Yearly Archives: 2012

Photo Editor Needs Our Help

- - Photo Editor

On August 16th, Andrea Verdone received the shattering news that her 3 year-old daughter, Natalie Grace Gorsegner had been diagnosed with Leukemia. Natalie’s treatments will take approximately two years to complete, however for the next seven months or so she will need full-time at home care due to the intensity of her chemotherapy (and the many visits to the clinic + hospital). That said, Andrea has temporarily left her position as Photo Editor of Women’s Health magazine to care for her daughter. In addition to their immediate and primary concern for Natalie’s health and treatment, they now have the financial burden of living off of one income, which we all know can be extremely challenging in this day.

Andrea has been a Photo Editor in NYC for over a decade; in addition to Women’s Health where she has been for almost 7 years, her resume includes Lucky Magazine + In Style, among others. She has spoken on panels, reviewed countless portfolios at ICP and Photo Expo, been a member of SPD and nurtured many young Photo Assistants into accomplished Photo Editors.

A blog has been created to keep interested parties up to date on Natalie’s treatment + recovery. The blog also accepts donations which go directly into an account to help Andrea and her family: http://www.donationto.com/nataliegrace

The Daily Edit – Thursday
10.4.12

- - The Daily Edit

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Glamour

Design Director: Geraldine Hessler
Photo Director: Suzanne Donaldson
Art Director: Sarah Vinas
Senior Photo Editor: Martha Maristany 

Photographer: Alexei Hay

Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted

Chris Buck Talks About His New Book: Presence

This is the first in a series of interviews I’m conducting to promote my seminar at the 2012 Photo Plus Expo titled “Making a Career in Editorial Photography”. I’ve got 3 editorial photographers at the top of their game who I’m going to interview on stage about their careers and marketing methods. If you’re going to PPE, join Chris Buck, Jake Chessum, Martin Schoeller and me on Friday, October 26th from 1:30 to 3:30 pm.

Chris is somewhat of a regular around here, I really enjoy checking in with him, because he’s always honest with his answers. He’s got a new book out called Presence (get yours here), so I asked him all about creating it and finding a publisher. I know you will enjoy his insight into the process.

Rob: I remember from our previous interview that you place a lot of importance on personal projects and the promotional value you get from them. Can you talk about that and how you go about finding those projects?

Chris Buck: First, I’m trying to think of something that will be original, that’s a big part of it.

Rob: I was going to ask, does originality trump everything for you?

Chris: When I think of something interesting, I automatically assume that it’s been done already. This is a struggle for a photographer at any stage in their career – you want things that feel fresh and new, and not something that’s just a rehashing of whatā€™s been done before.

But, one has to realize, nothing is entirely new, everything has a predecessor to it.

Rob: I gave up even writing about who copied who, because everything can be traced back further than the photographer who thinks they are the original.

Chris: I’ve attended lectures where well-regarded photographers talked about other photographers stealing their ideas and the whole time I’m thinking, “Seriously? You’re a legend. Get over it.”

[laughter]

Rob: A lot of the promotional and personal work that I see is photographers trying to put their own stamp on an idea that exists. I think it’s interesting that you are searching for an original idea completely.

Chris: That’s one thing I’ve realized when doing this and thinking about what I want to do next. Most photographers will find something interesting in the world and then construct a body of work around that. That’s not what I want to be doing and it’s not where I’m likely to make a unique stamp.

I’m going to do better by in my own quiet way, constructing something, or maybe constructing my own curious connection between things. I think that’s where my strength is.

A lot of the ideas I come up with, I’ve not done, because they’re not visual enough. They might be clever and funny, but theyā€™re not visual.

Rob: Interesting, I hadn’t thought about it that way before. Before we get into this current project, how much does the end product play into it? You don’t just do this to entertain yourself. This is a business. This is part of the marketing. This is part of the business of Chris Buck photography, right?

Chris: Absolutely, but It’s hard to think about that until after I do it. There’s a certain level of faith that if I do interesting work and I put it out there, then work will come back my way.

Rob: Ok, let’s talk about this project. I want to know the germination of the idea, where it came to you. When did you realize that it was going to work, and that you needed to pursue this, and that you needed to talk all these celebrities during shoots into participating in your project? What was the beginning?

Chris: I was brainstorming ideas with my agent at the time (Julian Richards), and I had an idea that was very theoretical. It was just the idea of phoning it in. I liked the idea of literally not being on the set and giving instructions to an assistant, or whoever, as to what to do, what to tell the subject, and then whatever we got was the picture.

[laughter]

I liked it in theory, but I realized that the actual work itself would be wildly different based on who actually was on-set and did the execution, and also then, in most cases, it probably wouldn’t be very interesting.

And, just on a personal, selfish level, too, I wanted to control it. I didn’t want it to be entirely random, like a scientific experiment where the visuals wouldn’t have been that important.

So, I switched it. Rather than having me not there I decided to have the subject not there.

Initially, it was going to be a set where I just shot someone and they left. This is the room where I just shot George Clooney, or something. Then I realized it was a bit too esoteric, so I put the subject back in, which anchored it nicely.

Rob: Is this all happening in your head, or is this happening…?

Chris: This is hashing it out with Julian. Then the decision becomes, how much of them do we see?

Do we see an elbow and a top of a head? Are we seeing them peeking or something, and how much? Maybe not enough to recognize them, but enough to indicate where they are. But, I actually realized that I liked the cleanness of not seeing them at all. I also thought it was both funnier and a bit of a playful “F You,” to the audience.

Rob: [laughs] Oh God. I love that. We’re getting back to that, keep going.

Chris: I initially thought of it as a promotional piece, just 15 images in a little booklet, each one would be titled with the person’s name. It would be funny and kind of throwaway, and that would be the end of it.

The first one I shot was William Shatner, with these bales of hay. It was so rich with color and texture that I was like, ā€œwow, even if a fraction of them are this interesting, this could actually have legs and become a full book.ā€

Rob: Tell me about the first shoot, though. The first time you told William Shatner what you were doing, and what you needed to do.

Chris: I’m pretty fearless about stuff like this, so, I just asked. Let’s put it this way, in my previous shoot with Shatner, I had him being arrested by two LA cops. So, asking him to hide in a scene was peanuts in comparison.

Rob: I remember from our previous interview, didn’t you ask him some other crazy things to do?

Chris: Yeah, I asked him to do a lot of crazy stuff and he just said, “No, I will not do that.”

Rob: So in comparison to what you normally ask celebrities to do, this is tame.

Chris: Right. Well, for one thing, they’re not even going to be visible. So it doesn’t matter how they look or what they’re doing. They can be crouching or standing, or whatever it is. It doesn’t matter , as we don’t see them.

Rob: Were some of the people reluctant? Thought it was stupid?

Chris: Well, a few of them kind of felt like, ā€œIf I’m not going to be in there, why waste my time with this?ā€ But if they bothered to put up an argument, they ended up doing it. Because it mattered to me, and they just went with it. Whoopi Goldberg looked through my entire mock-up and she spent a good 10, 15 minutes on it and then wouldn’t do it.

I don’t really know what she was thinking. But she didn’t want to be part of it. Maybe she felt like she had worked hard to be visible and was not into being portrayed without being visible.

Rob: Then did some people get really into it and understand the whole concept?

Chris: Oh, some people totally got into it, and got really excited. Rainn Wilson I shot for New York magazine, and then afterwards I had him pose for the series. When he walked out of his hiding spot, he said, “We do a little business, we do a little art.”

Rob: So you finished the project. Tell me about approaching a publisher.

Chris: Well, I shot it in five years, and about three-and-a-half years into it, I began to look for a publisher. Remember, I contacted you early on asking you for some help and you have that list of publishers on your blog, which was one of my resources.

Basically, I made a list and started going down it. At first, I was approaching just one at a time, but pretty soon I was approaching three, four at a time. I’d go through a stack of mock-ups, and then I would stop and think, OK, what’s working, what’s not working? Then I’d make a new version of the mock-up.

In the end I made three different mock-ups, and was always improving on it. The last one I made with a designer and I hired someone to be my representative just for approaching the publisher (Alan Rapp).

Rob: Wow.

Chris: Well, that’s because I had gone to seminars on how to do a photo book.

Rob: You went to seminars?

Chris: I’d gone to seminars over the years and it was made clear that one was expected to present the proposed book as a finished product ā€“ sequencing, layout, foreword or introduction, and cover design ā€“ everything.

One of the problems I think that I had with the publishers was it’s essentially an art book from someone who’s not an art photographer. They didn’t quite know where to put it. It’s a pop culture photographer making a fine art book, but they couldn’t sell it on my name as an art photographer.

Rob: Oh, I can see the pitch for sure. “A celebrity book?” “Yes.” “There’s no celebrities in it?” “Pass” [laughs]

Chris: Well, theyā€™re in it. You just can’t see them.

Rob: Right. So, back to the process, because a lot of my readers will be interested in the book publishing part.

Chris: Basically, here’s the approach I took. I can put it very simply. I had never published a book before, so I didn’t really know that world. I knew editorial, and I knew advertising. I looked through my Facebook and through my general contacts, and I reached out to anyone I knew who had any connection to people who had been published

It was absolutely humbling and eye opening. It was such a good process for me. Not that I was arrogant, but I had a certain place in the editorial and advertising world and I had no place in the world of publishing.

Rob: Was that hard for you, to go back to square one after having your very successful career?

Chris: Well, the hard part is that while I’m well regarded in my field and have done well, a lot of people treated me really shabbily. Not responding at all or being rude.

Rob: Oh, my.

Chris: I found it surprising. You would expect people would at least think, “Maybe, I’ll cross paths with this person at some point in the future, I guess I should at least be polite.”

Rob: Absolutely. But, no that wasn’t the case?

Chris: Some people were, but many people weren’t. I found that amazing.

Rob: Right. Is that just publishing, they’re overwhelmed? They see so many projects that are horrible…

Chris: I don’t know. I think that these different areas are more separate from each other than we realize. Because my next step after that was trying to get a gallery, and that was the same thing just starting over from scratch. Again, contacting anyone I know who had ever had exhibitions in galleries at all. It’s contacting former assistants who are now as successful as me or more so.

[laughter]

Chris: Again, really humbling.

Rob: So back to the publishing. You had three mock-ups. You had an agent specifically for the book. You had gone through a series of publishers and then you finally found one who got the whole thing and was interested in you and the project. You just ran into them?

Chris: No, I did not run into them. What happened was I met with Darius Himes and Mary Virginia Swanson. They had just done a book called “Publish Your Photography Book”. I met with them as professional consultants and that’s what actually led to the introduction to Kehrer.

Rob: Can you tell me anything about the process of publishing the book? It’s a beautiful book.

Chris: Thank you. For people who are interested in doing a book, in terms of the actual execution of making it, I’d say the one thing that was a revelation to me in terms of the actual quality of the book itself, is that I made match prints for every visual for the book.

Now maybe that’s a norm, but when I was actually on press in Germany and the technician is working the machine he is standing there holding the match prints I made in New York. And, he did an amazing job of matching them. I went back and rescanned all the images from the original negatives and transparencies and worked on each file for hours at home. Then took them to Picturehouse.

B.J. DeLorenzo, who made the match prints there, would actually alter my files to make the match print look good he’d do what he had to do. Then those final files that made the match prints were the ones that went to the publisher.

Rob: Awesome.

Chris: The fact is I’m 99 percent happy with how the images look in the book because of the amount of care and time we put into making files I was happy with and then making match prints that matched those files.

Rob: So, how many did you print?

Chris: 1000 pieces.

Rob: Ok, that’s not very much.

Chris: It’s a small run. If people are serious about getting the book, they should get it sooner rather than later because it will sell out.

Rob: I want to go back to something that you said about the pictures being an “F-you” to the reader. How much of this project is in the outrageousness, the absurdity of taking pictures of celebrities where you can’t see them?

Chris: Well, it’s meant to be full on ridiculous and full on serious at the same time. I think that this ultimately comes across. I never even joke that the celebrity might not be in there. I take it very seriously. I spent five years shooting, two years looking for a publisher, and then a year and a half releasing the book.

Rob: Yeah, that’s no joke.

What about the fact that you’ve worked so hard and so long on a project that some people will think is the stupidest thing they’ve ever seen? [laughs]

Chris: I guess so. I like that.

Rob: Good, because I’m referencing the comments on article about the book on the “Huffington Post”.

Chris: Oh, God.

Rob: Do you enjoy that many people don’t get it?

Chris: Honestly, when I read through the comments, it actually is upsetting.

Rob: Really?

Chris: On a theoretical level, I like the idea that people think it’s a waste of their time or whatever. A lot of people obviously don’t understand what it is. One of the comments supporting me said something like, “This is a guy who’s been shooting celebrities for 20 years. You have to see the work in that context.”

I thought that was a nice way of framing it. But I don’t know. I mean, yes, at some level, it is fun that people dismiss it.

Rob: Well, it’s back to the “F-you.”

Chris: It’s never enjoyable to hear that people think you’re an idiot.

Rob: No. No. But there’s a little bit of “F-you” in the whole project, as you’ve said.

Chris: I suppose that I’m getting it back at me.

Rob: I think it’s an awesome project, and I do think it fits your personality so well. Obviously, as a promotional vehicle, it’s beyond the promo cards and the little booklets. It’s a full-on book that I assume you’ll be using it as a promotion as well as a part of your body of work.

Chris: Absolutelyā€¦but I do wonder. As I started Presence I was thinking, “OK, this is for creative directors and art directors in advertising who are top of the top, super creative, super imaginative, thinking outside the box. I want to show them I can really do work that’s outside the box.

[laughter]

Chris: Then I look at the finished thing. “What work on Earth would this ever lead to?”

[laughter]

Chris: In the long run I think it’s a really good thing only because I think it’s funny and it’s cool and it’s going to have a nice life to it.

Rob: Yeah, it’s memorable. It has great personality. It’s a standalone piece.

Chris: Even the relationship between the pictures and the names is actually relatively subtle. In a way people will complain and say, “I can see how the Jack Nicklaus one makes sense or the David Byrne one, but the rest of them…There’s no connection.”

I think that some people miss the point. When you look through the work you make your own connections. If you take it seriously and spend some time with it you can’t help but do that. That kind of subtlety will make the book interesting still in 10, 20 years.

Rob: After you launch this project is it just on to the next one? Have you already started the next one? You’ve got five years.

Chris: I’ve got other things going on, but I got a great piece of advice I got from someone who I reached out to in the book world who’s a curator and done a number of compilation books. She said, “One thing you have to do that a lot of artists don’t like is you need to stick with it. You worked hard to do this book. The book’s now done. Don’t just walk away because youā€™re bored with it”

I’ve taken that directive seriously. My New York book launch is going to be at the International Center of Photography, which took a lot of finagling and patience to pull off. I’m doing a book launch in Toronto in Canada, and doing a book signing in L.A., and I’m doing some workshops, and putting myself out there

I’ve seen friends do books where, the book comes out and does well, they get good buzz, but there are all kinds of other things they don’t do. They’re basically relying on inertia or word of mouth for their book to get played. I find that kind of shocking that someone is going to spend all that time and energy to make a book and then not put everything they can behind it.

Rob: Right. I mean, self-promotion is really difficult for artists and photographers.

Chris: It is. Maybe they feel like it’s below them to be doing that. I don’t know.

Rob: So, does anybody besides you and the assistant and obviously the celebrity know where they are on set and will you ever reveal that?

Chris: I will not reveal it. I don’t talk about where people are hiding. Obviously, my assistants and staff know where people were hiding. If they want to talk about it I don’t really care, but I’m not going to say.

I feel like the witness statement is enough. In fact, I purposely did not have the celebrities sign them. I wanted it to be someone who was observing. I felt like if the celebrities were signing for themselves then it’s almost too much proof.

Rob: So you’re taking it to the grave?

Chris: Absolutely.

2012 MacArthur Foundation Winners

- - Blog News

An-My Le, 52, Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Photographer at Bard College who approaches the subjects of war and landscape from new perspectives to create images rich with layers of meaning.

Uta Barth, 54, Los Angeles, Calif. Conceptual photographer who explores the nature of vision and the difference between seen reality and how a camera records it.

via The Associated Press.

The Daily Edit – Tuesday 10.2.12

- - The Daily Edit

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Esquire

Creative Director: David Curcurito
Director of Photography: Michael Norseng
Photo Editor: Alison Unterreiner
Art Director: Stravinski Pierre

Photographer: Nigel Parry

Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted

The Daily Edit – Monday
10.1.12

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V Man

Editor-in-Chief / Creative Director: Stephen Gan
Photo Editor: Evelien Joos
Consulting Creative / Design Direction: Greg Foley
Art Director: Sandra Kang
Associate Art Director: Cian Browne

Photographer: Mario Testino

Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted

This Week In Photography Books ā€“ Xu Yong

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Growing up hetero and male, there is nothing more alluring than a woman’s private parts. The vagina is talismanic, and leads to unhealthy obsessions. For years, in one’s adolescence, a woman’s naked body sits on top of the teen hierarchy, above even cash-money. Objectification may stem from the media’s depiction of women, but there is a genetic element as well.

Then one day, you have a daughter. The day you bring her home, and change the first diaper, the appearance of the vajayjay, as it’s now called, is disconcerting. Confusion follows repulsion, as one really doesn’t know how to recontextualize the situation. Do you look away? Stare at it? Wiping away the brown business requires focus and co-ordination.

I’m not the first man to have a daugher, obviously. We all deal with the awkwardness, and then get more competent. Now, I barely flinch at the task. But I do think, quite a bit, about how my perceptions of women were built upon that foundational obsession. And now, will it forever be different? Is this a clichĆ© sentiment? Probably.

But it could also lead to growth. Sure, I’m an avowed feminist, but raising a girl will inevitably roll over my preconceptions, like a tank over a bicycle. Diggety, diggety, crunch, diggety, diggety.

Father, or not, though, I was totally engrossed with “This Face,” a new book by Chinese artist Xu Yong, recently published by Editions Bessard. It’s a nice follow up to last week’s book, as these images also meditate on the the intersection of boredom and repetition. (Plus daily suffering for the almighty dollar.) Or, in this case, the Yuan.

The book is soft-cover, and probably not built as strongly as I would like. But I’m not the publisher, and of course, it must have been cheaper this way. The string binding sits on the outside, and the initial essay is an insert that falls out too easily. Which is not always a bad thing, because, in this case, it allowed me to see the images without context.

Each photograph is a tight portrait of a young, Chinese woman’s face. It takes a bit of page turning to determine that it’s the same person, because our eyes must acclimate first. (Which builds curiousity and interest.) It’s a great way to add a touch of tension, and keep the pages turning.

She wears no makeup, then lots, and then none again. Her expression changes, but always maintains its guard. We see this face, and want to keep looking, but there is never the payoff of vulnerablity that we crave. Kept at a distance, yearning for the personal connection, the tension remains.

After the pictures, there is a text page, in English and probably Mandarin, that reads “The images of Zi U’s face, a prostitute were photographed at intervals through a day of her work.” Jackpot. That’s what the story is about.

From there, we’re given a dense but taut diary, written by Zi U, that graphically describes the events, and penises, that she encountered while the photos were made. Totally fascinating. And then, of course, you go back through the photos and try to read her face more carefully. The narrative is linear, so the waking up is easy to spy, as is the end of the day. The in-between? Still obscure.

People will always be fascinated by the world’s oldest profession. The allure of the salacious is hardwired. It explains so much of our entertainment habits, from action movies to MMA to pornography. Here, I believe the artist has personified it in a poignant way. It boils down to a woman, making money with her body, and hiding the rest of herself from her Johns, as well as the camera.

Bottom Line: A compelling look behind a hooker’s veil

To purchase “This Face” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

 

NYPD Pattern Of Arresting, Harassing Journalists Continues

- - Blog News

One month ago, the third installment in a series of sternly worded letters was sent to the NYPD pleading for the department to stop obstructing members of the media from doing their jobs. Yet this weekend, five journalists were arrested covering Occupy Wall Street protesters, while others reported an atmosphere of harassment and intimidation from police officers, including a photographer on assignment for the Associated Press who was shoved and blocked from taking a photo by a Lieutenant in the NYPD’s Legal Bureau.

via Gothamist.

The Daily Edit – Friday
Friday 9.28.12

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Martha Stewart Living

Creative Director: Daniel Biasatti
Deputy Creative Director: Ayesha Patel
Deputy Design Director: Lilian Hough
Photo Director: Jennifer Miller
Senior Photo Director: Linda Denahan

Photographer: Gabriela Herman

Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted

Still Images in Great Advertising- David Stuart

- - Advertising Photography

ļæ¼Still Images In Great Advertising, is a column whereĀ Suzanne Seasediscovers great advertising images and then speaks with the photographers about it.


I got my Communication Arts Photography Annual back in August and immediately sat down to review the winners. Ā I went through and tagged the ads that I wanted to feature for this blog column. Ā When I closed my copy, it reminded me of many of my art directors who had done the same thing at The Martin Agency. Ā It still holds true today that getting in to the Communication Art Photography Annual has clout. Ā Anyone who gets in needs to use it in their marketing to potential clients “As seen on page 90 of the CA Photo Annual”. Ā This weeks post is from David Stuart and his agents VISU about the beautiful campaign for the agency, Three and CPA Global.

Suzanne: Ā David when I go to your site,Ā I see the EarthJustice series with the man in the Hazmat suit enjoying a lake, fishing and feeding sheep.Ā Ā Do you think that campaign helped you land this one?

David: The art director at Three commented that she really liked the series, so it probably did help land the CPA Global campaign.

Suzanne: Ā Can you tell us about this campaign and how much input you had on “Don’t Waste Talent” and did you replace the plough horse with a racehorse?

David: The client is legal services company, and the concept is to illustrate people and a horse doing work they’re overqualified for in an absurd way.Ā The concepts were solid when they were handed off to me, and the racehorse was already part of the original concept, but there was a lot of room for artistic license. The final racehorse image ended up having a very different feel from the original agency comp.

Suzanne: Ā You get hired for humorous advertising and it affords you to take it from subtle to right out there. Ā Are you a funny person?

David: I’ve told I’m funny looking, does that count?

Suzanne: Do you have a lot of input with creative folks when in the negotiation phase?

David: As far as creative input, it really depends on the client and the agency, for the HAZMAT Suit series, I had a quite a bit of creative input in regards to the individual image concepts. For the CPA Global pieces it was more locked down. Ā I do a lot of research for each shoot and I’m a pretty obsessive person so every concept is thoroughlyĀ planned out before I step on the set. With that being said I do leave room for spontaneity.

Suzanne: Ā On that note, how is the scuba diving rockabilly band going?

David: Hmmm, every time we go diving, all the instruments get ruined by the salt water, so we’ve decided to keep the diving and the music separate. I have, however been itching to do some underwater photography and although they don’t make underwater housings for guitars, fortunately they do for cameras.

Suzanne: Ā I love that you are based in Atlanta (some talented folks there).Ā What is your advice for photographers who want to live where they want while having an International career?

David: Atlanta’s a great place to live and work, plus we have an international airport here, so it makes it easy to get around. As far as living where ever you want, and having a career in commercial photography, it really boils down to 2 things; 1. Having a style that’s unique enough that they’re willing to fly you in for. Ā 2. Getting your work in front of the eyes of the person that does the hiring.

Suzanne: Ā So, have you and VISU gotten many calls from the art directors with the tagged pages?

David: The response has been really good, and I’ve talked to quite a few art directors who’ve seen the image in the CA photo annual.

Note: Content for Still Images In Great Advertising is found. Submissions are not accepted.

About David: As one of Luerzerā€™s Archive’s 200 Best Advertising Photographers Worldwide,Ā Davidā€™s work hasĀ been featured in PDN, Communication Arts, Luerzerā€™s Archive, Picture, Digital Photo Pro, AfterĀ Capture, and the F-Stop. David regularly works with clients like, Puma, Girl Scouts, New Balance,Ā Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz, United Way, Simmons, BBDO, ESPN Magazine, Forbes, Sony Records,Ā American Airlines, CPA Global, Three and Richards Group.

About VISU: From the newest CGI Energizer Bunnies to the latest Hilton Worldwide Stills & Video Campaign,Ā Ā VISU is a synonym for trusted partner. Ā Through steadfast commitment to our clients, VISUĀ continually facilitates the most elegant combination of creativity and innovation while embracingĀ Ā advancing technologies to promote solutions tailor-made for todayā€™s media culture. With VISU it is more thanĀ photography, motion CGI or creative retouching ā€” Itā€™s about the experience of working with a VISU team.Ā For information about David Stuartā€™s work please contact Blake Pearson at (212) 518-3222 x700 orĀ blake@visu.co.

APE contributorĀ 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 founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies.

The Daily Edit – Thursday
9.27.12

- - The Daily Edit

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New York Times Magazine

Design Director: Arem Duplessis
Director of Photography: Kathy Ryan
Art Director: Gail Bichler
Deputy Photo Editor: Joanna Milter
Photo Editors: Stacey Baker, Clinton Cargill, Amy Kellner, Luise Stauss
Designers: Sara Cwynar, Hilary Greenbaum,Ā Drea Zlanabitnig

Photographer: Gillian Laub

Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted

Alejandro Cartagena Interview

- - Interview

by Jonathan Blaustein

I recently spoke with Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartagena, who’s based in the battle-torn city of Monterrey. His work has been awarded and honored like crazy the last few years. “Suburbia Mexicana” was exhibited this Summer at Kopeikin Gallery in LA, and his current project, “Car Poolers,” wasĀ publishedĀ in the NY Times Lens Blog and Lens Culture.


Jonathan Blaustein: Are you well? I know you’re busy.

Alejandro Cartagena: Yeah, I’m doing great. I’m doing a lot more commercial work than I expected. Commissions too. All the publicity. I don’t know how you say it in English?

JB: The hype. The buzz.

AC: Right. The hype, the buzz, it helped because people you wouldn’t expect to hire me for jobs are hiring me for stuff. Not just documentary stuff. Right now, I’m shooting chairs for a chic design firm.

It’s been really cool to be able to expand my job like that. I’m not a particularly good product or advertising photographer, but pushing those limits seems interesting. It makes you understand a little more how an image works. I think I’m starting to like it. I don’t want to do too much, but it’s good right now.

JB: So your career has shifted because of the success you’ve had as an artist? People have approached you and asked you to do stuff you’ve never done before, and you’re learning on the job?

AC: Definitely. Three weeks ago I got a commission to go to El Salvador, to shoot a coffee farm. That was a 3 day shoot. The farm, the processing plant, the owner, the people working there.

What I tell the clients is that I don’t know how to do work that’s used as advertising, but I do know how to do portfolios for your products. You want to show off how nice the design is on something, I can take that out of your product to make it look really nice. Not to sell the product, but how you produce your product. That’s where I’m trying to push my commercial work.

I don’t know how you put that. Documentary Commercial Photography?

JB: Have you had to change your equipment to make the switch? What are you shooting with?

AC: Last year, I bought my first big digital camera. The 5d Mark II. And now I have a 3 piece lighting setup. This has pushed me to have an assistant, who knows about lighting, who helps me to produce the shoots. It’s something I’d never done before. I’d just go out with the medium and large format camera and shoot whatever I wanted.

I’m still shooting my projects. One here in Monterrey, and one in Guadalajara. I have the flexibility to still do that, and also do the commercial jobs that bring in some money.

JB: We kind of launched into this, because my first question was “How are you?,” and here we are. So let’s back it up a bit. Given your name, and your accent, and the fact that you live in Monterrey, 99% of people will assume you’re Mexican, but your bio says you were born in the Dominican Republic. How did you end up in Mexico?

AC: My Dad came to Monterrey to study in the 60’s. There was this big thing in the Dominican Republic in education where the government was giving money out to people to go study abroad. But they were obligated to come back to work in the sugar cane factories or any specialized engineering job.

When he was here, he married my Mom. They went back, and me and my other three brothers were born there. They left Mexico in ’69, and they stayed in the Dominican Republic until 1990. That’s when I came to Monterrey.

JB: Can you do the math for me. How old were you?

AC: I was 13 when I left.

JB: Do you feel Mexican?

AC: At this point of my life, I’m definitely Mexican. I feel Mexican, I love Mexican food, I love my city, I love my country.

There is a strange thing going on between me and my wife right now. It’s this going back to our roots. We don’t know if it’s the baby that’s coming? My wife’s Dad is Canadian, her Mom is American, and she was born here in Mexico. So she’s this weird NAFTA kid, you know? American/Canadian/Mexican. And she’s been listening to all this country music and american oldies songs.

Weirdly, I’ve been going back to listening to a lot of Merengue music, which is Dominican. So I don’t know. This thing about having a child, wanting to be in touch again with my roots, it’s bubbling out a lot lately.

JB: Congrats. When are you going to have a baby?

AC: First of October.

JB: So you’re coming up. I can’t bitch too much about my stress because you’re sitting right there too.

Let’s talk a bit about Mexico, though. I just learned that Monterrey is the wealthiest city in Mexico, which caught me off guard. I would have assumed it was the DF. But I was wrong.

So you’re based in the wealthiest city in Mexico, which is up there in the Northern desert, in the middle of the Drug War shitstorm.

AC: Yes.

JB: The World wants to hear about this stuff, and you’re right there. You got a new President elected, and the PRI is coming back. The guys who ran the country for, what, 100 years or so?

AC: 70 years.

JB: 70 years? I was close.

AC: It’s almost the same.

JB: Right. That’s a big deal, and geo-politically, you’re sitting on the front lines. And I know that you make work in and about Monterrey, but thusfar, it’s touched only tangentially on the Chaos, unless I’m mistaken.

What’s it like?

AC: I think precisely because it’s the richest, that’s why it’s the most fucked up at the moment. There’s so much money, there are so many people wanting to have more money, there’s so much ambition. The downside is there’s not enough jobs to have that money, so there’s a lot of poor people at the same time.

An ex-girlfriend used to work in a government agency, it’s like what used to be the FSA in the US. It’s an institution that goes around and finds poor communities, and they try to find them jobs, they bring them food, they document them. And Monterrey has more than 60 below poverty communities.

So that speaks to the disparity. There’s so much wealth, but also so much poverty.

JB: It’s kind of a popular topic here in the States. Our statistics on income inequality are rising. The problems that come from that grand a chasm tend to cause a host of problems.

AC: Exactly.

JB: But as far as violence, is your quality of life impacted in the rising gang wars of the last couple of years in Monterrey?

AC: Yeah. Starting in that difference of income, that creates a sense of anger towards all the people who have so much money. And they’re so separated. The people who have money live in this part of town, and the people that don’t live in that part of town. I mean, this is nothing new in the world, but when the shit hits the fan like its happening here it feels like its never happened before.

Then with the building of all these suburbs, for the rich people it’s perfect. Just send them as far as you can. Only the rich get to stay in these prime lands.

That has created the perfect scenarios for the gang situation. I don’t know, when we talked before, if I told you how the drug war has moved into these suburbs I used to photograph. Those are the perfect spots for them to live, right now, because there is no police. And if there is police, they’re corrupt, or they’re actually part of the gangs.

My Mom’s from a place, it used to be a little town, it’s called Juarez. It’s not the crazy Juarez from Chihuahua, and it used to be 30,000 people in 1993/94/95, and now it’s more than 300,000 people, with the same amount of police and transit police. So that tells you how the growth of that city, and that suburb, has made it so easy for the drug people to move into those areas and just be Kings.

There’s nobody watching them, and if they are watching them, they’re part of the deal. That has made it very difficult to live in Monterrey. You don’t know who’s who. You want to be looking at people who look kind of sketchy, but at the same time, it’s the police also who’s sketchy.

That definitely impacted our way of life. We used to live right downtown, and six months ago, we decided to leave because its become unbearable. There are shootings in downtown. After 8pm, there’s no one on the streets. It was getting kind of dangerous.

We decided to move to just outside of downtown. It’s a bit safer. We’re close to a couple of embassies, so there’s police patrolling once in a while. It makes you feel a little safer, but definitely we changed our lifestyle.

You don’t go out at night that much. Or if you go out, you try not to go to a restaurant. Because that’s become a mess here. They go into restaurants, and they steal people. They take their cars. There’s been some cases where they rape women in the restaurants. So those kind of things just get you paranoid and scared.

You try to live your life around those things that you can’t do anything about it. You try to be in at night. You try to go out when you can. There was a point last week where me and my wife got a little paranoid about even going to parties.

The bad guys started going to parties. If they would hear music outside the house, it was a perfect place to come in and steal and make trouble.

JB: Wow. (pause.) I’m rarely speechless. I spent a lot of time in Mexico in the last 10 years, including going places 10 years ago that I would never go now. As an American, it almost looked like the whole Calderon Presidency was to see if the government was powerful enough to take down the cartels, and now that it’s over, it looks like the answer has been given, and the answer is No.

AC: Yeah.

JB: Is there a sense of fatalism in Mexico now that the cartels are so rich and powerful? Do people feel like Mexico is doomed? Or do people talk about Columbia, and how fast things turned around there? What’s the mood?

AC: Let me think what I’m going to say. I definitely feel scared of what happened in these past six years. I vaguely remember, maybe it was in January of 2007 or 2008, when Calderon deployed thousands of soldiers, to Michoacan, or another region where there was a lot of trouble with the drug cartels. I remember feeling, “This is so awesome. They’re finally gonna get rid of all of this shit.” (Laughs.) At least, from my perspective, I was really excited that a President had taken such a big decision to attack the cartels.

But then it all just went to shit. It all went downhill from there. Everything started to get worse. Before 2010, in 2007, you would hear of the killings, but it was always out of the city. In the suburbs. There was no violence in the city, or downtown, where there was more police.

And then, in 2007, it all turned around here in Monterrey. You started to hear about people being killed downtown. Bodies being dropped in the middle of the street in downtown. It just started to rise and rise and rise and just get worse and worse.

It almost seemed like the cartels were in a campaign of terror, for us as civilians. They started to hang people on highways. They started to line up people on the street and just shoot them and leave them there. I can’t speak for the other people of Monterrey, but for me, that got really, really scary.

Of course, you become paranoid. You’re always trying to watch out not to get in the crossfire. I’ve had friends who were close to the balaceras, how they call them here.

In 2010, that’s when I really got scared. That’s when the shootings really started in downtown, just blocks from our house. I remember there was one shooting that was really crazy. It went on for like 30 minutes, and I never heard something like that. It was like a war zone.

It started with a couple of gunshots, pop pop, and we were in bed. I remember looking at my wife, and thinking, were those firecrackers? And then, suddenly, Boom Boom, and all different sounds of machine guns and grenades. That’s definitely not fireworks.

We dropped to the floor, and went to the middle of the house, and we were lying on the ground. It was so scary. I’m sure, for war photographers, that’s something that you experience. But for a city boy, in your city, at 12 at night, when you’re getting ready to sleep?

JB: I can’t imagine. I just can’t. You use the word terror, and it looks like the cartels have been robbing the playbook from the Taliban, and straight up terror groups. They understand that if you create that degree of bone-shaking fear in a general populace, then you can control that populace. It sounds like the rule of law is not really there with you guys right now, and it’s tragic.

I don’t want to make light of it just for an interview. I love Mexico, and I go, because my parents live in Playa del Carmen in the Winters. I’ve seen the growth there. I’ve got massive curiousity as to how the Italian and Mexican Mafias co-exist so well down there. But that’s another story. I want to be a fly on the wall in that sit down to hear how they divide up the town, because the money laundering is off the charts.

AC: Yeah.

JB: But for “Suburbia Mexicana,” you were a guy walking around some sketchy rural and mountainous neighborhoods with some very expensive camera equipment, by yourself. Fairly recently.

So you’re telling the global photo community that now, even two or three years later, you could not do that work anymore?

AC: Now that I think of that, I feel so lucky that I was so naive to go into those places. At that moment, I didn’t know that those were the places that the drug people lived. From 2011 to now, it’s become really unbearable. Everything has become exposed, and you know that they live in these small suburbs in the outskirts of Monterrey.

I finished shooting in late 2009, early 2010. I would take my car and park outside of wherever I was shooting. I would carry my 4×5 and my tripod, and just walk. I felt that made people a little bit less scared of me, and made me not so vulnerable, even though I was vulnerable.

They wouldn’t be scared of me. I wasn’t in a car, and I had a huge camera. It’s not like I was going to run away or be trying to gather data on them. So people were very accepting of me an my presence. I don’t know. At this moment, I would not even think of doing something like that. I was lucky nothing happened. It’s getting scarier and scarier and scarier.

Most of the portraits in that book were done in Juarez, where my Mom’s from. My parents have a restaurant there, or they had a restaurant there. They actually had to close down the restaurant in February because of the Mafia-Cartels. They started to ask for money.

JB: Shakedowns. Protection. My god. We see photo essays about this. Maybe read an article in the New York Times. But I think it’s difficult for most people to straight up empathize, and to think about what it means to be living without governmental protection.

I know Mexico well, and I live in a border state. The fact that the US, this global superpower, has spent trillions of dollars, and essentially all of our political capital, fighting two wars on the other side of the planet…

AC: Yeah.

JB: And in that exact time, our most important neighbor, (No offense to Canada,) is living with borderline Chaos in some places. It’s an underreported story, how the US squandered so much, and left our neighbor to eat the shit.

AC: Yeah. As you were saying, I think it’s very difficult to be empathetic to the situation here, because I think, even we as citizens of Mexico don’t understand what’s going on, at some point. There’s so much rhetoric by our government saying everything is so well and fine, and nothing’s happening. A lot of people believe it. I don’t think there’s anyone in government, any politician saying, “You know what, Mexico’s crap right now. We need to do something about it.” There’s nobody saying that!

At least the elected ones. They’re just saying, “Oh that was a minor incident. They killed 52 civilians in a Casino. Oh, that’s nothing. That’s just between the drug people.” Man!

JB: Are they afraid ofĀ assassination?

AC: I don’t know what the fuck are they afraid of?

JB: Maybe it’s that they don’t have the juice. We started this with me asking, did the government lose the war? And the results on the ground seem to say they did. They don’t have the money or the power or the clout to stop the cartels right now. That doesn’t mean it’s over. Colombia’s got to be a good example for you guys, that things can turn around.

AC: Yes, but its different in many ways and things aren’t complete cured in Colombia yet.

JB: But look, one of the things I love about your work is that you’re a humanist. You’re able to look into complex stories. “Suburbia Mexicana,” in anyone else’s hands, would have been a snarky, ironic look at how mass consumption leads to environmental degradation.

AC: Thanks…

JB: And I reviewed the book twice, so I’m not going to repeat what I said, but you didn’t do that.

AC: Right.

JB: You’re able to understand the human element. What you’re living through is proof that human beings are insanely resilient animals. You’re living through things that people who live in Afghanistan, or Syria, or Iran, or Sicily have been living through for decades or more. God willing, that’s not going to be Mexico’s fate. But people like me, people here in the United States, we can’t help but take our governmental protection for granted. It’s crazy. You’re only a few hundred miles away from me right now.

Enough of my rant. Let’s segue for a second. I know “Suburbia Mexicana” is being exhibited right now, at Kopeikin Gallery, in LA. And concurrent with that, you curated a show called “Looking at Mexico.” So now we can call you artist and curator.

AC: No, no.

JB: OK, then we can call you a pretend curator like I’m a pretend journalist. Well, congrats. I don’t want to recite the list of honors you’ve racked up in the last few years. I know that you’re traveling a lot, you’re exhibiting across the world. You’re getting collected. All the things that people want.

On the surface level, you’re as successful as any of the colleagues I know. On a personal level, you’ve already shared that you’re living through an insanely difficult situation.

AC: Its a complicated thing.

JB: My heart goes out to you. But you were just in London, and in Amsterdam. When you’re in these safe European countries, with their decadent beautiful art cultures, is it difficult to reconcile? How are you dealing with that? Do you have to bifurcate your personality?

AC: That’s pretty cool that you brought that up. That’s definitely a sensation, not only when I go to Europe or the States, even to other cities here in Mexico. I understand how paraniod I’ve become. When I go to Mexico City, or Guadalajara, it’s like I can’t believe I don’t have to look over my shoulder to see if someone’s following me.

There’s this huge sensation of relief that I can be myself. And I don’t have to be looking out for myself. So definitely, I think I’ve become two different people. One outside, which is the normal me, and when I’m home, I’m me the paranoid Alejandro.