The Best Work I Saw at the NYT Portfolio Review, Part 2


Today was meant to be a book review.

Aaron Hardin, whom I met at the New York Times portfolio review in late April, had given me a copy of his self-published photo-book, “The 13th Spring.”

Aaron’s a Southern photographer who got an MFA from the Hartford low-residency program, and lives in Tennessee, where he teaches college. His pictures are of that genre of Southern photography that is lyrical, poetic, vibrant, evocative, (insert appropriate adjective here.)

We’ve discussed the genre many times in this column over the years, and Aaron’s work reminds me a bit of my friend Susan Worsham. But that’s the point: from Eggleston through Sally Mann and right on down, photographing the South is a grand tradition, and I never hate on anyone for being an adherent.

I think Aaron’s pictures are strong, and he’s able to communicate a warmth and emotional sensitivity that separate his work from many a Southern photographer.

The book chronicles the time around his daughter’s birth, which a poem, (at the end,) says happened during a birth year for cicadas. Hence the little bug dude on the front cover, which was imprinted on a stately piece of canvas.

The second photograph, of a snake trying to sneak into a house, (despite the two door obstacle,) is pretty fantastic. He swears the snake was trying to get in, that it wasn’t set up in the least, and I believe him.

But it’s a photograph I’m sure he’ll get asked about for years.

The peacock as a repeating motif is pretty cool too. We’ve got the bearded, Jesus-looking guy, the tree growing up through a house, a white cat, a boarded-up shotgun shack, and some nasty bug-sex. (Hence the title.)

It’s a very cool book, I must say. Really well done. Alec Soth and Doug Dubois teach at Hartford, and one can see the influence of their styles, which make for an interesting mashup with Aaron’s Southern roots.

It’s like how the Three Six Mafia represents Memphis, but still sampled from artists on the coasts too. (Big shout out to “Hustle and Flow.” That movie never gets old.)

But like I was saying in the beginning, Aaron was going to get a book review all to himself.


Past tense.

No sooner did I plan a column on his book alone, than two journalists I met at the review, Evgheny Maloletka and Emelienne Malfatto, emailed me after getting back to internet service in the danger zones in which they were shooting.

Given what we discussed last week, you almost couldn’t make this up. Evgheny was working in the war zone in Eastern Ukraine, near where he grew up, and Emelienne is down in the chaos of Venezuela.

As such, I’m able to show you some of their work as well. So Aaron’s will have to share the spotlight a bit, but as he’s a nice guy, I’m pretty sure he can handle it.

Emelienne Malfatto is a French-Italian documentary photographer who is rather itinerant. When we met in New York, she’d come off of a stint in Iraq, a country at war at the moment, but then jetted off to Caracas, which is not a safe place. And then she pushed off to the hinterlands of Venezuela.

Pretty hardcore.

She showed me pictures of a community in Iraq that had risen against Saddam Hussain, and to retaliate, he drained the swamps of their native lands. I thought some of the pictures were great, but she wasn’t able to access those for me, being out in the field with little internet.

Emelienne is resourceful, though, and managed to transfer me a group of photos she made in the Kurdish area of Northern Iraq. They’re dynamite.

Evgheny Maloletka and I met at the review in New York, and then again on the F train to Brooklyn. Zenhya came up and introduced himself before the review, and was the only person to do so. Given that we use this blog to help educate young professionals, (among other things,) I have to say, things like that make an impression.

He said he had me on his list, and Good Morning, nice to meet you, I hope you have a good day.

You remember things like that.

Even better, his pictures were great. He showed me photographs of the war in the East that were so raw, but were made with visual sophistication, which is a difficult combination. Like Aaron’s pictures are clearly of the South by someone from the South, I’d argue a foreigner would be hard-pressed to make such emotional news photographs.

We also looked at a series about young cheese-makers in the Carpathian Mountains that had echoes of a medieval lifestyle, here in the 21C. And then we saw a project about a community of Romanians who were trapped in Ukraine, when the borders were redrawn.

We’ll look at the war photographs today, but I could easily show you any of the three projects. The dude is very talented, and I expect all three of the young people we’re featuring today will go on to have great careers.

Overall, I was thrilled with the quality of the work I saw in New York, and am glad to be able to share so much of it with you guys. Enjoy the beginning of summer, and we’ll be back with a book review next Friday.

The Best Work I Saw at the NYT Portfolio Review


Though art and news photography commingle these days, artists and journalists are very different breeds.

I studied art at the undergrad and graduate level, and spent the last 20 years learning to understand the language, so it’s pretty natural to me, at this point.

The journalistic ethos I’ve learned on the fly, as I went from starting a little blog here in New Mexico, (that nobody read,) to writing for the New York Times in 4 short years.

Artists mostly do the work for themselves, because they enjoy it. Maybe it’s a path to sanity, or for those with ambition, to having a conversation with an audience of strangers.

But while a small group of artists are overtly political within their practice, for most, it’s about personal expression. (I paint the mountain because the mountain is there.)

Journalists, though, are more mission-driven, on the whole. They might have been nerds in high school, rather than hipsters, but they use their intelligence for the greater good.

Journalists face tough job prospects here in America, and dangerous violence in other places around the globe. Six Mexican journalists have been killed this year alone.

This very morning, in fact, the Republican candidate for Congressman in Montana physically assaulted a reporter from The Guardian, because he asked the man a question.

And just when things seem like they could not possibly get more surreal, the Fox News team, who were about to interview the politician, supported their British colleague as fully as possible.

Their first-hand accounts led to the jerk’s arrest. (And he’ll still probably win the election.)

The point is, while most artists have a cushy, if poorly paying job, many journalists, in order to tell their stories, are forced to put their lives on the line.

When I went to the New York Times portfolio review last month, I was very aware that the young journalists I met were on something of a quixotic trip, as far as careers go.

It’s been said that data, and information in general, are the world’s most valuable currency. Reporters and photojournalists traffic in highly dangerous information, and it makes them targets for murder. More so now than ever before.

I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but it truly is a slippery slope from reporters being beaten to reporters being killed. If we’re not careful, we’ll find our voices here in America, creative or journalistic, have been intimidated into silence.

Most, but not all of the photographers I reviewed came from the journalistic arena. Beyond admiring their gumption, several times I offered technical criticism suggesting the photographers consider embracing a more geometric, formal, “artsy” structure into their compositions.

Clean crops and solid shapes help pictures pop, in my opinion, whereas most news compostions care more about dynamism than structure.

I wasn’t able to procure images from all the photographers I met, but a quick memory-trip tells me they hailed from Colombia, France, China, Egypt, Ukraine, Nigeria, Argentina, South Africa and the United States. (Plus, the Argentine was based in Mexico.)

Today, we’re going to show you the best work I came across at the review. As usual, the photographers are in no particular order.

Miranda Barnes caught me completely off-guard, because she looked like she was 12 years old. Her big smile was disarming, and then her story was even more interesting. She’s born and raised in Brooklyn, and was currently studying law. But she’d fallen in love with photography.

I highly encouraged her to keep both things in her life, for now, because it can be so hard to make a living in photography these days. Miranda taught herself how to use a medium format camera, and then scan the negatives, with a truly impressive level of skill.

She showed me two series; one looked at Upper East Side rich folks after Trump’s election, and the other, which we’re showing here, featured African American Twins. When I asked her why she chose the latter subject, she said that when she’d looked up twins in Google Image, there were no kids of color at all.

Annie Tritt, who shoots editorially, had a project “Transcending Self,” about transgender and gender expansive children. It’s a subject that’s getting a lot of media coverage, so I appreciated that the pictures were topical, as well as being well-made.

We discussed whether she might want to do a deep dive on one particular subject, rather than a survey of many, so that the viewer can get a richer, more nuanced take on an issue that can be hard for some people to understand.

Yan Cong is a Chinese photojournalist and blogger, and she showed me a pretty strange project. Apparently, Beijing is preparing for the 2022 Winter Olympic games, which I didn’t know. That, along with the city’s wealth, created the need for ski areas in Northern China, within range of Beijing.

Yan is documenting the changes in one small town, as it’s transformed over the next five years. But that project is ongoing, and not ready to show, so I checked out a multi-media piece she’d made about the trafficking of Cambodian brides in China.

I found the audio track to be remarkable, and extremely sad. It’s worth a watch/listen, as it’s a good lesson in how adding to the photographic experience can increase a viewer’s emotional connection.

Rujie Wang was also from China, and was finishing up her BFA at the School of Visual Arts. I really loved her project, “Made in China,” in which she photographed cheap crap from the dollar store, alongside her friends from China, who were the models.

Eventually, she started composting in the studio, so the kitchy objects and neon palette create a visual aesthetic that is very contemporary. Even better, she’s begun to turn the photographs into .gifs, in which certain image layers dance around the surface of the picture, like characters out of Pokemon Go. Once she’s sorted out the proper way to exhibit the .gifs, I think they’ll be massively successful.

David “Dee” Delgado was my room captain for the review on Sunday, and we chatted a bit during breaks. I always offer to look at people’s work once I get home, if we can’t sit down, so Dee sent me a set of files the other day.

Apparently, for “Bike Life,” he’s shooting street riders in his home borough of the Bronx. I’m always telling you guys I want to see things I’ve never seen before, and these pictures definitely qualify. The high-contrast, hyper-real, black and white look makes them feel of the moment as well.

Lujan Agusti had maybe my favorite work, at least of the things that were totally resolved. Though she’s Argentine, she’s based in Veracruz, Mexico, the Western Hemisphere’s most dangerous place to be a journalist.

Lujan has photographed indigenous Mexicans from the area, in the clothing they wear for local festivals and ceremonies. I love that she updated a trope by bringing the subjects into the studio, and using their costume fabrics as backdrops.

Along with the creepy-clown vibe, the colors and patterns give these pictures some major visual tension. They’re great, and I love the way they manipulate color to channel the festive, reverential spirit of the ceremonies they’re meant to represent.

Portrait of dancing clown with the typical costume. When they use their masks they prefer not to reveal their identity. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.
Detail of typical bonnet used by dancing clowns. Each member creates his/her own bonnet, they sometimes put religious images on it. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.
Portrait of dancing clown with the typical costume. When they use their masks they prefer not to reveal their identity. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.
Detail of hand with castanets, usually used while dancing. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.
Portrait of dancing clown with the typical costume. When they use their masks they prefer not to reveal their identity. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.
Portrait the leader of the gang, showing the images of the Virgin of Guadalupe. He represents a Spaniard and is in charge of giving order to the dancers. Many of the clowns go out to dance by promise to the Virgin of Guadalupe.From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.
Jose Luis takes off his mask. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.
Portrait of Claudio. The use of the handkerchief is also typical. They do it to reveal even less of their identity, and wear it under the mask. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.
Detail of typical costume and fabric used by the dancing clowns. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.
Portrait of dancing clown with the typical costume. When they use their masks they prefer not to reveal their identity. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.
Portrait of dancing clown with the typical costume. When they use their masks they prefer not to reveal their identity. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.
Portrait of Mayra. There is no requirement to participate in the gang, and people of any social class participate. They should only respect the leader’s orders, not drink alcohol, or have uncontrolled or violent attitudes during the dance. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.
Detail of typical bonnet and mask used by dancing clowns. Each member creates his/her own bonnet, and mask. The mask is used to hide their identity, and dance freely. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016.

Last, but not least, we have Andres Millan. My editor Jim Estrin grabbed me, at one point, and said I had to talk to this young guy, so I said sure.

Andres had two projects I thought were very cool, the first of which featured panoramic images of Colombians battling illness. They were excellent, and the odd aspect ratio definitely helped them to stand out.

The other project, “The New Gold,” which we’re featuring here, contains pictures made in the Amazon basin. I liked that he intervened in the landscape, painting things gold to match the title, as it made the pictures more memorable. (Always a good thing at an event where you’re seeing so much work in a compressed amount of time.)

Sources for New Photography

Great story in PDN about sources for new photography:
Favorite Sources for New Photography: Part 1
Favorite Sources for New Photography: Part 2

Love to watch how it evolves past the mailers and sourcebooks to the curated lists, events, obscure magazines and blogs (APE even got mentioned). This is great news for everyone, because there are more places than ever to discover photographers and there are more outlets than ever where you can be found. Here are a few choice quotes:

Maggie Brett Kennedy
Photo director, Garden & Gun
“Look3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is an unbelievable weekend attracting anyone and everyone interested in photography.”

Kira Pollack
Director of photography, TIME
“I am always surprised and delighted by the photography showcased on Feature Shoot.”

Jessie Wender
Associate picture editor, The New Yorker
“Last year I participated as a reviewer at [Center’s] Review Santa Fe, and now work regularly with a photographer I met there.”

Stacey Baker
Associate photo editor, The New York Times Magazine
“I’m actually using Facebook more and more as a resource to discover new work. It’s such a terrific aggregator. In one place, I can look at pages for individual photographers”

The Newsletter As A Marketing Tool

When I give my Social Media Marketing talk to photographers I like to break up all the talk about blogging and tweeting with an example of a good old fashion newsletter. Because, as much as things change they remain the same… meaning, a blog or series of tweets or concerted effort to post things on facebook is no different than producing a newsletter to attract potential customers and win fans for your work. I use Michael Clark as my example, because in this soured economy his success continues to grow and he churns out a good old fashioned newsletter as part of his marketing efforts.

APE: Give me a history of the Newsletter: How did it start, how has it evolved and where is it now?

Michael: I created the “Michael Clark Photography” Newsletter over ten years ago in the Fall of 2000. In its early form it was a one-page, front and back sheet that was printed and sent out to a select group of photo buyers and art directors.  I printed about 200 copies and sent them out quarterly to photo editors that I worked with or wanted to work with. The newsletter included updates on recent clients and assignments, equipment reviews, an editorial or two and, of course, samples of my latest work. At that point in my career a lot of the photo editors I worked with were also avid photographers so I decided the equipment reviews might entice them to actually read the newsletter. Looking back, I will say that those early issues of the newsletter were pretty rough looking compared to how it looks now.

I created the newsletter initially as a marketing tool. I was looking for another way to keep my name in front of photo editors and art buyers in addition to my other marketing efforts. I got the idea of the newsletter from the Bulletin sent out by the ASMP. At that time lots of businesses sent out Newsletters and it seemed like a good way to offer something more than just a postcard. And the response was great from the get-go. I had editors calling me every time they got the newsletter asking for certain images or just calling to talk about my latest gear review. Either way, it allowed me to create a relationship with a lot of photo editors.

In the fall of 2004, I started playing around with Adobe InDesign and realized that it would allow me to expand the newsletter and send it out as a PDF via email with no printing costs. And because it was a PDF I could send it out to a much larger audience without any additional expense. This new PDF version still had the same types of articles as the printed version but I was able to expand and enhance those articles because with the PDF, I pretty much had unlimited space. The PDF version of the newsletter includes editorials, updates on recent clients and assignments, greatly expanded equipment reviews, a portfolio section, digital post-processing tips, feature articles on recent assignments and a lot of images. It is basically a PDF magazine that runs anywhere from 15 to 30 pages depending on the content – and how much time I have to put it together.

After I started sending out the first few copies of the new PDF version, I realized that I should offer it for free on my website and let people subscribe to the newsletter via a mailing list. Little did I know then that so many people would be interested in what I had to say. I suppose a big part of the draw for the newsletter was the equipment reviews. Early on, I got a lot of emails with questions about gear and I thought I could nip those in the bud by giving an unbiased professional opinion on the gear that I use and abuse. It proved to be quite popular, especially among amateur photographers, and it has led to a number of sponsorships with distributors of imaging software and photo equipment.

It takes a lot of work to put together. At a minimum, it takes about four days of solid work to lay it out and write the articles. I certainly wouldn’t say I am a great writer but I can get the point across and I am efficient.

One of the other great things about the newsletter is that it is unique – and that counts for a lot. I have seen a few other photographers try to copy it but they usually give up on the concept after a few issues when they realize how much work it takes. I don’t know of any other photographer out there producing anything like this. I also realized a few years ago that creating a following for my work was very valuable – and the newsletter allows me to create that following and tap into it as well. I can advertise e-books, workshops and market my work to would-be clients all at the same time. And since the newsletters are linked to my website they are great for SEO (search engine optimization) because they all show up in searches on Google.

The newsletter now goes out to over 6,000 photo editors, art buyers and both amateur and professional photographers around the world. It has led to numerous assignments, sponsorship deals and other great career opportunities. My first big break, a major assignment with Adobe, was a direct result of the newsletter, as was my first published book. The editors at Lark Books got a great sense of my writing style via the newsletter and approached me to write a book for them. That book, Adventure Photography: Capturing the World of Outdoor Sports, was published in December 2009. I am currently working on a third book which closely resembles the newsletter in style and content. In fact, I’d say if it wasn’t for the fact that the newsletter gets me work pretty much every time I send it out, I would have stopped producing it years ago. It is an insane amount of work.

The newsletter has been and continues to be the best form of marketing I have ever done. I wouldn’t be where I am today in my career without it.

A PDF newsletter seems so old fashioned. I’m sure you have your reasons for continuing the format, can you tell us why?

These days the PDF newsletter is old fashioned. I’ll give you that. Back when I started sending out the PDF version in 2004 it was a pretty wild idea and people sat up and took notice. Maybe it isn’t the most cutting edge publication now, but the reason I stick with the PDF format is that it allows me to control how the viewer sees my work and the content. I can control the layout, the fonts, how the images are presented and their resolution. It looks like a magazine and even though it is a simple PDF document, I think it is well laid out and graphically pleasing. It is something people will remember and that is half the battle when it comes to a marketing tool.

You told me you are having your busiest year ever, can you attribute this directly to the Newsletter? Can you help us understand why clients respond to this over traditional marketing?

Yes, I am having my busiest year ever right now. And before this year, last year was my busiest year ever. It just keeps getting better and better. I’m not sure I can say this year’s or last year’s success is a direct result of the newsletter. The newsletter is just one piece of my overall marketing strategy. I think my success this year is a result of 15 years of really hard work, having a book published last year, making an effort to show my portfolio around and continuing to reinforce all of my other marketing with the newsletter. However it has come together, I feel really blessed because there are still so many people struggling out there in this economy.

I think clients respond to the newsletter because they remember it, and as a result, they remember my work. I once wrote an editorial about “Finding Inspiration” and one of the people I worked with at a major software company told me he quit his job after reading that article to go do what he really wanted to do. I strive to discuss and talk about current events in the industry that are timely and relevant. And, as in the case with my editorial on “Finding Inspiration,” every once in a while I really connect with a reader.

Do you do traditional marketing in addition to the newsletter?

Yes, I do a lot of traditional marketing. I send out e-promos every six weeks or so and postcards every now and then (but not as often as I should). I have a blog. I go in and meet with clients as often as possible and set up portfolio reviews. And I send out the newsletter four times a year. I also write for two other blog sites: Pixiq and Outdoor Photographer Magazine.

This is still a tough profession to make a living in so I think we have to do everything we can to get our name out there and market ourselves and our work. After all, it isn’t just our work we are marketing, it is ourselves. We are the product just as much as our work is. Are we easy to deal with? Can we come through with the goods? Are we professional? Those are all part of the equation, and the newsletter serves as a good reminder to clients that I am professional and will come through with the goods when they give me an assignment because they can read about my latest assignments and see the images I produced.

I see you’ve got some instructional e-books and you are leading workshops. Is education a significant part of your business model? Do you think it should be a part of most pro photographers business models?

Education makes up about 20% of my income these days. I teach anywhere from four to six workshops each year. The workshops range from two-day Lightroom workshops to week-long Adventure Photography workshops at the Santa Fe Workshops and the Maine Media Workshops (I’ll be teaching in Maine later this month). I also do a few workshops in tandem with other photographers like the Surfing Photography workshop I’ll be teaching in January 2012 with my good buddy Brian Bielmann, who is one of the world’s top surfing photographers. Teaching workshops is rewarding, tough and exhausting but I always learn from them and it is a burgeoning business for photographers.

I’m not sure I would say teaching or education should be a part of every photographer’s business model. It depends if you enjoy it and are good at it. I will admit that teaching workshops can be quite draining. It isn’t for everyone. These days there is a lot of competition in the photography workshop business. It seems like everybody and their dog is teaching a workshop and rightly so, because there are thousands of amateur photographers out there craving knowledge and yearning to further their skills. And there is a lot of money to be made in workshops, especially if you are a big name photographer who enjoys teaching and can attract students on a regular basis.

My  e-book,  Adobe Photoshop Lightroom: A Professional Photographer’s Workflow, lays out my entire digital workflow from in the camera to delivering the final images to the client. It has been wildly popular and I don’t think there is any other book like it on the market. I wrote it after working on assignment with Adobe. I am still a beta tester for them (and teach workshops on Lightroom) and that really helps me to keep my workflow dialed. I got the idea for the e-book from my newsletter and through teaching workshops. In a workshop, it is nice to be able to give the students some materials, and early on I simply outlined my digital workflow and handed it out as a Microsoft Word file. The e-book grew out of that and is in its fourth edition. Each edition was massively expanded and adapted to the new software and post-processing techniques and for $24.95, it is heck of a lot cheaper than a workshop.

As you can see, my business model is very diversified. I think this is also a big reason things have been going so well the last few years. I learned early on not to trust any one single source of income. Hence, I do a little bit of everything: commercial assignments, editorial assignments, stock photography, books, e-books, fine art prints and whatever else comes my way. I am still predominantly an assignment photographer but all of the other income streams ad up significantly .

Do you have any advice for photographers looking to create unique ways to market themselves?

I did a presentation for the ASMP New Mexico chapter here earlier this year about “Staying Relevant in the Current Economy.” In that presentation I spoke about a number of topics that I think are key to marketing yourself effectively including creating unique images, perfecting your craft, being professional and making sure your marketing and branding are up to snuff. None of those topics are revolutionary by any means, but I do think that we greatly underestimate just how important it is to create unique images right now. If you have something different from the rest of the pack then you’ll go far in this industry. As a photographer I realize it is easy enough to say, “Just go out there and create unique images,” but the reality is that creating something unique and different is really hard.

In that presentation, I also spoke about building a following. This idea isn’t new but it also isn’t obvious. In this world of social media we can now connect with people around the world and share our work, get feedback and talk about the work via a blog, Flickr or any number of avenues. Right now, I think it is very important for professional photographers to build up a group of people that follow your work. Doing so helps when you need to fill up a workshop, market an e-book or a regular book, or even for an assignment. The workshops idea is pretty obvious. If you have a following of amateur or pro photographers that want to learn from you and you have a means of connecting with them and marketing to them then you’ll be able to fill up workshops easily. A good example of this is Joe McNally. The guy is killing it on the workshops front. Another good example, perhaps less well known, is Andy Biggs. He fills his very expensive safari-style workshops routinely and his clients come back thrilled with the experience.

Having 6,000 people on my mailing list is helpful when I need to market an updated version of my e-book. It also comes in handy when a publisher approaches me to write a book because they know that I have a following that might be interested in the end product and I have a marketing vehicle (the newsletter) to get the word out – and it doesn’t cost them anything. By choosing a photographer with a following, the client already has built in marketing. This is what Chase Jarvis has done so well. Some clients come to him because they want to tap into the huge number of photo enthusiasts that follow his blog. He has even done the marketing for the companies while he is on assignment by posting the behind the scenes details of a multi-day shoot as it is happening. How much is that worth to a client? If you have a following like Chase does then that is obviously huge.

Of course, having a group of people follow your work isn’t a guarantee of any kind. People make up their own minds if they are interested in something or not. You have to provide something that is interesting and valuable to them. Marketing to this group and offering them quality information and services that they want is the key. They get valuable information; you get to make a little extra money. Amazingly, once you create a following, doors start to open and new marketing opportunities will pop up that never would have or could have otherwise – and this is the real reason to create that following.

Now, the reality is this is a long-term process. You don’t just go out and build a following. You have to offer up solid information or something that people want for a few years or more.

In the end, I don’t think there are any real secrets in this business. There is no magic bullet. It all comes down to hard work and really, really wanting to “make it” happen. I still think one of the best forms of marketing these days is meeting with art buyers and photo editors in person for a portfolio review – if you can get a meeting set up. I think I got very lucky with the newsletter. I didn’t know it would become such a great marketing tool when I started it. Early on I just had more time than money and it was a good way to promote my work. Now, I have to make time for it. Because the newsletter is a very ‘unique’ marketing tool it not only gets me work but it also helps me to get in and set up meetings with art buyers that I want to work with. It is just one part of my marketing effort that helps support the rest of the effort.


If you would like to check out the newsletter you can download the latest issue at:

Also, if you are interested in reading more you can download back issues of the newsletter at:

And finally if you would like to subscribe to the newsletter please send an email to Michael at

Pay For Meetings?

I received this email from a reader:

I received an e-promo for a photography networking event hosted by October 28-29th.

The event allows you to pay for “packages” of meetings with some pretty big names.
7 editors $399
6 agents $399
5 art buyers $499
14 editors $699
12 agents $699
14 editors, 5 agents $899
14 editors, 5 art buyers $999

What’s your take on this? Do photographers have to pay to get their book in front of someone now?

First off, let me say something about portfolio reviews. They should always be divided up into critical reviews and showing your work to potential client reviews. Critical reviews, in my opinion, are invaluable. To sit down with someone who hires photographers and get feedback about your work and presentation can really get you moving in the right direction. The more the better as well. You’re bound to get a few duds in there and if you can handle filtering through all the information thrown at you why not get as much as possible.

This NYCFoto Works event is billed as the latter. They claim:

First, photographers must apply and be accepted in order to attend the event. Because of this, reviewers know us as a source of professional talent and come to the event looking for photographers to work with.

Who knows how stringent they are on this. If there are slots to fill and bodies to fill them the level may not be as high as reviewers would like.

The list of reviewers is seriously impressive, to be honest, I wouldn’t mind meeting a couple of those people myself (list_of_attendees). So, what about this idea of paying to show your book? I don’t know about FotoWorks, but the reviews I’ve done in the past were unpaid, so it’s not like you are paying the photo editor, art buyer, gallerist, in some kind of weird kickback way to look at your book and talk to you for 20 minutes. If you already pay to create and ship your book, create and mail promos, then what’s wrong with paying the people who put this event together? I know doing this kind of event is hard work for the reviewers and for the most part they are all there to look at work and meet people. Why not support an organization like this that seeks to make it easier for people hiring photographers to meet a bunch of them at once.

If you’ve got a nice body of work, you’re getting some traction and were planning on making the rounds in NYC, $1000 gets you 14 editors and 5 art buyers in 2 days. Is that a bad deal?

Check out this video they made with some of their reviewers.

Budget Promo Mailer

Greenville, SC photographer Clint Davis used to be an Art Director at a national magazine and having been on the receiving end of photographer promos figured he needed to create something that would stand out. His budget was $800 for 40 pieces. Here’s what he came up with:

Here is everything involved in 1 mailer before any folding, gluing, plucking, sticking and stamping.

“Without advertising, something terrible happens… nothing.” Once this famous statement became rooted into my brain I started my project. Creativity, personalization, and budget-friendly were key in building these mailers. Each mailer has a different message along with a different set of cards to view. A small idea turned into a 3-month long project. Now I feel confident with what I’ve sent out to my prospective clients, and hopefully, they give me a shot!

Photo Editor And Art Buyer Survey

There are a couple large membership controlled groups of Art Buyers and Photo Editors that I have access to, so I thought I’d do a small survey to see if that might be a good way to find some answers to questions photographers have. I purposely made the survey short (less than 1 min. to complete) to get the most people participating.

I hope you find this useful. Click to see them larger.









Other (respondents can list a source used that is not on the list of answers) :

Download a PDF of the Survey Here

Download a PDF with only the Art Buyers answers

Download a PDF with only the Photo Editors answers

Download a PDF with answers only from those who’s company size is: the biggest in the industry

Slideluck Potshow Becomes A Resource For Finding Photographers

The latest version of the Slideluck Potshow website (here) has the work of 2000 artists from 100 shows in over 40 cities around the world.

Seems like it will be a great resource for people who hire photographers for a living to find new talent and get inspired. Direct links to all the photographers websites makes it super handy if you’re in a hurry.


The Value Of A News Photograph

I received this question from a reader:

Hey Rob,

I hope this finds you well.

Look I have a question that might be interesting for the other photographers following your blog.

The other day I was on on 6th ave when I saw smoke coming out of a building. I pointed my G9 to it to zoom in to see better, and BOOM, big explosion which lasted about 2 seconds. I got one shot of the actual explosion.

I immediately phoned a contact at the NYTimes and they said they wanted the low res for the website + the high res for the newspaper the next day. Because I had been talking with them for a while, we agreed on me giving them exclusivity on the pics and them signing me in as freelance. This was all done 15 minutes after the explosion.

In the following minutes, many newspapers and TV stations who had seen my picture on the NYTimes website starting going through every media they could (even my husband’s facebook) to reach me to buy it. Of course I had signed with the NYTimes so I went along the lines of the exclusivity agreement.

Should I have reacted differently?

What do you do in this kind of situation when time is precious? Who do you call? Can you impose your price and non exclusivity on the NYTimes and others?

People told me I could have made an awful lot of money with this and it’s not that I regret but I’d like to know what the reality is.



I emailed David Burnett to gather his thoughts on the situation and here’s what he had to say:

There was certainly a time when New York, with its many daily papers, and many more magazines, would have offered the enterprising photographer a reasonable sum for their photographs. As competition narrowed, so did the chances of having your picture bid up by interested parties, and reflecting a greater value for the picture.

There certainly is a chance that some major (i.e. catastrophic) event could fetch something extraordinary but these days the big money seems to be paid for celebrity coverage far more than what was once considered “news.” That said, it’s generally not a good idea to simply make a deal with one publication, as you thereby immediately close off other opportunities. The excitement and panache of that “page one on the Times” picture wears off quickly, if you have sacrificed future earning power of the photo for an exclusive deal as you mentioned. In a city like New York you should expect to be paid more for the exclusivity, and if that additional money isn’t forthcoming, there is nothing to be gained by giving up those rights.

The one exception to that would be an iron-clad deal which enabled you to let the first company syndicate the work on your behalf, and that your share of secondary sales would be at minimum, 50% of the gross of each sale (not the “net.”) Truthfully, if you are not experienced in these matters you’re better off making a deal with–-my real first recommendation–-an agency which would syndicate the work. There are fewer agencies than ever, and the overall atmosphere is far less fulsome that it once was for ‘scoops’ but for the right picture at the right time, money will come in. And you need someone to guide you, or take over that work. Again, 50% or so from the gross would be reasonable. Both sides, the agency and the photographer are in the deal together at 50-50 and if there is money to be made both will have the incentive to push the work. Once other outlets see something published in a major publication (i.e. the NY Times) there would naturally be a rush to get that image for themselves.

I have been a founder/partner for 34 years with Contact Press Images, and we often take special cases like this-–scoops which essentially come in off the street. The advantage to an agency (Contact, Polaris, Redux… etc.) is that their main business is in syndicating material, and you would do better than merely getting a small check and having your material tied up. TO be sure, most pictures do not fall into the category of ‘scoop’ but when you find one, do not just give it away.

Perception Is Everything

I had several conversations last week with photographers about perception. The people doing the hiring arrive at an initial decision about you by factoring in something they think will happen based on their perception of you. I have no real insights into creating a perception about yourself other than there are many factors that go into it and the traditional marketing methods exist not only to reach potential clients but also to build the perception of who you are. The reason I’m bringing it up is because 3 examples of perception were brought to my attention suddenly and I wanted to share them.

Seth Goodin has a new name and forward to an old book of his now called, “All Marketers Are Liars Tell Stories” (here). In the new forward he states:

“You believe things that aren’t true.
Let me say that a different way: many things that are true are true because you believe them.

[…]We believe what we want to believe, and once we believe something, it becomes a self-fulfilling truth.”

Last month a bombshell dropped in the wine world (here) when taste maker (and vineyard maker or breaker) Robert Parker blind tasted a group of wines he had previously ranked and said the lowest ranked wine was his favorite (before finding out what it was).

Jonah Lehrer, a contributing editor at Wired and author of “How We Decide” weighs in on this remarkable turn of events:

When we take a sip of wine, we don’t taste the wine first, and the cheapness or redness second. We taste everything all at once, in a single gulp of thiswineisred, or thiswineisexpensive. As a result, the wine “experts” sincerely believed that the white wine was red, or that Lafite was actually Troplong-Mondot. Such mistakes are inevitable: Our brain has been designed to believe itself, wired so that our prejudices feel like facts, our opinions indistinguishable from the actual sensation. If we think a wine is cheap, it will taste cheap. And if we think we are tasting a grand cru, then we will taste a grand cru.

The Wall Street Journal takes the story further (here) with this article on the wine-rating system:

[Mr. Hodgson] obtained the complete records of wine competitions, listing not only which wines won medals, but which did not. Mr. Hodgson told me that when he started playing with the data he “noticed that the probability that a wine which won a gold medal in one competition would win nothing in others was high.” The medals seemed to be spread around at random, with each wine having about a 9% chance of winning a gold medal in any given competition.

[…]The distribution of medals, he wrote, “mirrors what might be expected should a gold medal be awarded by chance alone.”

Finally, Lise Varrette sent me this old story from the Washington Post:

On a cold January morning in a Washington, DC Metro Station, a man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time about two thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

[…]In the end, only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money, but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32. When he finished playing, no one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell had sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

[…]It’s an old epistemological debate, older, actually, than the koan about the tree in the forest. Plato weighed in on it, and philosophers for two millennia afterward: What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?

We’ll go with Kant, because he’s obviously right, and because he brings us pretty directly to Joshua Bell, sitting there in a hotel restaurant, picking at his breakfast, wryly trying to figure out what the hell had just happened back there at the Metro.

“Let’s say I took one of our more abstract masterpieces, say an Ellsworth Kelly, and removed it from its frame, marched it down the 52 steps that people walk up to get to the National Gallery, past the giant columns, and brought it into a restaurant. It’s a $5 million painting. And it’s one of those restaurants where there are pieces of original art for sale, by some industrious kids from the Corcoran School, and I hang that Kelly on the wall with a price tag of $150. No one is going to notice it. An art curator might look up and say: ‘Hey, that looks a little like an Ellsworth Kelly. Please pass the salt.'”

Leithauser’s point is that we shouldn’t be too ready to label the Metro passersby unsophisticated boobs. Context matters.

Kant said the same thing. He took beauty seriously: In his Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, Kant argued that one’s ability to appreciate beauty is related to one’s ability to make moral judgments. But there was a caveat. Paul Guyer of the University of Pennsylvania, one of America’s most prominent Kantian scholars, says the 18th-century German philosopher felt that to properly appreciate beauty, the viewing conditions must be optimal.

Read the whole story (here).

A Note From A Young Photographer On The Way Up

I received this note from a photographer whose work I enjoy and who you might say is a few years past emerging:

Work has still been pretty good this year. it’s strange because it’s slowing down, but the jobs I’ve been getting this year and the last 2 are bigger paying ones so that means the luxury of more days off to work on strategizing my business. I’m getting ready to go to press with an elaborate promo I had designed that will probably be mailed out at the beginning of the year. I went back and forth about the fear of whether or not promos were a waste and just end up in the recycling bin, but I decided to go ahead and do it. Your interview with Selina confirmed my intuitions about promotion and the business so thanks for that.

I went out to New York twice this year to meet with reps and get a feel for their interest in my work. I haven’t had a rep for the last few years and it gets to be too much to handle at times, but all in all it’s worked out fine. I’m finding now, especially since I’m also doing more fashion and would like to pursue fashion advertising, that it would help to have a rep that has a good foothold in the fashion world and the ad work as well. I have my heart set on going with a bigger established agency so I’m holding out until I get with one of my top 3 choices. What the hell, live the dream, right?

I wanted to let you know since you asked that I have directly gotten work as a result of PDN 30. The biggest job was an ad campaign for a [redacted] company at the beginning of this year. The ad agency found me because of PDN. So yes it was great publicity. My book was called in for ad jobs from art buyers I never met.

It was very interesting to hit the pavement in New York in May of this year, for the first time since 2007 (i know, i know). I was there for 2 weeks showing my book to reps, art buyers, and a few magazines. I couldn’t believe how difficult it had become to get someone on the phone or get an email reply. I’ve been showing my book in NY 1 – 2 times a year since 2000, and on the last trip, I still had a rep calling to make those appointments, but this time around, even the people that I usually would meet with in the past were seldom returning my emails. It was depressing and is what everyone talks about, no one has time to do their job and answer phones and meet with people.

In August I decided to try a different strategy, referrals. I had producers, art directors and photo editors contact people that I wanted to meet and make an introduction. It helped dramatically, People need some sort of filter and I don’t blame them. I get emails from assistants all the time and chances are I’m not going to hire them unless someone I know and trust can vouch for that person being a good assistant.

I remember my first trip to NY in the fall of 2000. I was halfway through school, wide eyed and optimistic, sitting in Starbucks on my phone, cold calling and people were answering their phones saying “come on over.” I scored 35 meetings that week including my first editorial gig.

Because the market is changing and there seems to be more photographers out there, things may be more difficult now than they were years ago, but (I’m sure this has been said on your blog) this will just force people to be more creative to figure out how to rise above the rest. There’s no formula for this one, it’s going to be a different path for each photographer.

After Staff Week On The Resolve Blog

Miki Johnson who runs the Resolve blog had a nice theme running all week called “after staff” (here). She interviewed and gathered advise from people who’ve either moved on or been laid off from a staff job. As a former staffer myself I can tell you… well, I’m not a good example because I worked with freelance photographers before getting a staff job and couldn’t wait to become a freelancer again some day. One thing that I remember clearly tho is that after many years of having a deadline each and every month, as a freelancer or independent business person you have an unending list of things to get done and no deadlines. That can be somewhat crushing and paralyzing to deal with.

Also, worth mentioning is a Q and A with Maren Levinson founder of Redeye Reps who offers more insight into the perpetual question, “how do photographers land agents?” I just received an email from an 18 year old photographer who said he’s ready to start finding one so here you go buddy: (One of the questions I hear most from photographers, whether they used to be staffers or not, is, “How do I get commercial jobs?” A close second is, “How do I find a commercial rep?”)

“All of my photographers would be successful without me, but hopefully I make things better– I’m a good collaborator, and I represent where they want to be going and the clients they hope to be in contact with.”

Deal Flow, The Key To Finding New Talent

I really like the analogy in this piece over on DLK Collection (It’s a long piece so go have a look) that Joerg sent me:

“While gallery owners often complain about the “overwhelming” “deluge” of solicitations they receive and the challenges of responding to each and every one, the reality is having good “deal flow” (access to the best new artists that come along) is the key to a sustainable business, and smart dealers (especially those focused on emerging work) invest time in their networks and build systems for reviewing each portfolio with honest care and attention, ensuring that the artist feels genuinely respected and helped, as a positive experience leads to more deal flow down the road. Given that each gallery has a different vision of what will sell and what is important over a long time scale, the trick is sift through literally hundreds in search of the one or two that fit the program as envisioned.”

“Silicon Valley venture capitalists work in much the same manner, looking for the needle (the next Google) in a haystack (a massive pile of marginal business plans), and often finding ways to get pre-screened deals (from known sources, feeder funds, and high quality referrals), where the bottom two thirds have already been cut away, leaving a smaller and higher quality pile that can then be reviewed with more attention.”

I guess this is why you hear the complaint from photographers that they get seen and people say they like their work but nothing ever comes of it. Everyone is keeping the deal flow alive by not being an asshole.

Photo Contest Pre-screen — Critical Mass

Over the last two weeks I looked at 606 different photographer submissions for the Critical Mass competition and helped narrow it down to the 180 finalists (here). As you might expect the images ran the gamut from “are you effing kidding me” to “holy crap that’s amazing.”

I tried to only vote for photographers I would hire or that I would put on a list and ultimately since I won’t be doing any hiring in the near term I’m going to share some of the photographers I found with the PE’s that read the blog. There is a tendency to vote for work that would look good on a wall or in a book (the grand prize) but I know the organizers have carefully brought in people with different backgrounds (and that’s not mine) so I tried to force myself to avoid doing this.

I made sure I voted for any photographers who had pictures of people smiling. That was like 1 or 2 votes. Everyone else was either suicidal or staring a hole through my skull (kidding, sort of.)

Pictures of houses and of people standing staring seemed to outnumber empty parking lots and shopping malls which I think is a noteworthy trend but ultimately the majority of the photographs fall in the “landscapes with shit in them” category (i.e. people and objects).

I’m a complete sucker for pictures of kids (unless engaged in a suicidal stare). I have kids as I imagine many reviewers do and it’s an easy emotional connection to make.

I can’t escape the influence of familiarity and novelty on my decisions. If I’ve seen a photographer blogged favorably and liked their work the bias was strong. Same goes for things that I’d never seen before. Also, I found myself on the fence about an image a few times and looked down to see the image title and many times it felt incredibly stupid and suddenly I’m no longer on the fence.

One thing that struck me was the incredible number of original ideas and subjects that just quite didn’t hit the mark. So much originality that if the images were only better executed it would be so compelling. I think some of those photographers just need more time working on it and developing their approach. I hope not making the cut or the top 50 doesn’t mean they will abandon the project.

Finally, when the next round comes for voting I’ll be interested to see which photographers who’s work I loved, missed the cut. Also, which photographers I voted against made the cut and suddenly I realize I made a mistake (or not). When a group of people votes on something there’s inevitably great work that’s left behind. Law of averages people.

PhotoLucida Critical Mass, Call For Entries

The big photo contests in the editorial world are the American Photography annual (here), SPD (here) and the PDN photography annual (here). I’ve mentioned in the past that the Critical Mass review/contest (here) put on by Photolucida is a good resource for finding talent and this year I’m happy to be reviewing work again. The last time I was a reviewer I discovered many, many photographers I’d never head of and it seems like the other reviewers do as well. Amy Stein, a former winner and current reviewer says “I can’t begin to tell you the number of gallerists, curators and editors I’ve met who’ve told me they first saw my work through Critical Mass.”

The call for entries is now but you should keep in mind like anything, these contests favor a certain style of photography and you should look through the past winners and finalists and if you think you’ve got something that might pique the judges interest, give it a shot. I’m going to try and find a few overlooked gems, that PE’s might be interested in and after all the reviewing is done, highlight them on the blog.

PDN Online Redesign and A New Feature

PDN Online has a new look and a new feature called PDN Compass (here) where you can mark on a map where you live and what you shoot then presumably Photo Eds and Art Buyers and other potential clients will search by location and specialty and easily find you. Sort of like which is something I’ve always used to search for photographers in a particular location but this one is free. Hey, getting with the new economy are we PDN, except I still see those shiny gold locks on all the big articles, so maybe not so much.

Anyway, I haven’t totally checked it out, but it will need critical mass to be worthwhile for buyers. I wonder if that’s still possible in 2008, where leveraging the community to do all the work (free labor, free service) is becoming a dated concept. We shall see.

Review Santa Fe Becomes Even Better

Review Santa Fe went down this past weekend and it’s always been a great resource for Photo Editors, Book Publishers and Gallerists looking for new talent. It’s also a great opportunity for photographers, because you can show your work to a very large group of people at once without the usual hassle of making appointments and then dragging your ass and book all over the city.

As a reviewer it was always a disappointment to see work being presented to other reviewers that you found interesting but wasn’t going to be shown to you. Also, it was difficult to remember work you’d seen half a year ago that you suddenly recall being nearly perfect for an assignment that just landed on your desk. All that has been solved now, because they’ve posted a sampling of the work from each of the photographers that were selected to attend (here). As a bonus most have a nice headshot of each photographer so you can see the person behind the images.

This will prove to be another valuable resource for finding new talent (Alec Soth was discovered there) well before they hit the mainstream.

Discovered via the new Boston Photography Focus blog (here).