The Daily Edit – Michael Becker : Ventura Blvd

- - The Daily Edit

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Ventura Blvd Magazine

Editor-in-Chief: Linda Grasso
Creative Director: Ajay Peckham
Graphic Designer: Elena Lacey, Michelle Villas
Photographer: Michael Becker

Heidi: Tell us about your commercial photography as a second career. What caused you to make the switch? 
Michael: I was drawn to both music and photography from an early age. When I was 11 my grandfather, who was a professional photographer in Manhattan, gave me his beautiful old 1950’s Rolleiflex. I was immediately hooked. When I hit my teens, I became increasingly interested in music, particularly blues and jazz. I started playing guitar and ended up going to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. After graduating I moved to Los Angeles and spent the next 15 years in the studio making music.

Several things happened that ultimately led me back to photography. In the year 2000 there was a commercial actors strike that had a dramatic effect on some of my clients and my business as a composer/producer. Shortly after that, both my parents became very ill. I decided to move back to New York to help take care of them and to deal with the difficult transitions. It was then that I rediscovered my grandfather’s old Rolleiflex. Taking photos of my parents and the town where I grew up became both an escape and a way of documenting what my family was going through. There was something about the immediacy of photography that resonated with me. I was hooked all over again.

I know your first career was as a successful music composer, how do the two interplay, if at all?
They both have the incredible power to move people, and to reflect and comment on social conditions. After years of making music, I found photography refreshing in that I could make a photograph relatively quickly, whereas writing and producing a song can be a rather lengthy process.

My professional experience has been that both require a strong, individual voice or vision, but they are also fertile playgrounds for collaboration. I loved playing in bands and working in the studio with other musicians. Photography is also a great collaboration, starting with the entire creative team, through to the subject interaction with the photographer.

My biggest lesson from music carried forward into photography is to trust the creative process. Don’t set out to make something perfect, set out to make something authentic and then subject it to a heathy dose of scrutiny and refinement.

How did you execute the Mark Jacobson story? I understand you turned over a completely researched idea both editorially and photographically. How long did this process take?
I have been working with a wonderful editor and photography consultant, Lisa Thackaberry. I was interested in doing more editorial work in addition to my entertainment work. My wife, Staness Jonekos, had also done a major career switch from television executive producer to published author. It was Lisa that suggested we find an interesting story to tell and work as a team doing the story and photography. She suggested we pitch magazines directly and thought going in with a complete article might be a viable way to get published. Since staffing and budgets are down in editorial, it made sense to try and create our own opportunity.

My wife immediately remembered our first encounter with Mark when I started working in entertainment and thought it might be an interesting story. I loved the idea and reached out to him to see if he would be open to doing it. After explaining our intentions, he agreed and we set up the first interview. It wasn’t until we sat down with him that we realized what a rich history there was with him and his father Irving. Irving had quite a remarkable career prior to inventing the first camera sound blimp. From the time I first called Mark to when the article was published this month, took almost a year.

What compelled you to share this story and why this magazine?
To our surprise, there had been almost nothing written about the sound blimp. Just Mark’s web site and a couple of mentions in users’ blogs. Such an obscure thing, surely there must be an interesting story. It’s been a part of film and television publicity and marketing for decades. Many film marketing one-sheets are made from the unit stills shot by the onset photographer. Shots that could never have been captured with a noisy camera snapping away during an actual take.

Once again it was Lisa Thackaberry that suggested we pitch it to Ventura Blvd Magazine (VB). She thought the local business angle was a great fit since his shop is in Studio City. VB does fantastic stories on local businesses and they still dedicate a luxurious amount of space to photographs.

Were you surprised that this story hadn’t been told as it’s such an important part of photo history?
We were definitely surprised at how little information was out there. In general, on set photographers are there for the publicity and marketing teams, not as part of the actual production. The very nature of the job requires a certain amount of stealth, thus I think it gets somewhat overlooked.

What compelled you to ask about the family history?
We were aware that it was Mark’s father who originally invented the first blimp. We were just curious what prompted him to design such a seemingly proprietary piece of gear. What kind of demand could there possibly have been at the time other than a few one-offs. Now blimps are used everywhere, from television and film sets to theater productions, golf tournaments, etc. Any place the clicking of a camera is a distraction to the action.

Was Mark surprised that the story made the cover? ( ie…not a publishers idea of a sexy subject )
He was completely blown away that he made the cover. We all were! Linda Grasso, Editor-in-Chief, and the amazing design team at VB literally picked our favorite photograph from the whole shoot to use on the cover. We couldn’t have been happier with the layout.

I think there’s great value in local publications and being connected to community, is that why you pitched this to Ventura Blvd?
Yes, it just seemed like a great fit given the proximity and the fact that VB is still prominently featuring photography. Plus we live in the hills above Studio City so it felt like it was relevant to us as both members of the community, and also the industry.

I know you shot Nancy Cartwright for the magazine, did you ask her to do her Bart Simson for you?
I did not, but I know she’s all too happy to oblige when someone asks.

What were you trying to capture when you photographed her and was it hard to separate her from that iconic voice?
Nancy is an incredibly talented voice over artist and an explosive bundle of energy. I simply tried to capture the exuberance she has for her new passion with sculpting. Clearly Bart is an inseparable part of her that she embraces and is protective of. I completely enjoyed the time the three of us spent together!

The Daily Promo: Cyndi Long Studios

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Cyndi Long Studios


Who printed it?
Grogtag.com printed the coasters. I went with the premium double sided. More expensive, but worth it in this instance.

Who designed it?
I designed it myself. I minored in Design/Art Direction in college, which doesn’t qualify me to handle the job, but I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted one side with an image and a very “low key” mention of my website, and then the other side to be very clear about what my name is and how to find me.

Who edited the images?
I edited myself. I had a plan to make a set of 4 coasters. I had three images I already wanted to incorporate, so I then shot an additional image (Peticolas)  to round out the feel of the set.

How many did you make?
I started small. Only 100 of each coaster. I wanted to target the local breweries, plus the more established craft breweries across the nation. I’ve had such a great response to them, I will either print more, or make a new set to send out.

How many beers did you drink to make this?
I love love love beer, but I generally won’t crack one open unless my client for the day wants to, or at least the final shot is on set.

For the Peticolas image, I needed to create several “pours” which means I needed to continually empty the glass until I got the hero shot. Of course I didn’t want to move the glass (I had focus/lighting exactly how I wanted it,) so I channeled my previous rookie-drinking-self and drank from a straw.

Anyone that has enjoyed the Peticolas Velvet Hammer understands why I quickly decided it was in everybody’s best interest for me to discard instead of consuming the beer. It is truly smooth like velvet, but will quickly hit you like a hammer if you’re not careful.

How many times a year do you send out promos?
I TRY to send out quarterly, or at least twice a year.

I know you’ve been home brewing since 2012, it this what prompted a beer promo?
I’ve been a huge fan of craft beer for several years. Texas recently opened up the laws making it easier for small breweries to sell their brews. There’s been such an explosion of quality breweries here, I decided it was a great excuse for a promo. Unfortunately, the cost per piece is still out of reach for the smaller guys, but I look forward to working with them once they’re ready to make a bold marketing statement.

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Photo by Erin Davis Smithison

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This Week In Photography Books: Sachiko Kawanabe

by Jonathan Blaustein

The sun doesn’t care if you live or die.

It’s true.

The glowing orb, impossibly far away, hangs in the sky, while we spin around it. Its heat and light enable our existence, yes, but don’t fool yourself.

The implacable star has no feelings about any of us. It just is, and so are we. The only difference, near as I can tell, is that we are here for the briefest of times, aware our journey is finite.

The sun, on the other hand, will outlive us all.

I’m sitting at my white kitchen table, musing as usual, enjoying the ambient sounds of chirping crickets. Outside, the aspen leaves shimmer as only they can; proof of the slight breeze that animates them. Bird calls complete the scene.

There is nothing else, at the moment.

I just finished meditating, which is a practice I’m trying to adopt. It might explain my metaphysical mood. Meditation is one of those things that are clearly good for you, like spinach, but it takes dedication to adopt it properly. (We’ll see if it sticks.)

So I AM calmer than I might otherwise be. But it’s not just the silence, and the sweet muscle relaxation that comes from sitting still, breathing in and out in rhythm. No, my mood was further enhanced by just the right photobook, at just the right moment.

I’ve really come to love this job, because I have a routine that revolves around entering other people’s worlds, each and every week. I’m rather picky about what I like, when I see things on the wall. I want NEW. I want innovation.

But with books, I’m far more interested in crossing the threshold of an immersive experience. Losing myself, as I do when I have a camera in my hand. (Don’t we all.) Or when I’m swimming laps.

Stroke. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe.

What engendered this New-Age-Reverie? “sononite,” a new book by Sachiko Kawanabe, recently published by Omoplata/Superlabo in Japan. I’m sure you’re not surprised, because nobody does Zen like the Japanese.

This is a genuinely lovely book. It ticks all the right boxes: beautiful, quiet, contemplative, philosophical, and well-made. I’ll do my best to write about it, but books like these really do need to be held.

It opens with a horizontal orientation, back to front. Immediately, we’re interacting with the book in a non-traditional way. After the cover, we get a short bit of thoughtful text that gives the crucial details: the story is about an apple orchard that the artist found, and visits regularly.

She loved the place so much, in fact, that she and her young daughter spread her beloved grandmother’s ashes among the trees. This is not just a grove raising food for people. It is also a final resting spot, but grandmother will not rot, as the apples do. The fires put an end to that.

Thereafter, the orientation shifts to vertical, and we begin in Winter. The snow reflects those sun rays, and the white set against the blue sky is just right. Nature may not care if we live or die, but it does know how to give the perfect backdrop on which to play out our daily drama.

Winter to Spring, Spring to Summer. At one point, despite the uniform loveliness of the images, I found myself wanting something new. On the next page, I noticed a picture with a blue cast that seemed unnatural, even in evening light. My attention returned.

That happened again when the artist’s daughter appears, and yet again when I turned the page and found a lovely burgundy book-mark-string. As always, pacing details are important, and respected, in well-made books.

Summer gives way to Fall, and the fully grown apples desiccate on the ground, as we all will, one day. (Unless we ask them to burn us.)

This book works on several levels. It allows you to contemplate your mortality without grief, because everything is impermanent. (Even the sun.) But it also gives us the opportunity to shut out those thoughts, if we so choose, and luxuriate in some very beautiful pictures of a sweet little apple orchard in Japan.

Bottom Line: Beautiful, Zen book that shows us the cycle of life

To Purchase “sononite” Visit Photo-Eye

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The Art of the Personal Project: Brian Kuhlmann

As a former Art Producer, I have always been drawn to personal projects because they are the sole vision of the photographer and not an extension of an art director, photo editor, or graphic designer. This new column, “The Art of the Personal Project” will feature the personal projects of photographers using the Yodelist marketing database. You can read their blog at http://yodelist.wordpress.com. Projects are discovered online and submissions are not accepted.

Today’s featured photographer is: Brian Kuhlmann

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How long have you been shooting?
I started this business while still in high school, so 31 years.

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
Self taught.

With this particular project, what was your inspiration to shoot it?
My inspiration was the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The seen and unseen effects on the wildlife were horrendous. I chose to shoot dancers with fabrics and petroleum products to recreate visuals of the spill.

How many years have you been shooting this project before you decided to present it?
This is still a rough draft .

How long do you spend on a personal project before deciding if it is working?
Not sure how to answer this. I work on the project until I feel it is complete. Every test works in one way or another.

Since shooting for your portfolio is different from personal work, how do you feel when the work is different?
I don’t draw lines between the two. I love to shoot, and all of my images are my portfolio; the only difference is where I decide they end up in my presentation.

Have you ever posted your personal work on social media venues such as Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram or Facebook?
Not really. With the current terms and conditions of social media sites, I am careful what goes into those venues.

If so, has the work ever gone viral and possibly with great press?
I had a couple of these images picked up by magazines and books. Rangefinder did a short piece, and Weldon Owen also ran a page dedicated to one of the images, in the book “How to Photograph Anything”.

Have you printed your personal projects for your marketing to reach potential clients?
My personal projects usually end up in gallery shows. I have used some of the images as special gifts for important people in my life.

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Brian Kuhlmann’s favorite part of being a photographer is… photographing. He’s been a working photographer for the better part of 30 years. While now based in Los Angeles, he started out in St. Louis and lived more than a decade in Chicago. His commercial work is based in creating energetic lifestyle for some of the largest brands in the world.
Into The Fray – Brian Kuhlmann

Capturing the controlled movement of dancers has long been a passion of mine; this particular body of work was a direct response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and its effect on wildlife.

Working with professional modern dancers, I shot this sketch of what is to be a larger project. We explored different textures and materials, from the watery texture of silk to more literal petroleum-based products, letting the dancers bring their own personal interpretation to the subject matter.


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information believing that marketing should be driven by a brand and not specialty. Follow her on twitter at SuzanneSease.

Pricing and Negotiating: Business Lifestyle Shoot for Technology Company

Craig Oppenheimer, Wonderful Machine

Shoot Concept: Environmental lifestyle images of professional talent working and interacting in various business scenarios alongside a video production.

Licensing: Worldwide Advertising, Collateral and Publicity use of up to seven images for one year.

Location: Multiple business and retail locations in the South.

Shoot Days: 2

Photographer: Lifestyle and portraiture specialist based on the West Coast.

Agency: Medium-sized, based in the Midwest.

Client: Large, multinational technology company

Here is the estimate:

Creative/Licensing: The art producer at the agency sent a very rough shot list with limited visual references describing situations in which people were interacting and using apps on a phone to conduct business. There were seven images they hoped to capture, many of which were in different environments with unique talent. The photographer and I originally assumed the shoot would take three to four days given the uniqueness of each environment, but we found out that a video production team was arranging all of the logistics to capture video prior to shooting stills in each environment, and that they would be dictating the pace of the project.

The art producer asked us to submit an estimate reflecting a two-day shoot (which is what the video production company estimated), and since we would truly be piggy-backing our portion of the project to the video, our estimate needed to reflect this. It was possible that the information provided and discussed with the video production company was a bit different than what we were presented with, but given that they’d be responsible for the majority of the logistics and details (and since it was their responsibility to cram it all into two days), we were comfortable presenting an estimate for the photographer and his crew to tag along to capture still images of their setups.

Even though most of the images were unique, I felt it was appropriate to determine a fee for the first image, and apply a discount for the subsequent images since it was most likely that the client would only take advantage of the full licensing for just a handful of images throughout the year. I decided that the first image was worth $7,000, images 2-3 were worth $4,000 each, images 4-5 were worth $3,000 each, and images 6-7 were worth $1,500 each, totaling $24,000. The agency asked us to give them an idea of what additional images would cost, and I decided that a pro-rated fee based on 7 images and $24,000 would be most appropriate. I rounded up the pro-rated fee a bit to an even $3,500 for each additional image.

On one hand, I initially felt the fee was low since this was for a major brand capable of taking advantage of the international advertising licensing that the photographer would be granting. For instance, Getty prices international advertising use for one year closer to $13,000 per image, and Corbis prices their “All Marketing Pack” for one year closer to $17,500 for one image (although this includes broadcast use and a handful of other uses that were unlikely for this project). On the other hand, I’ve compiled many “shooting alongside video” estimates recently, and due to the stills oftentimes being an afterthought, fees have frequently landed closer to $7,000-$10,000 per day including unlimited use of the images. I felt our pricing was appropriately calculated by the image, but if you were to look at our fee by the day, $12,000 per day for two days seemed pretty healthy considering that the licensing was limited to one year.

Photographer Travel/Scout Days: This accounted for the photographer’s time to travel in, scout the following day, and then travel back after the shoot.

Assistants: Even though the video production would be providing the majority of the production elements, we wanted to make sure there were enough hands dedicated to setting up, moving and breaking down the still photo gear, so we included three assistants. The first assistant would travel to the shoot with the photographer, and both the second assistant and third assistant would be hired locally.

Digital Tech: The digital tech would also be flying in with the photographer, and we broke out the fees for their travel/scout days from their shoot days, while also lumping in a fee of $750 for a workstation on each shoot day.

Producer: Even though the video team would be wrangling most items for the project, we still included fees for a local producer to get involved and offer support for the photographer to find crew, arrange travel accommodations and be the main point of contact between the video production company, agency and the still photography team regarding logistics. I included three prep/wrap days on top of the two shoot days for the producer.

Equipment: We were a bit in the dark about what types of environments the photographer would need to light, but to be on the safe side, we estimated needing at least $2,000 worth of camera bodies, lenses, grip and other gear per day, and figured most rental houses would offer a “three days same as a week” discount to account for the shoot days and the scout day.

Airfare, Lodging, Van Rental: I used kayak.com to acquire costs for the photographer, his first assistant and digital tech to fly in, spend four nights and then fly back home after the shoot while having a large van with them for the length of the trip.

Miles, Parking, Meals, Hard Drive, Misc: I included $50 per person per day for the photographer, his assistant and digital tech to cover each day they’d be out of town. I also included $100 for each shoot day and the scout day to cover miscellaneous expenses, $200 to cover a hard drive and shipping costs and $250 to cover parking and to add a bit of a buffer for any unforeseen expenses that might arise.

After submitting our estimate, the art producer told us there was a chance the video portion of the project might be removed. This meant that all of the production elements would then be the responsibility of the still photography team, and we were asked to draft an estimate detailing all of the fees and expenses for such a scenario. As I noted earlier, a two-day shoot seemed very optimistic at the onset of the project, and after a discussion with the photographer, we decided to estimate a three-day shoot which seemed much more comfortable based on the scope of the project.

Here is the estimate:

Creative/Licensing: The licensing stayed the same, but we added a day to the shoot. In order to keep the fees palatable to the agency, we just increased the rate by $2,000 to account for the photographer’s time on the additional day. Also, they asked if we could offer a discount on the additional images and provide a pricing structure that was more affordable in case they wanted to license up to 30 total shots, rather than seven. We decided to offer five additional images at $2,500 each, and then included a discount for images 13-22 at $750 per image and images 23-30 at $350 per image.

Photographer Travel/Scout Days: Based on a discussion regarding the potential schedule, we included one day to travel in and attend a talent fit day, followed by two scout days before the shoot and a travel day after the last shoot day.

Assistants: Just as before, the photographer planned to bring his first assistant for the entire length of the trip (including the fit day and scouting) and hire two local assistants to lend a hand on each of the three shoot days.

Digital Tech: Again, the tech would also travel in with the photographer and his first assistant, and similar to the previous estimate, we broke out his travel/scout days from his shoot days.

Producer and Production Assistant: Since the scope of the logistics that would need to be coordinated drastically increased, the local producer’s workload needed to be accounted for. We included eleven days (four pre-production days, one fit day, two scout days, three shoot days and one wrap day) and also added a production assistant to lend a hand throughout the shoot and help with pre-production and scouting as needed.

Hair/Makeup Stylist and Assistant: This included the three shoot days, and we included the cost for them to bring along an assistant since there could potentially be a handful of talent that needed to quickly get prepped in the morning and touched up throughout each day. This rate was on the higher end for a stylist in this market (I figured $1,000 per day plus a 20 percent agency fee), but there was some discussion about moving the shoot to a more expensive market, and I wanted to lean on the higher end just to be safe.

Wardrobe Stylist, Assistant and Wardrobe: This included three shopping days, one fit day, three shoot days and one day to return the wardrobe, all of which would be accompanied by their assistant. Similar to the hair/makeup stylist, I leaned on the high end for their day rates and included an agency fee. Based on the rough shot list, I estimated that ten talent would be shot over the course of three days, and figured that $500 per talent would be plenty to cover the wardrobe. I leaned on the high end for wardrobe since a few of the comps mentioned branded employee wardrobe that could possibly have required custom fabrication.

Prop Stylist, Assistants, Props and Prop Van: Since we weren’t exactly sure what sort of locations the agency hoped to shoot in, and since part of our discussion with the agency was about outfitting a bare loft-type space, we had to factor in the possibility of needing to heavily prop out an environment. I therefore included nine days for the prop stylist and their first assistant (five prep/shop, three shoot, one return) and added on a second assistant for the three shoot days and one day on both ends to help with pickup and transportation of the props to/from the shoot. Based on the rough comps, it looked like there were four main scenarios that would need to be outfitted, and I estimated $2,000 per scenario as a starting point. We noted in the delivery memo that this was subject to change based on additional creative direction. Since some of the props could have possibly included large furniture, I included the cost for a van to transport everything. The rental could have potentially spanned over ten days, and I estimated $150 per day and then rounded up to include the cost of gas and to give a bit of a buffer.

Location Scout and Locations/Permits: I figured that many of the local scouts would likely already have the types of locations required in their library, but just to be safe I included four days to cover their time to dig through their database of files and also go out and scout for a few days if more options were needed.  A few of the locations would simply require a permit like an outdoor location might, and I figured $4,000 per shoot day would cover up to two locations within each shoot day. I noted that this cost was TBD and elaborated in our delivery memo that it was subject to change based on additional creative direction.

Casting, Talent and Payroll Processing: As noted in the estimate, the $4,000 fee for casting included a handful of items associated with one live casting day, and we anticipated outsourcing this to a local casting agent given the accelerated schedule. I don’t typically break out talent fees as I did in this estimate, but the agency specifically requested to see the costs broken out in this manner. There would be five unique talent attending some, but not all, of the shoot days. The first day would require five talent, the second day would have two talent and the third day would have three talent, totaling 10 “talent days” represented in the estimate as “session fees” which accounted only for their time. I included $2,000 per talent to account for using their likeness based on the same licensing being conveyed to the client by the photographer, and I based this rate purely on previous experience hiring talent in that market. On top of the session fees and usage, the talent would also expect to be paid to attend the fit day, and I included $500 per person, which is a rate I’ve negotiated with talent agents for similar half-day fit fees in the past. Talent agents would add on 20 percent to the session, usage and fit fees, and as I mentioned, I was asked to break this fee out on a separate line item. Lastly, I anticipated outsourcing the payment processing to a payroll service company so the photographer wouldn’t have to worry about managing that process and it’s complexities. The fee for such a service can range from company to company, but often times 20 percent of the amount they need to process is adequate, and I included that as a separate line item.

Equipment: We left this the same as the previous estimate, again basing it on a “three days same as a week” discount.

Production RV: With this many crew members on set, a production RV would serve as a staging and styling area away from the shooting space. The $2,000 fee included $1,500 per day plus an additional $500 per day to account for mileage and any miscellaneous dumping/cleaning/generator/wifi fees the RV company might charge.

Catering: I added all of the crew, talent, agency and client representatives that would be present on the fit days, scout days and shoot days, and I anticipated that $60 per person per day would afford breakfast and lunch catering for everyone. I then rounded up by a few hundred dollars to cover a client/agency dinner with the photographer.

Miles, Parking, Meals, Misc: Similar to the previous estimate, this covered $50 per person per day for the photographer, his assistant and digital tech for each day they’d be out of town. Additionally, I included an extra $1,000 per shoot day for unforeseen expenses since the scope of the project was still a bit vague at this point. I thought it would be advantageous to pad the estimate a bit and accommodate some reasonable creative scope changes without having to request an overage, rather than seeking an overage for every minor change of plan.

Insurance: It was possible that the photographer’s insurance coverage would be adequate, but the unidentified locations, RV rental and equipment rental reinforced a decision to add this in just in case he had to increase his coverage limits.

Airfare, Lodging and Van Rental: As I mentioned previously, I used kayak.com to determing costs for the photographer, his first assistant and digital tech to fly in, spend six nights and then fly back home after the shoot while having a large van with them for the length of the trip.

Feedback: After a day or so of back and forth creative development, the art producer let us know that they wanted to move forward with the project, but the video was back in the picture again. However, they decided that three days was more appropriate for the project, and therefore needed a three-day version of our initial estimate where the video team would provide the major production elements. With a bit more insight on the creative scope and potential budget, we drafted a new estimate with a few changes.

-We increased the photographer’s fee to $28,000. Even though we previously estimated three days and seven images at $26,000, it became clear that the shoot days would be very long (we noted crew overtime separately) and they’d be cramming in more scenarios within the timeframe, and we felt that was worth a slight increase to the fee.

-The travel and scouting schedule also changed a bit, and we anticipated that the photographer, his assistant and tech would fly in and do a bit of scouting, followed by a full scout day, shoot for three days and try to fly out the evening of the last shoot day.

-We added on a fourth assistant since there would be a lot of moving around on each day and another set of hands would be advantageous.

-We adjusted the producer’s fees to account for one prep day, two scout days and three shoot days. I was planning to add in another prep day for him, but after speaking with our local producer, he was confident that he wouldn’t need it.

-The photographer reached out to a local equipment rental house, and based on some new creative insight, he decided that he’d need much more in the way of equipment as previously anticipated. The rental house’s quote came in over double than what we original estimated for gear, but it also included the digital tech’s workstation as well as a van rental for all of the gear.

Results: The photographer was awarded the job. Here was the final estimate:

If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating or producing a project, please give us a call at (610) 260-0200. We’re available to help with any and all pricing and negotiating needs—from small stock sales to big ad campaigns.

The Daily Edit – Nicole LaMotte: LA Magazine

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Los Angeles Magazine

Creative Director: Steven Banks
Art Director: Carly Hebert
Photo Editor: Amy Feitelberg
Photographer: Nicole LaMotte

 

Heidi: I know your astrology sign is cancer, how much to you think that plays into your love of shooting home/interiors and your philanthropic work?
Nicole: I definitely think my astrology sign plays into my love of interiors…cancers are home bodies at heart, always needing a home to call their own.  Even as a child, I was always aware of my sense of home, rearranging furniture in my room to create a different feeling (or maybe just trying to get a better pov for camera ;))  As an undergrad I studied photojournalism at Columbia College in Chicago and without realizing it until later was the very first books I bought were  interiors. I bought the “Family Houses by the Sea” by  Alexandra D’Arnoux and then Isle Crawford’s “The Sensual Home”.  I am drawn to the feelings that a curated space can provide.  The philanthropic work really helps to balance me out.  As a cancer, I am definitely sensitive and not just about my own feelings.  The first time I traveled to Haiti and saw the looks in the the eyes of the orphans, I had a visceral reaction that compelled me to go back and find ways to help.  One way was through my pictures, but I also recruited an artist friend, Rebecca Farr, to come along and bring the gift of art and self-expression to the children.

You were also a photo editor, where you always shooting and editing?
I have been shooting most of my life, it just has not always been my livelihood.  In my twenties I had a career in the corporate travel world which not only gave me a great business background but also afforded some amazing travel benefits…and that is when I would do most of my shooting–while on my travels.  I would love coming back from a trip and editing the pictures and making a book (the old fashioned way, with prints and albums).  But, when I turned 30, I decided it was time to get back to photography which is when I transitioned into the magazine world. My photo editing career started at Santa Barbara Magazine and then ended at  C Magazine. I worked with Margot Frankel at both places, she brought me down to LA to help launch C Magazine.

Is it hard to edit your own work? What’s your process?
Depending on what I am editing, the process can be very difficult.  Shooting a story tethered is relatively easy, with the exception of portraits, as you are able to watch the story develop. When not shooting tethered,  I will usually do a first pass edit with one rating and then wait as long as I can (depending on assignment due date) and take a second pass which usually consists of looking at the rated ones and knocking some down.  Sometimes I find it helpful to look at a shoot in the “proof shoot” view, again going back to my photojournalism training, and looking at images smaller to see what grabs me.  When editing for a show or my website, I always need an outside perspective as I cannot easily separate myself from my work.

When did you decided dedicated yourself to photography only?
After spending about six years as a photo editor, I decided that it was really time to go out on my own. Producing shoots became less fulfilling and I needed to focus on my passions.

What was your big break?
 My big break really came from a dear friend, Andrea Stanford, who had come from the magazine world and was launching a new division at One Kings Lane.  She needed a photographer to shoot the leading interior design tastemakers for online sales.  I helped her to establish the processes and then began shooting regularly which allowed me to support myself.  It was an incredible feeling to have such a supporter – someone that believes in you completely.  I ultimately started working at the company full time, and did so for 2 years, which granted me incredible access to the interior design world.  And I loved meeting all of the interesting people and shooting such a range of spaces from super layered to incredibly streamlined.

You have a strong understanding of the narrative arc, does that stem from your magazine editing work?
As a photo editor, I worked closely alongside an incredibly talented creative director, Margot Frankel.  I would sit with her while she laid out stories, so I really did gain an incredible understanding of how images can tell a story and the need for scale changes; she has an incredible way of laying out images that is unexpected and fluid.  Being on shoots as the photo editor also allowed me to observe the process of developing the story arc.

How often do you work for LA Magazine?
This was my first time working for LA Magazine. They had seen my other story on Lulu and wanted to house so there was not a ton of direction on the story.  The writer was on set for this one so we were able to collaborate on the important elements of the house/story as it unfolded.  It is always nice when you can get tidbits of the interview to help inform the richer part of the story; I find you can uncover a lot layers this way, like maybe a collection that isn’t full on display or pieces of art that are significant. The magazine asked for coverage and gave me a template of the house layouts to use as a loose reference.  They wanted to be sure I covered as much as possible in both a horizontal and vertical format to help with the layout and maximizing the images for a four page story.

What are some key tips for shooting people in their environments?
When shooting someone in their environment I like to have conversations with them about their house and what spaces they use the most so that they are comfortable in the environment.  Lulu is use to being photographed so I didn’t need to worry as much with her.  Sometimes it is nice to have the homeowner in a space that otherwise might not feel complete, in the case of Lulu, I loved the front entrance with the rug down and the assortment of jars but felt like it would be much livelier with her in it (and to avoid a dark whole which the door would be).

What happens on a cloudy day when you have a job? Do you try and simulate sunlight?
Cloudy days are actually good, except when you are shooting people as it brings down the overall light.  I try to avoid the harsh light when shooting interiors and move around the house accordingly.  I really like the feel of natural light.  The challenge is when I have to light someone and making it feel cohesive with the rest of the story which is natural light.  So I work from my ambient and then add just a pop to to give a little direction without looking too lit.

The Daily Promo: Stephanie Vovas

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Stephanie Vovas


Who designed it?
I designed it.

Who edited the images?
I did.

How many did you make?
It’s an ongoing campaign/process as I make them by hand, which takes some time. So I pop off a few every time I get a chance, and am sending them out gradually.

How many times a year do you send out promos?
This was my first time sending out a promo. I love printing them, bundling them up, and shipping them out. It’s like making a nice gift for someone you want to like you, and hoping they enjoy what they receive. I aim to send out a nice package 3 times a year from now on. I already have the next one designed in my head and I can’t wait to make it.

Where did you get the pencils and wood grain paper?
Pencils are from a local shop, and the paper and boxes are from Paper Source. Paper Source is full of cool stuff for making promos.

This promo stemmed from a very fun job, so I wanted to show it off in a nice little package. Michelle Kohanzo, the Creative Director of The Land of Nod hired me to make fine art photographs for their stores to sell. She was completely open creatively, and totally supportive to my team and I. It was a dream job working with her.  We got to shoot in Wisconsin, at a camp that has been many different things in the past, a speakeasy in prohibition days, a church camp, and a brothel! We got to stay overnight in the cabins there overlooking the lake. It rained and stormed a great deal on the shoot day but it all worked out great!

This Week In Photography Books: Alessandra Mauro

by Jonathan Blaustein

The cursor blinks. Blue on white. Blink. Blink.

Taunting me.

“What are you going to say this week, Blaustein? Are you going to tell us a story about your kids? Or deconstruct a Hollywood movie? How are you going to keep it fresh?”

It’s a surprisingly annoying cursor. Poking at my insecurities. And yet I’m fond of it. (Him? Her?) It’s kept me company for years, and only now have I even realized it’s blue.

I guess I’m not that observant. Blink. Blink.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty fried at the moment. Yesterday, I drove to Santa Fe, then Albuquerque, then Santa Fe, then home. 6 hours and 250+ miles of Wild West road-tripping, all to drop off pictures for an exhibition, and shop for clothes along the way.

Everything I bought was either made in India or Bangladesh. Some items were extremely inexpensive, others more reasonably priced. But it all came from a sweatshop, or so I’d imagine. Normally, I don’t think very carefully about that. But I recently saw a John Oliver rant on the truth behind the international clothing industry.

It’s not pretty.

And I was left with a mental image of children stuck behind sewing machines. It’s dancing through my mind, just now, and igniting some serious guilt about my purchases.

As I’ve learned, and tried to share with you here, sometimes you just need to turn your head sideways to see something with a completely new perspective. It can make obvious things that were obscured, like dropping a pair of corrective lenses over your young son’s faulty eyes.

Today, I’m going to review a book unlike any I’ve covered. And I’m going to do it in a way that’s different from the manner in which you’re supposed to review such a book. Watch, as I break two rules at once.

It won’t hurt a bit.

“Photoshow” is a recent offering from Contrasto in Italy. It was edited by Alessandra Mauro, and contains interviews and essays that explore the history of the photographic exhibition. Yes, it’s a publication that attempts to corral a 3-dimensional experience into 2-dimensions, and compress nearly 200 years into a few hours of reading.

Or so I’d imagine. Because I didn’t read a word.

This is a book you’re supposed to read. It even included an interview with Quentin Bajac, the head curator at MoMA, whose opinions and expertise are certainly worth exploring. (I’m sure I’ll get to it one of these days..but not today.)

Rather than skipping a review, because I write about pictures, not words, I decided to open the book and look at the photos. Why not review this as a photobook, and acknowledge that many of you would likely enjoy the essays too?

Why not indeed?

It’s the rare publication that starts with pictures by Talbot and Daguerre, and ends up with a photo of Erik Kessel’s room installation of 24 hours worth of pictures from Flickr and Facebook. In fact, it may be the only such publication ever made.

We see a killer image by one of my favorites, Gustave le Gray, and a trio of pictures by Roger Fenton, including the classic that shows his mobile horse buggy/ photo studio. My long-time readers know how much I love Fenton, so that selection got my attention.

Marcel Duchamp’s famed urinal at Edward Steiglitz’s gallery? Installation shots from “The Family of Man?” Joseph Kosuth’s seminal three versions of a chair? All mashed up with Jeff Wall’s work and lots of work on walls?

Skip the words, and this is one cool book. Read the words, and you come out with more education than you started. Either way, it’s a win win.

I’m sure some of you will be shocked at my perceived laziness. That’s understandable. You’re not supposed to review a book without reading it. But you’re not supposed to support a system that enslaves children either, and we all seem tragically OK with that.

Bottom Line: Cool pictures, lots of words, and a heap of photo history

To Purchase “Photoshow” Visit Photo-Eye

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The Art of the Personal Project: Jazzmine Beaulieu

As a former Art Producer, I have always been drawn to personal projects because they are the sole vision of the photographer and not an extension of an art director, photo editor, or graphic designer. This new column, “The Art of the Personal Project” will feature the personal projects of photographers using the Yodelist marketing database. You can read their blog at http://yodelist.wordpress.com. Projects are discovered online and submissions are not accepted.

Today’s featured photographer is: Jazzmine Beaulieu

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How long have you been shooting?
5 years professionally

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
After graduating High School, I attended the Hallmark Institute of photography where I was enrolled in a 10-month program focusing on the technical, business and artistic sides of photography. Upon graduation, I moved to NYC, where I immersed myself in the world of photography, galleries, Fine Art and Street Art, developing close relationships with a wide range of talented artists in these and other fields. My experiences both professionally and socially since moving to NY, have taught me many things applicable to my field, that I could never have learned in the classroom, so in a very real sense, I was formally educated and self-taught.

With this particular project, what was your inspiration to shoot it?
I had seen some images from India’s Holi Festival and was incredibly inspired by the otherworldly effect that the application of this substance had on those who used it and immediately decided that I wanted to use it as an element in my work. A Colourful Life was born by my desire to use the powder as an incongruously playful environment for 65yr plus women. The inevitability of aging is mostly discussed or illustrated with a sense of dread. I conceived this project as an opportunity to instead, celebrate it. To communicate the idea, that spirit, beauty and joy do not have to diminish with age and in fact it’s life’s experiences that make us all that much more vital. The images I captured wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without the brass of the women in them.

How many years have you been shooting this project before you decided to present it?
This came together fairly quickly. From concept to capture it was about 6 months.

How long do you spend on a personal project before deciding if it is working?
The answer to this question is always going to be specific to the project itself. In this instance, I somehow always believed that it would work right from the start but my confidence in it grew enormously as soon as I met with my team. Their shared enthusiasm helped reinforce my feeling that this was going to be something very special.

By the time we walked into the studio, the only production left to do was to set our stage and capture the narrative that played out on it. As soon as we captured the first image that was a direct manifestation of our collaborative efforts it was clear the shoot would be a success. As a photographer that moment is the drug. It’s a high that keeps you moving through the entire project. At that point, no matter what, it’s a winner.

Since shooting for your portfolio is different from personal work, how do you feel when the work is different?
Human connection is the most important element in my work. I love interacting with people, hearing their stories, telling them mine. Whether the project is for portfolio or an assigned production, my relationship to the people in my images is what drives me. My hope is, no matter the content, that my audience sees and more importantly feels that when viewing my work.

Have you ever posted your personal work on social media venues such as Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram or Facebook?
Absolutely. All the time. But mostly selective edits and behind the scene images to my shoots that are meant to be teasers to the galleries I post to my own website. I also love to post images from my social outings primarily because I love my life and enjoy sharing, but also because my social adventures are direct influences on my work.

If so, has the work ever gone viral and possibly with great press?
Facebook licensed a selfie I had taken of my best friend and I last year and that image did go viral. It received 328,000+ Likes and 6,000 shares.

Have you printed your personal projects for your marketing to reach potential clients?
I think nowadays, printed promotions need to be really special to get the desired attention of it’s audience and justify the cost for the photographer. I have sent very limited, personalized cards out, but this project will more then likely be the one that gets designed into a stunning package and mailed as an edition to a wider audience.

Project Team:
Photographer: Jazzmine Beaulieu
Creative Director: Megan Yanchitis
Powder Design: Lee Milby
Hair and Makeup: Stacy Skinner
Wardrobe Styling: Jess Mederos

Jazzmine Beaulieu (1984) was born in Lewiston, Maine to an artist mother and a musician father. After graduating high school, she attended Hallmark Institute of Photography, completing a ten-month curriculum focusing on the technical, business and artistic sides of photography. She graduated at the top of her class, receiving an award for “Best Overall Portfolio” and “Most Promising New Artist”.

After graduating, she moved to Brooklyn NY, where she currently resides. Since her graduation, she’s done many successful campaigns for a wide variety of clients, including: Virgin Atlantic, Easy Jet, Azo, Taleo, Culturelle, Estoven, Mega Bus and Facebook.

(She also does non-profit work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Cre8tive Youth*ink/ Art Without Walls).

Her latest project entitled, “A Colourful Life” was just premiered by Vanderbilt Republic at (Un)Scene an exhibition in NYC that was part of the Armory Arts Week.

Follow her on instragram @jazzminephoto


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information believing that marketing should be driven by a brand and not specialty. Follow her on twitter at SuzanneSease.

The Daily Promo – Sarah Lim

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Who printed it?
Who designed it?

Who edited it?
The promo was printed, designed, edited, cut, glued and assembled 100% by me. I’m a maker of sorts (which is why I like to brand myself as a “Picture Maker”) and I hand make many of my own props and sets for shoots. If there’s something I’m looking for but I can’t buy it anywhere, I’ll just make it. I’ve done anything from cooking, sewing, building, screen printing, painting, hot-gluing – you name it, I have probably done it for a shoot or in life. I like working with my hands, so building and crafting are something that comes pretty naturally for me. I spend a lot of weekends at home with power tools and a glue gun.
How often to you send out promos?
The original idea for the promo was to make an old-school Valentine, but the downside of making everything by hand is it takes a lot of time.  So, I’m still in the process of sending some of them out!  But I think the message is universal, so I don’t think people will mind if they receive them post-Valentines day (I hope!) To date, I’ve probably sent out about 75, but have plans to send out about 200.
Did you also do the typography?
The typography is consistent with my branding (I also designed my logo out of a silhouette of my head);  Everything I do is hand made and hand-tailored for a specific subject or the client, so I’m really thoughtful of the “whole package” and how the design, layout, etc, all come into play for the final product. I also think people really like having an interactive experience, and getting mail with your name hand-lettered, adds to the interactivity of the promo.  The idea was to make the envelopes look kind of like a love letter (or I’m “in like with you”) and I really wanted them to pop when people saw them on their desks. I wanted to make something fun that people would want to share.
As a sidenote, a thaumatrope is considered to be the beginnings of motion pictures, and I’ve also recently began doing more motion and stop-motion type work. Just kind of another layer that helped personalize this promo for myself. I try to send out promos at least quarterly, and this year wanted to start thinking of at least one special, hand-made promo a year to send out, in addition to quarterly postcards.

 

The Daily Edit – Genome: Samuel Solomon

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Food as Medicine:
Photographer:Adam Voorhes
Editor: Rhonda Reinhart

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The Family Condition
Photographer: Randal Ford
Casting and wardrobe: Lauren Smith Ford
Retouch: Gigantic Squid
Editor: Rhonda Reinhart

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What is Personalized Medicine
Photographer: Adam Voorhes
Editor-in-Chief: Eric Celeste
Designer: Caleb Bennett

Genome


Creative Director: Samuel Solomon
Editor-in-Chief: Eric Celeste

Heidi: How did this job come about for you?
Samuel: Years ago, I worked with Genome’s founding Editorial Director, Eric Celeste, while at American Airlines’ inflight, American Way. We always had a great working relationship during our time there, so he reached out about the Creative Director position when things were first getting off the ground.I jumped at the opportunity because I felt like it would be a chance to build something meaningful from the ground up, and had a lot of potential to become a great product.

Did you choose healthcare consciously as an editorial pursuit? It seems as though that would be a very solid career path. Smart.
Not healthcare specifically, but I’ve always had a personal interest in science, and looking back I’ve often gravitated towards projects which had a philanthropic element or could contribute something of real value for the audience. Not to draw a comparison to Tibor Kalman, but I always admired the editorial work he was able to do at Colors, and that sort of social consciousness has always been very appealing. There is a lot of promise in the field of genomics and personalized medicine for helping people with chronic diseases, so to be able to work on a magazine that can have real impact is great. The bonus is that from a design perspective, science and medicine have such a huge visual vocabulary to draw from.

Who publishes it and how many times a year does it come out?
Genome is a quarterly published by Big Science Media, and is the core product around which the media company is built. All of our content lives in both the print edition and online at genomemag.com. We’re in the process of closing our fifth issue (Summer 2015) right now.

How big is your staff?
Well, I am the entire art department if that says anything. It helps that we publish quarterly, and I occasionally bring on some outside help when needed. So yeah, we are a pretty lean operation — 5 in our Dallas office, our Editor-in-Chief in the Bay area, and we are growing our sales staff outside the Dallas area.

Are you also the Photo Director?
More or less. I do all of the research, assigning, editing and color work.I’d say the vast majority of our imagery is conceptual in nature, so there’s also a good deal of illustration in the book.

Medicine can a dry subject, what is your creative mantra to combat that?
Well, our writers and editors are great at making these topics accessible for a broad audience, which in turn makes my job a lot easier.If you look at the existing visual vernacular of genomics, you see a ton of glowing 3-d helixes, walls of ACGT text, scientists hard at work in the lab. My challenge is to try to avoid the clichés, and find a fresh way to speak to these topics.For the first issue, I wanted to see if we could do an entire issue without a single helix. We came close — I think there was exactly one. But it was a super smart solution by the Milan-based illustrator, Alessandro Gottardo.

How did the idea of the suit come about for the disease story?
We work out which story will be featured on the cover for each issue during editorial meetings. Usually it’s something with broad appeal — topics that affect everyone like family, technology, food, etc.

For this particular cover, I had to find a way to communicate disease inheritance that would be really immediate for the reader. The idea came up to bring something that’s usually hidden inside the body to the outside, so we ended up using clothing as the metaphor for inherited genetic traits, with the genetic mutation represented in orange. There’s this sort of anxiety around the idea of an inherited disease, because it’s lurking away inside your genetics, and the jarring patterns help to reinforce that anxiety.

I reached out to Randal Ford, because I knew he could execute the concept and bring something extra of his own to the project. A concept like this could go south pretty fast if it wasn’t executed really well. Randal brought on Gigantic Squid to help with the retouch and creating the patterns, and in the end, everyone did an awesome job of making a pretty weird idea come to life.

What’s the creative direction for the brand?
Our overarching goal is making complex science understandable and compelling for the lay audience. I’d say the creative direction is idea-driven and bold, sometimes a little experimental or whimsical but always approachable. Someone with an existing health condition doesn’t need to fight against the design in order to get to information that could potentially change their life.

Are you hamstrung at all by newsstand sales?
Genome is actually not on newsstands, and goes primarily to subscribers and point-of-care settings: doctor’s offices, hospitals, personalized medicine facilities. Anyone that’s interested can subscribe for free at genomemag.com/subscribe.

Who is your competition?
We were the first producer of content centered around genomics and personalized medicine, so we have a leg up in that sense, but a few more have come along recently. Front Line publishes a genomics magazine, and Cure is a cancer publication which occasionally touches on personalized medicine. Ultimately, our competition is any publication in the point-of-care setting, so everything from medical journals to newsweeklies.

If a photographer wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way?
A simple email or printed promo piece works just fine and we look at everything that comes through our door, digital or print. Submissions, messages, criticisms, whatever can be sent to art(at)genomemag.com.

Sandro Miller Interview

Jonathan Blaustein: Given the thickness of your Chicago accent, and the plethora of sports photos on your website, I have to ask… what do you think about Derrick Rose’s game-winning shot the other night?

Sandro Miller: The shot was absolutely, off-the-charts amazing. But unfortunately, the man down in Cleveland, Lebron James, answered right back yesterday. With the exact same shot, but from the side.

Both shots were amazing, but Derrick’s was just off-the-charts. He’s a killer basketball player. What I loved most about it was when he got into the arms of (Joachim) Noah, and there was no smile on his face, and he looked at the crowd and goes, “If you had any question if I was back, there you go.”

JB: Right. And he’s a local boy, isn’t he?

SM: Oh yeah, he’s local. He’s a Chicago boy. A South Side boy. He’s a really good kid. His Mom did a good job bringing those boys up in a very, very, very difficult neighborhood.

JB: Not only did he come up hard, but he lost essentially 3 seasons to injuries. You guys must be rooting for this dude on an almost-unprecedented level.

SM: You know, I think everyone in the league is. Even the other players are. He had three almost-career-ending injuries, so to see a kid like this, who plays the game so well, with so much honor… to see his career almost taken away, if you’re a basketball fan, you were rooting for D Rose to come back.

JB: And yet, when Lebron hit that shot yesterday, I imagine there might have been quite a few people choking on their Polish sausage sandwiches around the city.

SM: Arrgh. I was sitting here with my wife’s Mom, and all of her sisters, who are Moms. We had a big Mother’s Day feast over here, and when Lebron hit that shot, we just couldn’t believe it. But anytime Lebron gets the ball in his hand, you give him the rock, and he’s going to do something with it.

He’s the best in the game. And anything is possible.

JB: We’re talking about Chicago, and basketball, and everyone rooting for Derrick Rose.

SM: Yeah.

JB: We’re talking about Lebron being the best. And, I bet you’re more familiar with Michael Jordan than I am. But this weekend, my sister-in-law was in town, and randomly asked if I thought there would ever be another athlete with the sort of dominating presence and cultural import that Michael Jordan had, back in the 90’s.

What do you think? Could there ever be another phenomenon like Michael Jordan?

SM: I worked with Michael a lot, back in the day. In fact, ESPN magazine had an issue that came out, a 12 page spread, and it was all about how much I had shot Michael Jordan, and these great pictures I had done.

I worked with Michael really closely, and he was first class in every way he presented himself. On the court and off the court. Michael was the essence of perfection in everything he did. There will never be anyone as competitive as Michael. He hated to lose. There was something in his blood.

Michael would beat an 8 year old kid in ping pong, just because he couldn’t stand to lose.

JB: (laughing) He’s trash an 8 year old kid? I love it.

SM: He would. His competitiveness was beyond, beyond, beyond. I don’t know if there’s ever going to be another Michael, but does there need to be?

JB: I’ve learned, over the years, that when you talk to people from Chicago, and you bring up Rahm Emmanuel, that he’s not a very popular figure. Could Michael Jordan be the Mayor of Chicago?

SM: Michael Jordan, in 1995-6, could have run for President and won. Could he run for Mayor today? (pause) No. Michael’s absent from Chicago. It’s a known fact he’s no longer a Chicagoan. He spends very little time here. You don’t see him at a Bulls game, at a playoff game.

Michael’s gone through some changes. He’s bitter about the NBA, and he’s bitter about Chicago. About how he was treated. So today, no, he couldn’t.

But Rahm is the boss man. You don’t run Chicago with kid gloves. You’ve got to have an iron fist. I don’t know if you heard, but Spike Lee is coming to town to make a movie called “Chiraq.”

JB: I didn’t hear that.

SM: Yeah, he’s comparing Chicago to Iraq. We’ve got a huge, huge gang problem here, and there are a lot of killings. Most of it is not in the news, it’s completely overlooked. We’ve got SWAT in town, and almost an army-load of police watching what’s going on in Chicago’s South Side and West Side.

It’s do or die. Spike Lee is going to put out a powerful message, and Rahm was against the name of the film. It’s pretty embarrassing, when you’re known as Chiraq. But I think Rahm’s doing a good job. He was just re-elected, and as with any Mayor, he’s done some things that aren’t popular.

But we’ve got 4 or 5 films being shot in Chicago right now, and we’ve got a lot of TV series too. There’s a lot of different things he’s doing that are really good for Chicago. And it’s an extremely clean city for its size.

George Lucas is doing a museum here. It’s a great place of culture. We’ve got something like 50 million tourists coming in each year now, because it’s got pizzazz. And great restaurants.

JB: Well, that’s the reaction I was expecting. Rahm is an Obama guy, and most people I talk to are fans of Obama. But whenever I asked Chicagoans about Rahm, they really hated him.

SM: I don’t know if they hate him. He’s a tough, badass guy. He wasn’t very popular when he closed down about 14 schools, but in the long run, it really was a good decision. They were only 1/3 full, and in terrible running condition. When you’re in a position like that, you have to make some really tough decisions.

I wouldn’t invite him for dinner…

JB: You have standards.

SM: Yeah. But he’s got a job to do, and it’s a big job. Filling Mayor Daley’s shoes wasn’t an easy thing to do, and Mayor Daley made a bunch of mistakes.

It’s a tough job, running Chicago. It’s not an easy city.

JB: Fair enough. But this is not a podcast, so only I get to hear the purity of your Chicago accent.

SM: (laughing)

JB: That’s why we had to start with Chicago. But since we did, maybe we can pivot to photography. We’ll start at the beginning. How did you get into photography? Where did the bug come from?

SM: When I was about 16 years old, I picked up a copy of “American Photography” for the first time. I’m sure there was something very interesting on the cover, that made me pick up the issue, and I ran across two portraits by Irving Penn. I didn’t know who he was.

I saw a portrait of Picasso, and the French theater actress Celeste. Those two portraits changed my life. They were bold, gutsy, and very dramatic. There was a rawness to them.

I hadn’t heard of any of those three people, but two days later, I knew everything about all three of them, because the photographs were so powerful, they made me want to know more. That’s what a powerful portrait does: it stops you, it begs for you to ask questions, and you go research and you figure it out.

JB: After those few days, you thought, “This is what I want to do with my life?”

SM: No, it was after I saw those two portraits. I knew, sitting there on my bed. I didn’t have to do the research.

JB: OK.

SM: I already knew.

JB: That was that.

SM: I knew that I wanted to create great, great portraits. I wanted to photograph and document people: to surround my life with people who were important, and had something to offer to the world.

With that said, some of my greatest portraits have been of people that are normal. People outside of my studio door that are so interesting, I need to put them in front of my camera.

JB: One minute, your life was on one trajectory, then you see a couple of photographs, and it changes the course of your life.

SM: I came from a small immigrant family. My mother came over on the boat. I was raised by a single mom from Italy, and she had very little education, so education was not on the top of our list.

We were what most people would consider poor back then. So there wasn’t that big push for a college education, and there was no culture in our home. So it was a huge fluke that I would become this internationally world-renowned photographer.

It wasn’t in the cards. We didn’t have the money to send me to the big photography schools, so I had to become self-taught. It’s kind of miraculous that I am where I am, coming where I came from.

I think that when one has something that moves them, that moves their heart, and they become passionate, you can do anything. I was ready to do whatever it would take to become a great photographer.

JB: So what did you do? I imagine the first move would be to get your hands on a camera.

SM: Yeah. It was a few months later that I bought a used Nikon F film camera, and I took a course in high school. Learning the basics. I had no idea what composition meant. Decisive moment. Contrast. It was all so foreign to me.

I learned from the bottom. But I started to collect photography books at 16, and today, I have close to 800. It was those books
that have become my education. The pictures became ingrained in my head.

I did a couple of semesters at a community college, and then got a job with a photographer, when I was 18. I worked for other photographers for about 5 years, and then I opened my own studio. That’s where it all began.

I started with small accounts of mostly catalogue work. 90% of it was product related. But I was taking pictures, and making money. I gave up a lot to become what I’ve become, because it’s not an 8-hour-a-day job.

It’s every single minute of your life, if you want to become great. I can’t tell you how many dates, how many concerts, dinners, events, happenings that I couldn’t make because I was working.

My work always came first. Besides my family, my work always came first.

JB: It takes a lot to push to the top. The athletes we talked about at the beginning are no different. That’s how you got here. But what about now? Where do you turn for inspiration?

SM: My inspiration still comes from books, magazines, poems, theater, music. Children’s drawings. It comes from everything in the world, because I walk with my eyes wide open. I look, and I take in everything: the way people wear their clothes, or their hair.

My mind is like a train, and there are so many projects that I’m working on, or are going to work on. It’s almost a slight, slight illness. It’s an addiction. I’m grateful for it, because it makes me who I am today.

If I wanted, there would be no stopping me until I was dead. But I have other things I’d like to do in my life, so I don’t know that photography will carry through to the end. I’m sure it will in some aspect, but there are other things I’d like to do with my life.

JB: Like what?

SM: Well, I would absolutely love to paint, and this is going to sound strange in an interview like this, but I love to golf. Writing poetry, and creating artwork is going to become important for me. Something creative will always be close to me, and I’m sure photography will always be the nucleus.

JB: How does one come to have a muse like John Malkovich?

SM: I started shooting John about 17 years ago, when he was an ensemble member at the great Steppenwolf Theater. I got a call to photograph the ensemble team to start working on their ad campaigns, playbills and marquees, and I’m still working with them today.

Along with John, they had Joan Allen, John Mahoney, Gary Sinise, and Martha Plimpton. The list just goes on. They’ve all been in big films.

JB: Sure.

SM: It was probably the greatest ensemble of any theater company in the world. The first time I got the call about John, I just couldn’t believe it. I’d always wanted to photograph Malkovich.

I was really prepared for John, because I always do my homework. I set up the shots, and everything was perfected. And no matter who you are, I treat everyone the same, and that’s with a tremendous amount of respect.

John came in, and I was who I am. Just very respectful. We chatted for a half an hour, and then went into our photo session. He loved the way I worked and presented myself. He understood that I really got the light.

He loved what we did together, as they were extremely powerful black and white shots. We walked out of there with a deep mutual respect. Over the years, John spent a lot of time in Chicago, and when he’d come in, we’d get together for another photo session.

He became my white piece of canvas. He became my muse.

JB: That’s crazy.

SM: Over the 17 years, John has never once said “No, I don’t like that idea, Sandro. I don’t want to participate.” Never once. He has gone with whatever I’ve asked him to do, sometimes with very little explanation of what I was thinking about. He’d sit down, listen to the idea, and then say “OK, let’s do it.”

All together, we’ve produced about 110 portraits, and had a grand time doing it.

The latest idea was my homage to the master photographers, called “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to the Masters.” What happened was, about 3.5 years ago, I came down with a Stage 4 cancer. It was very much on the edge whether I was going to make it or not.

JB: Oh my god. I had no idea.

SM: I had a lot of time to think about my career, my past and my future. There was a point where I began to think, why did I make it to where I’m at today? Where did it come from? Was it one certain person? It came to me that it was the great photographers of the past, the iconic images from the masters that would make my knees buckle.

That’s why I am who I am. I wanted to be great enough to make images that did the same things to other people what these images are doing to me.

So I picked the 40 images that moved me more than anything in the world, and I went to Malkovich with a selection of those. I got on an airplane, went to the South of France, where John lives, and he loved the idea. I could see his head was turning, because this was perfect. He’s a theater guy. He becomes other people all the time.

This was going to be his greatest challenge. Becoming Marilyn Monroe. Dorothea Lange’s migrant mother. Bette Davis. Alfred Hitchcock. Warhol. Capote. Hemingway.

The idea is very powerful. And we both knew that we had to do this to perfection. Because, done incorrectly, it could have become a laughingstock. We both knew it.

JB: It’s interesting, because you’re talking about it in an earnest, straightforward, serious way…

SM: Yeah.

JB: …but the photographs themselves are almost the height of absurdity, because you played it so straight. Many of them are hilarious in their shockingness.

SM: Yes.

JB: But you’re not talking about this project as having had that kind of motivation?

SM: It was never to be a humorous project.

JB: It was NOT?

SM: No.

JB: You don’t see the humor in it?

SM: Yeah. How can you not, in seeing John Malkovich play Marilyn Monroe? I get that.

JB: OK.

SM: And I don’t mind that it brings a smile to your face, or a giggle to your heart. But it wasn’t meant for people to bust out laughing. It wasn’t a comedy.

It was a serious thank you. “You guys are the greatest photographers, my Joe Dimaggios, my Babe Ruths, and thank you for what you did. I wish I could have done what you guys have done. Thank you.”

It had to be done with such seriousness, every single detail had to be perfect.

JB: Right.

SM: Otherwise, it wasn’t going to work.

JB: Sure. I just went back and re-watched the scene on Youtube, just to remind myself, but the title of the project, “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich” comes from the Spike Jonze movie “Being John Malkovich.” The scene where he gets inside his own head, because other people have been getting inside his head. Just a classic.

SM: I thought very little about that film when I did this project with John. For me, it was so natural to use John. There was never a doubt about who I’d work with.

I love the film. Don’t get me wrong.

JB: Such a good movie.

SM: That film never crossed my mind. It wasn’t about the film. It was nothing more than to say thank you to the masters.

JB: But the success comes back to your muse relationship. People love this stuff.

SM: There’s no question the stars have aligned perfectly. The fact that I met him 17 years ago. The fact that it was John Malkovich, and not Sean Penn.

JB: (laughing)

SM: Other than John, I think Sean Penn could have pulled it off.

JB: That’s hilarious. Can you imagine Sean Penn as the Arbus twins? That’s awesome.

SM: (laughing) It’s impossible. But all the stars aligned. I can’t overlook John’s generosity of the time and the willingness to do this project.

When I look back on the time, the effort, the research. The perfection I had asked from every single person. The cost of recreating it. And while I was getting sicker than a dog, while we were shooting it. I had put every ounce of energy, everything that Sandro had left in him went into that project.

At first, people said, “Ah, you did it all on the computer.” No it wasn’t done on the computer. That’s the ignorance of so many of the younger photographers. They think everything’s done on the computer.

Well, I’m old school. We do it the right way. In camera.

JB: You’re not just old school. You’re old school, and you’re from Chicago.

SM: You got it. (laughing) You got it.

JB: I’ve never done an interview with someone who mentioned in passing that they had been that ill with cancer. Are you OK?

SM: Yeah. I’m fine now. I had a Stage 4 neck and throat cancer. I was never a smoker. Never a big drinker. It’s just so odd that some of the healthiest people get sick. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. You have that cell or that gene in your body, and it finds some place to land, and does its damage.

It was tough. It was a really hard-core part of my life, and thank god my wife is very, very strong, and willing to do whatever it took to nurture me, and make sure I ate. What happens with neck and throat cancer is you just stop eating, because of the pain.

It’s one of those cancers that a lot of people don’t make it through. But I was very fortunate. I wasn’t ready. I gave everything. I never thought for a minute that I was going to die. It never crossed my mind, because I didn’t believe it was my time.

But sometimes, reality, and what we believe are two different things.

It changed the way I thought about a lot of things in my life. How much I give to my work. At one time, it was what consumed me, but as I said, I always found time for my family.

JB: You’re in remission? You’re going to be all right?

SM: It’s been three years now that the cancer is gone. I believe they say remission is after five years, if it’s completely gone. I’m sure you don’t hear me back here, but I’m drinking tons of water. What happens is you lose all of your saliva glands, so you’re constantly dry. I have to drink a ton of water.

You lose your taste buds. I lost almost 100% of my hearing in my left ear, because of the radiation. You have to treat it very aggressively, because you don’t want it to spread. You want to get it that first time. If it recurs, your chances of making it through that are slim.

JB: Understood.

SM: I saw my mother go through cancer, and she did it with such grace. I tried to follow the way my mother was, and not make everything about me, and my illness, but to make it about good things in life.

It was the biggest challenge of my life. In the end, what came out of it was all worth it for me. How I see my life, my work, my family. How I love every minute that I have here.

You’re never sure that it’s gone forever. It’s always in the back of your mind. Little things that happen in your body, and I think, Uh oh, it’s back.

It changes your life.

JB: It certainly explains the desire to play golf. I’ll say that much.

SM: (laughing) You’re so right. That’s exactly why there’s this strong desire to play golf. The golf course is a beautiful place. It’s always on some pretty gorgeous property. Out in the woods.

JB: It’s quiet.

SM: Watching birds or squirrels. Watching the deer run across the course. There’s just something about it. It’s very spiritual.

I’ve always been a very spiritual man. But now it’s probably become much more important in life. To see the little things that are so beautiful.

JB: Have you ever been to Santa Fe?

SM: Years ago, I did a little trip out West, and I stopped into Santa Fe. I was really moved by the mountains. The color of the Earth, and how beautiful it was. In the back of my mind, I thought that I would partially move out that way some day.

I’m leaving this Wednesday to head out to Palm Springs, which I know is not REAL close to Santa Fe.

JB: What’s a thousand miles between friends. Right, Sandro?

SM: Exactly. My wife and I both ride motorcycles, so we’re looking for a place to do more riding. Play golf. Still do photography, but live in a part of the country where there’s a whole different type of spirituality.

JB: That’s why I brought it up. We’re famous for it.

SM: Yeah.

JB: This interview being sponsored by my friends at the Santa Fe Workshops. You’re going to be teaching a workshop there this summer?

SM: I am, and I’m very excited about it. It’s a lighting workshop. For 40 years, I’ve been working on lighting, and I think the Malkovich piece will show how I understand light, because I recreated the light of some 37 or 38 photographs.

Light is so important to creating an iconic image. I have so many different ways of lighting. If someone walks into my studio, I have an idea of how I want to light them, and in 10 minutes, it could change 180 degrees from how I end up lighting them.

So many people, when they look at their photographs, they don’t have any idea about lighting. So I’m hoping that I’m going to be able to take small, tight group and be very hands on with them, and share every bit of knowledge that I have about light.

We’ll bring it to another level.

JB: Most long-time photographers will say it takes a lifetime to understand light. The knowledge comes from experience, and comparison. And the light here in Northern New Mexico is pretty spectacular.

SM: Right.

JB: How does one go about imparting your experience to others? How do you condense things that took you years to learn into a workshop? What’s your strategy for that.

SM: I’ll be bringing in 400 of my images to share with them, and a lot of books from my collection. I think I need to introduce people to other types of lighting, and that will get their curiosities going.

Each day, we’ll be working with different models. I’m going to pull out my bag of tricks, and show people 10 or 20 different ways to light people. I’ll show them contemporary light, and classic light.

We’ll talk about why I choose to use certain lights at certain times. I’m going to bring in 40 years of knowledge and share it over a 5 day period. I’m sure the people will walk away with a tremendous amount of knowledge.

Even if they walk away with 2 or 3 really great ideas for them to like, that’s 10 years of my life that they’re going to walk away with.

JB: Are you planning on doing anything exterior?

SM: Absolutely. We’ll see if they’re ready to get up at 4am, or if they’re going to be shooting those portraits at 9 or 10 at night. We’ll see how passionate these guys are.

JB: (laughing)

SM: (laughing) I can go 14 hours a day if I have to.

JB: I’m glad we’re talking about this. You hear that, people? If you’re thinking about it, you better bring your A game.

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This Week In Photography Books: Mike Slack

by Jonathan Blaustein

“Mad Men” ended this week.

Did you see it? Were you dissatisfied? Personally, I like to imagine Matthew Weiner’s recurring nightmares about “The Sopranos” last episode, and its less-than-stellar reception.

Can’t you see him tossing and turning in a king-sized bed, replete with high-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets? Unconscious, with the Pacific Ocean shimmering out the window, he wonders how to live with himself if he fucks up the end of “Mad Men” the way David Chase faded to black.

He must have been a neurotic mess in the days/months/years leading up to Don Draper’s denouement. I’m certain of it. Because otherwise, he wouldn’t have over-thought things to the degree he did.

SPOILER ALERT

Ending the show with a meditating Jon Hamm’s beatific smile would have been just about perfect. The skeptical, stoic Don Draper, finally merging with the emo-boy Dick Whitman. The straight-laced beefcake, who looked Iconic in his 50’s hat, finally trusting in the Universe enough to go easy on himself.

To forgive.

That would have been a profound message about mankind’s ability to grow and change. (And woman-kind, of course.) But no. Matthew Weiner had to take it one step further, and ambiguously suggest that the momentary enlightenment was put directly in service of inventing that famous Coke commercial that we will all have stuck in our heads forEVER.

A classic bit of over-thinking, especially as he didn’t bother with the epilogue showing Don Draper’s triumphant return to pitch the idea. That would have made more sense, traditionally, than the half-done act of running the ad.

But then, most of us get in our own way, from time to time. We overcomplicate things. Normally, it’s better to keep it simple; to see your job as making the donuts, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. (What if we made the wheel square? Instead of round? We could build pyramids with this newfangled contraption.)

Today’s book does just that. (Keep it simple, that is.) Mike Slack’s “Shrubs of Death” had me at the title. I might have rushed past last week’s telling book cover, but this one grabbed me by my chakras and didn’t let go.

Shrubs of Death? How great is that?

And then, it delivered on its promise. We see a lot of shrubs. Each picture is cropped just right, to anthropomorphize a bit of shrubbery. (There’s a Monty Python joke in there somewhere. I’m sure of it.)

I giggled for the first few photos, and then started flipping more quickly. It was like a paper version of an animated gif. What would you call that? A flip-book? An analogue cartoon?

No matter. Halfway through, I thought to myself, “This is cute and witty, but honestly, Mike Slack could have shot this whole project in 25 minutes.”

I really thought that. I swear.

I even made puns in my mind about Mike being a Slacker, and making a book out of the experience just because he could. Then, the end notes claim that he did, in fact, shoot the entire group in one day. (The consistent light was a giveaway.) Apparently, he made the pictures at a cemetery in Indiana. (Hence the title.)

Let me be clear here. This is not a great book. And charging $32 for the thing requires some genuine hubris. But at least Mike Slack didn’t over-think anything.

He got a funny idea to shoot shrubs in a cemetery. Maybe he always thought it could be a book. And then he did it. The fact that I had it in my hands proves its existence.

Why am I highlighting it today, if I only like it ironically? Because art is in the making. We all have lots of ideas. But sometimes, it’s best to just get out there and make something. Anything.

The truth is harsh. No matter how smart you are, sometimes, you just need to photograph those shrubs… before you’re the one 6 feet under the ground.

Bottom Line: A funny little book that won’t change your life

To Purchase “Shrubs of Death” Visit Photo-Eye

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The Art of the Personal Project: Mark Scott

As a former Art Producer, I have always been drawn to personal projects because they are the sole vision of the photographer and not an extension of an art director, photo editor, or graphic designer. This new column, “The Art of the Personal Project” will feature the personal projects of photographers using the Yodelist marketing database. You can read their blog at http://yodelist.wordpress.com. Projects are discovered online and submissions are not accepted.

Today’s featured photographer is: Mark Scott

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How long have you been shooting?
We moved to Germany in the middle of my freshman year of high school – my Dad was in the Army. It could have been awful, but it wasn’t – the experience helped me become a photographer. I was fascinated with how different everything was and started taking pictures non-stop. I had a camera for several years before, but it was shooting around Europe that really got me started “seeing” the world in pictures. I’ve shot commercially now for about 25 years.
 
Are you self taught or photography school taught?
Originally self taught. In high school I packed a 35mm camera around everywhere. Shot tons of b&w, spent hours and hours in the darkroom on base, processing and printing pictures. My chemistry teacher, who was a photo geek, introduced me to the work of photographers like Cartier-Bresson and Andre Kertész. He liked to critique my pictures, always encouraging me to shoot more.

I took a community college photography program in Washington state learning basic technic, and then moved to L.A. to go to Art Center. But I never made it there. I was lucky to get a full-time assistant job with a successful lifestyle photographer who also had just come to L.A. Most of the work was ad campaigns for agencies in NY and Chicago. It was intense, but I was learning so much I decided postpone Art Center. Assisting is a job every young photographer should have for a while. We did everything in house from estimating to image delivery. Besides working as camera assistant on shoots, I was involved in production, casting, scouting, even sourcing props at the studios and prop houses. After that, I freelanced with a variety of out of town photographers shooting ad campaigns on the West Coast. I never went back to school.

With this particular project what was your inspiration to shoot it?
My first studio was on Melrose, right in the heart of the Melrose District. Melrose, which isn’t far from my home, is a magnet for creative people from all over the world. I’m pretty low key, and not much of a fashionista, but what I’ve always loved about Melrose are those people who do make bold personal statements with the way they look and dress. And combined with the creative street artists there’s always opportunity for pictures. That’s a good match for a social media project. There’s a great energy from street shooting, and I wanted to revisit Melrose as a project to share on social media.

How long have you been shooting this project before you decided to present it?
From day one I started putting this work out on Instagram. But when I started, there was really no project yet. I just shot and posted pictures. A few months later I started dopemelrose.com, an image blog using WordPress. I got great response, so I included DopeMelrose pictures in my printed portfolio, on my website and in the work I promote on Workbook. That section of the portfolio always sparks conversation.
 
Since shooting work for your portfolio is different from personal work how do you feel when the work is different?
That’s an interesting question, because the difference is a little blurry sometimes. Some of my personal work is shot for my portfolio. It’s the motivation and the approach that changes.
 
Exploring the world through the lens of a camera is such a great feeling of discovery. It’s what I fell in love with when I first started taking pictures and what motivates my personal work.  I like to explore subjects that interest me – then observe, experiment and let the imagery evolve organically.  I approach some projects like visual brainstorming … looking to find or create moments that are authentic, moments that tell a story or that have amazing light and composition. Personal work helps to hone my craft and is a great source of inspiration for my commercial work.
 
But of course the approach is different when I’m shooting portfolio pictures that are relevant to clients and brands I want to work with. DopeMelrose is much more serendipitous. Portfolio shoots are storyboarded with clear image goals in mind and production values more like assignments. I shoot lifestyle, so crew, talent, scouting, locations, permits, permissions, props and wardrobe are necessary when producing portfolio shoots. 
 
How long do you spend on a personal project before deciding if it’s working?
How do you define “working?” Personal projects always work. Not because they always create awesome images but because the experience is fun, interesting and the process exercises creativity. 
 
Have you ever posted your personal work on social media venues like Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram, or Facebook?
I started DopeMelrose to be an ongoing social media project using Instagram. Instagram has been key to this project because when I ask someone to participate, within a few seconds they have my Instagram up on their phone and they’re totally cool to shoot a quick portrait. I’m experimenting with shooting on an iPad, selecting the picture with the people and posting immediately. People love being part of the entire process. I just started posting to tumblr.
 
If so has the work every gone viral and possibly with great press?
Nothing like @thedress or “Charlie bit my finger”.
 
Have you ever printed your personal projects for marketing to potential clients? 
Early in my career I marketed a personal project I shot on the American West to a handful of Western brands. That quickly led to years of work with the Martin Agency for Wrangler.
 
Pictures from that project – cowboy portraits, authentic relationship moments and the printing technic have also inspired other ads. It’s exciting to get layouts referencing personal work. Imagery from that project has also been licensed for a variety of companies, including a major U.S. liquor company promoting its brand in Eastern Europe.
 
One really exciting result of the American West project was that I was asked by an art buyer I had been working with to hang a show of my photographs in the halls of Ogilvy NY.  
 
I shot and marketed that project for several years. It’s really amazing not only how much commercial work was the direct result of that one project but also how many amazing creatives I’ve gotten to know and collaborate with along the way.
 
Artist Statement
I wanted to connect with the creative spirit and personal stories of the people who make Melrose what it is.  Past generations have influenced this street with Punk, New Age, Goth. It will be fun to look back and see the social and creative influences of today’s generation.
 
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Mark Scott is a lifestyle photographer based in Los Angeles.  He specializes lifestyle, portraiture, sports and reportage. You can see his work at http://www.markscottphoto.com


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information believing that marketing should be driven by a brand and not specialty. Follow her on twitter at SuzanneSease.

Paul Schiek TBW Books Interview

Jonathan Blaustein: I just called you on the phone. We’re not Skyping. And I noticed that your phone number was 444-BOOK.

Paul Schiek: Yeah.

JB: Who did you have to bribe, as a book publisher, to get BOOK as your phone number? How much money did they make you pay?

PS: OK. Awesome first question, because I love these little details that most people don’t notice, or care about. A lot of people don’t have landlines anymore, and to me, a landline represents this classic way of doing business, so people can just call you at 444-BOOK.

It was sort of, I don’t want to say kitschy, but it was…

JB: Cute?

PS: I’ve had this long goal of being a business in the Oakland community, and that TBW would sponsor a Little League team. In the same way that Joe Schmo the plumber buys a Little League team their uniforms.

JB: (laughing) You’re gonna do that?

PS: That’s been a dream of mine for my publishing company. When I set up a landline, I said, “How much would it cost to have my number be 1-510-TBW-BOOK? But that was taken just numerically, by chance. So I just said well what about 444-BOOK?

They said it was available. So I said, “OK, how much is it going to cost to have that for the rest of my life, as my landline for my business.”

They were like, a one time charge of…$35.

JB: (laughing.) There it is. 35 bucks.

PS: So that’s the office phone number. In certain circumstances, it’s totally appropriate to tell people that’s the number. Sometimes, it’s goofy, and I just say the numbers 444-2665. But I like having it. It’s cool, and it references the workmanlike qualities that I like to instill in this company.

Some people get it, some people don’t.

JB: Listen, that was the fun first question. The next question is more traditional, but something that I’m really curious about. You’re a successful artist, as well as being a publisher. Why did you gravitate towards art to begin with?

PS: The short version is that I was out in the world, shooting a lot of bands that I would go see. I always had a camera with me, but I didn’t have an understanding of photography. I’d moved to California, and was working whatever menial jobs were possible, just to get by.

I was having a great time, away from a seemingly culturally oppressive environment where I grew up, in Wisconsin. At the time, for a 17 year old, it sure felt that way. Anything left or right of center was frowned upon. So I moved to California, and lived that lifestyle for a long time.

I made the decision that I was going to take something seriously. I think I was 26 at the time. I applied to one local art school, which at the time was California College of Arts and Crafts, but now it’s California College of Art.

JB: Right. They dropped the last C.

PS: Yeah, but when I was there it was CCAC. I got in, and it was an immediate life-changing experience. This isn’t my quote, but I became like the jock of art school. I would stay there 24 hours a day. I had no email account. I had never been on a computer, and here was a room filled with 25 computers, and you could do whatever you want on it.

I was blown away at the idea that I was encouraged to challenge things. It didn’t matter what I did at school. They were like, “Oh that’s interesting. Why did you choose to do that?”

That was extremely liberating and fascinating.

JB: Did you get to work with Larry Sultan?

PS: Yes, I worked with Larry my last year, but the whole time I was there I became really close with Jim Goldberg, and worked with him extensively. He’s 100% responsible for introducing me to photobooks and sparking that interest in me.

I worked with Larry, in 2005, but I didn’t become extremely close with him. He was a very influential person on my work there though. He was a extremely smart man, and someone I was very honored to have a opportunity to work under.

JB: In working with Larry Sultan and Jim Goldberg, you were introduced to super-star artists just as you were beginning your career. That must have been foundational for you?

PS: I knew that they were well-respected, and great artists, but I was just excited by what they were willing to offer up in terms of them being interesting people with interesting perspectives on things. I knew that they had books out, and I could go in a library and look at their book.

To me, that was something. That these guys, that I knew, that I could go sit one-on-one with, and talk about photography, I could also go in a library and, amongst these stacks of books, pull out a hardcover, coffee-table book with their images in it.

That amazed me. I’d never known people that had books out. You know? In a lot of ways, that inspired me to say, “I’m going to make a book.”

JB: And now, it’s 10 years later, and everybody’s got a book. That whole idea of it being a super-exclusive career marker, it seems like that mystique has been watered down a bit. Would you agree?

PS: I would agree with that. Yeah. Somewhat frustratingly, I agree with that. It bums me out a little bit, because I loved the exclusivity of it. It was this defining thing.

JB: Well, you can see everything from grumpy cats to gestating grandmas on the Internet, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great pictures there too, right?

PS: Yeah.

JB: Well, in 2005, which is when I’m guessing you graduated, you decided to publish your own book. It’s a perfect segue. You were fascinated by books. You had professors who knew how to make them. And well, well before everyone was doing it, you said, “I’m going to make my own book.”

Is that how it happened?

PS: That’s exactly how it happened. The more intricate part of it was that part of our requirement to graduate is that we had to mount a show, and make a post card announcing it. We had to print and frame it ourselves.

That was what we had to do to graduate, and prove that we are photographers. To me, it was just absurd. No one knew who I was. I had friends who were on the East Coast, in the Mid West, and Down South. I wanted to share what I was doing in school with these photos, and it just made no sense to spend this money to print these large photographs and frame them.

No one was going to see it. No one was going to care. Then, I was going to have to sit on this product that I didn’t know what to do with, that no one wanted to buy.

It made a lot more sense to me that I would be a publisher, and I would make a book. Then, I could mail it to those people, and use it as a promotional tool. Et cetera, et cetera. I had asked for Jim and Larry’s blessing, to do the book instead of a show, and they said it was fine.

I should also say that at that point, I’d been making ‘zines for years.

JB: OK.

PS: So the idea of a book to me was the next level ‘zine.

JB: I’m glad you pointed that out. It didn’t come from nowhere.

PS: No. I was looking at, and participating in these things that were happening alongside the music world. I’d collected and seen fan ‘zines for years. Ever since I was 13 years old in Wisconsin, I’d seen ‘zines. More importantly, I was buying and seeing records.

A lot of times, a record was hand-printed, and on a random, nothing label. It was just like a name. So I just applied all those same concepts to publishing a book. In my classes, people would say, “You can’t just say you’re going to make a book. You need a publisher.” So I’d be like, “Well, I’m the publisher.”

JB: (laughing) That’s awesome.

PS: They’d be like, “What does that mean? Who’s going to print it?” So I said, “I’ll print it.” Then they’d be like, “Well, you need a distributor.” And I’d say, “I’m the distributor.”

JB: (laughing) That’s rad. Oh my god.

PS: This, to me, was not foreign whatsoever.

JB: Right.

PS: This was just how you made something that was yours, and you put it out in the world. For me, it wasn’t weird at all, but to some of the people I was studying with, they thought it was a circus sideshow. They said, “This dude says he’s going to have a book in a month for his senior thesis.”

To me it was just, I’ve got to get to work. I’ve got to figure this out. So that’s the way it worked out, and how I published what essentially was my first art book. It’s funny to call it a book. It was 4″x6″, and 40 pages, but I really did the best I could to challenge the materiality of what a ‘zine was, and to make a book out of it. To bring it into the feel of what a book is.

Really, I gave them away. I had a book release party at my friend’s little book/zine shop here. I said, “First 100 people get a free copy of the book.” That was just this technique for me to say, “There’s gonna be 500 people there.” Probably 30 people showed up. But on the flyer, I wrote first 100 people at the door get a free copy of the book.

That was just me trying to be funny, but it was also allowed me to believe in myself, in a strange way. So we screen-printed flyers, and had the party. It was what I’d seen other people do, having record release parties for their band.

You do it in this little space with 7 foot ceilings, and cram a bunch of people in, and hang up a few photos. It was cool, and it was fun, and it felt like mine.

I never played in band…

JB: I was just about to ask you that.

PS: No, I never played in bands, but I was around that, and was living with and knew people in bands. I watched how they operated, and ran little businesses. I never felt a part of that. I was always making photos of it, but was never a part of it.

I tried to apply those same techniques and understandings and operations to this new thing that I was starting, which was making books. I should also mention that at that point, I was becoming obsessive about photography. I was looking at everything I could get my hands on.

Spending as much time as possible either making photos, or printing photos. I was becoming really entrenched in it. While I was in school, I was making so much, but also working jobs, because I needed to pay rent and basic life needs.

So I really wasn’t able to focus, for a bunch of different reasons, on the reading assignments. I wasn’t really getting the History of Photography. After school is when I started to take a moment and go back to read. I really wanted to study the medium. I just wanted to be the kid who knew everything. I didn’t want anyone to be able to say to me, “Do you know those early daguerreotypes by blah blah blah?” and I’d have to say, “No, I don’t know it.”

I wanted to be able to say, “Yes, I know exactly what you’re talking about, and we can have a conversation about it right now.” I really wanted to be able to back up the decisions I was making. I was aware people would want to pigeon hole me and while in no way am I an intellectual, I wanted to at least be able to know the history of the medium to a T.

JB: Yeah, I had a buddy in school like that, back at UNM in the late 90’s. My friend Scott B. Davis looked like he worked in a record store, and he knew everything. He had the background.

I came to it at 23, so I didn’t have the background. Everyone would just look at him, and the eye-rolling was ridiculous. It was like, “How the fuck do you know that? I don’t know that. I wouldn’t even know how to learn that.”

So you were that guy.

PS: Here’s the thing I want to be clear about. I wanted to be that guy as a defense mechanism. I was insecure in the art world because I was really just a dirt bag from Wisconsin. I felt like this new world that I’d discovered, which was the art world, I was seen as the kid who could go to a house party, or a show, and make pictures of kids throwing up, or whatever. And I did make those photos!

But I was making tons of photos. I was shooting everything and later relying on the editing process to extract meaning and try to create new narratives. I was trying to use images as signposts. This was the time when VICE was doing their annual photo issue.

This style of photography was hyper-on-the-radar. You shoot with a point-and-shoot…flash at night. From my perspective it was a really exciting time for photography.

JB: Listen, I was living in Brooklyn when Ryan McGinley had that show at the Whitney. The whole Beautiful Losers thing.

PS: So you know exactly what I’m talking about. I wanted to be a part of the academia side of things also. I wanted to prove that I was deeply invested in this. That this wasn’t by chance, that I was working really hard at something.

It’s funny, but I haven’t thought about this work in a long time. I was shooting with a point-and-shoot, 35mm, but I would crop my photos like a 6×7, to give it a more formal quality. Larry was shooting with a 6×7, so I would take these 35mm photos, but then I cropped them so they had a snap-and-shoot aesthetic, but they were presented more formally.

JB: When you say crop it like a 6×7, you mean use that aspect ratio, so people would think it was made with a bigger camera?

PS: Exactly. Maybe it was grainy, or had a bright flash. Or it was in a situation where you wouldn’t use a big camera. But then the prints would look like something Larry would do. It would be more serious, not the snap-shot thing. Perhaps it was staged, that whole conversation of fact and fiction in photography.

I was trying to do both things; to be in two places with the work. I’m digressing…

JB: There’s no such thing in one of these interviews, man. You’re supposed to. That’s part of the deal, and why these are different from everyone else’s interviews.

We don’t stick to a script. We want to give the readers a chance to learn from your experience. People have their own big ideas, and don’t know where to go with it. Or they don’t feel like they have permission to just do it themselves.

I’ve done it in my career, and it’s always been helpful.

PS: Sure.

JB: Sometimes, you just have to self-declare. Like you said earlier, “I am a publisher,” and then you are one. We manifest these aspects of our personalities, and our careers, through hubris.

PS: That’s exactly right. That’s a main tenet of what I was privy to growing up. You say you’re a guitar player in a band, not because you either have a guitar, or you know how to play it, but because you do it. That can obviously translate into any facet in life. You determine it.

This is sounding corny, so I want to stop talking. Next question. I feel like I’m on a soap box now.

JB: You can stop right there, but I actually know what you’re talking about. Back in graduate school, I had a friend who asked me, “How do you get a show?” I said, “The easiest way to get a show is to make a show?” So he said, “How do you make a show?”

I said, if there are pictures on the wall, and people in the room to look at them, and they have wine in plastic cups in their hand, then you have a show.

PS: That’s right.

JB: He said, “Oh, it’s that easy?” So I said, “Watch. I’ll show you.” We had a beautiful apartment in Greenpoint, with white walls and hardwood floors, so I just did it. I invited my grad school buddies, and hung pictures, and there were some people there. Then, in the second show, there were more people there, and then in the third show, it was a wall-heaving jammer, and I thought that was great, until I had to clean up the next day.

PS: (laughing) Yeah.

JB: I had to mop up all the dried, stinky beer from my kitchen floor, and I thought, “OK, I think I’ve made my point.”

But a lot of people don’t necessarily give themselves permission to take risks, and let it hang out. I try to use these interviews as a way of giving people some confidence to do what they want to do, even if it’s not necessarily related to what you and I are talking about.

I’ll put myself on the soapbox, so you don’t have to be. How’s that?

PS: OK.

JB: But back to the publishing. You made one book for yourself, and then a couple more, but then at some point, you decided that you were going to publish other artists. You must have woken up and said, “Well, I do have a company. And I might not have a Little League team under sponsorship yet, but this is no longer just for shits and giggles. This is a real thing.”

PS: Yes.

JB: And then you managed to cultivate relationships with some really successful artists. Can you walk me through the genesis of that, from doing your own work to publishing other artists, and selling books, and really trying to push the envelope?

PS: That is another example of form following function. I’d gotten out of school, I’d made that book “Good by Angels” as my senior thesis, and I wanted to do another book. By that point, I was making different photographs, and I wanted to show them again. But I still hadn’t cultivated a following, beyond my immediate friends, and I didn’t know how to reach a larger audience.

It was really just a practicality thing. I’d been studying with Jim, and he and I had become close, so I asked him, “Hey, I want to make another book. Would you also do a book with me?” He agreed to it, and I always think of it as him extending an olive branch to me, you know?

This is something I don’t normally talk about, but I feel comfortable talking with you about the business side of things.

JB: Sure. Thanks.

PS: I didn’t have any money. Big surprise. I had no money to print anything. So I developed this system where I said, “I’m going to make these four books. One’s going to be by Jim, and I got two other artists, and one will be mine. People are going to buy these books because Jim’s involved in it. And I’m going to force people to look at my own book.”

They’re going to have to buy my book, because they want to get Jim’s book. They’re only sold as a set. That’s going to be a way to expose my work to a larger audience, and also, more importantly, it’s going to secure some funds for me to pay for this thing.

Once Jim agreed to do it, I promoted it, and got some orders coming in, and I took that money and I developed a program where the books would come out individually over the course of the coming year. The reason that I did that was because it was an opportunity for me to make the money to produce them as they came out, to pay for production of the other books.

I took the money from the initial orders and go to the printer, pay them, and then go and pay the bindery. Then I’d have the first book, but people already paid for all four books. So I’d ship the first book to the customers, and then I’d start praying.

I’d be like, “Fuck. I need more orders.”

JB: Right.

PS: Then I’d do more promotions, and more emails, and I’d ask some friends and tell them about it, and a couple of more orders would come in. You can see what I’m saying here.

JB: Yeah. It was a great hustle.

PS: Eventually, I got enough cash together, and I’d print book number two. And then I’d start praying again. And then repeat.

Finally, it got to my book, and I was shipping it out to my subscribers. I was like, “Wow. Here’s a subscriber in England, man. England! I’m shipping a book to England!”

JB: (laughing) Right.

PS: Anyway, I realized that I was doing something of value, and that I should continue pursuing it. That opened up opportunity, because I was cultivating a client list, and was able to print better books, because I could start relying on these people to order.

I was really trying to build an old school business, no different than a plumber. “Hey, you’re going to hire me, and I’m going to come in and provide excellent service, and give you and excellent product, and next time you need that again, you’re going to call me.”

That’s really what I believe in. It’s how I grew up.

JB: I was just going to say, this has to be a Mid-Western thing.

PS: Yeah, I’m from Wisconsin. 100%. And it’s really funny, because when I was there, I was miserable. I don’t know if you’ve experienced this. Did you grow up in New Mexico?

JB: I grew up in Jersey, man, so I can relate.

PS: Jersey. So you understand what I’m talking about.

JB: Yes.

PS: Because you have this dichotomy in your ethos and approach to things. The cultural differences, right?

JB: Absolutely.

PS: I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but when I was in Wisconsin, I really couldn’t appreciate it. This year’s really important for me, because it’s my 18th year in Oakland. So this year marks the same amount of time in Oakland as I was in Wisconsin.

It’s a strange feeling. Maybe that’s beside the point.

Now that I’m in California, steeped in the art world, I find there’s a lot things I don’t appreciate. Things I’m not in line with. When I break it down and look at it, it’s because of the way I was raised.

JB: Jersey gets a bad rap, and I couldn’t wait to get away, frankly. But one person’s “Bridge and Tunnel” is another person’s grounded, down-to-Earth, everyday American.

PS: Absolutely.

JB: I could see the Twin Towers from my town, but it was so different from New York City.

PS: That’s exactly right. Do you feel that now that you’re in New Mexico, which couldn’t be more different from where you’re from?

JB: It’s like what you were saying with your 18 and 18. My folks first brought me out here when I was 14, and they moved here permanently when I was still in college.

PS: Moved here, meaning New Mexico?

JB: Yeah. Taos. They still live here. So I’ve been around this place, on and off, for 27 years. This is home, and Jersey is the place that made me, that I still go visit occasionally.

In my own psyche, I don’t relate as an East Coaster so much.

PS: All my family is still in Wisconsin, and I go back to visit, so I’m still connected to it. I think about it a lot. And then I come back from these trips, and within four hours, I’m back in this liberal, hippie bubble that we live in in the Bay Area.

JB: The sun is shining, and the palm trees are swaying.

PS: Totally. And I find it comforting, and I love it. At the same time, so much of it is not in line with how I want my life. In a lot of ways, I create this environment for myself, like the phone number, that harks back and references this nostalgic America. I don’t know…

In a lot of ways, I’m antiquated, and still not in touch with the way things really are. But, whatever. It’s this weird world that I’ve created for myself. I assume it’s idealized in a lot of ways.

JB: Let’s go into that world a little bit. I’m looking at the “Subscription Series Number 1″ on your website, which I assume is the project we were just talking about, without naming it.

That’s the first time I see Mike Brodie’s name pop up on the website, and it was put out in 2006.

PS: Yeah.

JB: I’m going to go ahead and assume that people will know who Mike is, without having to do a lot of backstory. I’ve reviewed his first book, by Twin Palms, and he’s had a ridiculous amount of success in the last few years.

How did you guys meet? How did you come to become friends and collaborators?

PS: I was introduced to Mike through a friend of ours: Monica. Mike would travel through Oakland, and Monica lived in a punk house that we’d go to and hang out at, they would have parties and shows there. He’d stayed there a couple of times, and she told me, “This kid comes through town, and he’s great. His name is Brodie, and he’s got all these Polaroids with him.”

At the time, I shot a lot of Polaroid stuff. It was natural, and that simple. There was a party at the house, I think it was actually Monica’s birthday. My good friend DV and I were there. We all just hung out, I remember I made a photo of Brodie that night with his dog Pucci. My wife recently put it in this special cabinet at home. Brodie looks like he’s 12 years old in the photo now!

I told him to bring some Polaroids next time he was in town, and he did, so we sat there and talked about them. He was showing me these Polaroids he was getting while he was traveling, and I was already becoming versed in the Fine Art world. I was hearing terms like “archiving,” because of school. You know?

JB: Sure.

PS: I was like, “Archiving. OK. Acid free.” I said to him, “OK, why don’t you send me these Polaroids, and I’ll archive them and for you, and catalogue them. Because I think these things are pretty incredible.”

He and I started hanging out. He was younger than me, and I had a little more knowledge than he did at the time, so I was kind of…

JB: Big brother?

PS: Maybe A little bit. Maybe like I could help this kid, in some way, because I was pretty sure he was going to get steam-rolled pretty soon. Based on how good these things are. That’s all.

He and I became pretty fast friends, so when he came through town, he’d stay with me. I enjoyed his stories.

There were other things happening. I got in a gallery around the same time, so I was really getting into the art world. I was seeing prices, and how important art became on the secondary market. Understanding and learning the habits of collectors.

When I was thinking about the stuff that Brodie was making, I thought there was probably an opportunity for us to collaborate a little more than just hanging out as friends, and looking at photos. He had no interest in the art world whatsoever, and I did, so I thought maybe he and I could work out some sort of system.

I could help oversee things, and help ensure that they were done properly. Not butchered.

JB: It’s come across in the interview that you have a good business mind, to go along with your work ethic. But if I understand things right, the creative collaboration worked both ways.

I’m pretty sure I remember from when I first reviewed your excellent book “Dead Men Don’t Look Like Me,” that Mike Brodie is the one who first found the pictures that became your art project. Is that right?

PS: That’s exactly right. At one point, he was traveling in Georgia, and was spending time in an abandoned prison. When you’re 23, it sounds really fun to go to an abandoned prison.

He found all these mug shots, and sent them back to me, and said, “You got to look at these. They’re incredible.” And I looked at them, and I thought they WERE incredible.

I don’t know if you’ve pulled this together, but I have a real interest in vernacular photography. I think a lot of people do at this point. I’m interested in found photography, and re-contextualizing images that were never intended to be seen in certain ways.

How history can re-shape the meaning of photographs. I love all that stuff. So this was really up my alley, and he knew that, so he sent them to me in a big, beat up box. My nature is to organize and archive, so I began immediately to put them into groups and categories, to make sense of it. Because there are hundreds and hundreds of them.

I made categories: Black guys, white guys, old guys, young guys. I wanted to make some sense of what he sent me. Eventually, I edited the images to become a book with the conceptual approach that I was choosing images with likeness to myself. That in an almost Becher-esque way, you could see all the images and get a generic idea of the Author. In this case, me.

JB: It’s funny, because you keep using the word archive, and the word we haven’t used yet is appropriation. I’m constantly surprised that the idea of appropriation is still as dangerous and edgy to some people as it seems to be. You know?

Richard Prince is held up as a god and a devil, depending on which side of the fence you sit. Is that something that you were thinking about at the time, with this work? You mentioned archiving and vernacular, so that makes me think maybe it wasn’t a conscious decision on your part to say, “I’m appropriating this. I’m taking it, and making it mine.”

PS: It’s interesting. Appropriation, in my mind, has a negative connotation to it. So I think earlier, I said re-contextualizing, which is another way of saying appropriating. I archived and organized, at first. Then afterwards, when I was making the book, it certainly can be argued that yeah, I appropriated those photos for my own artistic enjoyment.

I certainly did that.

JB: Yeah, I think you’re probably right that it’s seen as a pejorative term, but the process is so well-established within the tradition of art that I almost wonder whether we’re selling the word short.

Frankly, I had a different read when I saw the pictures as over-sized prints on the wall at Pier 24 than I did with the book. I much preferred the hand-held experience.

PS: Yeah. Books and prints have very little in common. They are very distinct and separate experiences to me.

JB: That’s why I wanted to talk to you about this. Aside from the word itself, do you think that it ought to still be controversial, in 2015, when people have been doing it successfully and intelligently for decades?

PS: I personally don’t see any problems with it. It’s a response to the appropriation that happens every day on the Internet. My personal belief is that we live in a time, for better or worse, where images are made, consumed, and used by everyone at all times.

We live in a borderless, fenceless, Wild, Wild West when it comes to images online. It sounds arrogant and pompous, because it is, but my job as an artist, as a person who thinks about and consumes photography at every level, as a person who attempts to contextualize images in our culture, my job is to use images any way that I feel is responsible and appropriate

There might be repercussions from that, but that’s a world we live in now. (pause.) Now I’m thinking about what I just said. Certainly, if there’s copyright on things, that’s a legal binder to an artist and complicates this whole conversation above my pay grade and expertise.

(pause.) Hey look, can we chalk it up and say I don’t know the answer. I’m just reacting. I’m doing what I do, and I don’t necessarily know the answer to your question.

JB: I wanted your opinion, and you gave it. It’s a great opportunity to talk with someone who’s working with that practice, and doing it well. How could I not want to touch on that in the interview?

But there are other things I’d like to talk about. Let’s jump back into photobook publishing, before our brains burn out.

The most recent thing that I saw, and reviewed, by TBW is the “Assignment Number 2″ project, with the Sugimoto and Misrach photos. The book made with a prisoner who had been held in solitary confinement in San Quentin prison. I’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about this.

PS: OK.

JB: Both Rob and I thought this thing was really, really dynamite. Creative, smart, political, positive. You’ve been publishing for ten years, and now it seems like you’re in a place where you’re almost re-inventing what a photobook could be. Do you think that’s a fair statement?

PS: Well, yes. But also no, in the fact that I wish you had a copy of my first book, and it wasn’t much more than a bunch of glued together postcards. So I really have always had that idea that a photobook is not what we’re told a photobook is. How it’s experienced. The materiality of it.

A large portion of what I do with TBW are these limited editions. They’re objects in a way that’s interactive, and sculptural. I have parts that are machined by motorcycle builders. I’d like to hope that the work I’m doing with TBW is always questioning the format of books.

This particular project, “Assignment Number 2,” was just a great opportunity to explore and think about what this thing should be. It went through many different incarnations, in the design phase. That project was 3-something years in the making, and it was always talked about that it was going to be a book.

We just finally got to a point where it just was telling us it didn’t want to be a book. You’re photographing that yellow-hand-written paper against a black backdrop, so you can lay it out on a page. Then, against a white backdrop. Then, it’s against concrete, which will reference the idea of a prison cell.

Nothing’s working. It’s not feeling right. At some point you just say, “What we need to do is reprint it at scale, page for page. That’s the way it wants to be.” It needs the tactile, interactive experience, so that the person can get the sense of what this thing is.

So you come to that conclusion. It’s an organic, natural process when designing a project, where you say “OK, so if we have this yellow paper, we have 10 of them, and it looks exactly like his original paper, then how do we bind it into the hardcover book?”

It’s not enough pages. It’s not in signatures, so we can’t stitch it. We don’t want to staple the side of it.

JB: It’s a process.

PS: It’s a process and you have to trust the process. The real story is, I was going to FedEx, and I go to these really great ladies near my house, to drop off my packages. They’re these old school ladies that have this packing and shipping store. You know those stationary store type places?

JB: Sure.

PS: I went in and asked, “Anne, do you have any old clips?” Because everything in there is from the 70’s. Dead stock. I asked for clips for a binder folder, and she pulled out three different options.

So I had one of each, and one of them happened to have those old two-hole punches. So we mocked it up, and I said, “What if we just punched it two times, and put in a folder like this? Actually, that feels really good. That feels right. Let’s do that.”

Then, we’ve got into developing and aging this folder. That’s the process. I’m as excited these days about the design of these things. Coming up with those solutions.

For a lot of people, the dream is to be a photographer. You travel the world, you make photographs. And that’s it. You know this.

JB: I know this.

PS: 99% of what you do as a photographer is not photographing. The actual photographing, or working with photos, is very limited. Most of it is going to Fed Ex and trying to find the exact two hole punch.

So in the process of designing this, we wanted it to have this exterior feeling. Really grubby, dingy, worn out. And then the inside you open it up, and you have these perfect reproductions of Hiroshi Sugimoto and Richard Misrach photos.

How do you achieve that? We sampled out all these papers, and we found a manufacturer who did double-sided paper. One side uncoated, and the other with a gloss UV varnish.

That whole process: How does a viewer see this? How do they touch it? How do they open it? What’s the feeling they get when they slide it out of the package? If they open this flap first, what are they presented with?

There’s a whole process to looking at books. You know this as a reviewer. You look at them in a certain way, in a certain environment. Are you standing up, or are you sitting down? Are you drinking a beer, or are you not?

I take all these things into consideration. Who is my audience? How are they going to experience this? I love, love, love thinking about all those things.

JB: It comes across. I kind-of wanted to hear you say that stuff, because, in my experience, these things are never arbitrary. They can’t be.

PS: That’s right.

JB: When something works that well, I wanted to hear you talk about all the thought that goes into it. You must have learned quite a bit about process these last ten years, or am I assuming incorrectly?

PS: My process has never changed. Now, I’m balancing this thing where I have to run a business now. I know through your writing that you have kids too. I have a kid now.

Things change when there are real life issues that need to be dealt with, so I’ve had to make certain adjustments that I wouldn’t have made before.

It used to be, “Hey, I’m going to hand stamp all these covers, and if it takes me three weeks, all night long, I’m happy to do that.

And I thrived on that. But now, I can’t do that, because I have these other things that I have to pay attention to. I’ve had to make certain decisions, in production, and how to stream-line day-to-day business, to make it more efficient.

But I still am doing insane things that make no sense. Like hand-stamping that cover with the date, and the red tornado that you talked about.

JB: Exactly.

PS: I’m not kidding when I say I tested that hand stamper 100 times, so that I learned when I stamped it, to twist it at the same time, so that it smudged. Lester, who runs the office, said, “Why are you stamping it twice?” I said, “I think, from a design perspective, it looks more interesting if the date is there, and then also there’s this weird red smudged date. As if the person who stamped it made a mistake.”

And he just looked at me like, “If you want to stamp it twice, go ahead.”

JB: (laughing)

PS: So I was stamping it twice. Here’s the thing: the reason that I started hand stamping things is because on that first book I did, “Good by Angels” I didn’t have a budget to print a cover.

So I found a printer, and they were like, “Here’s what we’ll print for you. And if you want a 4 color cover printed, it’s this much more. If you want black and white, it’s this much more. I said, shit, I don’t have any money. So what I’m going to do is buy a rubber stamp with my title on it, and I’ll hand stamp them to save money.”

I had this book at the time, called “The Self-Publish Bible,” or something like that, and there was literally 10 commandments. One of them was, “Make sure that your title can be read from 10 feet away. Use a bright color, and bold font, so that when it’s on the shelf in the book store, people flock to it like a moth to a flame.”

I thought, this is insane. This book is not going to be in a book store, so that doesn’t apply to me whatsoever. So in an antagonistic approach, I did my cover black on black in a Old English font. You could just see it slightly reflecting in the sunlight, but I hand-stamped them all, and that became this thing that I’ve done ever since.

Each one is subtly different. Now I have the resources to print 4 color covers, and we did. On “Assignment Number 2,” all that weathered edging is printed 4 color. So all I had to do was make a stamp logo with the date, and print that on there too, and it would have eliminated me hand-stamping thousands of covers.

JB: You’re risking carpal tunnel syndrome for your creativity.

PS: (laughing) Exactly. But I was really driven to be able to provide something that was subtly unique to each person. I think it’s awesome that on the review copy you got, it looked like a tornado. Somebody else buys it, reads your review, and thinks, “Why doesn’t mine look like a tornado.” And then they say, “Oh shit, mine doesn’t look like a tornado because they’re different. Are these hand-stamped? Who on Earth would hand-stamp these? Why? What does it matter?”

Well, when you think of an institution like San Quentin prison, and you think of the office there, there’s some lady there who got the thing, and received it on July 18th and…stamped it. That’s why. You know what I’m saying? That’s why. Because that makes sense with what we’re trying to get across in that project.

I love all that stuff. I want to tell you one other thing, because I want you to understand why these things are in my head. I told you earlier that I would order records direct from record labels when I was younger.

JB: Right.

PS: I ordered a record a long time ago, and it had a white booklet with the lyrics of the song. Some photographs. And really delicately placed on the sleeve, and some of the pages, were these perfect, black fingerprints. And, I thought, “Oh my god, this is the best design ever. Somebody subtly took fingerprints, scanned them, adjusted the levels, and printed these fingerprints to reference a ghost. Or a person of the past, flipping through.

It fell in line with the aesthetic of the band. It made sense. I thought, “This is brilliant design. I love it. Super-smart. Super-subtle. Super-beautiful and poetic.”

Well, flash forward 8 years, and I was having a hard time. I was pissed off at the world, needed some cash, and sold all my records. I quickly realized that was a mistake, and went on the hunt to buy back the records that were important.

I ordered that record again, and I open it up: no fingerprints. I was totally crushed, because I realized that there wasn’t a smart designer that designed this with these fingerprints. But I was also amazed that someone had flipped through the booklet, and it got slipped back into the pile and packaged, and my record was unique in that way.

JB: Right.

PS: I thought I’d bring it up. Those nuances are so powerful, and I try to put that into the books that I make now. Whether or not anybody gets it, or cares, I don’t know.

But for me, it’s that important.

JB: Don’t they stay that about Apple? That their engineers always want the innards that nobody will ever see to be as elegant and efficient as the design is outside?

PS: I heard the story that Steve Jobs said, “This motherboard is cluttered, and has to be redone,” and someone said, “No one’s ever going to see it,” so he fired them.

JB: Urban legend.

PS: There’s a madness to it. An arrogance to it. But maybe a reason for it? I don’t know.

JB: I don’t believe these things are accidental. When people are willing to do the kinds of things that you’re talking about: take risks, stay true to themselves, meld the different parts of their personality into a holistic object, people can tell.

They might not be able to break it down in the specific way that you build it up, but it’s communicated properly, and they understand they’re looking at something powerful. Something that’s really well built.

When you break it down for the readers, you’re giving them an opportunity to think a bit about these ideas might impact their work, and their careers.

You talk about paying attention to the smallest details, and no one would know this, but our interview was briefly interrupted when my phone line went down. And I didn’t need to go back to check my email to find your phone number.

510-444-BOOK. It was embedded in my brain. Like it or not.

PS: Man, I like that!

JB: True story. And thanks so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

Above door entering TBW Books offices, Oakland Ca.

Above door entering TBW Books offices, Oakland Ca.

Packing station,TBW Books, Oakland Ca.

Packing station,TBW Books, Oakland Ca.

Detail of Subscription Series #4, TBW Books

Detail of Subscription Series #4, TBW Books

Detail of wall above packing station, TBW Books, Oakland Ca.

Detail of wall above packing station, TBW Books, Oakland Ca.

TBW Books product

TBW Books product

http://www.tbwbooks.com/books/ASSIGNMENT-NO-2

http://www.tbwbooks.com/books/DEAD-MEN-DONT-LOOK-LIKE-ME

 

The Daily Edit – Jeffery Cross: AFAR

- - The Daily Edit

 Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 3.47.51 PM

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 4.59.15 PM

 

AFAR

Creative Director: Elizabeth Spiridakis Olson
Director of Photography: Tara Guertin
Photographer: Jeffery Cross

Heidi: Where did you get all that candy?
Jeffery: AFAR’s art department collected iconic and oddball candy (from staff members who had traveled recently, from online sources, and from local shops), based on visually interesting packaging, as well as geographic range. The Mix department runs in the magazine in every issue, and always tackles one object, from all around the world. The candy came from Sweden, Germany, Mexico, Russia, Japan, Colombia, Iceland, and beyond.

What is your process for setting up those graphic shots?
AFAR’s art director Jason Seldon mocked up the candy in the San Francisco office before we shot it in my Oakland studio. The products were all bright, colorful, and pop-y, and Jason wanted to play up that aspect. He’d also wanted to use that crazy pink background for some time, and this seemed like a good opportunity to do so. First step was to level the set and camera, waned the shot to be as rectilinear as possible. To help with the arduous task of getting the candy lined up in some sort of grid two we employed two special pieces of equipment: the first being a laser square…always fun to play with lasers, and the second being a 24” x 36” vacuum easel, this gave us a totally flat surface and held each piece of candy in place…magic!..The only downside was the noise. A vacuum easel should come with a great stereo… or noise canceling headphones.

How many options did you have and how long did it take to set up that spread?
For this spread we took the slow and steady approach to end up with one version built piece by piece, evaluate then modified until it looks finished. According to the metadata the shoot took aprox 4hrs from start to finish.

Did you try any of the candy?
We did! Unfortunately… I tried almost all the candy. It was all good in its own way. It was cool to see how each country approaches its sweets, all super different than our candy here in the states. Lucky for me that there were two families with children on my loading dock after the shoot… Being the stranger with the candy I doled out as much of the candy as they would take. The kids went crazy over the McCraw’s Taffy… its crazy big.

How big was that piece of candy for the opener?
McCraw’s taffy, which is made in Denver, comes in nearly foot-long strips, and has been in production since 1908! I am sure it would have other practical uses much like duct tape. It’s a fun product

The Daily Promo – Cody James

- - The Daily Promo
2015 Up In The Air Zine

2015 Up In The Air Zine

2015 Up In The Air Zine

2015 Up In The Air Zine

2015 Up In The Air Zine

2015 Up In The Air Zine

2015 Up In The Air Zine

2015 Up In The Air Zine

Cody James


Who printed it?
QIS in Lower Manhattan.

Who designed it?
I designed the zine.

Who edited the images?
I designed the zine and edited the photos with the help of the creative eyes of a few friends.

How many did you make?
30

How many times a year do you send out promos?
This was my time making a zine like this. I am going to start making zines every few months. It’s great to see this process through and hold the finished product in your hands.

I was in Alaska last July and had the opportunity to trade photos for a flight with some local pilots. I’ve always had a huge interest in flight, nature, and storytelling. I feel like this was a great chance to combine all of these elements and put the content into a cohesive story. I’ve been wanting to make more physical objects of my work, and I chose to start with of some of my favorite photographs to date.

Did you add any text to the images/captions?
I didn’t add any text or captions to the images. I opened the zine with a quote by Socrates and let the images do the rest of the story telling. The quote was : Man must rise above the Earth—to the top of the atmosphere and beyond—for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.”