Clint Clemens is a pioneer in the world of commercial photography. His book is a who’s who of high end automotive and commercial clients containing many memorable campaigns from the 80’s and 90’s. I had the chance to interview him a few weeks back and I think you will find his thoughts on the state of the industry fascinating.

APE: Let’s talk about the current state of photography. What do you think has happened to the industry recently?

Clint: The photography space, as you know, has been flooded with imagery because the barrier to entry for photography has dropped so dramatically. Previously, you had to know how to focus, you had to know how to expose, you had to know how to color correct. All that’s now gone, and it’s largely an automatic function. And, I think that there is an iTunes effect that’s happening in the market place. What iTunes did is they said, “Look, we’re going to sell data for a very small amount of money to a very large number of people.” And what that has done, is dropped the value of data in general. So if you’re selling photographs, which are generally in the form of data, the value is dropping because everybody’s expecting it to be less expensive.

APE: Ok, but in the high end commercial market that you are involved in, do you still see that sort of trend? I understand with stock photography that maybe the value was artificially inflated, because of the technical aspects of photography and I can see that dropping off a cliff. But with the higher end stuff, it seems that there’s so much more involved and there’s the need for some level of originality.

Clint: Well, yes there’s always going to be that but if you look at photography as a spectrum, it’s stock on one end and high end work on the other and there can’t be a complete disconnect between the two. One’s white and one’s black and there has to be shades of grey in the middle. So which is more dominant in forcing the shade? Is it the white area, which would be stock? Or is the black area that would be the high end photography?

My sense is that there’s always going to be a need for high end photography. High end marketing will always have a look and a desire and there will always be a drive to figure out what’s new. But what’s happening is the… how do you say this? The goal line is moving faster.

APE: Is it a trickle up effect?

Clint: Yeah, I would say it’s a bit of a trickle up effect. In the world of print publication, they were very planned and periodic events that took place. But what you’re seeing now is the change in the rapidity at which you need to be able to replace your imagery. When everyone has a camera and everyone is able to rapidly change and create new looks and companies need photography and they need to change more often due to the influence of the web, does that lead to an increase in value or a decrease in value of the imagery? My sense is that probably it leads to decrease in value of the imagery. Because the shelf life is, out of necessity, shorter.


APE: How did that effect your thinking on what you’re doing with your career?

Clint: In 2004, I saw a lot of this stuff coming and so I got involved in High Dynamic Range Imaging. But not so much for the pictorial display of the imaging, but its ability to do image based lighting and rendering. I was trying to figure out what was going to be the next great change in photography or imaging. And, with movement towards the web, people more and more, want their information interactively. So if you’re a photographer you need to understand how your component becomes interactive, because the still image, while it may have impact, has a lot shorter shelf live, if only because there’s more imagery out in the world.

So, I thought, “where is the next threshold of imaging?” And my sense was that it’s a combination of interactivity and CGI.

APE: You were shooting some location car photography weren’t you and CGI has revolutionized that industry hasn’t it?

Clint: Yes, exactly. So, in ’04 we started a company called And what that is, is back plates with the accompanying sphere High Dynamic Range Image.

So in other words, I looked at the world and said, “Everybody’s got a lot of back plates, but they can’t use any of it for rendering because you need to be able to use image based lighting with a wire frame.”

APE: So you started Good Stock, how’s that working out for you?

Clint: Oh, it’s great, we got into that and then started another company that’s connected to a real high end post-production house on the CGI end. And so that company then does the post-production of it. We take the High Dynamic Range Image with the client’s wire frame and render it.

APE: Nice.

Clint: Now, going beyond that I tried to figure out how to create a three-dimensional photograph? If you go to a website called, that’s where we get into a lot of three-dimensional imaging.

APE: Is this scanning the environment?

Clint: Well, it’s scanning but also product visualization of which car photography with CGI is a branch of. So what’s happening is clients are demanding the more rapid pictorial representation of their product. In the case of a car client, for instance, they want to be able to visualize their car during the design phase. And then they also want to be able to have the brochure of images ready when the first car rolls off the production line.

APE: Right.

Clint: So how do you speed up the production process and then how do you wring cost out of the production process of photography? The only answer to that is CGI.

APE: So, is this only happening in car photography because of the cost?

Clint: Yes, because of the cost. We also do visualization in the marine industries. A boat is really expensive to build. But the true, accurate visualization of it for a client is really important. You get into textures of interiors, and some of the interiors of these high-end yachts, really, they’re quite elaborate.

But let’s back up to the bigger picture here. So what’s happening is that you have a world in which the supply of photography is much, much greater than it ever was. You’ve got the concept that data, because it’s ones and zeros and it’s not a physical asset, has less value. And that’s driven by what I call the iTunes blow-back effect. How do you sit at home and download music for 99 cents and then go to work and pay $5,000 for a data set?

APE: Yeah. I get it, it’s the same with newspapers, obviously. The written word, it’s all been rendered electronically now, virtually worthless. And the distribution is nearing zero as far as moving this stuff around or making copies.

Clint: Yeah, it is.

APE: So, basically, you looked at the world of photography and you thought, “What’s going to be the highest end?” or “What’s going to be the most technical?” and you went for it. You created these companies that can provide these services for car companies and anybody who can afford it. But it’s very much the tip of the spear, right? This is high-end stuff.

Clint: Here’s the overall concept. When you look at a marketplace and when you look at your business, you have to figure out, “How can I maintain a barrier to entry?” Barriers to entry can be cost, they can be complexity they can be access. I can’t photograph the president of the United States but some people can.

So, how do you build a wall around yourself? It used to be your ability to focus, process, expose, etc. and that whole wall has completely fallen down. So, that’s what everybody’s trying to figure out, and that’s why I went in this direction, because the barrier to entry is so high.

APE: Is this your main focus with the photography now? CGI and creating companies that can service the high end aspect of that.

Clint: Yeah. To the extent that I stay involved with them is lesser or greater depending on what it is. One of them requires hourly maintenance. I’ve done so many things in my life and my career and the fun part of it is to try to figure out, what’s happening next, because you see patterns from perspective. The longer you’re in an industry you begin to recognize that things are going to move in a certain direction.

Here’s the other thing that happens, and anybody in the high-end spectrum will tell you this, that an economy is not a constant, it moves up and down. I’ve probably been through seven or eight recessions now in my career and you always see cycles and you begin to see patterns that emerge from those. So the point of a recession is to wring inefficiency out of the system. OK now, it’s a blunt instrument, no doubt about it, but that’s the point of a recession. In a capitalist economy, it treats it like a wet towel and it wrings it as tight as it possibly can.

So every time you go into a recession, the business that comes out of it is much more efficient than it ever was. And the other thing that you notice is it never goes back to what it was. It never reverts back, it always moves forward.

What we’re seeing now in this recession are two major effects, we’re seeing inefficiency getting wrung out of the system. And we’re also seeing a fundamental transformation of imagery itself, which is the digital image. We’re starting to see the full impact of what’s going to happen here. When digital first came out, it was like, “Oh, this is great. We can make all kinds of stock pictures.” Well, now, guess what happened: stock is now worthless.

The other thing that happens, in an economy like this that all the high-end manufacturers get the rug pulled out from underneath them. They’re the first ones on the chopping block, all the high-end clients. And those are the only people that really had money to pay. So you’ve got to ask yourself, where is the profit in photography? And my sense is that the real profit in photography is coming through people that are essentially teaching.

It’s the blog posts, the people that are blogging constantly, who are able to sell space on their blog and all the rest of the sort of stuff that goes on. And that’s really where it is. Yes, there is occasional work that’s out there, but it’s never going to return to the real, high-end numbers that you saw before.

APE: I’m looking at some of your advertising work here. There’s still a barrier to entry to the work that you were doing. But now, are you telling me that you’re not taking pictures anymore?

Clint: No, no, no. I go out and shoot.

APE: For clients or just for pleasure?

Clint: Well, both. The client work has definitely slowed down. When you’re shooting for Chris Craft, Net Jets, Indian Motorcycle, all these guys got hammered. If that’s your client base, instead of shooting for them two, three times a year, you’re doing it once every 18 months or something.

But that’s fine. I have no problem with that. I’m having a really good time figuring out what’s coming next and working in the 3D space.

Chancellor and interpreter

APE: I want to talk to you about China, because the email that you sent, one thing that really stood out is how they honor photography culturally, it’s a big deal. And they have the status of a doctor there. Can you go into that a little bit?

Clint: Sure. You saw the photographs, right?

APE: Yeah.

Clint: Yeah. I mean, where in the Western world are you greeted like that as a photographer?

APE: [laughs] It’s pretty awesome, right?

Clint: It’s crazy, it’s a complete cultural 180 from what we see here.

APE: And why is that?

Clint: My sense is that there’s a cultural bias towards imagery, pictograms, murals, translation of heritage and culture through drawings, very detailed drawings, a sense of artistry in the line. There is a very high level honor of the photographic process way up into the cultural ministries.

Now, here’s the flip side of the equation. China, like everyone else, has a million people taking pictures. So, back to that same argument. If everybody has a camera or everybody has a pen and can write, where do you find the value?

APE: That’s interesting because they’re able to maintain this respect for photographers at the same time many of them are able to, you know, take pictures, take probably pretty decent photographs anymore.

Clint: Well, you know, taking a decent photograph is a moving definition. I mean, who’s to say what’s good and what’s bad? And what happens is with photographs is that the idea of what is current and communicates is always changing. It’s never really a static goal line. So, if somebody takes a bad picture in our eyes, is it really a bad picture if it communicates?

APE: Oh, boy that’s a whole conversation in itself.

Clint: The Chinese love taking pictures and the way they in which they view photographers is a very high art form. Whether you can sell it is another issue. Because the sale of an image is really a function of all those global forces, everybody’s got a camera, a million photographers in the world, and imagery is distributed electronically around the world in a heartbeat.

APE: So, if you already have the status, in the west, in China you’re somewhat of a superstar.

Clint: Absolutely. And some of that is due to the access to the money to buy the camera. There were probably 50,000 students from this art and design college and so, you know, there’s always a “college town” that’s attached to a school, right. So I’m walking around. First of all, everybody’s staring at me because I’m over six feet tall. And I’ve got light hair. But the other thing is, I said to my interpreter, “Why is everybody staring at me?” and she said, “You have a very expensive camera.” So, the mass of people, still haven’t seen really high end cameras when you get out into the country.

APE: It was like you’re driving a Ferrari around town or something.

Clint: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s like you’re on another planet.

So, China’s interesting, you really palpably feel the desire to get with the Western world in terms of capitalism and commerce. OK. Ten years ago, it was a very different place. And it’s moving dramatically, very quickly. And they want what we have. I mean, it’s plain and simple. And part of that is the gadgetry that they see all over the Internet. The kids see this stuff constantly, anytime they’re on the Internet. They’re rapidly moving into a consumer conscious society. And one of those things is the camera. So, you’re looking at a confluence of wanting to have a really, highly advanced technical object, and at the same time, a very high honor for the art form. So, it’s the second one that distinguishes China.

Every time you lift your camera to shoot something, there are people taking pictures of you.

APE: [laughs] Of you taking a picture?

Clint: Yeah. Go figure. It’s really weird. [laughs]

APE: This has just happened in the last few years, right? You are seeing a lot of your fellow photographers going over on the speaking circuit in China now?

Clint: Not too many, not too many. It all happens through the Culture Ministry.

APE: So they arrange everything, the Culture Ministry?

Clint: Yeah, and they pay for everything.

APE: And what about the language barrier? Do you just have a translator with you?

Clint: Yeah, you have a translator with you at all times. So what happens is I’ll speak for three hours. An hour and a half of that is content, the other half of that is translation. But it happens really well. The other thing is a lot of them speak English. Or they really want to speak English, and they’re learning it. This is a country that is bound and determined to catch up with the Western world. That’s what you really notice when you’re over there.

APE: And they will.

Clint: Yeah. The other thing that’s going to happen is, if we think there are a lot of people competing for photography space now, what’s going to happen when the Chinese enter the market and it’s a free-for-all? So what they’re doing is they’re building photographers, if you will. They’re educating photographers.

APE: Ok, wow that doesn’t sound good.

Clint: Well, it just gets more competitive. It gets more interesting. So we’re seeing a world that is devouring photography.

APE: Can’t get enough, yeah. And like you were saying, the people who are teaching or blogging about photography, they are going to see great success. There’s a lot of money to be made off of people who are just interested in the process, not necessarily buying photographs, right?

Clint: Bingo. So in other words, you will have great photographers out there. For instance, I looked at [redacted]’s site, excellent photography. There is no reason why 15 years ago he couldn’t have made a really good living as a photographer. Maybe he did, I don’t know. But you have to ask yourself, why is it that somebody of that caliber can’t or doesn’t choose to go into a lucrative career in photography.

APE: Yeah. Because it’s a pain in the ass. [laughs]

Clint: It’s a pain in the ass. It’s a hit-and-miss, you’re hanging by a thread all your life. There’s a lot of stuff going on. Now the competition I’m talking… I’m not sure the demand is there to satisfy the competition. So think about it. What’s happening is the world wants a lot of photography, but it doesn’t want to pay a lot of money for it. And you have this endless supply of photographers and as the quality of cameras has gone up, the resolution needed to reproduce photographs has gone down. So virtually every single camera is capable of taking that kind of image.

APE: Right, but you have seen seven different ups and downs in the world of photography and the economy and each one didn’t destroy the industry. It changed it. It changed the role of the photographer, it changed how they could make a living with photography but didn’t destroy it.

Clint: Each one introduced some level of greater efficiency into the system. So it’s the introduction of efficiency. Think of the economy that goes into its inflationary cycle, or into its expansion cycle, and you end up with a lot of bloated processes out there. Inefficiency. If all of a sudden the economy crashes, businesses still have to do business, but they need to get it done really efficiently. So instead of hiring a photographer, for instance, they’ll say, “Oh, this guy Joe Schmoe that works in the marketing department, he has a camera, he can go shoot it for us.” Or they say, “We’ve got this product that we’ve been designing in CAD. Why do we actually have to shoot it. Why don’t we just render it out?”

APE: Obviously there are new opportunities for photographers in teaching and writing about photography, but what about motion. I see that as photographers moving into a space that exists and being able to do it cheaper than other motion crews are able to.

Clint: That’s exactly what’s going to go on. So it’s the democratization of motion. What’s going to happen is exactly what happened to stock photography. But Motion has another layer that I don’t think you’re going to be able to automate. Essentially what we’re seeing is the automation of photography with all these new cameras. So Motion has two other layers. It has editing and it has the sound component. And, you can’t cut perfectly to a sound beat the way a human can.

APE: So there’s that nice barrier to entry you’re talking about that exists in Motion.

Clint: Bingo.

APE: So, it’s good for photographers to move into that.

Clint: Ah. Only if you edit and you know sound. You need to have all three, because shooting Motion in itself is going to be just like photography; it gets cheaper and cheaper and everybody’s got one. So it’s the other two components that are very important. Photographers need to look for those barriers to entry, it’s their only hope.


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  1. Couple things:

    * songs have always been about 99 cents over the past 30 years. Even on vinyl, tape, CD. Album is 9-12 bucks, has 9-12 tracks on it. And you got album art.

    * “Photographers need to look for those barriers to entry, it’s their only hope.” – this seems really sad. Barriers and walls only stay up so long. That is a mark of holding on to a fast fading past rather than actually fundamentally changing. Change is hard. Walls are easier, but temporary.

    • @free_for_some,

      Oh here we go with the hippy dippy “Barriers and walls only stay up so long” nonsense. This is the cold hard reality of business we’re talking about here. Barriers, technical or otherwise, are there for a reason. It, generally speaking, guarantees a certain level of professionalism. Commercial photography is not just about capturing the image, it’s about your client knowing they’re in the safe hands of someone who knows all of the nuts and bolts of a shoot (pre and post production, proper price negotiation, all the meetings that are involved in the average ad shoot etc). This is true for every level photography be it a massive advertising production or a no budget charity job.

      Professionalism counts and not everyone with a $3000 dslr and a good eye can operate in the fields of photography in which the image is but only one part of the overall job.

      • Sam,

        I’ve known Clint since the early eighties, and I assure you that no one in this profession knows the business nut and bolts, and is able to handle Fortune 50 clients any better than Clint. His reputation speaks for itself.

  2. quote: “quality of cameras has gone up, the resolution needed to reproduce photographs has gone down” … *lol … I love that

    Maybe one day even the camera industry will get it.

    Thanks for the flag on China, although your article is a bit late for me. Back in September I was invited to Shanghai (free of charge at that), but I declined due to other liabilities. I wasn’t aware that the Chinese people honor photographers that much. It seems I made a mistake …

    Best, Reini

  3. I’ve not seen lens distortion before like that on the left of the “chancellor-and-interpreter” image. The exif data revealed this:

    Camera Maker: Canon
    Camera Model: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III
    Lens: EF17-35mm f/2.8L USM
    Image Date: 2008-10-11 21:52:04 -0400
    Focal Length: 17.0mm
    Aperture: f/4.5

    That much pin-cushioning from canon glass?

    • @dbltapp,
      Who gives a f***?

  4. One of my favorite advertising photographers of all time. Thanks, Rob.

  5. One of your best Rob, thanks go to you and Clint. I began my career 1980 in Boston. Even then Clint Clemons was “the guy” with a beautiful brownstone drive in studio on Newbury St.

    Great incites.

    • @Bruce DeBoer, Ha, insight not incite.

  6. Great to hear from Mr. Clemens, he has provided inspiration for my work from the very beginning. I remember seeing his images years ago when I was assisting, and thinking “that guy is doing what I want to do.”

    I have to agree with a lot of what he’s saying. Making a living as a photographer requires business skills in addition to creativity. Photographic vision doesn’t get you very far without some sort of game plan.

    Our landscape is very different now. It has been fragmented and mashed up into a big, strange tasting stew with a million different ingredients. I don’t know where it’s going, but I do know that it’s not going back to where it was.

  7. This is the single smartest blog entry on the state of photography that I have ever read. A must read for anyone out there in our business. Huge thanks to Clint and to Rob for putting this out.

  8. It is quite apparent in this economic climate that if you are not a great business person as a photographer then you are probably going to end up doing something else to subsidize your photography or as I have seen of recent there are those who are walking away from photography completely saying there is no money to be made. (They are wrong of course).

    I think there will always be a barrier for to the moderate and high end commercial side of photography. It is not like you can jump on the internet and google Conde Nast’s requirements for photographers in 2011 or for that matter December. It takes a bit of work, savvy marketing and a fair amount of investment to land the work available. The amount of time to achieve that result for the nation of mostly ADD mind people will turn them to MLM and other fast money propositions.

    I think the doors into professional photography are easier to open because of the ease of access to the decision makers. An example is stock. The accessibility to submit via the internet versus having to submit physical images for review and acceptance change that realm for the time being.
    JMHO Great interview Rob!

  9. Nice. Finally someone with real insight and experience adds to the “Photography Today” discussion. Thanks.

  10. […] It seems like I have been having a lot of discussions about the photo industry these days with other photographers, some of whom are top notch big name photographers whose photos we see all the time. Instead of writing a blog post detailing all of those discussions I thought I’d point you to a phenomenal blog post that Rob Haggart just put up on his blog where he interviews commercial photographer Clint Clemens.  To read that interview click here. […]

  11. So is the end of an aesthetic trend due to its inefficiency ?

    • @scott Rex Ely,

      Hasn’t the aesthetic trend been dead for 5-6 years or so?

      • @Robert Seale, I’m just curious why he left out the aesthetic side of the equation. Miss B rephrases it perfectly. Certainly the aesthetic applies to consumer images of cars. Is there nothing that hasn’t been done? Is that why the work revolves around data reconstruction? The final piece becomes the idea.

  12. Thanks guys, fantastic insight. A real eye opener!

  13. Very interesting article. We have many photography customers and I will share this with them. I agree the democratization of photography is and will continue to lower prices on much of the photography market. I also agree that the great influx of people wanting to learn photography will create many jobs for those who want to teach and share their photography skills. Like other small businesses being successful will demand a mastery of the other great democratization tools such as twitter, facebook, flickr, etc. It’s an exciting time and many will prosper if they are willing to keep up with the technology.

  14. The one thing missing from this conversation is vision-everyone has (or can have) a different visual viewpoint. The more resonant image makers rise to the top. I don’t think it’s about finding a loophole or barrier in the system and fighting your way through I think personal vision is the product to sell here. Clients who use generic images sell a generic product or service. I see a trend in marketing that some of the most successful campaigns are the ones that took huge creative chance and won. Same goes for image makers. As much as the availability of media has changed the industry it hasn’t changed what makes a great photographer a great photographer (one that can’t be traded in for the guy in the office that has a camera)-it’s vision.

    • @MissB,

      I have to agree w/ miss b. There is no mention in the interview about one’s point of view being the ultimate “wall”. He only mentions technology.

      • @gwr, Artistic point of view is a given; it’s what you need to enter the game. A successful business is going to be based on exceeding professional best practices, and finding barriers to entry (as Mr. Clemons stated) that are much more difficult for anyone with a camera; this may included a spectacular style but more likely it will take the form of something not as easily copied.

        The bottom line is to be true to you’re own vision but do your best to find a niche that will make yo a decent living.

        That’s my take on the article; I don’t think Clint Clemons is in no way trying to ignore creativity.

        • @Bruce DeBoer,
          “Artistic point of view is a given; it’s what you need to enter the game”
          I think so. But that is not what I got from the interview. It’s all about finding a technical barrier. And it’s understandable. His vision is technique.

    • @MissB,
      Personal Vision/Artistic POV is just another barrier to entry. I think he’s correct in saying that many photographers relied on the technical barrier rather than the personal vision. If it can be achieved it works as well as any. I just think it’s more difficult than other methods.

  15. Good read.

    I mean, I don’t know if I’m inspired or depressed.

    But good read.

  16. Enjoy and recognized his images, though he comes across as defeated. Anyone can buy a pencil, but few people can draw. It takes more to be a photographer than an index finger and a fat wad of cash.

    There have been similar comments about barriers that I have heard since I was in college in the late 1990s. Photoshop 3.0 opened up composite imaging, yet many felt it was still too difficult to master. WACOM tablets enabled those with drawing skills to become better at imagery on the computer, either through editing or origination. Alias Studio Paint was beyond the reach (financially) of all but a few studios, yet that enabled truly complex visualizations and CGI.

    Leave the 1990s and all these things evolved, became more automated or simpler to understand, and often dropped to accessible price points. Those who marketed on technology quickly found themselves upstaged, or simply outspent. iMovie failed to convince people they could make their own interesting and compelling movies, because the barrier is ideas, and not technology. I think that is what Clint misses on video and editing, it’s not figuring out the tools, but it IS understanding what makes a good story.

    My feeling is that any creative professional who simply chases technology and the next great gimmick, will simply find themselves upstaged at some point. Sure, learn the latest, but respect your ideas, because if you cannot bring ideas to projects, then you are no better than a camera and gear rental.

    • @Gordon Moat, said: “I think that is what Clint misses on video and editing, it’s not figuring out the tools, but it IS understanding what makes a good story.”

      Editing never has been or ever will be about tools. I started editing (both sound and picture) with a razor blade and a splicing block. Editing is the talent of knowing when to cut, not how to cut. So TALENT is the barrier to entry for motion.

      Talent in directing, talent in motion photography, etc, etc.

      • @c.d.embrey, Talent should still be the barrier to entry for stills, but it seems too many think the tools are the entry point. Completely agree with you on video and motion, though I started on NLEs and not cutting with a razor. Good still photography is like good motion imaging, in that there is still a need to tell stories and convey ideas.

  17. Wow. Absolutely brilliant. Nice to see a guy thinking about our business with a logical/economics theory POV.

    Similar technological advancements have forever changed sports photography. As little as 15 years ago, magazine sports photography required exposing slide film correctly , compositional skills, timing, hand-eye follow focus skills, money (if you were a freelancer, it required a 3-400 dollar investment in film/processing per game). All those barriers to entry are now gone, and the business (if you can call it that), is overpopulated with college students, doctors, lawyers, and other hobbyists who think sports photography is fun. The pool of people with those skills went from 20-30 in the country to thousands. That’s not to say the John Bievers of the world aren’t better. They still are…..but remember the line about putting enough monkeys on typewriters and eventually getting the works of Shakespeare.

    Great job – what a great interview.

  18. “where in the Western world are you greeted like that as a photographer?”

    He wasn’t greeted like that as a photographer; he was greeted like that as an invited guest to a college campus. If he was an english professor invited to give a talk at the campus, it would’ve been the same. If he were a Chinese government official, it would’ve been even more lavish. I’ve seen those sorts of receptions a hundred times. I’m very suspicious of the whole representation of the China; seems like a major misreading of what happened around him, especially in a country where businesses routinely hire white men to give their business meetings an extra edge.

  19. He seems to be saying that now more than ever you need to set yourself apart from the crowd by being the best at something. There are many ways to do that. He’s chosen to be at the leading edge of technology, and seems to have concluded that for him it’s the only way that makes economic sense. As true as his message is, I still feel a little sad to see a photographer whose work has always inspired me turning to something that I don’t find remotely as interesting to look at. He will be successful, I have no doubt. But this seems a choice guided by economic rather than aesthetic considerations. Still, a very thoughtful and cogent summing up of where we stand today. Thank you Clint and Rob.

  20. Super informative but made me sad.

  21. Really insightful interview. Clint has a lot of dead on views as to the nature and current climate of the commercial industry.

  22. Part of me wants to hang it up now and walk away.

    Part of me respects Clint so much that I will reread this piece again and again and try to understand what is happening.

    It is so sad that the blowhards of photography are the ones making the bucks with all their blogging and endless self-promotion about themselves, their work, their videos, their workshops, etc.

    Clint points it out in a way that makes sense.

    The real scary part is I am starting to hate the industry that I have thrived in and loved for most of my life.

    This is by far, the most important and best piece that Rob has ever published.

    • @Me., when I look at the portfolios of some of the individuals who are most well-known for their blogging and self-promotion I often find myself underwhelmed by the quality of the photography I see there.

      • @john mcd.,

        I had to bite my tongue when I saw Rob on stage in NYC with some of the better known bloggers. I respect Rob too much to question why he was on stage with them. But I was taken aback for a moment.

        • @me., Sometimes you find gold (APE) amongst the dross. But not often.

        • @me.,
          Embracing my inner blowhard.

          • @A Photo Editor,

            Rob, I don’t believe that for a second.

    • @Me.,
      Absolutely agree with your sentiment on this.. but I don’t want to walk away even in difficult times; I enjoy shooting too much and trying to mold it to some other avenue won’t go.
      If you believe in the value of your work, sticking to it and finding a place for it is still the main game, blogs et al or not..

  23. is it possible that one of the best ways to do this business is unplug from all the tech bullshit twitter, FB, blogs, get down to brass tacks and make some decent photos? I’m seriously thinking about it…

  24. @john mcd.,

    “But this seems a choice guided by economic rather than aesthetic considerations.”

    As a close personal friend of Clint, I assure you, his drive to be on the bleeding edge of technology does not come from an economic angle as much as a personal angle. His personality’s ambition to face challenges without fear of failure brings him to the frontier of technology. He simply wants to prove to himself that he can solve a problem, any problem. He studied math in college, so these problems manifest themselves in the technical sphere within the last half decade especially. Actually, the best way for him to solve the problems is through an aesthetic or visual exploration. He’ll take off for hours with a camera, to jog his mind, and come back with the answer to a problem.

  25. I thought economic recessions were a manifestation of the inherent contradictions of capitalism, not a aspect of some manifest destiny for westernized society.

    That aside we have, mainly: hard work, technology, China and a blog.

    Kermode, a well known film critic, has spoken out against CGI, arguing that (I paraphrase) when anything is possible the fact of its illusionary nature becomes a growing barrier to acceptance. When something is “real”, we tend to be more moved visually and intellectually. Applying this to still photography, perhaps traditional creativity is not yet lost.

    An interesting and thought-provoking piece.

    • What hurts acceptance more – – that no one really trusts photo images to be reliable evidence of reality any more — or that in post digital times we give way to disillusionment that: given ‘no technical limits’, our ability to create illusions (imagination) is far more limited than anticipated?

      No one is going to stop using photos or CGI and it is in no one’s interest to devalue either of them. Rather to the contrary we suspend a range of critical faculties precisely to create and congregate around style/fashion ‘cultural nodes’ because unless we hype/enhance the value of most images they can have near no value to us.

      The normal rules of supply and demand are usually ill defined and don’t play a major role in the creation and maintenance of these nodes. Likewise, ’barriers to entry’ rarely play a great role in defining where or how cultural nodes will form.

      It is important to separate the supply of technical services from the glorified role of creative photographer when thinking about supply and demand. But it is also easy to see why trying to construct a cultural node around ‘all photographs and all photographers, being important and creative’ would be important to many in the business – – Especially those who don’t enjoy the warmth and proximity of such nodes.

      • It is probably less a matter of trust than of serial redundancy. Human desires are limitless yet temporary, insubstantial, yet grounded. Without limit in the sense that they can never be fulfilled, grounded in that they are bounded by the way we inherently see the world, and transient and insubstantial through the propagation of minute, most often trivial, changes in fashion.
        The direction in which art, marketing and consumption travels through this complex reality is as uncertain as the evolution of a weather system. Modes will come and go, appearing moment by moment as fleeting, often fantastical attempts to redefine our sense of reality; each one competing for its brief moment of recognition. Meanwhile, in the background, fundamental aesthetics remain unchanged.
        Monetary rewards go mostly to those who engage readily and competently with the transitory world of style, creating and recreating hyper-real representations of the mundane. In this context it would be a mistake to expect anything to last more than a moment or two, and entirely expected that visual rhetoric would, in financial terms, surpass realism.

  26. Wonderful interview and very much on-point with so many aspects of the industry today. However, I think Mr. Clemens paints a very distorted picture of how photographers here on the ground in China are treated. He was invited by the government and given the same status as a dignitary because he’s foreign and recognized overseas. So everyone in this small town gather to see what all the hubbub is about. I assure you, none of the photographers here get anything remotely close to this level of respect.

    Nothing can be further from the truth than “they have the status of a doctor there.” I’ve been shooting here for a year and my colleagues have been here shooting for up to 7 years. Our joke is we’re all interchangeable to our Chinese client. We get tears from western ads and magazines. They point at it and say, “duplicate this.” We take a nice series of picture and their comment is, “wow, that must be a great camera.” There are so many photographers here, out of the 1.3 billion population, that many photographers are stiffed out of pay and the client will just find another to replace him/her the next day. Photography to many magazines here are recognized as a skill, not an art.

    There’s so much more to say but I’m getting worked up just thinking about how difficult is it to command any sort of respect here. Are there any other shooters here in China that care to comment on the Chinese attitude toward photographers?

  27. Its the end result that matters. How you tune the production to the story or mood of the piece. Ask Haskell Wexler. Shoot…. sorry he is in heaven.

    Lately…. It’s business as usual and everybody is looking like everyone else these days. Might be one reason why employers are jaded.

    I vote make better photographs. Forget about those souless toys. Use them if you will…..It doesn’t really matter how you make them.

    This art form will not progress without our minds at work.

    -william huber

  28. Thats has been the most valuable piece of photo industry information. Ever. Period. Thank you Rob(APE) and MANY hats off to Clint Clemens!
    ~ M

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