This Week in Photography: Understanding NFTs?

 

 

 

 

“Pope Paul, Malcom X, British politician sex, JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say…”

Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” 1989

(Lyrics quoted from memory, b/c that horrible fucking song stuck in my head.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gaslighting is such a great word.

 

(Perfect for the 2020’s.)

Having fallen prey to the tactic in the past, I empathize with others who do.

If you’re not familiar with the term, (or have heard it, but don’t know exactly what it means,) the gist is, when a person or a group challenges your proper understanding of reality, so deeply, so aggressively, that eventually you begin to question your own sanity.

For example, imagine you are in a blue elevator with three strangers.

All of a sudden, the lights go out, and the car freezes.

You’re stuck.

The group begins to converse, and at some point, one of the other people mentions the elevator is red.

No one disagrees, but you don’t think much of it, and of course the subject quickly changes.

But you’re stuck in there for hours, and over time, it keeps coming up.

The room is red, they all say.

Over and over again.

At first, you’re sure what you saw: the walls were painted Dodger blue.

 

Dodger blue color sample, courtesy of crispedge.com

 

Eventually, as they all agreed, again and again, that you’re actually in a red elevator, your confidence begins to wane.

Are you POSITIVE you’re in a blue elevator?

Since they’re all so sure of themselves, isn’t it possible, at least remotely, that your memory is inaccurate, and the walls are actually Candy-apple red?

Slowly, their bluster begins to erode your knowledge of what you saw.

Like the drip, drip of a leaky faucet, you begin to question yourself, and by the time the lights come back on, you’re actually convinced they were right, and you were wrong.

And so a blue elevator becomes red in your mind, because you have no counter-factual information available, (beyond your own recollections,) and an entire group of people is challenging your conception of reality.

Like I said, what could be more 2020’s than that?

When Putin declares war against a Jewish president, and accuses him of being a Nazi?

 

Courtesy of the Detroit Jewish News

 

Or a guy you went to High School with starts blowing up your phone, promising to make you rich, in what seems like a scam, but he’s just so damn confident, with slick answers to all of your concerns, that eventually, you begin to believe him?

Am I finally writing that long-promised article about NFTs?

You bet I am.

Buckle up.

Like the bonkers, stream-of-consciousness Bill Joel song I quoted at the outset, I’m writing this article in a manner echoing the batshit crazy world of photo NFTs, in which it’s hard to know what to believe, (or whom,) because everyone is so sure they’re right, even though they’re shouting opposite arguments simultaneously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to admit, I’ve been dreading writing this article.

If I could go back in time to September 2021, tell myself to let it all drop, and plug my ears with tissue paper, like Larry David, I would.

(If any of you has a functioning time machine, please email or DM me. I’m happy to pay a hefty sum.)

 

Courtesy of backtothefuture.fandom.com

 

Alas, I don’t think it’s an option.

And as I’ve been teasing this article for months, and promised Rob I’d “land the plane” this week, it’s time to put up or shut up.

But what if I’ve spent this many months reporting, interviewing artists, reading articles, thinking deep thoughts, and still don’t know what the fuck is going on?

Well, I guess I’d have to write it like that, wouldn’t I?

 

 

 

 

 

It must have been the Spring of 2021, (about a year ago,) that I first started noticing some NFT info popping up on my Twitter feed.

I kept seeing the name Justin Aversano, who was making a project about twins, but that was as much as I absorbed.

Then I heard my colleague Kris Graves was getting in on the game, with Justin, and that made an impression.

In May, Noah Kalina, an artist I knew of, but didn’t know, asked to see some work on Twitter, for a potential collaboration with Crytpo.com, so I sent him a link to a project of mine, and while he liked the work, he didn’t end up doing anything with those guys, so the idea dropped.

According to all I’ve since learned, March-May of 2021 was ancient, for the NFT world, the equivalent of a Mesopotamian society.

Those earliest NFTs might as well be Sumerian statues, with the massive mono-brow, given how fast things seem to move within this subculture.

 

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

I guess my attitude was always, I’ll sit on the sidelines until this becomes a thing, and then I’ll check in with my buddies, who’ll catch me up, and get me in the game.

Was that the right mentality?

Hard to say, but I’m reporting it as it happened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Fall, I’d begun to hear this was officially a thing, and some photographers were making real money, so I decided to tap up my network.

Strangely, some people I knew well, and with whom I’d collaborated before, (or done favors,) ghosted me, hard.

That never happens, so it made me curious.

Why would people who were normally cool with me all of a sudden tuck their heads?

What were they afraid of?

Or perhaps the better question was, what were they protecting?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stranger still, in that same time-frame, a guy I went to High School with, (and was friends with on Facebook,) with whom I had not spoken in almost 30 years, reached out to see if I was interested in joining the NFT world.

He wanted to “onboard,” me, and began sending me information, via every available digital channel: text, FB, email, IG, and Twitter.

It was the full-court-press, with texts coming in first thing in the morning, late at night, all weekend long, and it was intense, to say the least.

All of my instincts told me things were fishy, that I was not about to make $2 million, and never have to work again.

That simply posting my archive images on an NFT platform would not solve all my problems, and make me rich and famous beyond my wildest dreams.

We all know the old saying: anything that seems too good to be true is too good to be true.

But I kept discussing it with my wife, and we both agreed even a small chance of life-changing money meant I should keep an open mind, and see where it went.

My new NFT cheerleader certainly knew some of the key players, and told me about the large sums of money he was spending, so on the surface it seemed legit, but then again, there were so many articles out there calling this crypto world a scam, a pyramid scheme, a multi-level-marketing program gone global.

Each day, I found myself wondering, WTF?, but kept at it, trying to learn more.

Eventually, this High School colleague and I considered going into business together, to create a platform to sell NFTs, because it seemed like the sales-platforms were where the real money was.

(Obviously, I didn’t go that route in the end.)

Many people have now heard of Quantum, (which recently drew $7.5 million in VC funding,) the trendiest NFT-gallery-company, and I was able to interview founders Justin Aversano and Kris Graves during my reporting phase.

 

 

Assembly is another, and I’m sure there are more out there.

From what I could gather, these money-making-orgs were founded based on a collab between some photo-world players, and crypto-money-people.

That seemed to be the key.

Then I learned how the platforms were interconnected with DAOs, which were (more or less,) unlicensed companies that in some ways, via fractionalized ownership of risky assets, behaved like the collateralized debt obligations and subprime lenders that crashed the global economy during the Great Recession.

(And I’m on record as making that comparison months before NYT columnist Paul Krugman wrote an article on the topic.)

But again, it felt like the more I knew, the less I understood.

That may happen to other people, but it doesn’t happen to me, so I really wondered how it seemed like everyone was gaslighting everyone?

 

 

 

 

 

Before you read any further, I want to state, right here, right now, that I don’t consider this a takedown piece.

I have no beef with the NFT community, which has been kind and generous to me, and certainly don’t feel I side with the haters, who mostly complain about the electricity use, the general sketchiness of cryptocurrency, and likelihood that people will get scammed out of money they can’t afford to lose.

(I’ve wondered for months now, why are electric cars seen as good, and eco, but electric art is automatically bad?)

Over the course of my reporting, I spoke with a group of NFT artists who truly love their new community, and the opportunities it affords.

I learned about artists who were trying to innovate with the blockchain, which, as best as I can describe, seems to be decentralized collection of servers around the world that hosts an official, crypto-protected, transparent, inter-connected, permanent digital ledger that cannot be manipulated, once it’s in place.

(Each “block” of data is connected to the next, and immutable.)

Akosua Viktoria Adu-Sanyah, whom I first discovered on Noah Kalina’s Twitter feed, set out to use NFTs to fund, (and has since succeeded,) an honest-to-goodness expedition, at sea off the southern tip of South America, so she and her scientist colleagues can share open source knowledge about Climate Change with the world.

The photos are beautiful, the project is ambitious, (called “Behold the Ocean,”) and of all the people I’ve interviewed as a journalist over the years, she was about as impressive an artist as I’ve ever “met.” (We spoke on Zoom, as she is based in Switzerland.)

 

All images from “Behold the Ocean”

 

Akosua, who goes by Ava Silvery on Twitter, told me about an artist with the pseudonym Patricia El, who was working on a project, “In This Land,” trying to document and digitally map Bedouin communities in the West Bank that were disappearing, as Israeli settlements continued to expand.

 

 

Again, massively ambitious, political, and fascinating.

It was also far cry from the capitalistic land grab I kept hearing about, where people were getting rich, and only a sucker would stay on the sidelines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spoke with Richard Renaldi, a photo world friend whom I once interviewed here on the blog, the day before he “dropped” his “Touching Strangers” catalogue with Quantum.

It was early days for the platform, but they’d already established a tradition of selling out everything they offered, immediately.

I asked Richard what it felt like, knowing he was about to make massive cash, but his attitude was clearly, I’ll believe it when I see it.

So we spoke again, after his work had indeed quickly sold out, and he was still giving off a whiff of disbelief.

He shared concerns for the people out there who might get suckered, but mostly felt fortunate he’d come out ahead.

As he cashed his Ethereum out immediately, and made a killing, before the crypto-currency market had a crash.

Wait a second, did I really get this deep into the article, (1800+ words,) without mentioning Ethereum before?

Shame on me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I read Neal Stephenson’s seminal book, “Cryptonomicon,” years ago, and re-read it last summer.

He’s the genius, sci-fi, futurist writer whose ideas were brought to life by subsequent coders.

 

 

Google Earth, Second Life, the Metaverse… these were ideas plucked by others from his influential book “Snow Crash.”

And “Cryptonomicon,” as its title suggests, more or less invented the concept of cryptocurrency in 1999.

He theorized about “money,” disconnected from governments, or even the tangible world, which could cross borders at the speed of light, never need to be exchanged, and accumulate value, like any other currency.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Bitcoin, but there are many other digital currency offerings, like Solana, and Ethereum, which is the main one used to create NFTs.

When I was first contacted by that trader-dude, 1 Eth was going for $3000ish dollars, and during the months of our conversations, it flew up to around $4800.

I was watching it rise each day, yet couldn’t shake the thought this whole world seemed unsustainable.

(If it were really that great, why were so many people trying that hard to constantly recruit a new batch of players?)

As you may know, the markets took a tumble recently, with Ethereum trading as low as $2411, and as of today, (I’m writing on Thursday,) 1 Eth = $3117.

Given how many people were using the term Crypto Bubble in late 2021, I guess we could say it’s popped.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How does one make, or “mint,” an NFT?

Well, it costs Ethereum to do so, so you have to convert your dollars (or Euros, Pesos, or Yen,) into Eth via a digital platform like Crypto.com or Coinbase.

That gets you in the game, like a gambler buying chips at a casino.

But in order to “mint” your work on a site like OpenSea, (which was likened to Ebay to me more than once,) or Foundation, (which is invitation only,) you need to create a digital wallet, with a service like Metamask or Rainbow, which operates as a connection point between your digital currency and the sales platforms.

The platforms take a cut if your work sells, (everyone takes a cut,) but you also have to pay to mint things, which are called “gas fees.”

Those float, and at one point, were as high as $200-ish per NFT minted, which was when I got concerned people would lose money on the venture by minting collections of work that would not sell.

Still, the artists I interviewed were over-the-moon to have discovered the NFT world, even if they weren’t yet selling work.

And the love and joy were genuine, for sure.

Frankly, I didn’t speak to one person who was unhappy with the situation, and only Richard Renaldi expressed any skepticism at all, but he was the one who came out furthest ahead.

(Except for Kris and Justin, who by all accounts have made a shit ton of money.)

 

 

 

 

 

I interviewed, and have since kept up with Danielle Ezzo, Mickey Smith, and Chavi Lujan via Twitter.

(Which quickly became the NFT community’s social media platform of choice, along with Discord.)

 

Danielle Ezzo, From the series and collection, “If Not Here, Then Where?”

 

I hadn’t heard of any of them before I saw their Twitter handles pop up a few times, in relation to the DAOs, so I followed them, requested interviews, and they were gracious.

But when we first spoke, none of them had “gotten rich,” or sold much work at all. (Mickey even reported in November she’d sold the most work to her IRL handyman in New Zealand, as he was about to go into crypto full time.)

Each of them has since had their career advance in cool ways, via the NFT community, and I know Mickey has begun to sell work, though I’m not sure about the other two.

 

LOCO from the Volume collection on Foundation
TIME #1,TIME #2, TIME #3 from the Library of Obsolescence collection on OpenSea

 

The big takeaway from speaking with all three artists was that the NFT world, which had developed around Discord and Twitter, had introduced them to an entirely new group of friends, colleagues, and opportunities.

Danielle now writes and does Twitter Space interviews for a platform, Mickey has been featured on a billboard, and Chavi just co-founded an NFT platform called Nemo, which aims to raise money by selling NFTs of environmental projects, to help support the collapsing coral reefs.

 

BLOOD displayed on a billboard in Los Angeles through The Billboard Creative + Obscura. Exhibition curated by Mona Kuhn and Alejandro Cartagena

 

They were all genuine, honest, cool, hard-working artists, yet for them, greed, and get-rich-quick schemes, had nothing to do with their interest in that world at all.

 

Chavi Lujan photo NFT’s

 

(Chavi and Danielle also told me they’d been interested in crypto for a while, before the NFTs came along, and Mickey was a long-time arts professional in the US, before moving to NZ.)

Still, though, I had at least some concerns.

 

 

 

 

Mickey, for instance, told me she was “working” for free for Obscura DAO, (working was my term, not hers,) but had then been awarded a “commission,” for which the DAO only selected other artists who’d been volunteering for their cause.

That reeked of nepotism to me, and inside baseball, and I said so at the time, so again, this is not necessarily a negative thing.

(Especially as I’m not the only one to express reservations about DAOs.)

Maybe it’s time to dive into that for a second.

 

 

 

 

 

DAO stands for decentralized autonomous organization.

It’s basically an unlicensed LLC, or an unregistered company, and they’re meant to be idealistic, like communes.

People buy in, or are gifted “tokens,” and then they get to vote on how the DAO operates.

RAW DAO was the first to come across my radar screen, as I spoke to Justin Aversano the day after a “party bid” bought one of his NFTs for several million dollars, via fractionalized ownership, and he offered that as seed money for RAW DAO, which would buy more art, to hold, like a mutual fund, and the entire DAO would profit as the NFTs appreciated in value.

Of course, just buying NFTs from the chosen artists should by itself raise the value of their work, much as IRL galleries help “support” museum shows for their artists, so they can increase prices.

I should also mention NFTs are based upon the idea of a “smart contract,” and one of the main selling points is supposed to be that the artist gets 10% royalties on future sales, which is obviously a pro-artist move.

But I kept thinking, only the tiniest fraction of artists ever has a resale market, so how does that help, unless the entire endeavor is meant as a bit of a trading scheme?

Even now, I’m not sure if a collector buys an actual .jpg file with their NFT purchase, or a link to where the file resides on the blockchain, so even after all this time, the process is still obtuse to me.

And I’m not alone.

Just this morning, Rob, who actually bought a few NFTs to see how the system works, and support artists, was Tweeting about the seemingly shady situation surrounding a set of August Sander NFTs, which went to market via Fellowship Trust, despite not being sanctioned by the copyright holder.

 

 

People bought and sold things they did not have a right to own, and then the files were removed from OpenSea.

So all the NFT skeptics, (and there are many,) are having a field day, as it seems to prove their fears of massive scammery going on.

Was it?

Honestly, I don’t know, but my erstwhile colleague, Alejandro Cartagena, who founded Obscura DAO, is in the thick of the controversy, and I’d been wondering about the validity of the DAO business model for months, so I was not surprised to hear this outcome.

Even Kris Graves, one of the official godfathers of the NFT world, expressed concern about them to me, saying in February, on the record,

“Someone asked me to be in a DAO, months ago, right when Quantum was starting, and I was like, it does not make sense for me to put myself in this kind of… even if they don’t consider it a risk, I do. I mean, it’s run by someone who doesn’t live in the country. They’re controlling a bunch of other peoples’ money that was given to them on spec. And then they’re going to have to give pieces to the people that they… the system is a circle. There has to be more rules in place for me to even think about being a part of any those things.”

Really, who knows what the fuck is going on?

 

 

 

 

 

Well, this is the longest article I’ve written in 10.5 years of doing this column.

Am I surprised?

Not in the least.

I’ve been absorbing information for months now, waiting to have a word-baby, and here it is.

(15 lbs, 11 oz.)

But what have I learned, really?

Maybe I should circle back to Noah Kalina, who did an awesome interview with me in December.

He reported he’d sold nearly $120,000 in NFTs in a year, from his series “Lumberland,” yet he did it the old-fashioned way.

Noah worked at it, promoted it hard, put in the effort, tried not to be obnoxious, (the NFT world is famous for overkill,) developed relationships with people at Foundation, b/c he had some old-school digital street cred, and treated it like selling any other form of his art.

 

All images from “Lumberland”

 

Unlike the Quantum platform, which was selling out whomever’s work they offered, sometimes in seconds, Noah did it by pushing the rock up the hill each day, committing to the process, and making it work for him.

He has always created photographs in serial form, and the images make sense to collectors, so they buy them.

And that’s where I landed, in the end.

If people want to offer something for sale, and other people want to buy it, what’s the harm?

Eco-wise, there are so many larger issues to worry about, and carbon offsets are available.

If artists are making friends, rather than money, or building careers, that is awesome.

If younger collectors want digital files, rather than prints, so what?

The world changes.

Always.

And if some things look shady, or nepotistic, they probably are.

Most of the artists I interviewed agreed there would be bad actors in the system.

Scams too.

Because digital life is ultimately just another manifestation of actual life.

And there are plenty of assholes out there.

Right?

 

 

{Ed note: I’d like to thank all the people who shared info with me over the last six months. Much obliged!}

 

 

This Week in Photography: Making a Book

 

 

I do a lot of consulting these days.

It’s become the primary way I make a living, (along with writing,) though I certainly never planned it that way.

In a perma-freelance, side-hustle, gig-economy world, creative types do what we must.

(If it works, it works.)

 

 

 

 

I walked away from my long-term, adjunct teaching job in 2017, as the salary UNM-Taos offered me, in my last contract, was so bad I couldn’t justify the time commitment.

I remember thinking, so clearly, if I couldn’t generate more money than that, working for myself, I should probably find another career.

My first move was to found our Antidote Photo Retreat program, and it certainly grew, and was on an upward trajectory the first three years of its existence.

Then Covid hit, and having people come stay on my property, eat in my kitchen, and shower in my bathroom, was neither safe, nor practical.

(Shout out to Cliff Claven.)

 

 

In those first years, I did a small amount of consulting, trying to help people one-on-one, but certainly didn’t promote myself that way, and was still figuring out how to be an effective advocate for my clients/students.

Private teaching was rewarding, and I helped Rohina Hoffman and Allen Wheatcroft produce photo-books with Damiani, but again, I was definitely figuring things out.

 

Rohina Hoffman’s “Hair Stories”

Allen Wheatcroft’s “Body Language”

 

After the pandemic began, I transitioned my Antidote program online, and offered free evening critique classes to my community, before ultimately charging them a nominal amount when it became clear there would be no retreats.

Zoom made in-depth, online teaching possible, and if I’m being honest, the amount of personal growth I endured, due to stress and trauma, has made me a better person, and a better teacher, so more work came my way, and I was able to raise my rates, bit by bit.

I can see how the process evolved, in retrospect, but I’m not surprised how much of the work has centered on one particular area:

Helping people conceive and produce photo-books.

Because everyone wants a book these days, and you likely know I made my first book, “Extinction Party” in 2020, which was released on the cusp of the global lockdown, and was very well-received by the press, and the people who bought it.

 

“Extinction Party,” photo courtesy of Luminosity Lab

 

(Of course, we weren’t able to market it at art and book fairs, as they all shut.)

So today, I thought it might be a good idea to give you a primer on how the process works, because if I can do it for my clients, I should be able to share some of that info with you, my loyal audience.

Here we go.

 

 

 

 

If I were to break it down, the process would look something like this:

Vision
Concept
Structure
Edit
Sequence
Design*
Text*
Refinement
.pdf
Publisher
Printing
Release
Marketing/Publicity

*Sometimes, the text comes before the design, it just depends.

 

Now, that’s how I work with my design partner, Caleb Cain Marcus, as he’s an acquisitions editor at Damiani, so we know they’ll look at the books we create.

In our case, we make the book, then find the publisher.

(I’ve got a network of contacts in the publishing world, so once the digital version of our books are done, we know we’ll get eyes on them within the industry.)

Back in the day, I think they called this process “book packaging,” but I just call myself a producer.

Not everyone needs outside help, of course, and some publishers do like to work on a book from start to finish, though those tend to be more indie, small-batch types, which is also a valid way to go.

Honestly, there is so much to unpack, I’ll do my best to keep it coherent.

 

 

 

 

At a photo festival in 2010, I met the great English publisher Dewi Lewis, whom I interviewed for the blog five years later, and he gave me some amazing advice, which I took to heart.

He said every artist seemed to want or expect a book for each project, compared to the “old days,” when one or two books in a career would have been an achievement.

Dewi recommended an artist wait until there was a compelling reason, and a clear vision, before making a book.

(Don’t do it just to do it.)

Things have only gotten crazier since then, as the amount of publishers has proliferated, as has the interest in photo-books, as the recent Clement Chéroux article in Aperture confirms.

However, in my experience, having spoken to publishers, (and listened to them on panel talks), the demand for photo-books, from the collector class, has not grown in concert with the supply, so very few photo-books actually sell well, and create profit for the publishers.

(Unless you’re already a famous art star.)

So how does one explain that supply/demand disconnect?

 

 

 

 

What I’ve learned, and am sharing here, is the industry no longer functions in a purely capitalistic sense, with respect to sales.

Rather, some publishers do it as passion projects, not expecting to really make money, or more likely, they build profit into the production system, marking up the printing costs, design costs, and things like that.

(They also make money when the artist “buys” additional copies of his/her book back from the publisher.)

One publisher, whom I won’t name, (out of respect,) is well-known for throwing book deals out there like crazy, sometimes without knowing or meeting the artist, because it’s their business model to make money on production, rather than sales, so the more books they take to market, the better they do.

Why does every artist want to participate in this process, if they’re not likely to “make money” off the sale of their book?

Good question.

Glad you asked.

 

 

 

 

Over the years, every photographer I interviewed considered his/her book to be a marketing object, and I never met one who said it wasn’t worth it.

Sending out books, giving them away as gifts, and asking your network to support you in the pre-sale or crowdfunding effort, means ultimately, a viewer will look at your work, and understand it, the way you want them to.

A book allows you to control the narrative surrounding your career.

And as I reported in an interview with MACK publisher Michael Mack, back in 2012, books have the potential to be art objects.

Meaning, if you create a great book, you can make a piece of art distinct from the photographs that live inside it.

(One benefit of doing this for so long is I’ve picked up great advice and knowledge, which I then pass along to you.)

As artists, if we view making a book as an “art project,” one that also functions as a high-end marketing tool, it will allow an audience to see what you’ve accomplished exactly as you’d like them to.

It’s a very valuable outcome.

The book can create new opportunities, and help you level up in your career.

You might not make money selling books, (at least nothing major,) but you CAN benefit from more jobs, opportunities, and relationships going forward.

Plus, crowdfunding and pre-sales, which are now so common, allow the artist to defray the costs, so even if books are increasingly expensive, you may not have to reach into your own pocket to pay for it.

(If you’re willing to put in the time and effort to raise the funding.)

With me so far?

 

 

 

 

There is a pretty wide range of costs, with respect to how you can produce your book.

(And all the numbers I’m going to share are approximate.)

On the low end, DIY ‘Zines can be made for next to nothing, but you have to really know what you’re doing to get the production values high enough to make a positive impression.

 

‘Zine courtesy of Laidric Stevenson

 

It can be done for a budget in the hundreds of dollars, which is a huge advantage.

(Here is a resource page my friend Jeff Phillips, a ‘Zine maker who teaches the process, has posted as public information.)

 

 

 

 

 

Next, we’d move on to self-produced, soft-cover, print-on-demand, (or digitally printed) exhibition-catalogue-type-offerings.

 

Andrew Molitor’s recent Blurb production

 

Those might cost in the high hundreds, or low-thousands, and can be helpful, but are normally seen as low-cost marketing objects by the people who look at them, I find.

If you hire a designer to help you, and go the high-quality digital printing, or offset printing route, you’re probably more in the $2000-5000 range, but getting professional help makes a difference.

(As a producer, I tell people the best books almost always have a designer’s fingerprints on them, somewhere along the line.)

 

David Obermeyer’s self-published “Treasure Beach,” printed by Conveyor Studio, produced with a design team

 

The smallest run of soft-cover, offset printing of 400 books or so, in Europe, will likely be $7000-9000, though prices are rising with inflation, and tack on a bit more if you go the hard-cover route.

(That’s if you’re self-publishing, but having it professionally printed.)

Finally, we have the costs associated with traditional, mainstream publishers, which typically run from $20,000-35,000, with some high-end, prestige publishers charging $50,000 or more.

That’s a lot of cash, under any set of circumstances.

Small batch indie publishers might well cost more in the $10-20,000 range, but again, these are general figures, so there is variance.

(A tiny handful of publishers still cover costs, but there are so few, I wouldn’t count on that as you plow ahead.)

 

 

 

 

 

So let me circle back to that advice Dewi Lewis gave me.

He said, to paraphrase, if you’re going to make a book, you better have a damn good reason, a clear vision of what you want to achieve, and strong need to do so.

I took that to heart as an artist, and waited 10 years to produce a book that wove together four, interrelated projects into one narrative, so I could show “the world” what I’d been working on out here in the boonies, playing mad scientist in my studio/laboratory.

Even so, I needed my publisher, Jennifer Yoffy, to help me with the initial edit/sequence, and to serve as cheerleader and occasional CEO, over the year it took me and Caleb to make the book.

(As Caleb is my friend and partner, he didn’t charge me for the design, which saved me a bunch of money on the overall process.)

 

 

Jennifer and I were also friends, so she didn’t mark up the production costs, and I “only” had to raise about $15,000, instead of twice that.

(That amount included going to the Netherlands to supervise production, which I highly recommend, but isn’t strictly required.)

 

Me and Marco Nap in the Wilco production facility, Amersfoort, The Netherlands, February 2020

 

But enough about money.

 

 

 

 

I wanted this article to give you a sense of how the industry works, but also how to make a book become a piece of art, representing the best you can achieve.

How do you do that?

It starts with the concept.

What will your book be about?

What will it say?

How will it present your project, (or projects,) in a compelling, interesting, creative, well-executed way?

What will the viewer take away from looking at, (and reading) your book?

I think every great book, as Dewi said, needs a compelling reason to exist, so if you don’t have a great idea, wait a bit longer, or ask yourself all sorts of hard questions until you get the answers.

From there, it’s time to whittle down all the images you have, which could conceivably be included, into a tighter group.

(When in doubt, start with more, but then edit ruthlessly.)

Cut, and cut some more.

Which are the best images?
How do they fit together?
What stories do they tell when they become a group?
What connections, and repeating motifs, begin to show themselves?

Many, if not most artists find it helpful to work with an editor on this, because outside perspective can be key to finding those through-lines, when we’re too close. (Or if we don’t have expertise in the process.)

I do have expertise, but still needed Jennifer’s eye, back in February of 2019.

 

 

 

 

After the edit, the sequence comes next, as building the visual narrative out of your best edit is a separate process.

I like to sequence in Apple’s Photos program, where I can see grids, and move things around easily, but most folks prefer making small prints, and moving them around on the floor.

(Whatever works.)

I’d recommend you keep the classic narrative structure in mind: Beginning, Middle, End.

And I always suggest you consider a viewer’s attention span.

(If they get bored, they’ll start to flip.)

50-60 images is a good target, for a non-coffee-table book, and keeping the viewer surprised, and interested, involves varying the emotional tenor, and offering up the unexpected.

That can mean inter-weaving text, changing image size, or breaking up runs of similar images with something totally different.

There are a lot of ways to skin a cat, but just doing the same thing over and over is a bad idea, unless your pictures are so good, and innovative, that a viewer will be enraptured without any bells and whistles.

(Possible, but unlikely.)

 

 

 

 

It’s totally cool to think about who will write for the book, and where that writing should be placed, from the jump.

No worries.

But in my experience, often it’s easier once the visual structure has taken shape, and you know more of what the book is, and looks like.

Do you want your voice included in the writing?

If so, what do you want to say?

Either way, at some point, you need to get the text right, because more often than not, text provides context.

Do you want to set up the context at the beginning, so the viewer knows what the book is about, or leave them guessing, and answer questions at the end?

(It’s a personal choice, but a vital one.)

Once it’s all put together, the designer has given you your layout, and it looks like a book, (digitally,) you’ll still need to let it sit.

Come back to it, make some changes, let it sit again, and refine it.

Consider everything.

Paper choice, where you captions will or won’t go, what color end paper, your cover design.

All of it.

Don’t rush.

Patience pays off in the book-making process.

 

 

 

 

As to finding a publisher, portfolio reviews are great for making relationships.

Festivals too.

And research what type of books the publishers are putting out, to see if your work will fit with their program.

(Fit really matters, as does the working relationship.)

Almost all publishers these days expect the artist to come to the table with the production funds, so have a plan to do that, based upon your budget, and willingness to ask the “crowd.”

Finally, when your book is done, few publishers invest a lot of time or money in marketing and PR, so many artists pay the extra cost to hire PR support on their own.

On the one hand, a publisher might send out bulk emails with a list of books.

(Maybe they’ll have a table at a fair, once those return in earnest.)

But if you’re willing to invest that little bit extra, (or not so little,) you get a PR professional sending out individual emails to press people, and following up.

They work hard to tap up their own networks, and in my experience, that really does matter, when it comes to getting great press placement.

If it all sounds like a well-oiled industry, where people throughout each part of the process are taking their cut, it’s because it is.

But that’s what tends to deliver high production values, wide distribution, and successful marketing campaigns.

This stuff doesn’t come cheap.

Remember, though, earlier in the article, I also discussed how to do this on a super-tight budget.

Books don’t have to be expensive.

For quality, very often though, you get what you pay for.

 

 

 

 

I swear, I didn’t wake up today planning to drop a 2700-word-treatise on you.

But I did spend an hour last night, pro-bono, explaining the process to a photographer friend I met at FotoFest in 2012.

I figured if he didn’t know how things really work, (and he’s a professional artist and long-time professor,) you might want some extra knowledge too.

Hope it helps!

See you next week!

 

 

 

{ED note, 02.02.22: It’s come to my attention this post is being used as a resource, so I wanted to add one final piece of intel that I tweeted in the viral response to the article. I’m told some artists have been able to create a workable edit/sequence/design book maquette, after taking a book design workshop. Yumi Goto, in Japan, has been recommended to me.}

This Week in Photography: How We Got Here

 

I went to Guatemala in 1999.

 

My girlfriend, (now wife,) thought as a privileged, Jewish-American male, raised in the safety of the suburbs, I needed to see how people in the “Third World” actually lived.

She grew up in New Mexico, surrounded by deep poverty, and also traveled extensively in India and Egypt, (in addition to being educated at hyper-progressive Vassar,) and insisted I get a firmer grasp on reality, if we were going to be together, long-term.

That was 22 years ago.

I was infatuated, and agreed to go, heading to Guatemala to learn Spanish, and embark on a short, photographic project related to the Civil War there, which had recently ended.

I quickly learned that Guatemala was ruled by a racial elite; White descendants of the Spanish colonists, who maintained full power over the predominantly indigenous population.

Everywhere I went, people spoke in hushed tones of “Impunidad,” and how that was the main thing holding the country back from advancement.

Impunity.

 

Courtesy of TV Pacifico

 

The politicians and generals who had ordered the massacres of hundreds of thousands of people never faced accountability for their actions.

Never.

So no one had much hope the society would improve, and from what I’ve heard, it hasn’t in the intervening years.

 

 

Seven years prior, in 1992, while I was still in high school, Los Angeles erupted in riots, which burned chunks of the city, because White police officers, who were caught on video mercilessly beating a motorist, Rodney King, were acquitted of the charges.

Shortly thereafter, Gil Garcetti took over as the District Attorney of LA.

These days, much of the world is waiting, watching, hoping that Derek Chauvin is convicted of murdering George Floyd, (also on video,) because of a fake $20. That event, in the spring of #2020, set off a chain of rioting and political protest that is the largest since what transpired in LA back in ’92.

While the trial has been underway, Daunte Wright was murdered by a White police officer for an expired license plate tag, and yet another video went viral, depicting police officers threatening, pepper spraying, and harassing a Black military motorist, because they couldn’t see the legal, temporary license plate that was properly displayed in his back window.

(And since I wrote my first draft this morning, Chicago police released a video of an officer killing a 13 year old boy.)

So I ask you, how far have we come, really, and how did we get here?

 

 

I’ve been thinking about these things obsessively for years, as you well know, given that I’ve written about American politics and culture in this column for nearly a decade.

But most of the time, the answers are beyond my grasp.

Not today.

For once, I think I can tie a string from the 1970’s to #2021, while featuring an unlikely cast of characters, and an almost unbelievable chain of small world connections.

And it all began on Tuesday evening, not-quite 48 hours ago.

 

 

A few months back, George Nobechi, the Japanese-Canadian photographer and entrepreneur whose work I published in this column recently, added me to the list of attendees for a program he’d developed, featuring Zoom interviews with master photographers.

It is not a free program, but he comped me, and I mostly forgot about it.

After we reconnected, George suggested I tune in for a presentation by Afghan-born, Cambodian-based photographer Zalmaï, and at that point, I noticed there was an upcoming lecture by Pete Souza, President Obama’s official photographer.

That’s not to be missed, I thought, and it was scheduled for Tuesday night, this week.

Earlier on Tuesday, my wife and I were trying to catch a few minutes of down time, and turned on Top Chef Season 5, on Peacock, which was filmed on the cusp of The Great Recession in 2008.

A young chef from Long Island, with the thickest accent you’ve ever heard, when asked to guess who the important surprise guest might be that week, speculated, “I’m thinking Donald Trump, him being the most richest and powerfulest man in New York.”

 

 

Setting aside the humor of his mangled English, and perfect Long Island charm, Jessie and I paused the stream, and looked at each other, aghast.

In 2008, four years after “The Apprentice” debuted on NBC, Trump had already conned “regular people” into thinking he was the biggest, baddest dude on the block.

Mike Bloomberg, the fucking Mayor of the New York, who was worth significantly more money than Trump, and ran the biggest city in America, was an afterthought, compared to the growing legend of DJT.

Back in 2008, Trump was on his way up, just as people were about to suffer through the worst economy since The Great Depression.

That is a huge piece of the puzzle.

 

 

Tuesday evening, I logged into the Zoom, and mostly paid attention to Pete Souza’s presentation, though I cut away from time to time to check on my kids, make a photo for Instagram, and shoot images for my ongoing series about Taos in #2021.

 

My Instagram shot from Tuesday evening

 

Pete Souza was great, and remarked that he thought being 54 years of age, when he took on the job as Presidential photographer, was too old for the role, because of how physically and mentally draining it was, but also gave him a huge advantage.

Being “seasoned” and wise, he knew how to manage people and situations in ways that allowed him to achieve his personal goal of making the best and most important Presidential photographic archive in the history of the United States.

And there he was, right on my computer screen, telling stories about Barack Obama, one of my personal idols; a man still admired by Billions of people.

 

 

At one point, while surfing through the other participants names and images, I noticed something strange.

There was a man on screen, wearing a demonstrably fashionable scarf, named Gil Garcetti.

No, I thought.
It couldn’t be.

Could it?

 

 

In 1994, two years into Gil Garcetti’s job as LA DA, OJ Simpson’s wife Nicole Brown, and her Jewish-American “friend” Ron Goldman, were brutally murdered.

The crime took over the imagination and airwaves of all of America, and if I’m guessing, much of the known world.

There had been nothing like the phenomenon, prior to that, and right now, I’d argue it was the inflection point that put us on our current trajectory. (Is it still the Darkest Timeline, now that Joe Biden is in charge?)

OJ Simpson was famous for being really good at football, but hyper-famous for being a smiling, happy, non-threatening Black man on TV and in the Movies.

Everyone knew his 70’s rental car commercials, dashing through the airport, jumping over things.

 

 

And many people knew him as Nordberg from 1988’s “The Naked Gun,” where he was “comically” maimed, in more and more absurdist ways, until he ended up in a hospital bed, seemingly begging Leslie Neilsen for heroin.

OJ was a Black man with whom White people felt comfortable. He was very good-looking and charismatic.

But it was all a con.

 

 

The OJ story and subsequent trial, as a symbol of American mass culture, made “Game of Thrones” look like a subreddit about NFT’s.

Everything froze, and I remember being a waiter in a restaurant at the Jersey Shore, stopping what I was doing to go to the bar TV and watch the slow-speed White Bronco chase.

Eventually, we had the moment of all moments, where they asked OJ to try on the bloody gloves, and his cartoon-ishly bad acting, pretending that he JUST COULDN’T GET THE GLOVES TO FIT was American history in the making.

 

 

Then, somehow, he got off.

Acquitted by a mostly Black jury.

A man that White people once loved, and then hated, was set free, because Black people in Los Angeles could very easily believe he had been framed by racist cops.

Did they think he was actually innocent, or was it an act of protest, taking what little power they had to shine attention on a real thing that no one seemed to care about?

Racist, violent police were given impunity.

Impunidad!

Those cops faced no consequences for their actions, so why was it so hard to believe they would frame OJ?

If you looked at it sideways, wouldn’t his acceptance by White America be a reason for racist cops to hate him?

Looking back, can we really argue with the logic?

Marcia Clark, Christoper Darden, Gil Garcetti, the entire team had egg on their faces.

Gil Garcetti gave this speech, in which he looks like he’s choking down vomit, fighting back tears, and tried to highlight the dangers of domestic violence.

 

 

Johnny Cochrane, he of “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” became a celebrity, satirized on 90’s mega-hit Seinfeld, and OJ friend and lawyer Robert Kardashian went on to lead what is now America’s Most Famous family, (after the Trumps,) another clan renown for image over substance, wealth over talent, and plastic surgery that knows no bounds.

 

Jackie Chiles on Seinfeld

(Maybe we’ll throw in part-time family member Caitlyn Jenner here too, an athlete previously as famous as OJ in the 70’s and 80’s. Then-Bruce-Jenner was on the Wheaties box. Do they still make Wheaties?)

 

 

 

But the thing is, OJ did do it, according to a subsequent civil trial, in which a majority White jury found him guilty based upon the preponderance of the evidence. (As opposed to beyond a reasonable doubt.)

According to that jury, and the American public consciousness, OJ murdered Nicole and Ron, and his smiling visage was just a facade that hid a type of rage and violence that could not be contained.

As far as karma goes, fast forward to 2008, and OJ Simpson was convicted of kidnapping and armed robbery, after leading a brazen raid on a hotel room in (where else) Las Vegas, where he and some hired thugs terrorized some (likely) shady memorabilia dealers, holding them at gunpoint.

In this audio clip, you can hear OJ drop his makes-White-people-feel-safe voice, screaming “Don’t let nobody out this room. Motherfuckers! Think you can steal my shit and sell it?”

 

 

He was busted that time around, and served 9 years in jail, before he sat before a parole board, which was (again) televised.

Watch the video.

All along, OJ maintains his composure, winding a tale too convoluted to actually follow, with side-streets and confusing details.

He’s sitting there, a psychotic narcissist convinced of his innocence, trying to explain how the government got it all wrong.

Until just before minute 9, when a White parole board member questions him on a detail. (That the State gave him back his property, which means he couldn’t have stolen something that was his all along.)

Watch him flash with anger.
His vocal tone and body language change.

 

 

Even though the parole board has “power and control” over his future, he can’t hide his true self, but they let him out anyway.

In 2017.
While Donald Trump was President.

The year White Supremacists marched in Charlottesville, confirming yet again that some White people would even don Nazi garb and white hoods, carrying flaming torches, to protect their power and privilege.

 

 

Like Freud speculated about the Death Instinct, and we all know about the Survival Instinct, I’m hereby coining the Power and Control Instinct. It means people equate power with control, and given how little control we humans actually have in the Wide Universe, certain types will do whatever is necessary to maintain that Power and Control, once they achieve it.

It explains a lot, if you think about it.

 

 

In #2020, Donald Trump broke the world, and in #2021, his minions stormed the US Capitol, desperate to overturn a free and fair election, so their autocratic, racist, con artist, Fugazi-strong-man of a President could stay in charge.

I recently read the one thing that most closely tied the insurrectionists together was the statistical decline in the percentage of White People, as a proportion of the population, in the counties in which they resided.

It doesn’t get more Anti-Democratic than that. Fighting to maintain Power and Control, even if it means killing off America’s beloved democratic system.

And now we’ve seen insane, anti-voting laws pop up like Whack-a-moles.

The covert racism of Lee Atwater, honed through the years by guys like Karl Rove, and then screamed proudly by assholes like Rush Limbaugh, has morphed into Tucker Carlson championing the Great Replacement theory on a TV channel run by an Australian oligarch.

Which brings us to this week.

Now we’re caught up.

 

What was Gil Garcetti doing on that Zoom call, I wondered? Isn’t his son now the Mayor of LA, in charge of the very police force that employed pricks like Mark Fuhrman?

I hit up Google, and discovered that Gil Garcetti’s second act, his retirement career, was to be a fine art photographer.

Say what now?

Even stranger, Gil Garcetti did a photo book on the Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry, thereby pulling two more bold-faced names into this mind-fuck of a column.

My head was spinning, because right now, this very week, I just started working on a book about Frank Gehry’s new building in LA, The Grand LA, which is across the street from the Walt Disney Concert Hall, because my friend and client, Weldon Brewster, is the official photographer documenting the build.

Weldon’s got some amazing photos of the Disney Concert Hall, shot from The Grand LA’s construction site, and agreed to let me show a few to you here, now.

 

Images courtesy of Weldon Brewster

 

 

Finally, though, let’s get back to where we started. That Zoom call George organized, and to which he kindly invited me.

For the Q&A section, people were reminded to ask questions in the chat, and I checked them out. There, in the queue, was a question posted by George, on behalf of Gil Garcetti, who had mistakenly written to George in a private message.

I thought to myself, this is going to happen.

I can feel it coming.

I got my iPhone 8 ready, and opened the camera app. (I’ve had it since I went to Portland in 2019 for Photolucida, where I first met Weldon.)

When the time came, I pressed the record button, and listened as Gil Garcetti, a seminal figure in the HISTORY OF AMERICA, asked Pete Souza, a seminal figure in the HISTORY OF AMERICA, a question about whether he ever wanted back in the game.

Pete said no, he didn’t want to do this job for Joe Biden, even though he knows him so well, that he’s just too tired. He’d said earlier he mostly photographs his granddaughter these days, and if he was seasoned at 54, now he said he was too worn out for that kind of work.

 

 

But then, in a split second, Pete pivoted to politics.

He told us how, at the very end of the Obama administration, when the transition was underway, he had a countdown clock, waiting to be done with the job.

He was so beat.

But Pete also realized something monumental.

Something that indeed came to pass, when the World’s Biggest Superpower, after defeating the (actual) Nazis, and outlasting the Soviet Empire, succumbed to a Queens con man with a thick accent, and a lot of faux swagger.

According to Pete Souza, (talking to Gil Garcetti,) in the beginning of 2017, a few months before OJ Simpson was released from prison, Pete said he came to a realization.

“We’re fucked, as a country,” he said.

And that’s how we got here.

The end.

 

The Lost Rolls America Archive

 

Last week, I said I like to shake things up.

And I meant it.

So today, we’re going to pivot away from book reviews, and bring you a special feature about the Lost Rolls America Archive, a project led by NYU professor Lauren M. Walsh, and photojournalist Ron Haviv.

I wrote a piece about the endeavor for Lens in late 2016, just as it was getting started. The gist is that Fuji offered to develop and scan one roll of lost or forgotten film from anyone in America. All you had to do was dig the film canister out of your couch cushions, or the back of your fridge, and send it in. (Apparently, the archive is now closed.)

They sent back the scans, and then each person picked one (or more) of the photos to be included in an archive of lost images from contemporary America. (And occasionally beyond, as you’ll see below.)

Now that the Lost Rolls America archive has gathered steam, there are several hundred images posted online, in a database of forgotten moments.

Lauren and Ron were kind enough to answer a few questions about the project, and mass-culture-photography in general. They also allowed me to edit the following series for you, as a way of looking for through-lines in the burgeoning archive.

There’s an exhibition of images from the LRAA in an airstream in Los Angeles this week, in conjunction with the MOPLA, so if you’re in SoCal, go check it out.

(Photo credits: All images copyright Lost Rolls America Archive, and the photographer. The photographers are as follows: Rikki Reich, Ed White, Russel Gontar, Stephen Desroches, Scott Ellerby, Jessica Lipkind, Jeremy Harris, Jonathan Schaefer, Mary Croft, Beth Urpanil, David Burnett, Terry Bliss, Philip Maechling, Orquidea, William Bennett, Beth Urpanil, Nora Curry, Tamika Jancewicz, Alan Wong, Mary Keane, Valerie Ferrier, J Printen, Deb Treanor, Valentina Zavarin, Rikki Reich, Alex Cave, Linda Walker, Stephanie Heimann, Lisa French, Jeffrey Robins)

 

Q&A with Professor Lauren M. Walsh and Photojournalist Ron Haviv 

 

JB: Why did you think people would submit their personal memories to the public Lost Rolls America Archive?

LW & RH: The process allows participants to re-engage with a time from the past, to literally view a forgotten moment and re-experience it. And the experience isn’t just for the individual. In contributing to the archive, you become part of a collective dynamic, where you realize that there are points of commonality across these once-lost images and the memories they call forth.

Additionally, the memories written in the archive often reflect a desire to share deep feelings about life experiences. In consisting of all kinds of photography—not just professional, but the snapshots of amateurs and hobbyists—Lost Rolls America celebrates the average person’s personal experience. In this sense, it works to offer a sense of community and a space to acknowledge and commemorate all of our pasts.

 

JB: Do you think the archive, in its current form, says anything about contemporary America?

LW & RH: Today, when the perception is often that we are a divided country (politically, economically, and so forth), the archive stands a powerful reminder of the many ways that we are in fact more similar than different. There are shared themes that appear through the photos and memories, such as the attention to family, the celebration of youth, the nostalgia for lost loved ones, the exuberance of travel, and even the value of the mundane in all of our lives.

 

JB: Has the ubiquity of cellphone cameras changed the nature of photography, or are there just infinitely more photographs?

LW & RH: The ubiquity of camera phones has indeed influenced our photo-taking habits. We self-document with photos more than ever before, but what is the role of these sometimes enormous personal archives? Moreover, how has the ubiquity of cellphone cameras changed the way historical narratives are recorded? These are two of the central questions we address in a talk we’re giving on Sunday, April 15th, at 4pm at the LINE Hotel (3515 Wilshire Blvd) in Los Angeles. For those who can’t make it, it’ll be streamed and a record of the talk will eventually appear on the Lost Rolls America website: www.lostrollsamerica.com

 

JB: If you could go back in time and re-shoot one roll of film in your life, which would it be? (Or where would you be?)

LW: In college, at one point, I was traveling in France. My suitcase, in the back of the train, was stolen. The most important items (passport, laptop) were in my backpack with me in my seat on the train. So I mostly just lost clothes, which are replaceable. But in that suitcase were eight rolls of film. That was the worse part of the losing the luggage – because those were irreplaceable. If I could go back in time, I’d try to recapture those college travel memories. I imagine such photos would only become more valuable over time, taking on a wistful tinge as I look backward reliving those younger days.

RH: The dream of all photojournalists: to transport oneself to a moment in time where the history and future of humanity was being decided. From documenting a time when there were no cameras to pivotal events in war/politics/culture/etc, my choices are endless. It will remain an unanswered question as the answer changes moment by moment as I think I should go there or here or somewhere else…

 

JB: How would you describe the difference between the celluloid aesthetic, and the hyperreal digital aesthetic that’s taken its place?

LW & RH: One of the most significant differences that Lost Rolls America celebrates is the “delay” inherent to analog film. In the digital age you can see your image immediately. This changes the experience, both of picture taking and of the memory of the moment captured. With analog, you can’t see your photo right away, you don’t know exactly what the picture looks like. That slice of recorded time from the past is returned to the photographer only after the film is developed – that could be a few hours or a few days, or in the case of this archive it can be years and even decades. It has been nothing short of magical to view the responses of participants in the archive who are seeing moments from their past after such long periods of time. It’s a revelatory experience and for many, the memories, summoned up in response to the once-lost photo, are raw, fresh, powerful, and poignant.

 

JB: How will the photographs be exhibited in LA? What are the exhibition details? 

LW & RH: The photos from the archive are exhibited in a retro-style Airstream at The LINE Hotel. We invite visitors to step backward in time as they experience others’ photos and memories. It’s simultaneously a collective Americana experience and personalized one, as if stepping into someone’s home, seeing their old photos and hearing their memories. The Airstream–outfitted with a picnic table, rocking chairs, and picket fence–displays the archive contents in unique, interactive ways – through journals, photo albums, with large prints and small, in a bedroom, a kitchen, outside and inside the Airstream. We encourage anyone in the area to visit!

The Best Work I Saw at Photo NOLA: Part 1

 

I’ve been to New Orleans four times in my life.

Each visit, I’ve gone in December. It’s not entirely a coincidence, as that’s when the Photo NOLA festival takes place. (I’ve attended in 2012, ’14 and now ’17)

Despite the fact that New Orleans is situated on the Gulf Coast, and is reputed for its lovely winter weather, two of my visits were met with freezing-rain-ice-storms that made me want to cry in a pillow.

(The other two times I was met with humid, sunny, 70-80 degree weather, so I guess it all depends on luck.)

The fact the weather was awful this year was mitigated by the fact that I’d planned the trip with little time scheduled outside the International House Hotel, where the event is held each year. (It’s just a few short blocks outside the French Quarter.)

Mostly, I was either in the hotel or adjoining conference center, or safely ensconced inside a bar/restaurant/museum/gallery/party/Uber. So any whinging I now provide is mostly for comedic effect.

There was a brief moment, the first night, when I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the heat in my hotel room, and I actually did cry into a pillow, but beyond that, I had a smashing time at Photo NOLA last month.

Like many portfolio review events these days, Photo NOLA is run by a non-profit, in this case the New Orleans Photo Alliance, which is a member-supported organization. (We did an interview on the subject years ago with Jennifer Shaw, if you’d like to learn more about it.)

So Photo NOLA is imbued with a sense of mission, and everyone clearly loves being a part of such a vibrant local photo community. Like Filter in Chicago, another of my favorites, this festival puts heavy emphasis on socializing, as they have several parties and events lined up, including a gala at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and a yellow-school-bus-led gallery tour.

Photographers have a lot of choices these days, as far as review events to attend, so I think the fact that you can have so much fun at Photo NOLA, in addition to the fact they clearly get a few reviewers each year who normally aren’t on the circuit, makes it a very wise place to invest your obviously-limited resources.

(If you’re one of the few out there who’s doing really well, getting rich off of being a photographer, you can ignore the previous comment, but have the decency to keep it to yourself, OK?)

For whatever reason, I had a lot of people visit the table this year who were looking for advice and feedback, but weren’t quite ready to be shown here. I do the best I can to help, obviously, but only publish work in the column that demonstrates a high degree of craft, if not concept, over 8-10 pictures.

As such, I’ll show you a handful of projects today and next week, and then we’ll be back to the book reviews. I attend most of these events in the summer and fall, so this will be the end of the review stories, for a while.

As usual, the photographers are in no particular order.

Ok, they’re in no particular order beyond the fact that I’m starting with Jared Ragland. His work was the most complete, compelling project I saw, and I voted for it for the Photo NOLA prize.

Jared used to work with Pete Souza in Obama’s White House. (An era that now seems like Martin Sheen’s TV presidency, for all the similarities it shares with contemporary reality.) But Jared is originally from Alabama, and returned home to turn his attention to the meth epidemic that is ravaging the NE part of the state.

The pictures are genuinely visceral, as they make a viewer feel uncomfortable. They show something decidedly ugly, and real, but the strong aesthetics give the ride a bit of turbo boost. Additionally, Jared worked with a sociologist to give the project a sense of academic rigor.

Brilliant stuff.

Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
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Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
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Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
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Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
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Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
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Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
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Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
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Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
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Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
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Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
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Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
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Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
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Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
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Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
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Jared Ragland, from the series, GOOD BAD PEOPLE: Methamphetamine Use on Sand Mountain, Marshall County, Alabama.
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Ellie Ivanova had a new take on a subject matter we’ve all seen before: war re-enactors. It’s not hard to see why people are drawn to the subject, as it’s incredibly visual, and also goes pretty far down the road of creating the impression of time travel.

I feel most photographers neglect to really push the element of time in their work, so when the clothing and props are already there for the taking, it’s not hard to see why people with cameras get curious.

Ellie is from Bulgaria, but based in Denton, TX, where she got her MFA degree. She is using a fairly original analog technique to make prints that don’t look real, using some strange acid trick. The chemistry acts in funny ways, and eats away at the emulsion, so the visual effects enhance the emotionality, I think, and also imbue the subject with a bit of originality.








I first saw Amilton Neves‘s work during the portfolio walk, and stopped in my tracks, as it is clearly compelling. Luckily, he had a review with me the next day, so I got the full backstory.

Amilton recently moved to Tampa from Mozambique, where he was both a photographer and an anthropologist. Back home, he became intrigued by a community of women who’d been encouraged to write letters to Portuguese colonial soldiers during a war of independence in the 60’s and 70’s.

Portugal was eventually ejected, after 500 years of Colonial exploitation, and the women were deemed enemies of the state. Surprisingly, they’re still demonized, all these years later, so Amilton photographed them in their homes, and gained access to some of the letters as well.

I think it’s a striking project, and look forward to seeing what he comes up with down there in the craziest state in the Union. (Keep f-cking that chicken, Florida.)

Jo Ann Chaus and I got along swimmingly. She’s a Jewish grandmother from Northern New Jersey, and we openly discussed how hard it can be to focus on a career in the arts, coming from that local culture. (I’m sure I wouldn’t be an artist today if my folks hadn’t left for Taos in the 90’s.)

Though I admit women of her generation doing self-portraiture-based projects is a bit trendy at the moment, (which I told her,) I found an honesty, and visual strength, in many of these pictures, and heartily encouraged her to continue, and push it even further.

Lisa M Robinson and I go way back, as she used to be married to my friend Ken. (Who featured in the ridiculous Marfa article series we published in 2012.)

Lisa, who’s represented by our friends Klompching Brooklyn, got a lot of traction years ago for her project, and Kehrer Verlag book “Snowbound.” They were lovely, meditative, large format images, which she followed up with a series about the sea.

Though I know she was not enamored of Tucson on first site, apparently she made her peace with the desert, because I think this new group of pictures, Terrestra, rocks. I saw it at the portfolio walk, and the prints, trimmed borderless, were the best I saw in NOLA. (The show is up at Klompching as we speak.)

All images © Lisa M. Robinson/Courtesy of Klompching Gallery, New York

We’ll end today with Rich Frishman, a funny guy who’s based in Washington. I was talking with Frish Brandt, the Director of the Fraenkel Gallery, who was my table-mate, when Rich walked up to my table, and she said he was her brother.

They both smiled, and I was totally sure they were spontaneously busting my balls. You know, two people who get in on the joke immediately, like improv performers.

But no, they insisted, her name Frish came from Frishman, the two hugged, and then she told me he should have been a better big brother when they were young. (He confirmed as much.)

In all my years reviewing, it was one of the most surreal little moments I’ve had. (Is there a book in that? All the craziest stuff I’ve seen at portfolio reviews? Probably not.)

Rich’s pictures are panoramic visions of Americana, shot across much of the country, and are meant to be printed very large, so people can dive into the details. The photos are obviously likable, and kitschy, but I told him the more visually compelling they were, the more people would engage with his vision.

©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Allen’s Filling Station on US Route 66; Commerce, Oklahoma
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Total solar eclipse over McDonald’s; Baker City, Oregon
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Midway Drive-In Theatre; Quitaque, Texas 2016
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Segregation wall at Templin Saloon; Gonzales, Texas 2016
The wall was constructed in the early 20th Century and is decorated with an original pre-1929 Dr. Pepper logo.
At the time of its construction (circa 1906) only Caucasian customers were allowed to sit in the front of the saloon. All Hispanic, Latino and African-American customers had to sit behind the wall.
When the saloon was remodeled and re-opened in 2014 the wall, no longer used for its original purpose, was retained as a historical reminder.
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Stark’s Sporting Goods in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin features an assortment of items, including boats, booze and bullets. One stop shopping American-style: shots of whiskey and shotguns.
©Rich Frishman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

See you next week with more great photography. (If we don’t get nuked first…)

Collecting From Overdue Clients

I was wondering if you might do a bit on collecting from publishers and agencies that aren’t paying. I’m having this problem now and it’s looking like diplomacy is failing. What are the options for photographers when it comes to collections and legal action?

This seems like a timely question from one of my readers. I know things have changed drastically in the accounts payable department at magazines and advertising agencies, so I will let my readers answer this one. I will only say that legal action was fine by me because it gave me something to give to the CFO that would instantly expedite payment. Not sure if that’s still the case.

I recall tackling this subject several years ago and a photographer left a comment about a nice simple procedure for sending overdue invoices to collections. Lets hear what you got.

Stop Accepting $200 Assignments!

I’m a struggling freelance photographer just like many out there, I’m sure. I’m not widely known, nor have I been in the industry for decades with a client list that stretches for miles, but I know the sooner I learn to value my own work and the sooner I learn to value the industry in which I work, the better my business will be, and the sooner those big jobs will start rolling in.

NOTE: I pulled the names off this post because I feared that these up-and-coming photographers might get some backlash for openly discussing their struggle with $200 assignments. Most of the veteran photographers I’ve talked with had the same problems starting out, so I know it’s not anything new to the industry. The key seems to be getting over it as quickly as possible. In fact the 1st photographer wrote this several months ago and is already in a much better position, on his way to building a nice list of recurring higher paying clients and was relieved to know he would not be forever associated with his early struggles.

Consider this a snapshot into the minds of up-and-coming photographers in this industry and the kind of impact one influential person can have on their thinking.

Up-and-coming Photographer 1 (NY):
Those of us that attended the most recent Eddie Adams Workshop quickly came to see that it was a rare opportunity not only to show our work and meet the newest generation of image-makers, but to get advice from many of the best editors and photographers in the world.

The guest speakers were the highlight of the workshop. They gave us insight into recently completed projects, practical advice on how to handle story subjects, and how to begin and manage a career. This year we heard from people such as Nick Nichols, Platon, Jimmy Colton, John Moore, Bill Epperidge, and many others.

This year, of course, the workshop took place during a difficult time in our industry. There were just as many cautionary tales about earning a living as a photographer as the stories of adventure. Everyone of course was eager to do great work, but we all kept asking the same question: where are our fees going to come from, and will we be able to earn enough to make a career as an image maker?

On the second to last night, there was a panel that I had hoped would really address this issue. Moderated by MaryAnne Golon, it consisted of Santiago Lyon of the AP, Nat Geo photographer Gary Knight, James Wellford of Newsweek, and David Griffin of National Geographic. They covered a number of topics, but it wasn’t until a student stood up and asked a question about how we, as the next generation of photographers, were supposed to survive financially in this new photo world, that my interest became particularly peaked.

Each panel member had different bits of advice to give, some I had heard before, some not. Then Brian Storm, sitting near the panel, got up and turned to the students and said something that has stuck with me and many attendees that I’ve talked to since the workshop ended a few months ago.

Brian said that photographers should, “stop accepting the $200 gigs,” because those low-fee jobs, along with those who are working for free, are bringing down the collective value of our industry and are encouraging our clients to expect more for less. He also pointed out that MediaStorm turns away well over half of the jobs that come to them, so there’s obviously a demand for original, creative content, and we all needed to figure out how to tap into this new multimedia friendly market.

At first, I was surprised by Brian’s remarks. Like many of my colleagues I struggle to make ends meet as a photographer. Even with a prestigious internship to my credit, and with several clips from the biggest newspapers and magazines in the industry in my portfolio, I have to spend most of my days hustling and marketing myself to land assignments and clients. Since I’ve been working full-time as a photographer, I have turned down perhaps half a dozen assignments because the pay was so low it just wasn’t worth leaving the house.

But, if I hadn’t accepted other low-paying assignments, some of the kind Brian was talking about, I would be writing this story from the basement in my parents’ house in New Jersey, not from my East Harlem apartment.

I simply cannot afford to turn down the $200 gigs and continue to work as a professional. I’d have to leave New York, which as we all know, is the center of the photo world. I’ve invested a lot of time in the city as a subject. I’ve also invested a lot of time visiting various photo editors in NY, trying to establish a network of contacts. Finally, I stay in NY because, for me, it’s the best place for a shooter. Some of the low-paying gigs I accepted also led to other work and other contacts, and gave me great tearsheets.

The irony is, I agree with Brian’s comments. Nothing upsets my professional equilibrium more than when I think my services or my craft or my industry in general is being undervalued by a customer or client. I never accept a client’s first budget; I always—always—try to negotiate a higher fee. But if I had not accepted some of those low paying assignments, assignments for money that Brian says fall below current industry standard rates, my career would have been hamstrung. Those jobs have allowed me to build a portfolio, and those jobs have helped give me a small bit of revenue that has allowed me to keep my head above water.

Going into the workshop, I had one camera, one lens, one flash, and rent due. Since then I’ve gotten gigs that include advertising and corporate work (weddings too) and I can now be more discriminating when it comes to deciding what assignments to accept and what assignments simply aren’t worth it. I still wake up every day happy to be a photographer. It’s my career; it’s my life.

Now, I know that my experiences as an up-and-comer in NYC would be very different from those of my fellow workshoppers, so I asked a few of them to react to what Brian said, as well as give their two cents about accepting low paying gigs:

Up-and-coming Photographer 2 (CA):
I personally agree with Brian on the subject of turning down jobs of $200 work. I feel that as the saturation of photographers in the industry is increasing, everyone wants a bite and so photographers cut each other off to get a gig. I don’t think it’s fair for the work put in and for the industry itself. I believe it’s bad business management and it’s not the fault of the photographers. No one educates photographers on how much to charge and established photographers are reluctant to share their rate cards or share how much they charge for services. I believe that needs to change. I figure, photographers should be communicating with each other some more and keep the reputation of a high quality service. I compare this to gasoline, restaurants or other retail businesses, where a new business will open with very similar but competitive pricing to an established business. A hamburger at one restaurant will be $5.00 and at another place will be $4.75, and at another at $4.50, all with the same quality burger. It should be the same with photography.

I have turned down jobs that are $200 or less. I have been offered two hour shooting gigs for $100 and I have to turn them down. I don’t see a shoot every only taking two hours, because afterward I’m spending perhaps another hour on the computer editing and color-correcting images, and another 15-20 minutes burning a disc. So my time working has increased from two hours to maybe three or four. I feel worse when I have to turn down weddings or other long hour day shoots if they ask me to shoot it for $200, because it feels as if the client is devaluing the work. The worst part of all this, equipment prices get higher and higher every year, or new and better equipment comes out every other month now, and to stay on top of the game, you need state-of-the-art equipment so that it at least can push out two to three years of life from it. So I believe photographers need to agree more on charging and balancing costs and value, so that this industry can continue to strive and keep its prestige. In the end, it’s not just a hobby, it becomes a business, and it takes just as much vision in having a business as in having a vision for a photo project.

Up-and-coming Photographer 3 (NY):
I definitely agree with what Brian Storm had to say at Eddie Adams. I think its great to hear that there is such a demand for quality multimedia, but I think one of the major problems right now is that it’s hard for qualified multimedia journalists to find clients that understand the value in good multimedia journalism and are willing to give them the time and money for quality work. During a panel discussion at Eddie Adams this past year Brian Storm mentioned that Media Storm is turning away half the jobs that come to them, and many of us young journalists in the audience jokingly called out “can you pass them our way!” It’s a transitional time in our industry where less of us are working for traditional news organizations and only a few production houses such as Media Storm have been established, so until we find our niche in the world of journalism, we freelance. There are many advantages to working solo, but one of the biggest challenges is connecting with clients that are willing to pay more than $200 for a job. Many of us are trying to keep up with the bills and pay off student loans, so certain months it’s hard to turn down that $200 job. I think for young journalists to survive in this current climate we need to work together so we don’t feel pressured to compromise our integrity. I don’t know what the future in digital reporting will be, but I feel like one thing we can plan for is to make ourselves visible and accessible to future clients. Production houses like Media Storm, collectives like Luceo Images and photo agencies such as Redux Pictures all seem to be going strong. I think the next step might be to have more Multimedia agencies vs. still photo agencies, that feature qualified multimedia journalists and connect them with clients. At this period in my career, I could use the middle man.

Up-and-coming Photographer 4 (CA):
I feel like young professionals like myself are in this weird state of flux, like a catch-22. I’ve grown in my young career through the teachings some really talented, established photographers and have tried to maintain the industry standards of charging appropriately for content. Yet I’ve quickly found that these “high morals” (which I agree with) have yet to be fruitful. We are all trying to start up a lucrative, sustaining business in photography when the industry as a whole, journalism especially, lies in this uncertain state of a new media Renaissance. I always thought I would be a newspaper photojournalist, now the game has changed. It isn’t anything new. The playing fields are getting smaller and have a lot more players eager to stand out. I don’t have the long standing portfolios of contributing to the New York Times. Those client decorations seem to help define you as a pro and justify to clients that you are worth paying pro fees to. For unestablished, young pro photographers, this seems like a huge hurdle to get over. When so much of this business is based on word of mouth, how are young photographers supposed to get their names out there when they are trying to charge the prices of established photographers? The same great mentors/photo editors that are telling us all to maintain good pricing standards are the same people we seek out for jobs and are low balling us because of the flailing market. At some point a young photographer needs to get his/her feet wet and make a sale. After all rent is due.

Up-and-coming Photographer 5 (CT):
Brian Storm made a very strong point when he spoke at the Eddie Adams Workshop this year but I would argue that the issue is a little more complex then was perhaps discussed. I strongly agree with his thoughts on maintaining a level of commitment to the value of what we produce as photographers. This will help to avoid driving the market value down and consequently out pricing one another to the point where it is simply not viable to make a living as a freelancer. When we have some level of control over the fee negotiations on a particular job, it becomes essential for us to charge the appropriate amount for the work. Doing work for free undermines the amount of time, effort, and creativity that others put in on similar jobs and cannot be an option when we, as a community, are trying to regain control over price point.

The challenge, however lies in the work we do for clients who are large enough and unfortunately prestigious enough that they can set their price point with the understanding that we need the exposure they offer to build a reputation. This is especially applicable for photojournalists in this current market where even the ‘top tier’ news clients sometimes only offer day rates that hover around the $200 mark. As we move forward in this time of transition, it will become even more important to strike a balance between excepting work we feel strongly about for slightly less than we would have hoped and also demanding we are paid fair value for work we are in control of.

Up-and-coming Photographer 6 (TX):
As far as I’m concerned, while I fully understand what Brian was saying, I don’t know if I agree 100%. I also don’t really think this is about $200, but more about taking the crappy pay so many clients think they can get away with, which perpetuates the trend of paying us very little for work that is worth substantially more.

As a full-time freelance photographer fairly early in my career, I take a lot of pride in pricing correctly and practicing proper business practices. I know way too many incredible photographers without any business sense and it kills me. Understanding your market and the proper way to run a business is paramount, especially for a freelancer and especially in the “$200” market Brian speaks of.

Since I don’t have a super niche market and do a lot of different kinds of work for a lot of different clients with a lot of different budgets, generalizing my “gigs” isn’t the best way to summarize my experience, but I quote, estimate, bid and price very similarly to other colleagues in my market (hopefully). As far as I know I’m the youngest active member of my ASMP chapter and take a lot of pride in the work that I do. In saying that, I also want to price it accordingly. When I have a pricing issue, a negotiation issue or a general business issue I have several colleagues, mentors and friends at the ready that will gladly steer me in the right direction. Sure they may be competitors in a sense, as well as friends, but none of us benefit from a photographer coming into our market and undercutting our business.

With that said, we can only do so much to educate ourselves and other working professionals in our market, but not only is it extremely difficult to regulate pricing as US anti-trust laws specifically prohibit it, but it is extremely difficult to eradicate the “$200” market when so many photographers, hobbyists and the like are willing to do it for free.

Sure, there are tons of jobs that a hobbyist wouldn’t be able to match, but for every client that respects the photographer and his art/craft, and is willing to pay for it, there’s a client with swindling budget calling you up, leaving you a voicemail asking if it’s ok to use some of your photos and telling you that they cannot pay for them, but offering “exposure” instead (trust me I’ve had 2 this week already).

Have I personally turned down $200 gigs before? Sure. Have I personally said, “no thanks,” to a client that doesn’t want to pay me close to what I should be getting paid? All the time. Do I regret it? No.

I’m a struggling freelance photographer just like many out there, I’m sure. I’m not widely known, nor have I been in the industry for decades with a client list that stretches for miles, but I know the sooner I learn to value my own work and the sooner I learn to value the industry in which I work, the better my business will be, and the sooner those big jobs will start rolling in.

Use Their Work Free? Artists Say No to Google

“Both of these jobs were high-profile and gave my work great exposure but both clients still paid me.”

Melinda Beck, an illustrator who is based in Brooklyn, wrote in an e-mail message to Google rejecting its offer for exposure instead of cash (right here).

VII Mentor Program

The VIIMENTOR PROGRAM (here), a new initiative conceived by VII Members, seeks to provide professional development for emerging photographers whom the Members consider to be the brightest new talents in the industry. After being nominated by a VII Member, each selected photographer will work with a senior member of VII for two years to build and polish necessary skills and to expand his or her own professional practice.

©Agnes Dherbeys VII Mentor Program
©Agnes Dherbeys VII Mentor Program

The Challenges In Photography

People make way too much out of the digital versus film. The challenges in photography—focus, crop, shutter, aperture, and of course the biggest ones of all, the ones that really matter: what you actually point the camera at, and with what intelligence you use it… are all still there, completely unchanged.

Q&A with Paul Graham, PDN.

paulgraham

Secret Hopes Of Becoming An Artbro Star

Changing my life plans from wanting to be a teacher with the secret hopes of becoming an artbro star to really wanting to become a teacher and participating in creating art as a side hobby whenever I feel like it. My new ideas on how I’ll be distributing my work will make “living off my art” and continuing my chic bohemian lifestyle an unrealistic feat.

I’ve been feeling a lil down about how disconnected art is from actual change in other people’s lives. Not wanting to pursue being an art star takes some really great burdens off me…

via Brad Troemel.

Portfolio Reviews

Over on Conscientious, Joerg delves into the world of portfolio reviews (here) which I mentioned in my post on perceived scams in the photography industry but didn’t really get into because of my limited experience with them. Overall there’s some great advice for potential reviewers and reviewees and I plan to report my own experiences with the process when I attend the Photo Lucida in April as a reviewer (I still need to write about the critical mass photographers I liked that didn’t make the cut).

Mary Virgina Swanson thinks the portfolio reviews are a better way to go than the contests (here):

“I become increasingly frustrated and in fact pessimistic about the value of entering many exhibition and/or publication competitions. The reproduction rights demanded from the winners, and more often now from those who simply apply, are frustrating, unnecessary and unfair. The physical space and the circumstances at the actual judging of the work can vary, within a physically environment that may not lend itself to optimum viewing of your work, or judges working remotely without a dialogue, or so few examples of your work presented that we can barely get to know your work.”

The Biggest Scam In Photography

What’s the biggest scam in photography? Judging purely on angry comments I get and see (here’s some on PDN Pulse) when the topic is raised, it’s photo contests with portfolio reviews running a close second. Of course the first time I even mentioned contests on the blog I was caught a little off guard because I thought the system worked pretty well. Sure, I’ve been completely skunked before when I sent in what I thought was our best work (I’m talking photo editing here not pictures I’ve taken) but eventually we started winning and the awards paragraph on my resume began to fill up.

The two big contests in my opinion are American Photography (the book) and the PDN photography annual (World Press Photo is of course highly respected but there was never any reference to pull off the shelf when looking for photographers). Both have parties for the winners and the judges are always people you want to get your work in front of. I know that commercial photography has a couple that are highly respected as well (CA and Kelly Awards I think).

The reasons for entering a respected contest are clear. Getting your work in front judges, getting your work published if it wins, using the recognition as part of your marketing effort and attending a party to celebrate great photography. I can assure you that any photographers receiving recognition in the contests I mentioned got extra consideration for assignments. It’s simple reinforcement that the photographers work is good. They’re also used as a handy reference to pair the name of the photographer with the work you remember from the past year.

Recently a photographer brought the Billboard Photography Contest to my attention (here) because the deadline to announce winners had passed and he couldn’t find out who won. I made several inquiries myself and eventually got to John Gimenez of PDN Custom Media and Events who answered my emails but never got us closer to finding the results. Eventually they issued a new call for entries a put a link up to the past winners which only said coming soon. When I checked this morning it was finally working (here).

Upon, closer inspection of the new contest leads me to believe this one is purely for profit. I can’t figure out what the prizes are, who the judges are and paying extra for a deadline extension on digital entries is complete horseshit.

I think there’s room for improvement in photography contests or at least room for something completely different and innovative, but there are a couple hurdles to get over first.

1. There needs to be a barrier to entry. You can read what it’s like to plow through the 81,000 entries to World Press Photo (here). Usually the entry fee serves this purpose. If it’s high enough people limit the work they submit but this also limits the potential field.

2. You need to attract qualified judges. If you’ve ever sat in a room or at a computer screen and plowed through entries it doesn’t take long for the fatigue to creep in. This is work people. Getting busy photo editors to volunteer for this means the stuff they’re looking at needs to be of high quality.

3. The final product needs to be published in a way that’s useful to the community. From my own experience running a free promo contest on this blog, this is not easy. Getting busy creatives to look at hundreds of finalists from a contest they’ve never heard of is nearly impossible (a few people did land jobs because of it so it was ultimately successful).

Since 2009 will be the year when the media industry begins to remake itself you have to believe there are better ways to do everything. Photography contests seem like a good place to start.

Can Editorial Photographers Make A Living Anymore?

I’ve often wondered? I certainly know plenty of photographers who do make a living in editorial photography and have always assumed there’s a large cliff between them and those who want to make it their profession but I have no clue what kind of money is being made and how many people are making it.

PDN is going help solve that problem with a survey (to find out what editorial photographers earn, how they’re surviving, and what kind of rates they’re getting) editorial photographers can take (here).

The survey comes at an difficult time for editorial photographers because by all indications we’re headed for a pretty bad winter of dropping circ and advertiser belt tightening (here and here) that can only result in fewer assignments and money available for photography. Hopefully we’re not far from the bottom and the industry can rebound like it did after 2000. With more and more photography headed online where the distribution and printing is virtually free it seems like publishers could still manage to pay for original photography so their publication doesn’t start to resemble google.

I think we’ve reached a critical juncture for the editorial photography industry and it’s time to take stock of where we are so we can make changes that will ensure the long term health going forward. The industry used to just take care of itself but I’m not so sure that will be the case in the future.

Getty announces deal with Flickr

Interesting development in the stock industry, Getty Images and Flickr are working together to establish the first commercial licensing opportunity for photo-enthusiasts in the Flickr community:

Images can be tremendously powerful. Images, empowered appropriately, can challenge, convince, delight and inspire. At Flickr, we think one of our most important missions is to enabe images to be all that they can be. And as such, we are incredibly proud and excited to launch a new partnership with Getty Images, the unrivaled leader in digital media licensing, to offer a new Flickr branded collection on www.gettyimages.com.

The creative and editorial teams at Getty Images have a deep understanding of what makes images truly extraordinary as well as what their clients (on a global scale) are seeking. Marrying this expertise to the talent and breadth of the photography on Flickr is truly an incredible opportunity, for our members, for Getty Images clients, and for those who love imagery in all of its forms.

So how does it all work?

Getty Images has the best editors globally taking the pulse of the market. In the next several months, they will be exploring Flickr’s collection of public photos and inviting some of these photographers to be part of the Flickr collection on Getty Images.

Both companies are committed to providing our users with more choices. Flickr members have an unprecedented opportunity to establish even more value for their creativity and work directly with a global leader to license their images commercially. Getty Images customers will have access to even more diverse, regionally relevant imagery.

So make sure to check out the Flickr collection on www.gettyimages.com in the coming months to see what the editors at Getty Images have selected.

-Kakul Srivastav, General Manager, Flickr

From the Getty Blog (here).

I’ll be interested to see how many gems they find in the 2 billion images stored there.

A Couple Blogs I’m Reading

Thoughts of a Bohemian, first pointed out to me by Kim Taylor of 180mag.ca in the comments of a post, is written by Paul Melcher a stock industry veteran who happens to also be a bohemian, which I dig. He speaks my language as well. Here’s a good example on a post entitled “A Whale of a Story.

It is everyone’s understanding that the price of photography will continue to dip down. How soon and how fast, it is anyone’s guess. It would absolutely not surprise me if someone like Getty would take a deep plunge into bottom cheap imagery in order to get rid of any competition and clean the landscape, a bit like a whale plunges deep below to get rid of parasite fish, only to return to a new, stronger marketplace. Everyone knows that there is too much photography available, both in stock and editorial. It is time to force the medium and lesser photographers and agencies into a rapid bankruptcy in order to sanitize the offering.

Let me step back and explain: The market, currently, offers the false impression that anyone can make money in the photography field. Since it has become easy and cheap to enter, everyone and his brother is now either a photographer or a stock agent. Since there is no tangible market research on the size of our industry, $2 billion, $5 billion, $3000 billion, it is anyone guess on what the payout will be. If someone paid attention, I am sure that we would see that there has been more stock agencies of all type launched in the last five years then at anytime in its brief history. And it is only growing exponentially. More agencies, more photographers, more photographers, less relevant images. It seems that there is money to be made because of Microstocks and Flickr’s successes. And as much is there might be an increase in the number of images used in one year, there has not been an increase of revenue generated by this spike. It has been almost cancelled by the fall in pricing and Getty has been a witness to that.

The only way to really profit from that growth would be to get rid of the overflow of images. And the best way is to force as many people out of the market as possible, as quickly as possible.

A quick hit off the bottom could be exactly whats needed in this industry but I guess that depends on if you’re a whale or a parasite.

The other blog I’m checking out is called “The Business of Photography” and I discovered it over on Photo Rank (here) submitted by the author Ed McCulloch hisself. It’s sort of a “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School” for the photo school kids and seems to be born out of the frustration of an education that doesn’t teach business to photographers (ridiculous).

Anyway, there’s plenty of advice for photographers floating around but I always like it when I see someone with talent giving it out. Ed is a name I’ve been familiar with for sometime because he knows how to market himself and he’s a good photographer, definitely someone worth listening to.