Redacted].
This one was a bit unusual (as if anything ever isn’t). It started out with only still deliverables but the client couldn’t commit to a date. As the job progressed they added on more desires for the outcome, including motion banners to support an interactive experience in the web browser. The producer was a friend I had worked with and problem solved with before and he had just run into two problems. The client pushed the dates into a conflict with the photographer who had originally bid/secured the job so he was down a photographer. They added motion, which that photographer had no experience with.
When he called and talked about the project, it was a week away. They had booked a studio and talent but needed a new (and new type of) acquisition team. And to boot, they had already settled on a budget for the project of $8300 to cover camera crew, equipment and lighting for a two day shoot — the agency was acting as the production company and handling the hair/make-up fx, prop stylist, talent, studio and post. I was available for the time and had the ability to take both both formats down so I could gladly help him out. But to complicate matters the two clients couldn’t agree if the materials should be high key or low-key to match existing work, so our punch list was growing exponentially.
I wanted to shoot strobes for still to freeze the action and needed hot lights for the motion — I chose HMIs to match daylight of the strobes. I brought on a gaffer and a 1st photo assistant for both days, each familiar with the different lights. Cameras were a Nikon D3x for poster-sized stills and an HVX200 that had plenty of resolution for web banners. I focused the budget on what I would help augment our ability to quickly handle the shoot. On set, I sistered the two (hot and strobe) lighting setups to quickly move between them. In the end, we had more issues with coaxing the talent to stay fresh than we did with the multitude of setups, so we saw overtime on day one.
So a minimal budget equaled a minimal approach — cheaper cameras and small crew. A complexity added by the client resulted in having to focus heavily on utilizing every iota of talent from the crew to make it work.
Job B: 3x 15 second web commercials (virals) for [Redacted] through [Redacted] .
This we bid out from the beginning. After a little back and forth it was clear that they had marked out $25,000 for the project to include production and post on three 15 second web commercials. The agency would be handing talent costs, but otherwise we would be delivering finished spots. The original estimate called for a lot of agency involvement in pre-production in casting and location scouting. In reality they were busy on other projects and simply weighed in online.
To make it meet the budget, we planned for one day of production with three locations. The shots were simple, all ‘oners’ where there was just one shot for the whole spot (a logo and some VO is added in post). We had SAG talent so the reads were all gold and we were able to push through the setups in short order. And we kept the locations close to each other and ended up only moving the trucks once (we shot one exterior outside on the street of the interior location). The crew was robust but minus a couple of the ancillary multiple roles, and I could Direct/DP to keep costs and crew count down. There was a total head count of 21 including 5 agency and 1 client.
I was able to negotiate a couple of price reductions in rate or kit costs with crew members that I had a good relationship and took care of everyone very well on set (great craft, a motor coach to work in and I ordered the larger grip truck). We shot on the Red with a kit 18-50mm lens for versatility in our locations and the ability to reframe the image in post (critical to time and budget concerns). We took advantage of the sun at our first location with shiny boards, a single HMI and LED at the second, and a mixture of lighting for the third location. The day included a lot of time to set up the camera and lighting to do a simple dolly move and allow talent to walk around in the frame. The formula was just right for the size of crew to the scope of the project while allowing time to dial it in on set. The time spent augmenting reality with the lighting and focus on the details made the spots much better than if we had simply run and gunned it.
A modest budget, achievable with less, not full market rate for all matters concerned, better for having more.
So there are two examples of where we kept the budget low but maintained the right kind of quality in the production. Hope this helps illustrate that not every commercial you see is a bajillion dollars. But if you have more time, effort and talent to put on you can address the important details.
5. You need a property release to use a photograph of a house for a commercial use.
No court or state has established a law—either by statute or through court rulings—creating a right to protect or prevent property from being photographed from a public area, or from that photograph being used editorially or commercially. Thus, no legal reason exists for a “property release,” except perhaps when photographing other copyrighted works or trademarks. Note that some stock agencies require a property release for fear of being sued.
Clint Clemens is a pioneer in the world of commercial photography. His book is a who’s who of high end automotive and commercial clients containing many memorable campaigns from the 80’s and 90’s. I had the chance to interview him a few weeks back and I think you will find his thoughts on the state of the industry fascinating.
APE: Let’s talk about the current state of photography. What do you think has happened to the industry recently?
Clint: The photography space, as you know, has been flooded with imagery because the barrier to entry for photography has dropped so dramatically. Previously, you had to know how to focus, you had to know how to expose, you had to know how to color correct. All that’s now gone, and it’s largely an automatic function. And, I think that there is an iTunes effect that’s happening in the market place. What iTunes did is they said, “Look, we’re going to sell data for a very small amount of money to a very large number of people.” And what that has done, is dropped the value of data in general. So if you’re selling photographs, which are generally in the form of data, the value is dropping because everybody’s expecting it to be less expensive.
APE: Ok, but in the high end commercial market that you are involved in, do you still see that sort of trend? I understand with stock photography that maybe the value was artificially inflated, because of the technical aspects of photography and I can see that dropping off a cliff. But with the higher end stuff, it seems that there’s so much more involved and there’s the need for some level of originality.
Clint: Well, yes there’s always going to be that but if you look at photography as a spectrum, it’s stock on one end and high end work on the other and there can’t be a complete disconnect between the two. One’s white and one’s black and there has to be shades of grey in the middle. So which is more dominant in forcing the shade? Is it the white area, which would be stock? Or is the black area that would be the high end photography?
My sense is that there’s always going to be a need for high end photography. High end marketing will always have a look and a desire and there will always be a drive to figure out what’s new. But what’s happening is the… how do you say this? The goal line is moving faster.
APE: Is it a trickle up effect?
Clint: Yeah, I would say it’s a bit of a trickle up effect. In the world of print publication, they were very planned and periodic events that took place. But what you’re seeing now is the change in the rapidity at which you need to be able to replace your imagery. When everyone has a camera and everyone is able to rapidly change and create new looks and companies need photography and they need to change more often due to the influence of the web, does that lead to an increase in value or a decrease in value of the imagery? My sense is that probably it leads to decrease in value of the imagery. Because the shelf life is, out of necessity, shorter.
APE: How did that effect your thinking on what you’re doing with your career?
Clint: In 2004, I saw a lot of this stuff coming and so I got involved in High Dynamic Range Imaging. But not so much for the pictorial display of the imaging, but its ability to do image based lighting and rendering. I was trying to figure out what was going to be the next great change in photography or imaging. And, with movement towards the web, people more and more, want their information interactively. So if you’re a photographer you need to understand how your component becomes interactive, because the still image, while it may have impact, has a lot shorter shelf live, if only because there’s more imagery out in the world.
So, I thought, “where is the next threshold of imaging?” And my sense was that it’s a combination of interactivity and CGI.
APE: You were shooting some location car photography weren’t you and CGI has revolutionized that industry hasn’t it?
Clint: Yes, exactly. So, in ’04 we started a company called goodstock.eu. And what that is, is back plates with the accompanying sphere High Dynamic Range Image.
So in other words, I looked at the world and said, “Everybody’s got a lot of back plates, but they can’t use any of it for rendering because you need to be able to use image based lighting with a wire frame.”
APE: So you started Good Stock, how’s that working out for you?
Clint: Oh, it’s great, we got into that and then started another company that’s connected to a real high end post-production house on the CGI end. And so that company then does the post-production of it. We take the High Dynamic Range Image with the client’s wire frame and render it.
Clint: Now, going beyond that I tried to figure out how to create a three-dimensional photograph? If you go to a website called modelsfrommars.com, that’s where we get into a lot of three-dimensional imaging.
APE: Is this scanning the environment?
Clint: Well, it’s scanning but also product visualization of which car photography with CGI is a branch of. So what’s happening is clients are demanding the more rapid pictorial representation of their product. In the case of a car client, for instance, they want to be able to visualize their car during the design phase. And then they also want to be able to have the brochure of images ready when the first car rolls off the production line.
Clint: So how do you speed up the production process and then how do you wring cost out of the production process of photography? The only answer to that is CGI.
APE: So, is this only happening in car photography because of the cost?
Clint: Yes, because of the cost. We also do visualization in the marine industries. A boat is really expensive to build. But the true, accurate visualization of it for a client is really important. You get into textures of interiors, and some of the interiors of these high-end yachts, really, they’re quite elaborate.
But let’s back up to the bigger picture here. So what’s happening is that you have a world in which the supply of photography is much, much greater than it ever was. You’ve got the concept that data, because it’s ones and zeros and it’s not a physical asset, has less value. And that’s driven by what I call the iTunes blow-back effect. How do you sit at home and download music for 99 cents and then go to work and pay $5,000 for a data set?
APE: Yeah. I get it, it’s the same with newspapers, obviously. The written word, it’s all been rendered electronically now, virtually worthless. And the distribution is nearing zero as far as moving this stuff around or making copies.
Clint: Yeah, it is.
APE: So, basically, you looked at the world of photography and you thought, “What’s going to be the highest end?” or “What’s going to be the most technical?” and you went for it. You created these companies that can provide these services for car companies and anybody who can afford it. But it’s very much the tip of the spear, right? This is high-end stuff.
Clint: Here’s the overall concept. When you look at a marketplace and when you look at your business, you have to figure out, “How can I maintain a barrier to entry?” Barriers to entry can be cost, they can be complexity they can be access. I can’t photograph the president of the United States but some people can.
So, how do you build a wall around yourself? It used to be your ability to focus, process, expose, etc. and that whole wall has completely fallen down. So, that’s what everybody’s trying to figure out, and that’s why I went in this direction, because the barrier to entry is so high.
APE: Is this your main focus with the photography now? CGI and creating companies that can service the high end aspect of that.
Clint: Yeah. To the extent that I stay involved with them is lesser or greater depending on what it is. One of them requires hourly maintenance. I’ve done so many things in my life and my career and the fun part of it is to try to figure out, what’s happening next, because you see patterns from perspective. The longer you’re in an industry you begin to recognize that things are going to move in a certain direction.
Here’s the other thing that happens, and anybody in the high-end spectrum will tell you this, that an economy is not a constant, it moves up and down. I’ve probably been through seven or eight recessions now in my career and you always see cycles and you begin to see patterns that emerge from those. So the point of a recession is to wring inefficiency out of the system. OK now, it’s a blunt instrument, no doubt about it, but that’s the point of a recession. In a capitalist economy, it treats it like a wet towel and it wrings it as tight as it possibly can.
So every time you go into a recession, the business that comes out of it is much more efficient than it ever was. And the other thing that you notice is it never goes back to what it was. It never reverts back, it always moves forward.
What we’re seeing now in this recession are two major effects, we’re seeing inefficiency getting wrung out of the system. And we’re also seeing a fundamental transformation of imagery itself, which is the digital image. We’re starting to see the full impact of what’s going to happen here. When digital first came out, it was like, “Oh, this is great. We can make all kinds of stock pictures.” Well, now, guess what happened: stock is now worthless.
The other thing that happens, in an economy like this that all the high-end manufacturers get the rug pulled out from underneath them. They’re the first ones on the chopping block, all the high-end clients. And those are the only people that really had money to pay. So you’ve got to ask yourself, where is the profit in photography? And my sense is that the real profit in photography is coming through people that are essentially teaching.
It’s the blog posts, the people that are blogging constantly, who are able to sell space on their blog and all the rest of the sort of stuff that goes on. And that’s really where it is. Yes, there is occasional work that’s out there, but it’s never going to return to the real, high-end numbers that you saw before.
APE: I’m looking at some of your advertising work here. There’s still a barrier to entry to the work that you were doing. But now, are you telling me that you’re not taking pictures anymore?
Clint: No, no, no. I go out and shoot.
APE: For clients or just for pleasure?
Clint: Well, both. The client work has definitely slowed down. When you’re shooting for Chris Craft, Net Jets, Indian Motorcycle, all these guys got hammered. If that’s your client base, instead of shooting for them two, three times a year, you’re doing it once every 18 months or something.
But that’s fine. I have no problem with that. I’m having a really good time figuring out what’s coming next and working in the 3D space.
APE: I want to talk to you about China, because the email that you sent, one thing that really stood out is how they honor photography culturally, it’s a big deal. And they have the status of a doctor there. Can you go into that a little bit?
Clint: Sure. You saw the photographs, right?
Clint: Yeah. I mean, where in the Western world are you greeted like that as a photographer?
APE: [laughs] It’s pretty awesome, right?
Clint: It’s crazy, it’s a complete cultural 180 from what we see here.
APE: And why is that?
Clint: My sense is that there’s a cultural bias towards imagery, pictograms, murals, translation of heritage and culture through drawings, very detailed drawings, a sense of artistry in the line. There is a very high level honor of the photographic process way up into the cultural ministries.
Now, here’s the flip side of the equation. China, like everyone else, has a million people taking pictures. So, back to that same argument. If everybody has a camera or everybody has a pen and can write, where do you find the value?
APE: That’s interesting because they’re able to maintain this respect for photographers at the same time many of them are able to, you know, take pictures, take probably pretty decent photographs anymore.
Clint: Well, you know, taking a decent photograph is a moving definition. I mean, who’s to say what’s good and what’s bad? And what happens is with photographs is that the idea of what is current and communicates is always changing. It’s never really a static goal line. So, if somebody takes a bad picture in our eyes, is it really a bad picture if it communicates?
APE: Oh, boy that’s a whole conversation in itself.
Clint: The Chinese love taking pictures and the way they in which they view photographers is a very high art form. Whether you can sell it is another issue. Because the sale of an image is really a function of all those global forces, everybody’s got a camera, a million photographers in the world, and imagery is distributed electronically around the world in a heartbeat.
APE: So, if you already have the status, in the west, in China you’re somewhat of a superstar.
Clint: Absolutely. And some of that is due to the access to the money to buy the camera. There were probably 50,000 students from this art and design college and so, you know, there’s always a “college town” that’s attached to a school, right. So I’m walking around. First of all, everybody’s staring at me because I’m over six feet tall. And I’ve got light hair. But the other thing is, I said to my interpreter, “Why is everybody staring at me?” and she said, “You have a very expensive camera.” So, the mass of people, still haven’t seen really high end cameras when you get out into the country.
APE: It was like you’re driving a Ferrari around town or something.
Clint: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s like you’re on another planet.
So, China’s interesting, you really palpably feel the desire to get with the Western world in terms of capitalism and commerce. OK. Ten years ago, it was a very different place. And it’s moving dramatically, very quickly. And they want what we have. I mean, it’s plain and simple. And part of that is the gadgetry that they see all over the Internet. The kids see this stuff constantly, anytime they’re on the Internet. They’re rapidly moving into a consumer conscious society. And one of those things is the camera. So, you’re looking at a confluence of wanting to have a really, highly advanced technical object, and at the same time, a very high honor for the art form. So, it’s the second one that distinguishes China.
Every time you lift your camera to shoot something, there are people taking pictures of you.
APE: [laughs] Of you taking a picture?
Clint: Yeah. Go figure. It’s really weird. [laughs]
APE: This has just happened in the last few years, right? You are seeing a lot of your fellow photographers going over on the speaking circuit in China now?
Clint: Not too many, not too many. It all happens through the Culture Ministry.
APE: So they arrange everything, the Culture Ministry?
Clint: Yeah, and they pay for everything.
APE: And what about the language barrier? Do you just have a translator with you?
Clint: Yeah, you have a translator with you at all times. So what happens is I’ll speak for three hours. An hour and a half of that is content, the other half of that is translation. But it happens really well. The other thing is a lot of them speak English. Or they really want to speak English, and they’re learning it. This is a country that is bound and determined to catch up with the Western world. That’s what you really notice when you’re over there.
APE: And they will.
Clint: Yeah. The other thing that’s going to happen is, if we think there are a lot of people competing for photography space now, what’s going to happen when the Chinese enter the market and it’s a free-for-all? So what they’re doing is they’re building photographers, if you will. They’re educating photographers.
APE: Ok, wow that doesn’t sound good.
Clint: Well, it just gets more competitive. It gets more interesting. So we’re seeing a world that is devouring photography.
APE: Can’t get enough, yeah. And like you were saying, the people who are teaching or blogging about photography, they are going to see great success. There’s a lot of money to be made off of people who are just interested in the process, not necessarily buying photographs, right?
Clint: Bingo. So in other words, you will have great photographers out there. For instance, I looked at [redacted]’s site, excellent photography. There is no reason why 15 years ago he couldn’t have made a really good living as a photographer. Maybe he did, I don’t know. But you have to ask yourself, why is it that somebody of that caliber can’t or doesn’t choose to go into a lucrative career in photography.
APE: Yeah. Because it’s a pain in the ass. [laughs]
Clint: It’s a pain in the ass. It’s a hit-and-miss, you’re hanging by a thread all your life. There’s a lot of stuff going on. Now the competition I’m talking… I’m not sure the demand is there to satisfy the competition. So think about it. What’s happening is the world wants a lot of photography, but it doesn’t want to pay a lot of money for it. And you have this endless supply of photographers and as the quality of cameras has gone up, the resolution needed to reproduce photographs has gone down. So virtually every single camera is capable of taking that kind of image.
APE: Right, but you have seen seven different ups and downs in the world of photography and the economy and each one didn’t destroy the industry. It changed it. It changed the role of the photographer, it changed how they could make a living with photography but didn’t destroy it.
Clint: Each one introduced some level of greater efficiency into the system. So it’s the introduction of efficiency. Think of the economy that goes into its inflationary cycle, or into its expansion cycle, and you end up with a lot of bloated processes out there. Inefficiency. If all of a sudden the economy crashes, businesses still have to do business, but they need to get it done really efficiently. So instead of hiring a photographer, for instance, they’ll say, “Oh, this guy Joe Schmoe that works in the marketing department, he has a camera, he can go shoot it for us.” Or they say, “We’ve got this product that we’ve been designing in CAD. Why do we actually have to shoot it. Why don’t we just render it out?”
APE: Obviously there are new opportunities for photographers in teaching and writing about photography, but what about motion. I see that as photographers moving into a space that exists and being able to do it cheaper than other motion crews are able to.
Clint: That’s exactly what’s going to go on. So it’s the democratization of motion. What’s going to happen is exactly what happened to stock photography. But Motion has another layer that I don’t think you’re going to be able to automate. Essentially what we’re seeing is the automation of photography with all these new cameras. So Motion has two other layers. It has editing and it has the sound component. And, you can’t cut perfectly to a sound beat the way a human can.
APE: So there’s that nice barrier to entry you’re talking about that exists in Motion.
APE: So, it’s good for photographers to move into that.
Clint: Ah. Only if you edit and you know sound. You need to have all three, because shooting Motion in itself is going to be just like photography; it gets cheaper and cheaper and everybody’s got one. So it’s the other two components that are very important. Photographers need to look for those barriers to entry, it’s their only hope.
Newsweek magazine and news website the Daily Beast have agreed to a merger that will make Daily Beast co-founder Tina Brown the editor-in-chief of the combined operation.
“You just have to do what you really feel, whether it’s some really obscure or super-pop thing, you just have to make sure in the end that shit is tasteful. Nike is as pop as can be, but they do it tastefully. Apple is as pop as can be, but they do it tastefully. The Whopper is as pop as can be, but that s— is tasteful…We can’t allow the pop and commercial worlds to go to s—. We have a responsibility as artists on many different levels to change the way people see the world.”
I heard from an agent who sent me this clause from a “non-modifiable” agreement that Meredith Corporations pushes which basically says they can sell the images of photographers who shoot for them to third parties for anything they choose, including advertising. We’re curious if anyone has gotten it removed or if people are just saying eff-it and shooting for them anyway? After seeing this the agent declined the shoot.
b) Creator further hereby grants to Meredith a non-exclusive ongoing, unlimited, non-cancellable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use and sublicense the Works, including, but not limited to, the rights: i) to reproduce the Works or portions thereof in all forms, works and derivative works; ii) to edit, abridge, adapt, translate, or modify or alter the Works; and iii) to publish or authorize publication of the Works in any media now known or hereafter developed, throughout the World.
Last week the NYTimes Bits blog reported on a study that website usability expert Jakob Nielsen conducted (here) that purported to show how generic/bad photography is ignored by people visiting websites. Well, duh. It’s amazing how much filler there is online… heck even in magazines these days, which I’m chalking up to the rise of inexpensive stock. People feel like they need a photo but aren’t willing to spend some money to get something decent (or don’t have a clue what good photography looks like). I believe very strongly that as the web space matures the need for high quality imagery will increase. This report confirms that.
“…the random or stock images on Web sites are completely ignored by users, add more clutter to the page and don’t necessarily help from a business standpoint.”
I have never understood models. I find it really hard to find beauty in that or to discover beauty because the beauty was so obvious. I always found it more interesting to discover beauty. With models I never knew what to do. It was uncomfortable for me that they were always so beautiful. I didn’t know what I could discover there that wasn’t so plainly obvious.
— Anton Corbijn, via NYTimes.com.
2011 Award Recipients
- Nicholas Mendise (New York, NY)
- Devin Tepleski (Victoria, Canada)
- Christoph Engel (Karlsruhe, Germany)
- Jonathan Smith (Brooklyn, NY)
- Gareth Kingdon (Cardiff, Wales, UK)
- Victor Yuliev (Saint Petersburg, Russia)
- Rena Effendi (Baku, Azerbaijan)
- Thomas Stanworth (Deeside, Wales, UK)
2011 Honorable Mentions
- Christopher Vongsawat (Brooklyn, NY)
- Ivo Rafailov (Burgas, Bulgaria)
- Ryan Obermeyer (Austin, TX)
- Brandon Schulman (Brooklyn, NY)
- Jenny Johannesson (Pacifica, CA)
- Julie Soefer (Houston, TX)
- Alix Smith (New York, NY)
- Ariel Bernades (Minneapolis, MN)
- Nils Orth (Brooklyn, NY)
- David Wright (Syracuse, NY)
Hearst Corporation today announced the winners of the second Hearst 8 X 10 Photography Biennial, an international competition that recognizes the work of talented young photographers—eight rising artists whose vision will shape the future of the creative media landscape, selected by 10 of the world’s foremost photographers, gallery owners and magazine professionals. The 2011 Hearst 8 X 10 Photography Biennial garnered more than 4,600 entries from across the U.S. as well as 70 other countries, five times the number of entries garnered in the 2009 inaugural competition.
[Note: copied straight from the press release]