Creative Director: Tito West
Heidi: Why the contest? What are the benefits to the photo/art community and why now?
Tito: Since its inception, Modern Huntsman has always strived to give voice to those who have struggled to be heard. Most of our team comes from a long past of freelancing and we are all too familiar with the incredible difficulty that arises when trying to break into the world of professional photography, whether that’s commercial or editorial work or even a more artistic approach such as galleries or long form projects. More often than not, it boils down to luck or to a fortunate meeting of happenstance. This is all good and well except for the fact that there are more people than ever who are making truly original work; work that deserves to be seen, but through the cards of chance, they have remained unseen and their voices unheard. All of that being said, I’m not entirely opposed to the difficult path that photographers face at the outset of their careers. This is one of a few fields in which the difficulty of achieving success serves as a sort of weeding out process. It separates those who truly want to be here from the ones who only think they want to be here. As frustrating as that can be, it has served me well. In times of desperation or hopelessness I found renewed strength in the history of the medium and the legacy that has been passed down from the legends who came before us for our careers are made possible by the photographers who preceded us. I think this is what Umberto Eco meant when he wrote, “We are dwarfs, but dwarfs who stand on the shoulders of those giants, and small though we are, we sometimes manage to see farther on the horizon than they.” However, there comes a point in the development of your artistic vision where the groundwork has been laid, the foundation is set and now it is time to venture out into the world and for your work to be seen. That venturing out is the most difficult step. So many photographers, artists, etc feel that they’re ready. They know they are, but the question remains…”How do I take that first step?” This is where “Field Outrider hopes to comes in.
What are your hopes and what do you want the community to know about you or this project?
This is not a competition in which our aim is to obtain an endless stream of “content”. In fact, that’s a word we are wholeheartedly uncomfortable with. Our primary focus is and always has been STORY. This is the heart and soul of Modern Huntsman. We have a goal here with this publication and that is to bring respect back to the printed editorial world; to reinstall print as an outlet for photographers who are making meaningful work. We cannot do this without a reliable and core roster of contributors; in short, we cannot do it without the people who are out in the world exploring the issues and the places that are the core focus of the stories we publish. However, Modern Huntsman is bigger than the stories we print in our publication. The PEOPLE who tell these stories are the lifeblood we depend upon and as such it is the people to whom we must provide support and access. Furthermore, “Field Outrider” is NOT a means of making money. Yes, we are charging a submission fee of $15, however, that money will go towards commissioning stories for the publication with the winners of each category. We have assembled an incredible team of judges, all of whom are donating their time and expertise out of a desire to give back to the photo community, a community that has given them so much. This is their way of paying it forward. Some are photographers themselves yes, but largely the judges are made up of individuals who actually have the power to put you to work, because as much as we all value feedback, what we really need is a chance, an opportunity to test ourselves in the arena. That is where careers are made. That is where photographers are born.
This competition serves a stepping stone in the larger, long-term mission of Modern Huntsman. What began in the spring of this year as an Instagram competition has evolved into this, a digital competition in which the winner’s photograph(s) will not only be published in print, but will result directly in a commission that we’ll publish, and drive attention to. Again, this is a stepping stone. It starts online, but ultimately our goal is to work towards in person seminars, workshops and portfolio reviews. But another big component of that is doing what we can to get more folks from different backgrounds involved in these discussions, and increase diversity amongst the perspectives we’re pulling from. While we’ve always sought this out, we’re taking larger steps here to get this opportunity out to more communities, as we think the future of conservation, land management, hunting and food sourcing will depend on having new voices involved in the conversation.
How did you come to this job?
I came onboard with Modern Huntsman as the Creative Director back in February of this year. I have known Tyler Sharp (the Editor and CEO) for about 6 years now and we have very similar career paths, from starting out in Texas to working in East Africa both as filmmakers and photographers. We’ve always stayed in touch and I was a part of the conversation regarding Modern Huntsman from the beginning, but I was still traveling extensively overseas at the time and very much involved in several ongoing projects. So we kind of tabled the conversation for a bit, all the while knowing that there would come a time when things would align and we’d be working together on this incredible thing he has built. That time finally came, and it was lucky to be right before lock down, as we were all able to focus on putting out great work with Volume Five, and trying to find ways to help other freelancers.
I am still very much a dedicated photographer myself and that is really my vocation, but this role as Creative Director allows me to work with other incredibly talented people from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds and it keeps me involved in the photo community which is really important to me. Once you’re bitten by this photography bug, you really don’t stand a chance. It will consume you in the best way possible and so to be able to work with these individuals, some of whom I have looked up to my entire career, really helps keep me fresh and informs my own work. It pushes me to be better and I can’t really ask for much more than that. It’s truly a privilege that I feel very fortunate to be a part of.
How does this all braid together for you (photography, design and storytelling)
Well for me, books are where the heart of the medium lies. I have a deep and abiding love for books – for all books, not just photography books and that’s exactly what we do at Modern Huntsman. It would be really hard to call what we make, a magazine, even though in essence that’s what it is. However, the quality of the work, the printing, the writing and design – they all make it more than this idea of what we imagine when we say magazine. It really is a softcover book. Over the years, I’ve learned to present my work differently and more intentionally and that requires an understanding of and an appreciation for design. While I am not a designer myself, I do study it and I try to pay attention to what the design is saying. I think as photographers we really have a responsibility to learn aspects of design that can help show the work in the way we want it to be received. I believe this is more important than it’s ever been. In fact, I really see the design as being the final component in putting these stories together, the previous two obviously being the writing and the photography. Each story warrants its own unique design approach in the exact same way that each story warrants a unique photographic vision. Again, I’m not a designer myself, but I do believe in being design literate. Ultimately, however, the design of each story and the publication as a whole falls to our incredibly talented Design Director, Elias Carlson, whom I met three years ago at the Collective Quarterly Portfolio Review in Chico Hot Springs, Montana hosted by Jesse Lenz of Charcoal Book Club. Elias and I have stayed in touch over the years and so it’s been really incredible to see how these early relationships, at the outset of my career, have informed the later stages of my working life and how our paths seem to converge when the timing is right.
Lastly, from a storytelling standpoint I think editorial outlets are historically, with the exception of maybe books, a photographer’s preferred outlet. Unfortunately, these have largely disappeared over the years and of the few that do remain, it can be incredibly difficult for a photographer to begin a working relationship. The goal for Modern Huntsman is to bring that back to the forefront of possible outlets for working professional photographers as well as to open that door to talented young photographers who are just beginning their careers.
How does this model of guaranteed work serve as a benefit and community builder?
I have participated in a number of photo workshops, portfolio reviews and competitions and many of them have been great experiences, while others were not. Some of them have been free as a result of corporate sponsorships and others have required a significant out of pocket expense, something most aspiring photographers cannot afford. At the end of the day, what photographers need is work. Critiques are important, and feedback can be inspiring or informative, but work is the lifeblood of the photographer and it’s the work that we need in order to survive. That’s our goal with all of this, to put talented photographers and creatives to work, while at the same time expanding the diversity of voices in the conversations surrounding the hunting, angling, and outdoors communities. Being that we were all freelancers before and know how hard it is, we created this to try and be something that is meaningful, beneficial and supportive of photographers and artists. We tried to think about what opportunities we would’ve loved to have back then, and think this does that justice. It’s been a hard year for a lot of people, and while we certainly wish we could do more, this is our effort to really step up and try to create some positive momentum and paid work for photographers who need it. Again, we can’t thank you enough for being a part of this and helping share more about what we’re trying to do here. We truly hope that we’ll get lots of work sent in and be able to create some incredible stories with the winners!