Who printed it? Smartpress. I’ve used them for the last couple of years, and the quality has been excellent every time. For photographers, color accuracy is obviously one of the first things we look at and I feel they do a great job in that regard. Their pricing is also very fair, helped in part by the flexibility they offer in terms of production quantity.
Who designed it?
It was a collaboration between myself and Peter Dennen of Pedro + Jackie. I usually have a fairly clear idea of the overall look and feel I’m after, but Peter was particularly instrumental in putting this one together.
I’ve worked with Peter on web edits, print book edits and a couple of promos. It’s always a conversation, which is as it should be, I think. Obviously one characteristic of a good conversationalist is the ability to listen, and Peter is not only good at that, but he’s good at parsing the necessary information from the conversation. He’ll also tell me if he thinks I’m headed in the wrong direction, which I appreciate. Of course, I’d like to think that doesn’t happen too often! But Peter has frequently made visual connections in my work that I might otherwise have missed.
Tell me about the images.
I conceived of this promo mostly as an introduction to this element of my work for potential clients who might not already know me or my work. With that in mind, I drew from a larger body of work rather than the most recent work specifically.
One of numerous privileges of my long relationship with Texas Monthly is that I’ve covered Texas far and wide… and as we know, it really is far and wide.
I think there’s only one image that’s not from Texas (it’s potentially a little awkward thematically, but I don’t think it registers in a huge way visually), so I think it really grounds me as a Texas-based photographer (for better AND most definitely for worse!).
How many did you make?
60. It’s a 28 page booklet, and it’s a fairly targeted campaign. I felt that I could order more a little later if needed.
We also designed a large-format hardcover print book that was largely based on this booklet. I intended ordering a handful of these books, thinking I’d show them at portfolio reviews and also send a couple to the likes of Wonderful Machine for them to show at their client meetings. Then the pandemic happened before I had chance to order them.
How many times a year do you send out promos?
In a normal year 3-4. I try to put together one booklet or at least a tri-fold, and beyond that, I typically send out a couple of postcards every year too.
But of course, this wasn’t a normal year…
Do you think printed promos are effective for marketing your work?
How much space do we have to devote to this subject?! Typically, I would say yes. The message when it comes to effective marketing seems to be about consistency across multiple channels. As many of us would admit, this a theory that isn’t always put into practice with as much reliability as we’d like… That said, I think a good printed piece is always going to resonate. Done well, it shows an extra level of care and attention to detail.
However. What about in the midst of a pandemic? What about now that work culture has irrevocably changed, and many art buyers, art directors, and editors won’t be returning to the office with anything approaching regularity? Truth be told, these promos were delivered to me literally DAYS before we went into our first lockdown. I sat on them for a year because who was going to be in an office receiving them? I finally reached the point that I felt they had to go out if they were to represent current work in any way. I sent them out in the knowledge that a significant number of them wouldn’t reach their intended audience, yet 50% of something beats 100% of nothing.
Meanwhile, the email boxes of industry creatives overfloweth. Honestly, I empathize with them. Who can possibly keep up? But right now, even as many emails will go ignored out of sheer necessity, it’s still the best option we have in terms of reaching creatives. This is obviously a time to nurture established relationships as well as seek to make new connections.
With all of this in mind I recently worked with a designer to create an attractive, adaptable email template, hoping to up my email game. Whatever we can do to grab a moment’s attention, right?
It’s officially been ten years since I began this weekly column.
(And so much of the world has changed.)
In September of 2011, my son was four years old, and my daughter was yet to be conceived.
9/11 happened only a decade prior, and the wounds were still so fresh.
Donald Trump was a loud-mouth reality television star, and Barack Hussein Obama the President. Joe Biden was VP, Obama’s wingman, and wasn’t-yet-known for his signature aviator sunglasses. (Or for calling people “Folks.”)
James Gandolfini was alive, and no one knew he had an odd-looking kid. Joe Biden’s son Beau was also living, as were Tony Bourdain, David Bowie, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The United States was mired in the after-effects of The Great Recession, which was the biggest thing to happened since 9/11. (The two defining events of GenXers lives, up until the pandemic. Probably Millennials too, now that I think about it.)
Most people weren’t using social media yet, in 2011, so no one had heard of fake news, and anti-vaxxers were a small subset of the population who mostly got grumpy about the measles.
Oh yeah, one more thing. The New York Football Giants, now the laughingstock of the NFL, were about to win the Super Bowl. (Go Eli!)
If you had told me in September 2011 that my column would turn into a diaristic, long-running critique of American culture and politics, I would have stared like you had a magical-third-eye in the middle of your forehead.
Those first few weeks, in September 2011, I reviewed several books at a time, just a couple of paragraphs each, and my signature style was still to come.
It wasn’t until Thanksgiving, when my mother-in-law banged on our door at night, brandishing a .45 handgun, afraid of intruders, that things fell into place.
I felt compelled to tell that story, and then connect it to a photo book by superstar Taryn Simon, and the rest, as they say, is history.
These days, my mother-in-law, (who was one of the smartest, fiercest people I’ve ever known,) is in a near-vegetative state, due to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.
As bad as the pandemic has been for many people, (in particular those who lost loved ones to Covid,) I’ve had my hands full, battling my wife’s clinical depression, and then watching Bonnie’s brain melt, day by day, until there was nothing left.
Being Trapped in Paradise, walking in circles, with the beautiful mountains as a backdrop, would have been a nice way to spend a plague year-and-a-half, (in theory,) but I can’t say as I enjoyed it much.
Writing for you each week, having an outlet for my emotions, and a desire to share my experiences with others, (so they might have better lives,) was a big part of what kept me going.
So… thank you.
Thank you very much!
I’m not going to review a book today, as it’s the rare week when I’m writing on a Wednesday, and I thought a 10 year anniversary was enough reason to freestyle, and celebrate the achievement.
Tomorrow, I’m going to Albuquerque for the first time in 18 months.
I came home from the Burque on March 8, 2020, from my trip to Houston, and then never left. (At least until I went to Amarillo a year later, to get my first vaccine shot.)
It is highly likely I’ll be able to tell you about it next week, if the food and art are any good, but after 18 months, even shitty water tastes delicious when you’re dying of thirst.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a second to thank Rob Haggart, the founder and editor of this website.
These days, I get a lot of compliments for my honesty and vulnerability, as it’s literally become a part of my “personal brand.”
And that stems directly from the advice he gave me, when I first began writing here in 2010. (The weekly column came a year + into my tenure at APE.)
Rob has always given me creative freedom, and let me stretch my wings from a place of trust.
But at the very beginning, he did give me a particular piece of advice.
“Be honest,” he said, “and write what you really think.”
“But Rob,” I replied, “if I’m honest all the time, writing about the industry, won’t I burn bridges? Isn’t that a bad idea, as I’m just trying to make a name for myself?”
“You might burn a bridge or two,” he said, “it’s true. But in my experience, you’ll open many more doors by telling the truth, and those people who don’t want to work with you, those few bridges you burn, they probably weren’t the right people to work with anyway.”
“That makes sense,” I said.
We’ve been going strong each Friday, ever since, and I can say, without exaggeration, that Rob’s unwavering support, and his belief in me, changed my life forever.
And see you all next week!
(ED note: I had a great trip to ABQ, and will write a travel piece with exhibition reviews for next week’s column.)
Heidi: How long were you in El Chaltén for this project? Matthew: I reported on this project in El Chaltén for about three months–from late June till mid-September. Austral winter is the village’s offseason, and I planned to document both local culture (sans tourists) and the ski community, so the timeline was perfect. Three months is quite the investment on a story I pursued on spec, but there were two main factors that solidified my decision to commit that time:
1) The weather is wildly unpredictable in Southern Patagonia. Perhaps the most mercurial in the world. You could go for a week and ski six days; more likely, you could go for a month and ski three. I hedged my bets on volume and scored with some amazing, unprecedented weather windows near the end of my trip.
2) The purpose of the story wasn’t simply to shoot skiing in El Chaltén; it was to document the community culture. I immersed myself in the community at a variety of levels and built trust and friendships with locals that couldn’t be forged overnight.
The main story from this project was published by The Ski Journal – was that also spec? Sure was. The whole concept was a passion project from the start, an idea I had since my first visit to Chaltén a half dozen years prior. And as most of my editorial projects go, this one was, you guessed it, on spec. I pitched a handful of publications and brands prior, but went into it without any guarantees or contracts–that was par for the course in my outdoor industry experience, so I wasn’t particularly disheartened. I don’t think guaranteed return on investment is a good measure of value for a passion project; maybe if I did, I wouldn’t find myself personally funding so many audacious storytelling projects… haha.
I figured there’d be interest in the final story from editorial publications, but I also intended to shoot for commercial clients that had expressed interest in licensing images on spec. While skiing, there’s not a big difference between the two–I typically take the same approach to capturing editorial and commercial deliverables. I want to keep things real and raw and let the scene do the talking. Let the athletes do what they’re naturally going to do while I adjust for composition. The athletes appreciate that approach because they’re out to ski, not shoot photos, and I come away with something that feels true to our experience in the alpine. Even when shooting product, I’d rather let the action and environment speak to the efficacy of the ski / apparel / equipment etc. I love shooting skiing when it’s dumping snow, windy, and whiteout conditions just as much as beautifully lit sunset powder turns. I just want my images to evoke a feeling–I’ll let the environment and the athletes dictate what that feeling is.
Back in town, my photojournalistic approach really hits its stride. I spent many a day walking through town with a camera in tow without a particular objective, simply observing. I looked for the unfiltered in-between scenes that serve as the connective tissue to a complete story: kids playing in the streets, “closed for winter” signs, the local bar scene, ping-pong matches at the climbing gym, a local guide tuning his skis. I did this on my first day in town and my last, and many times in between.
How do you know when to pull the camera out and when to enjoy the moment? Is that ever a struggle? When you spend that much time in a locale on a longform project, there’s definitely a balance to be struck. In town, I’d be more apt to put the camera away during conversations and cultural moments where I wanted to feel present and engaged. However, on walks through town, I found that looking through the lens immersed me in otherwise trivial moments in a way I would never see without the camera.
When we’re out in the backcountry, I almost always have the camera accessible. The most powerful images often come from moments you don’t expect (or want) to shoot. When things get heavy and ice is freezing to the lens and I just want to pack up and go home, that’s when I remind myself I ought to shoot. And the same applies to those quiet moments in the tent or the refugio when your subjects are at their least guarded–that’s where the cover photo for Skialper came from. So although both those moments feel like they should be given space from the camera, they’re the scenes I find most imperative to document–when your subjects are vulnerable and simply being themselves.
What did the 4th day offer that was different from the previous days? Funnily enough, I think that was the first day we skied! And what a difference that made in my ability to connect with the community. My Spanish was passable, but certainly not great when I arrived. (It often turned into a blend of Portunhol (Potuguese and Spanish spliced together), that I attribute to a semester of studying in Brazil many years ago.) However, when I went skiing with a handful of locals I’d only met the day before, we instantly connected over an experience that transcends words. That felt like the inflection point at the start of a long process of embedding myself within the community–every day thereafter, I learned a little more and grew a little tighter with that crew.
Describe the day’s rhythm. There aren’t a lot of constants in El Chaltén. The region is known for some of the wildest and most unpredictable weather on the planet, so settling into a “routine” basically meant you were prepared for anything—I could get a text at 9:00 p.m. the night before, telling me the crew was planning a 12-hour ski day; I could get a text at seven in the morning that the wind came in too strong and shut down any plans to get into the mountains that day. The latter happened more frequently than the former.
When the mountains allowed us to ski, it was usually a full day affair. Up before the sun and back after it had set, we typically had to hike miles with our skis and boots on our backs to get to the snowline. That point would only be the start of our real ascent and then after skiing we’d have to schlep our gear back down through the forest again. While ski photography is often centered on perfect, steep powder turns, I’ve always made a concerted effort to document the approach and the ascent just as meticulously. It’s a matter of telling the full story, and in Patagonia, most of your time backcountry skiing is going uphill!
On days we didn’t ski, I’d typically walk down to the panaderia—the local bakery—grab some sort of baked good, walk through town with a camera in hand, and then eat and sip maté in the morning while I wrote and edited photos. I met with locals at the bar, at the climbing gym, and in their homes to chat about life in the winter and their day to day in the offseason. I enjoyed the rhythm and the intentionality of those moments. In the States, I live full-time in my camper and work and life can get rather frenetic; three months in El Chaltén during the offseason taught me to embrace a slower pace of life, and that showed in the intentionality and intimacy of the work.
It’s great to see images being shared globally and the words translated–how much of your work is getting repurposed/syndicated? More due to the pandemic? This project in particular made the rounds through a number of different publications and outlets. The Ski Journal, Patagonia’s The Cleanest Line, and Adventure Journal all published unique feature stories and images from this project. Daybreak Magazine later ran a Q&A about the experience and then Skialper picked up the first European rights to the images and story. And there are still literally hundreds of unpublished selects I’m in love with sitting on my hard drive! Haha. It’s the story that keeps on giving.
The print editorial sphere is a tough place to navigate as a photographer and storyteller. The pay is quite variable and every year it seems another stalwart publication folds (RIP Powder). But simultaneously, there’s an emergence of beautifully crafted and curated coffee table magazines, each with a loyal audience that sees the value of these tangible collections of art. During the pandemic, so many folks spent countless hours on screens; it appears, now, that they’re looking for ways to engage with visual storytelling in a more tangible medium. Magazines are going up in quality, from image selection to the paper they’re printed on. People want something worth holding onto. And the fact that this project could appear in so many unique publications shows the value of a good story and its ability to reach audiences of widely varied backgrounds.
I had it printed locally here in Calgary at a place called All Rush.
Who designed it?
I had my PR and marketing agency Gentle Lion co-design it with me.
Tell me about the format. Do you find explaining the process helpful to potential clients?
After reading the marketing book, They Ask You Answer (I highly recommend) I wanted to create something that answers my client’s questions and needs + evokes curiosity and comfort around what it’s like to work with me. So far this is the most client work I have ever received from a promo piece!
How many did you make?
I just went through a re-brand so I only made 75 copies this year. Next year I’ll send out way more!
How many times a year do you send out promos?
My goal is to send out a promo piece once a year in the spring.
Who printed it? Edition One Books, which recently moved from Berkeley to Richmond. Brandon Tauszik, who’s an amazing photographer and a dear friend, turned me onto them. They printed his book, Pale Blue Dress, which made an appearance on this very site.
Who designed it? Mcalman.co, which is a design studio founded by George McCalman, who’s made promos for many wonderful photographers. I worked directly with him and his Design Associate, Ali Cameron. George and I have collaborated on a few things together and it was extremely helpful to begin from a place where he was familiar with my interest in images and words. He brings experience as an illustrator, writer, fine artist, and having worked closely with photographers as an art director. A real powerhouse. All of this made for an experience in which the iterations on rounds of feedback were efficient and thoughtful. George also has the kind of chemistry I need in an editor. He knows how and when to say no to ideas that will cause a project to come off the rails.
Tell me about the images?
When I first read this question I thought, “I should ask him what the word limit is on this thing.” The images represent a range of experiences. Some were made for work. Some were made in my personal life. All of them are a kind of a creative non-fiction in which I’m carving a version of reality out of the light. It’s also the genre that comes most naturally to me and that I’ve practiced the most since studying creative writing in college. Of course, I’m interested in imagery without words, but this body of work isn’t about a collection of greatest hits. I wanted the people that are sitting with this to get a sense of how I think and what’s important to me. I also wanted to give them an opportunity for context. These images could live without the words but it would change the nature of how I want to relate to my audience. An image of a man staring off into the abyss of the night in a pensive stance is one thing. Knowing that man had an impact on me, and has passed away, changes that image. That said, a little bit of mystery provides endless satisfaction. I’m not trying to tell everyone everything. I want to start a conversation.
How many did you make?
I had 150 printed. 100 of them are going to people that work in various aspects of the photo industry, some of whom I’ve worked with, some of whom I want to work with, and some of whom are people that have helped guide my career through the work they do to support photographers. A Photo Editor comes to mind. The other 50 will be a limited edition, signed, and sold with an open edition print and most likely a unique piece of writing to anyone that feels inclined to spend their money on my work.
How many times a year do you send out promos?
This is the first time I’ve done this so I don’t have a structured routine. It’s laborious and expensive and an excellent creative exercise. I’ll probably do it again in the future, but I see this is a stepping-stone to my next goal, which is a monograph of work, and for which I’m talking with another designer that’s interested in working with me.
Do you think printed promos are effective for marketing your work?
Because I’ve never done this before I can’t definitively answer it one way or another quite yet. That’s frustrating, but the question of attention is a problem all creative people face if they’re trying to make a profession out of their creativity.
I think printed work is a smart way to convey a commitment to the craft, especially to people that have dedicated themselves to careers in which they’re hiring photographers, but you have to find your way onto very crowded desks and then not get buried. I think about measuring the efficacy of the marketing in two ways. On one hand, there are the fixed costs, which I’m tracking. The production costs, the design fee, the shipping costs, and the like. There are also the soft costs, like the time it took to sequence the work, or the commutes to Lightsource to work with Ward Long on the film scanning, or the maintenance of the spreadsheet to keep track of everyone that I’m trying to reach and to whom I’ve sent it and whether or not I’ve worked with them yet (just a note here to my tech friends whose heads are swelling as they read that last line- yes, I understand there are CRM systems out there that help with this and yes, I use one of those, too). There’s the time spent trying to reach people to let them know I want to send them a copy. There’s the time I’ve spent standing in line at the post office, and hand-writing letters of thanks, and following up with people to whom I’ve sent it but haven’t heard back to gently ask if they’ve received it and, if so, to say thanks again. I haven’t tracked all of that and even if I had, I’m not sure how I’d quantify the cost unless I broke out my annual gross income into minutes. So a very basic way of determining efficacy would be, did I cover my known costs? Did I generate new business that led to a profit?
On the other hand, I brought this thing to life in collaboration with the help of hard working, talented people, along with all those that hired me, those that allowed me into their world, gave me their time, those that made themselves vulnerable, fed me, helped me navigate unknown spaces, assisted me, married me, and so on. I’m proud of this work, of this small temple and the people it represents. So with that in mind, a real profit, and a meaningful success, will be a function of the number of new relationships it generates with people that will enable the virtuous circle of making time to make work to make money to make time to keep telling stories about this world and the way I see it.
Who designed it?
I designed the layout myself, but all of my design components are from my awesome designer, Lisa Korz.
I had a branding iron of my logo made a few months ago and so badly wanted to build that into this package. I ended up settling for only burning a logo onto the front envelope, but I experimented for literally days on that. Different papers burned differently, some got sticky, some smelled so bad, some ruined the images on the other side. I still haven’t fully figured out how to do it justice. But I’ve got some ideas for the next set…stay tuned.
Tell me about the images?
I was really torn on which images to include in this campaign. This was my first mailer, so I ended up including 5 standalone shots, rather than one contiguous series. I wanted these shots to be commercial enough to inspire potential connections with the creative directors I was talking to, but cool enough that if you pinned it to your wall, it didn’t feel like an ad.
How many did you make?
I sent 100 out to agencies and producers, 1 to Rob, and 1 to my mom.
How many times a year do you send out promos?
This was my first, but my current plan is to run a minor series like this once per quarter, then a bigger piece once a year. The next ones will be more focused on a series of images that are connected to one another.
Do you think printed promos are effective for marketing your work?
I’d love to think so, but I don’t have the data to prove it yet. I really enjoyed the process in any case, so if nothing else I found a lot of creative value in it for myself.
Yes, you own the actual copyright to your work when you create it, but you do not have the full protection of the law unless you register it. That one little [online form] from the copyright office will change your life.
This is how longtime director and photographer Michael Grecco sums up the process that ensures your photographs are protected. The first step is, of course, creating the imagery itself. But what’s also important is registering that work with the U.S. government’s copyright office to prevent outside parties from unjustly using your imagery. Your ability to defend yourself against an infringement depends on your timely registration of your copyright. Most photographers don’t realize that while they own the copyright to their photos the instant they’re made, it’s only by registering the copyright that they’re truly protected from infringement.
As with just about anything related to our government, the process by which you register your copyright is, to use Michael’s words, “deceptively complicated.” Across three detailed videos, Michael breaks down and simplifies the step-by-step guide to protecting your work, covering the “why” as well as the “how” regarding this vital action. Let’s take some time to highlight the key points of each video, all of which can be found below.
PART ONE: BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON COPYRIGHT REGISTRATION
As a primer of sorts for this rather involved topic, Michael takes the time to explain the definition and importance of copyright registration. Here are some of the big takeaways to keep in mind:
Why the difference between having and not having your work copyrighted could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
Why you can earn up to $150,000 — plus legal fees — per image if you register your copyright before someone tries to steal it.
Why published and unpublished work needs to be registered separately and differently — and why every image registered at one time needs to come from the same year.
The number of images you can copyright per registration, and how much time you have between publication and registration to receive full protection for your published work.
How to determine if your work can be considered “published.”
PART TWO: REGISTERING YOUR UNPUBLISHED WORK ONLINE
In the second of his three videos, Michael sits down and goes through the actual process of registering your property on the U.S. Copyright Office’s website. This is where we get into the nitty-gritty of ensuring your work is protected by the law. The biggest thing to note here, other than how to navigate the online form, is that organized archiving is key. Make sure that all your files are grouped logically and labelled consistently — after all, you may very well be uploading hundreds of images at once, so it’s imperative you know where they are and why they go together.
PART THREE: REGISTERING YOUR PUBLISHED WORK ONLINE
While the process for registering your published work is quite similar to what you’d do for unpublished imagery, there are a few extra steps you need to take. Whereas unpublished work can be dated by the time it was created, published images must be labeled by when they were, well, published. If you did a shoot for a magazine in, say, July of 2019 but the issue featuring your work didn’t run until October 2019, you need to date your images with the latter month and year (the day of publication is irrelevant). Take a look at the video above to see the other differences between registering unpublished and published work; Michael’s also got some tips on how to best keep track of the images you upload to the copyright office’s website.
And that about covers one of the most important and necessary aspects of protecting your intellectual property. You busted your butt to not only create images, but also to earn a living from them, so complete this process regularly to ensure you get fully compensated for your work. Hopefully this seemingly daunting task becomes a little less scary once you hear from Michael!
For more information on the subject, check out Honore Brown’s how-to guide and chat with photographers on the subject.
Need help registering your copyright? Send Wonderful Machine an email with any questions or concerns!
Heidi: How did yoga come into your life? Andy: Yoga entered my life around 2004 when I was living in Crested Butte, Colorado, where I worked as a professional ski patrolman. I began in the Iyengar tradition, which emphasizes alignment and using the body as an instrument for expanded consciousness and awareness. In it, one is so focused on the specific, subtle movements of the body, that it is hard to be anywhere but present. In a two-hour class, my teacher would walk around the room offering adjustments and share yogic philosophy while we held 4 or 5 postures for extended periods of time, letting go of tension, mental chatter and becoming aware of a more profound reality. It was transformative, and not easy. Yet I kept coming back for more. That was my beginning, an opening to a new way.
When did you decide to document your practice? After a few years of Iyengar Yoga, I started practicing Vinyasa Yoga in a heated room, primarily because I was living in a city with cold and dark winters, in Minneapolis, where I currently live and work. For me, it is essential to move my body before I can settle down and still my mind, so the vigorous physical nature of Vinyasa seemed a good choice. This led to Kundalini Yoga, which I currently practice. By 2011, I had a solid foundation in yoga and I began thinking about how to explore it through photography, as a way to go deeper.
As much of yoga happens internally, working in a medium that deals primarily with surfaces has proven challenging at times. To make photographs that convey transformation and transcendence, new visual strategies are required. I use abstractions, reflections, pictures within pictures (often to convey lineages and relationships), allegorical photographs, and being receptive to moments that convey presence. Yoga is defined as union, the capacity to merge the finite with the infinite–our individual human experience with the universal consciousness. It is a method of self-realization and a state of being. Yet, how can these vast and often esoteric concepts be pictured, understood, and known?
How long were you in India? I have been to India 6 times. It was important for me to look at the roots of yoga; it’s history and myriad traditions, which required extensive travel over 5 years, especially in India–yoga’s source. I also made a lot of the work throughout the United States, as well as in Mexico and China, when looking at contemporary forms of yoga.
To answer your question, for this series, I travelled to India 3 times for anywhere from 6 weeks to 2 months at a time. I spent many days in caves in the Himalayas with silent yogis. I lived in ashrams and with various spiritual communities. Many saints and great masters blessed me and shared their teachings with me. For weeks, I lived a tent while photographing massive Hindu fairs with millions of pilgrims and yogis. There was a lot of research and learning prior to each of these trips, yet, once I started working one thing led to another, often in very unexpected and serendipitous ways. Serpent in the Wilderness, my monograph published with Kehrer Verlag (2018), is the result.
What were some of the unexpected discoveries along the way? Yoga is more than we think it is. It has been enriching to look at it from an experiential perspective, as well as a historical, cultural, spiritual, and a visual one. Photography affords an opportunity to ask questions and see where they lead. For me, it isn’t about definitive answers to the questions as much as it is the experience and process of making the work. I am not suggesting the photographs are not important; they certainly are, yet not more so than life, and deepening my relationship to it.
In the times we’re living in, especially right now, there is so much pressure on us. This is an intense moment on every level—personal, social, political, environmental, among many others. Our attention is so precious. We need to be wise in how use it and where we place it. So we can focus and be present in our lives, at least some of the time. So we can remain whole and maintain some kind of balance. More than ever, it is essential to have techniques to control our inner state. Yoga is one such tool.
What are some of the more unique applications of yoga? The first sutra of Patanjali talks about yoga being the “cessation of the chatter of the mind”. If that is possible, many things can be understood and experienced. If we practice, that is. We are often in our heads, somewhere in the future making plans, or alternatively, in the past reliving something that is no longer here, all the while we are missing what is happening right before us. Yoga offers us an experience of the present. Perhaps this is the most significant gift it has given me. Yet, I cannot emphasize enough that it is a practice…not something you do and then all is figured out. It requires discipline, and returning to it. Yoga is more of a way of life than something one does on a mat. It is living life with intention and awareness in each moment.
Was it difficult at times to be an observer with a camera, as yoga is often a dedicated practice without observers? Access was a challenge initially. As I started working, the doors opened slowly, yet once I had photographs to show and people had a sense of my intentions and work, things started to change. About a year in, after a few requests, I received an email from B.K.S. Iyengar’s studio on a cold winter morning in Minneapolis, inviting me to come spend some time working with the late master in Pune, India. This is one of the most influential yogis of all time, mind you, and I was allowed to come photograph over a couple days and interview him. Within a month or so, I was in India photographing his daily practice at the age of 94, a little over a year before he passed away.
I often work with Leicas, which allows me to work in low light with fluency and to be unobtrusive and quiet. As a yogi, I am able to understand the situation before me from both sides and to respond intuitively and in a way that is appropriate in the moment. For me, it is essential to not take the individual, or group, that I am working with out of their experience. They are there, doing their work, going within and I have been given an opportunity. It might be silent meditation, chanting a mantra or doing a pranayam, or doing strenuous asanas (postures). Whatever it is, I want to tap into that and somehow, using this medium, communicate the more subtle aspects of their experience. It is a lot to ask from photography.
There have been many books on yoga, what makes this book unique? The work in Serpent in the Wilderness (Kehrer Verlag, 2018), my monograph exploring yoga represents my own walk through yoga. It is not intended to be all encompassing, or to represent yoga around the world in all of its forms. It’s my own exploration, my own contemplation, and where I’ve been led through the years. The photography is experiential and personal, and I am very much immersed in the subject matter.
I do not want to get too into what others are doing, but most photography related to yoga has a performative aspect to it, or is portrait-based, where a more directorial approach is taken on the part of the photographer. The subject is often represented in a superficial way, frequently with an emphasis on the physical body and postures, with commercial imperatives. The depths of yoga are rarely acknowledged or looked at, and we stay on the surface. In terms of Serpent in the Wilderness, I wanted to approach it in a very open way and to dig into the essence of what yoga is, both past and present. I employed a more documentary approach in making the work, without being tied to a traditional narrative structure. I created a variety of different types of photographs for the series, in order to point toward some of the more subtle aspects of the discipline. I am not attempting to illustrate what yoga is, but rather trying to peel back it’s many layers both as a photographer, and as a practitioner–to ask questions and understand something new.
When actually photographing, I’m tuned into what’s happening before me and trying to transmit the inner experience that the yogi in front of me is having. At least what the camera will allow for, that is. Certainly, my physical presence in the space (ashram, cave, classroom, etc.) has an affect on the individuals before me, and I think it is important to be honest about this. I am not a fly on the wall, nor is that my intention or objective. But I do work lightly, and in a very sensitive way. I was always clear about my intentions with others and fortunate to be invited into some truly incredible situations and contexts to make this work.
How did the National Geographic story come about? A day or so after Hurricane Sandy, I met Sarah Leen in Washington D.C. prior to her taking on the role as Director of Photography for National Geographic Magazine, a position she stepped down from last autumn, so she was familiar with my work. A few years later, I worked with Elizabeth Krist, a former senior photo editor, during a weekend workshop hosted by Visura in Stowe, Vermont. She brought the project to the magazine for consideration and perhaps further development, but it didn’t go anywhere at the time. As with most magazines, timing is critical, and the work has to align with the specific interests and needs of the moment.
I continued making my work, as time and resources allowed. When I was ready to publish the book, I showed exhibition prints and a book maquette to Sarah again, the project was much more resolved by then. She gave me some positive feedback on how I had developed things, yet it didn’t really lead anywhere at that time in terms of a story in the magazine. I published my monograph in 2018 with Kehrer Verlag, a German art book publisher, and in 2019 a different photo editor from National Geographic reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in working with them on a story about yoga for a forthcoming issue on Wellness. I was, so the idea of a story was born–looking at yoga through the lens of health and wellbeing.
The magazine wanted to commission some new original photography in addition to using a selection of the work that I made for the book. So we started to discuss where to go and what to do together. I had a number of ideas for locations and contexts that I wanted to photograph, and we began to do research and look into access. Specifically, I was interested in looking at the impact yoga is having in the lives of individuals who are incarcerated. I also hoped to photograph some of the various ways that yoga is helping veterans and active duty service members deal with the challenges of life in the military such as PTSD, TBI, addictions, among others. We eventually found a prison outside of San Diego that was willing to allow us in to photograph, for one class, on one Saturday morning. So, there was a bit of pressure in that hour and a half, to say the least.
As San Diego has a large military presence, when I was there to work in the prison, I also photographed in Navy hospitals, outpatient settings, clinics, and on base to look at that aspect of the story. It was a very fruitful collaboration and I think everyone that worked on the project was pleased with how it all came together. The feature, “Finding Calm”, was written by Fran Smith and published in the January 2020 issue of the magazine and online.
Concept: Portraits of one patient against a solid background
Licensing: Unlimited use of all images captured for three years
Photographer: Portraiture specialist in the Midwest
Agency: Large, healthcare focused
Client: Pharmaceutical company
Fees: The agency requested unlimited use of all images captured for three years, and they wanted us to specifically use their usage terminology, as detailed in the estimate. The concept involved photographing a real patient in a variety of ways and integrating the images into a CGI background in post. I first determined the fee by pricing what I felt was appropriate for one year, which was $12,500, and then doubled that fee to account for the requested three years, to arrive at a fee of $25,000. In addition to that creative/licensing fee, I also added a pre-production and pre-light day fees for the photographer.
Crew: While the shoot was rather straightforward, we knew the logistics of working with a real patient and the many intricacies with specialized wardrobe and styling would require a decent amount of pre-production. Therefore, we included adequate producer and production assistant days. Additionally, we included two assistants and a digital tech. Lastly, since we’d be compositing the portraits into CGI backgrounds, we included an on-site retoucher to help show the client proof of concept during the shoot to ensure we were on the right track.
Styling: In addition to a hair/makeup stylist, we included a wardrobe/prop stylist along with an assistant. The props would be minimal, but we anticipated shopping for and procuring three different outfits for the talent. On top of the actual wardrobe/prop expenses, we added additional expenses to cover shipping, transportation, and kit fees incurred by the stylists.
Health and Safety: We included a COVID compliance officer for both the pre-light day and the shoot day, along with a few hundred dollars to cover PPE and supplies.
Locations: Two days were included, for both the pre-light and shoot day.
Equipment: For both the pre-light and shoot days, we included ample expenses to cover camera, grip, lighting, tech workstation rentals, and production supplies.
Meals: We based catering for the shoot day on 12 attendees at $75 per person.
Misc.: As a buffer, we included $750 to cover unforeseen expenses, and light meals on the pre-light day for the minimal crew that would attend. We also included $1,000 for insurance.
Post Processing: We included $500 for the photographer to provide a rough edit of the shots for consideration, and then $2,000 to handle retouching. The CGI backgrounds would be provided by the agency, and the photographer would be integrating the images into those files. We anticipated this taking approximately 10 hours of work, and based the fee on $200/hour.
Results: The photographer was awarded the project.
Hindsight: Having bid projects for this agency previously, I knew they’d likely have a healthy budget. However, we’ve bid and produced very similar projects for substantially less money in the past. The photographer ultimately came in under budget upon invoicing, which helped convince the agency to have him bid on a supplemental project.
If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating or producing a project, please send us an email. We’re available to help with any and all pricing and negotiating needs—from small stock sales to large ad campaigns.
In late December a bombshell article by Kristen Chick for Columbia Journalism Review detailed 13 years of inappropriate behavior from Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey. Eleven women described a wide range of disturbing behavior that you can read about here:
It seems that his behavior is an open secret and many are questioning Magnum and fellow photographers for letting it slide over the years.
Personally I’m sickened by what is described in the article and the thought of young female photojournalists having to endure harassment from Harvey. We need to root this despicable behavior out of our industry and I support anyone who comes forward to help do it.
Additionally, a former assistant is saying he stages his photographs which follows along with his abuse of power as pointed out by Biz Herman in this excellent thread:
Online scams are nothing new. These days, as schemes get more and more elaborate, it seems that anyone can fall victim, and photographers are no exception.
In recent weeks, several of our members received emails containing what looked like an interesting assignment. The sender, purportedly an editor named “Jack Moss” from anothermag.com, found the photographers on Wonderful Machine and asked them to produce a fashion shoot. But some details did not quite add up and, one after the other, the photographers started forwarding these emails to us.
We are sharing all the details here to help photographers stay alert and protect themselves against similar scams in the future. This is what the inital email sent to the photographers looked like, provided by Francis Hills:
The scam email sent to Francis Hills. The scammer sent this email to at least four WM member photographers.
“I’m Jack, a beauty, fashion and lifestyle writer and editor at anothermag.com, a subsidiary of Dazed media and Dazed digital,” read the initial email. “I saw your profile on wonderfulmachine.com which led me to some of your work online and after going through your portfolio, I would like to learn more about your services.”
Jack, not exactly the world’s foremost expert on comma usage, was inviting his prospects to “concept, shoot, and produce 36 images, featuring 3 models.” The scammer also mentioned that “you will be required to work with a company recommended hair/makeup artist and a wardrobe stylist, and bring a smart, fun approach and distinct style.” Here’s part of the PDF he sent to the photographers:
Part of the fake job description PDF sent by the scammer to photographers.
The scammer offered $3,500 in photographer compensation — $1,500 upfront and $2,000 after the shoot — while earmarking $9,500 for the total shoot budget (to include talent fees). The client would supply the wardrobe. Additionally, the photographer would hold the full image rights and said images would be posted as editorial content on AnOther Mag’s website for a year.
Seems legit, right? Well, as we started reading carefully, several red flags appeared:
The email came from a Gmail address. If it were a real assignment, it would likely come from a Dazed or AnOther Mag email address.
The real Jack Moss is not only a Digital Features Editor for AnOther Magazine, he holds the same role for Another Man Magazine. The email signature for the fake Jack Moss did not mention this.
The project description, which was attached to the email, was not on Dazed or AnOther Mag letterhead. In fact, the PDF itself is quite plain, which usually isn’t the case when a real client comes calling.
There were several typos and syntax errors in both the email and the project description. A fair number of scammers are not from the U.S. and therefore struggle with English. Adam Lerner, one of the targeted photographers, mentioned that things felt “off” the whole time. To cover his bases, he set up a chat with the client to discuss the assignment and received a call out of East Hampton, New York from the number 631-731-6280.
During the talk, Adam noted, “he had answers to all my questions despite being completely flat in his demeanor. No enthusiasm. And a very thick accent that sounded West African. I didn’t really get too bothered by that because people in fashion tend to be from everywhere, but I also wasn’t completely re-assured to the legitimacy of this shoot after the call.” So, while the accent and grammatical errors might not be enough on their own to prove things aren’t up to snuff, they can add up to a scam if combined with other red flags, like the ones discussed here.
In the 12 years Wonderful Machine has been in business, this is the 4th or 5th time this has happened. After doing some research, we learned that fake assignments are some of the most common scams used against creatives. In this case — as with most others — our members were cautious and did not choose to accept the offer. What would happen if they took the gig?
If accounts of previous such scams can serve as an indication, the photographer would most likely receive a check from the “client.” This check would include the payment for their fee, as well as for the talent. The sender would then ask the photographer to deposit the check into their account and promptly send a payment to the talent agency (or another service needed to prepare for the shoot). If the photographer followed these directions, their bank would initially accept the original check, after which the photographer would dutifully send their check to the talent agency. So far, so good.
Except the agency would not be legitimate — it would be associated with the scammer. In the meantime, the photographer’s bank would discover the cashier check was also fake and it would bounce. By that time, the money has already been sent, and the editor is nowhere in sight. Goodbye fee! Goodbye contract! Goodbye gig! Here’s what that check would look like, via Jon Morgan:
As you can see, the scammer sent Jon $7,500 to cover his upfront fee ($1,500) and the talent compensation ($6,000). The final $2,000 would be given to Jon after the work was done, bringing the total to the $9,500 mentioned in the brief.
How to protect yourself
It’s only natural for freelance photographers who are trying to market their business to share information about themselves and their work with as many people as possible. This, of course, includes strangers.
The internet provides countless legitimate business opportunities, but it’s important to be aware of the risks. Here are some precautions that can help photographers protect themselves against scams:
When considering assignments from people with whom you have never worked before, ask a lot of questions. Where is the shoot taking place? When? Who else is working on it? If you do not receive sufficient information, it should raise a flag. And if you do? Verify that information using Google and LinkedIn.
Be skeptical of the example images used in mood boads. Akilah Townsend, another photographer who got an email from “Jack,” figured out it was a scam in part because “the images he used weren’t tasteful, in my opinion. They didn’t look like what AnOther Mag would produce.” While subpar imagery might not be strong enough evidence on its own, it definitely counts as a red flag. Akilah continued to follow up, noting the gmail address was weird and doing some research online to get to the bottom of things.
She said the final nail in the coffin was when the scammer “signed an email with a different editor’s name” — Akilah googled that name and found out that person, Ethan D’spain, was at a different magazine. “My agent asked who the other person was and [“Jack”] claimed it was his friend helping with the project,” Akilah said. “Too many fishy things.” Here’s that second email the scammer sent to Akilah and her agent, Candace. Note the misspelling of “D’spain:”
A follow up email sent to Akilah by the scammer, who mistakenly signed off with a different name than he originally used.
If the potential scammer is using the name of a real creative, email that person to confirm it’s not them. For example, Francis Hills reached out to the actual Jack Moss, who quickly replied by saying he did not send the initial email.
Read everything carefully, paying attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation.
If something looks weird, paste fragments into Google and see whether anyone else has received a similar message. Scammers are too busy to write unique letters to each individual they are attempting to scam. Yes, they do copy and paste — especially if English is not their first language! So, check if anybody shared anything on a blog or some online forum. Are there any company reviews coming up?
Call the phone numbers they provide and try to talk to people. If the phone number doesn’t seem right, call the main phone number for that company and ask for that person. If they do not answer, or insist on communicating via e-mail only, it definitely is a warning sign as well. You can also vet names and numbers by visiting Unknown Phoneor ICANN lookup.
Last but not least, share your story – write on your blog, post on social media, talk to other photographers. There is no better way to combat scammers than to publicize what they do and make other people aware of their tricks. The reason we were able to publish this piece is because of how proactive our members were in getting this scam on our radar.
To that end, thank you to Francis Hills, Adam Lerner, Jon Morgan, and Akilah Townsend for telling us about this scam and how they figured out it wasn’t a real shoot. While it’s always a letdown to realize a potential job is actually a scam, it sure beats having your bank account information fall into the wrong hands!
This past week has provided a huge swell of excitement about the potential for change not just in our country, but in the photography community. It has been amazing to see so many
businesses not only supporting Black Lives Matter, but also pledging to review their own
practices and biases, launching internal reviews and initiatives, and, for a few, publicly
announcing the steps that they will be taking to address racism and the lack of diversity within their companies.
It’s not breaking news that the photography, media and advertising industries in the U.S.have a great deal of work ahead to further diversify. “I can’t find them” is no longer an excuse for not hiring and representing Black creatives.
It’s time to get to work.
With input from Black photographers, I’m offering these suggestions toward becoming a more inclusive and diverse industry. We are not suggesting that photographers be hired solely on the basis of race – nobody is asking for or wanting this. But Black photographers need to be seen and feel seen.
This is not about handouts. It’s about opportunity.
I am proposing that we work harder to include Black perspectives in our spaces and offer more opportunities for them to be seen, supported, educated, mentored, empowered, amplified, celebrated and paid.
I am proposing that we hire Black photographers to shoot more than race-related reportage and subjects or experiences that we think are germane to theirs.
I am challenging us to consider more Black photographers for shoots and triple bids, give them more of our time and invite them into our networks.
As a former editor and art buyer, I know that it feels risky to take a chance on someone when their current portfolio might fall short of our explicit expectations, but now is the time to start taking some risks so that more Black photographers have the opportunity to gain the experience that they need in order to compete with non-Black photographers.
Here are actions we can all take:
Offer scholarships, mentorships and/or paid internships to Black people.
Intentionally network and ask for meetings with Black creatives.
Accept meetings and respond to emails and DMs from Black people.
Do our homework to research and discover more Black creatives within our industry.
Hold others accountable for inclusion, ask questions and take inventory of diversity
within our spaces. This is going to be uncomfortable and hard—do it anyway.
Create policies and diversity initiatives with practices to maintain momentum and
responsibility beyond periods of protest.
Ask your friends and colleagues what they are doing to expand the diversity in their
Amplify Black voices and issues in ways that are not self-serving.
Reach out to schools and colleges that have more, or majority Black students, or are in more diverse neighborhoods. Volunteer your time, expertise or money.
Find, hire and/or mentor Black assistants, producers and stylists.
Cast Black talent, including those with darker skin and natural hair.
Find hairstylists who can properly style natural hair.
When joining organizations or directories and signing up for festivals, competitions and conferences, ask about diversity policies and pay attention to diversity in panels and reviews. If diversity is missing, speak up and invest your money elsewhere if not addressed.
Offer your services to Black-owned businesses and amplify their products, over-
delivering to those clients when possible.
Take stock of the diversity in your own portfolio. Explore more diverse subjects,
locations, cuisines, etc.
Photo Editors, Creative Directors & Art Buyers:
Add more Black photographers to your bookmarks and personal directories then utilize those directories.
Follow Black creatives on social media; invite them to your office or virtual office for portfolio reviews. Teach them about the process of working with your company and in your industry.
Initiate conversations and standards for reviewing and hiring more Black photographers and vendors within your company.
Feature Black creatives on the contributor’s page or bold the bylines. Advocate for them and amplify their work to other editors and buyers. If they are not ready, help them grow, introduce them to other photographers, crew and resources.
Mentor Blacks who want to be photo editors, creative directors and art buyers. We need a lot more of those.
Add more Black people to your crew and vendor list.
Mentor or provide paid internships to Black creatives.
If you haven’t already, start building more diverse crews – before your clients start asking for them.
Find hair stylists who can work well with natural hair styles.
Talk to your vendors, casting and location scouts about their diversity initiatives.
Create production guidelines to address discrimination on set.
Ensure equal pay for Black crew and talent.
Offer to produce test shoots for Black photographers.
Find, hire and/or mentor Black assistants and stylists.
Source products from Black-owned businesses and designers.
Educate yourselves on Black hair, skin care, and products. Refer a more experienced stylist for a job if you are not qualified.
Offer your services for test shoots with Black photographers.
Photography Reps & Agents:
Understanding that less than 10% of major agency rosters are made up of BIPOC, work harder to diversify who you represent.
Mentor and introduce less experienced photographers to more experienced photographers, producers, stylists and consultants who can help them elevate their portfolios.
Offer portfolio reviews and more thorough responses to Black photographers’ inquiries.
Take Black photographers with you on agency visits and consider offering paid internships.
Consider creating an informative auto-reply or FAQ page to educate younger photographers or refer them to consultants.
Introduce Black photographers to editors and art buyers. Amplify their work.
Encourage your white clients to diversify their portfolios and networks.
Connect with schools and colleges that are more predominately Black.
When you are asked to teach, review or be on a panel, evaluate the diversity of that panel or event. Speak up and ask for accountability if diversity is missing. Offer suggestions to include more Black creatives in the event or program. If diversity is not addressed, decline to collaborate until it is.
Photography Associations & Clubs:
Diversify your boards, teachers, members, speakers and mission statements.
Amplify Black creatives on your platforms and in your newsletters, webinars and podcasts.
Directories & Sourcebooks: Pay to play directly affects diversity in all industries.
Amplify Black photographers and offer scholarships.
Diversify the decision makers who accept or reject applicants.
Diversify your webinars, podcasts and newsletters, and ensure the initiative
continues after periods of protest.
Promote Black photographers to your network of art buyers.
Photography Festivals & Competitions:
Diversify your panels, judges, instructors, speakers and featured photographers.
Offer more attendee scholarships and ask sponsors to be a part of that.
Question the diversity of your sponsors’ ambassadorships, representatives and
I understand that hiring, charging and offering discounts on the basis of race or ethnicity will require attention to legal guidelines. I am aware that we are going to have to uncomfortably navigate the complicated waters of tokenism and exploitation. And I realize that some of these suggestions may sound discriminatory in the exclusion of non-Blacks. That is certainly not my intention.
I am asking all of us, including myself, to work harder to empower and amplify Black artists so that we may have more balanced, consistent and truthful visual representations in our media and lives.
Let us remember that it was in fact an image, a video of George Perry Floyd Jr., that woke up so many people in our country to finally call for change. The photography industry will no doubt be a powerful agent in this revolution. It’s up to us to make it happen. Let’s get to work.
Amy V. Cooper is a Photography Consultant and Editor offering mentorships to Black photographers and to BIPOC interested in becoming photo editors or art buyers.
We’ve all heard the racist expression before, which has been applied to a host of ethnicities, and is clearly untrue.
So it’s ironic that my doppelgänger in the photo world doesn’t resemble me at all.
Like, we could not look much more different, while still being similarly sized humans.
To whom am I referring?
Jon Feinstein, my fellow Jewish Jonathan, who’s also a photographer, writer and educator.
We have EXACTLY the same job, though we’ve shown our work in different spaces, and written for different publications. (How he managed to keep a relationship going with the assholes at Vice, I’ll never know.)
Coincidence or not, I met Jon at my very first portfolio review, in Santa Fe in 2009, and we’ve stayed in touch casually ever since.
Even though we look different from one another, (and I’m the Gen-X’er to his elder Millennial,) there have been multiple times during my career when someone thanked me for curating their work into a show, or publishing it online, but it wasn’t me.
Of course when I tell them that, they always look at me funny, at first, as if I’m fucking with them.
“Sorry,” I’ll say. “That’s Jon Feinstein. My last name is Blaustein. We’re not the same person.”
It’s gotten to the point that Jon and I joke about doing a project together called Jonathan Something-stein, or Jonathan ______stein, because there must be more of us out there.
He even planned a prank where we’d swap tables at Filter Photo last September, and we were all set to do it, but he had to miss the festival due to a death in the family.
Needless to say, I respect and appreciate his taste, so when I got an email from him last month, suggesting I look into a friend’s project, I said sure, and then promptly forgot about it for a month or so.
Jon was recommending Robert Canali, a San Francisco-based, Toronto-born artist who’d started up a pandemic response project, and did it in just the right way. (I now know.)
All details I’ll share, henceforth, I learned yesterday, when I became a portrait sitter for the first time, (maybe ever,) and the process was fascinating enough that I’m writing about it here. (For the record, Manjari Sharma asked me to be a subject for her shower series, back in 2010, but I politely declined, being too insecure about my body at that point.)
So, where were we?
I followed up with Rob a month later, and booked a slot on an efficient digital calendar system, but for what, I was not sure.
I only knew he was using Zoom.
The gist is, a sitter reaches out to Rob, and in many cases, based on the social media buzz he generated, he has no idea who the person will be.
Though I normally do research on everyone I work with, Jon’s vouch, plus my own desire to be creatively curious, meant I knew nothing about him either. (Which surprised him.)
The scheduled 45 minute appointment begins with an introductory chat, and because I’m a curious journalist, (and like trying to entertain people,) our appointment ended up going long.
Straight off, he explained what would transpire, and why he created his anthropological project to begin with.
Like many of us, Rob was trapped in his home early, and was limited to the materials he had on hand. So he got working, (as I’ve encouraged you all to do many times,) and also got out of his comfort zone, as he had not done portraiture previously.
He realized he could use his iPad screen to expose photo paper, (much like Robert Heinecken did on TV screens in the 80’s to mock Reagan,) and then played with the process.
By inverting the image on the iPad screen, the resulting print becomes a paper positive, as if he left the image alone, he’d get a paper negative instead. (He called the iPad his enlarger.)
After that, it’s into the fixer, and you’re done.
In order to get the image to render, though, the technology needs a lot of time to soak up the person’s visage, which is being beamed along fiber-optic cables around the country, or the world.
But how do you do this with with complete strangers?
That’s where the interview process comes in.
Writing everything by hand, with a pencil in a notebook, he asks his sitters a few questions to create rapport, and also gather data.
I believe I was his 173rd subject, so at that sort of scale, it allows for a collection of personal information, and stories, that relate directly to our upended lives in #2020, due to the fucking virus who shall not be named. (The Voldemort virus?)
I found Rob to be charming and thoughtful, so the chat was an enjoyable experience as he explained the process to me, prior to the official interview.
Basically, he asks people to sit still, and play a specifically chosen set of music for 15 minutes, so that the image will render, and the environment will be curated.
Music is meant to be shared, he told me, and I said, “So is art.”
Once I knew what I was getting into, he hit me with the questions. (I’m paraphrasing the exact words, but not the meat of his questions.)
1. How has the pandemic changed your life for the worse?
I responded that at 46, I’d spent years building up a self-care regimen to support my mental health. It worked, as I am a relatively healthy, successful person with a loving family.
Martial arts, watching sports on TV, visiting friends at festivals, and having alone time in my house were at the top of my list.
Now I’d lost them all, and finding new ways to stay healthy, while also mourning those I’d lost, was a challenge.
2. Has anything in your life improved?
I admitted that for most of #2019, my wife and I would regularly say, “I wish I could press a pause button on life. I need a break so badly!” Again and again, we wished we could get off the ride, so as to visualize what the next phase in life might be.
And then our dreams became an actual nightmare, as a pause happened under the worst case scenario. (Outside of nuclear war, I suppose.)
Sure enough, after 10 weeks of enforced isolation, we have finally begun to figure out what we wanted next out of life, and how to go about restructuring things once a “new normal” returns.
3. Is there anything about life, when it returns to a “new normal” that you think will be changed permanently?
I told him the truth, which is that no one on Earth knows what comes next, at this point.
I don’t know what will change, and neither do you.
The only thing I’m certain of is that things will be permanently different in ways we can’t visualize yet.
I said, “When the planes hit the Twin towers, who would have thought that everyone would have to take off their shoes and belts at the airport forever?”
After that, I cued up my music, which was the middle portion of Bill Withers’ brilliant debut album, “Just As I Am,” from 1971.
He told me I could only blink, and not move at all, so I settled into a lotus position in a good chair, with a pillow behind me for lumbar support, and then asked where to look?
I realize that staring at the green light on my webcam would hurt my eyes, so I chose a spot just outside my bedroom window, where some Aspen leaves were shimmering in the breeze.
In Rob’s process, at that point, he turns off his webcam and his speaker.
He disappears, and I was left with my music, my trees, and my stillness.
Obviously, it felt like meditating, and because the songs were both powerful and emotional, a serious tone was set.
It was amazing.
I don’t remember the last time I sat that still, without my mind wandering.
You can only blink.
By the time he came back, and said we were done, I wasn’t cramped, or bored, and probably could have gone longer.
I felt refreshed from the meditation, and energized by being a part of someone else’s creative process.
“This should probably be this week’s column,” I said, and Rob quickly agreed to share his images with us.
My only caveat was, I needed to see the photographs first.
Given the process, they look like ghostly 19th Century pictures, which is a great visual connection to the past, given that photographers also required still sitters then too.
The truth is, the prints are soft and pasty in the best way, I imagine, but the reproductions of the prints are a bit flat for our purposes.
Rob was kind enough to agree to boost the contrast just this once, for us, as it will help you appreciate the project more, in my opinion. (And this is an opinion column, after all.)
I asked if he’d be willing to answer his own questions for us too, and he blushed for a second, admitting no one had asked him to do that yet.
So behold his thoughts on Covid-life, and then we’ll share a set of images too. (Including portraits of Jonathan Feinstein and Jonathan Blaustein, who look nothing alike.)
See you next week!
1. What is something you’ve lost since shelter in place was mandated and the world went into quarantine?
I’ve lost the sense of urgency with which I used to navigate my life, and have since found the time to slow down and appreciate the subtleties that its made of.
2. What is something you have gained through this experience?
I’ve gained this project and through it a great sense of purpose and countless meaningful connections to people around the world.
3. What is something that you think will never be the same after this?
It’s difficult to say that something will never be the same – forever is a very long time after all. I fear our memories only last so long and perhaps not long enough for us to realize the positive changes that can come of this. The sentiments that have been echoed throughout the making of this project make me hopeful that enough people believe that things will be different. I’m not sure what that different looks but I’m curious to see where we land. It’s just a matter of time.
Heidi: How did this idea come about?
Kaite: I was extremely bored and missing production life and FaceTiming my family when I figured out you could take photos using the phone. I posted on social media that I was looking to do a few shoots for charity and it EXPLODED from there. Over 100 sessions and counting!
How do you direction the kids, they seem receptive, what do they think of this situation?
Not all, but many of the kids are from the model community which generally means they are super outgoing and LOVE to be in front of the camera which helps the shoots tremendously. We spend the early part of the session finding the best light and discussing what they want to do and then it’s all about collaborating and playing for the best shots.
What are the challenges?
Technology has been the hardest part- if the kids don’t have good service or are using an iPad/older phone it tends to be harder to get everything in focus. Much of my time is spent making sure they’re in the best environment for the tech to work and explaining what I need in order to get the shot.
How do you decide which charity?
The charities I’ve chosen to put on my site are 3 that I volunteer with often. I prefer for my subjects to donate to those charities but have left it open and on the honor system for them to donate to any charity they choose.
How are you getting the outside shots? The outside shots are actually the easiest! Often I ask to have a parent or older sibling present for the shoot to make sure I have someone holding the phone and able to take direction so the child can focus on playing. Once we’re in the right environment, everything just falls into place honestly.
102 portrait is stout, which was your first session and what have you learned about your work?
My first session was the 1st of May and has been nonstop since. I was feeling in a real creative rut before COVID-19 so this project has actually been amazingly helpful for me to push my ideas and collaborate with the kids on really authentic portraiture. I always love to work with the kids on set when setting up a shot, they have the best insight on how to make something real and fun, there’s no reason for me to not involve them. I’ve reignited that style in this project and am really looking forward to bringing these fresh ideas to my client work.
I received an email from agent, Cynthia Held with a brochure producer, Michael Horta created about how to create safer working environments on photoshoots during this pandemic. I was thrilled to be informed that this brochure is to be shared with other photographers and crew.
Thank you so much Cynthia Held and Michael Horta and showing us that we are all in this together.
MJ68 Productions is a highly efficient, friendly, budget conscious, action forward production company with an enthusiasm for bringing talented people together to make great images happen. Our goal is to make every production feel effortless for the photographers, agencies, and client. On-set, MJ68 Productions is proud to provide talented, professional, and friendly crews; healthful, foodie inspired catering; optimal organization and a savvy to gracefully handle almost everything that comes down the pike. MJ68 is at your service for estimating, budgets, insurance, excellent crew recommendations, casting, location scouting, art department, travel coordination, etc.—We love our work and are ever-expanding.
Held & Associates
Since 1994 Held & Associates has represented advertising photographers and directors who have risen to the top of their profession thanks to their dedication and talent and our well-recognized track record of promoting successful relationships with advertising agencies. We pride ourselves on building lasting partnerships and striving to always create brilliant content that will surpasses client’s expectations.
APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s. After establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information because she believes that marketing should be driven by brand and not by specialty. Follow her at @SuzanneSease. Instagram
Success is more than a matter of your talent. It’s also a matter of doing a better job presenting it. And that is what I do with decades of agency and in-house experience.
Heidi: Is this satisfying your creative spirit?
Jonas: Overall I have to say I’ve had an incredible boost in creative thinking and sense of opportunity through this thing. I always preach that if you want to move forward you want to go down the rapids, less comfort but faster progress. This really feels like that. Just this morning, by 10 am, I had done a portrait session in Capetown, Lugano, Switzerland, Antigua and Los Angeles, pretty exhilarating.
Describe the project.
This project is all about everyday people during this crisis. There are no stylists, make up artists or prop stylists. The subjects are in full control of what I get to photograph and I just document. They aren’t models and mostly don’t know how to move for the camera so I have to pose them pretty diligently to get specific images.
What are the common themes in responses?
All of the subjects tell me about concerns with the situation or how the government is enforcing shut downs, we have a genuine conversation, exchange information, ideas and concerns. And then we laugh when we try get a certain shot and things are lost in communication or something. This project really has taken me away from worrying too much and I think most subjects enjoy the distraction and doing something creative. It’s good for the soul.
Do you direct the subjects?
The whole process is totally foreign and freeing at the same time. No technical control (exposure, lens, etc…) which, once you let go of it, makes the session become fully about communication. I have to move the camera with words not my hands. Years of building intuition and motor skills to get where you want to be are useless and you have to explain to someone who, often times, has no idea about composition how to position the camera. It’s not easy but at the same time entertaining. There are a lot of laughs. It is a little like directing but every shoot you have a different camera operator so you never get groovy with each other on that part.
What was your main takeaway?
My main takeaway would be that it is really nice connecting with people during this time and doing a fun project together even though you are, sometimes, on the other end of the globe. Sessions take anywhere from 10 minutes to a half hour, depending on how much chatting happens. Also, sometimes it takes a while to find the right background/light/composition.
Is the lo-fi quality freeing?
The quality of the final images is brutal but it is also kind of charming, like really early digital files or badly digitized film images. These will never be printed large but creating compilations or possibly doing collage type prints will help with that. But if you are strictly going for a phone screen, or any normal size screen for that matter, it is also kind of scary to realize that this is a valid option. With the right light, internet connection and some experience you can get pretty clear images that just have a vintage, romantic, artsy type look to them. I took one this morning of a teenager in Lugano, Switzerland and when I looked at the final image I was really surprised.
Tell us how this scaled for you.
Obviously these are not medium format super beauty portraits but being able to do shoots across the globe in a single day is nuts, probably a sign of things to come. Not sure if I like it but it is what it is. If they somehow figure out how to get a 20 megapixel file out of this and maybe add selective exposure and focus I would definitely keep doing this. Actually I already have one of my magazine clients voice interest in potentially doing these in the future. And again, I love to get on the road and experience new places, not to mention the energy that exists between subject and photographer when faced in real life. But the environmental as well as economic impact of flying around the world to take a portrait (or product, etc…) will surely be challenged after this crisis. Things will change. They always do anyways.
Sometimes you think you’ve shot just about everything!!
I got a call from an Art Director I had worked with before, telling me that he’s now at a new agency. The agency he was at lost a big account, so everyone got the proverbial boot!
If you professionals out there ever thought that being a free-lance photographer was/is a precarious occupation, you should try being an Art Director back in the day. Your portfolio was always up to date and under your desk.
You went home on Friday after a successful meeting with the client (third in agency billing) who had just approved a new campaign, and over the weekend the client decides they no longer want to go in that direction and fires the agency. You come to work an hour late on Monday and twenty-five percent of the agency is gone; happened all the time.
I’ve seen it happen because I was going to be the photographer that was chosen to shoot an (eight day) new big campaign on a Friday for Bud Light and by Monday the agency had lost the account.
The creative team usually consists of a writer and Art Director. The writer usually comes up with a concept, and the Art Director makes it come to life; sometimes the other way around.
This client was fairly new to the agency, so it was important that the Art Director/writer team deliver “the goods”, as they sometimes said. The reason I was called was that I had “delivered the goods” once before.
The client was an insurance company whose customers were owners of expensive sailboats and motor yachts.
The approved concept, that also went into focus groups, was that you never knew when trouble was coming so you had to be ready for anything; even when you are about to be attacked by a giant crab. Whoever came up with this idea was probably stoned…everybody must have been stoned for this one!!
And that’s where I came in. The Art director asked me if I thought I could make a giant claw attack a boat…” Hell yes!”
I learned a long time ago that the secret to the success I have had was/is because I always surround myself with the best (most talented) people possible, and I still believe it.
Having said that, I hired Danny Harries, a good friend and an amazing model maker/illustrator, to create a giant claw that we could position where it looked like it was about to attack both a sailboat and motor yacht.
Danny carved it out of a huge block of foam (to make it light), painted it, and from one end to the other it was eighteen feet long.
We took it down to a bay near Houston whose depth was only about four feet deep and tried to set it up…it wouldn’t stand upright, and as a result we missed a beautiful sunset!!!!!!
Since there wasn’t a plan ‘B’, we had to keep working with what we had…the original ‘A’ plan. We took it to a nearby garage so Danny could figure out what went wrong and what he needed to do. While he was scratching his head the Art Director and I were toasting to the Photo Gods with a few beers, thinking that it couldn’t hurt.
The next day we went out again to a great sky and this time it worked like a charm; Danny had worked his magic, much to the relief of the Art Director whose color had returned to his face…and of course, yours truly.
While my assistant and I were lying in a Zodiac, I had the sailboat and motor yacht follow directly behind one another, so I could take full advantage of the last rays before the sun hit the water…as in the sunset. I was very close to the claw with a 20mm lens on, so it would appear larger than life; the Art Director’s words, not mine!!
Those were great days where you could actually use your imagination and then create those ideas in the camera, and having a hell of a lot of fun doing it. Now, the claw would be about eight inches long, shot against a green screen, and with post-processing it would be added to the shot…computer art…UGH!!!
We finished the shoot and had a couple of celebration beers while loading up the claw. After about a mile I had to make a pit stop. Luckily, I pulled over on the shoulder next to a semi-dense forest to disappear into it.
As I was getting out I told the Art director that I had to see “a man about a horse”. When I got back everyone was laughing, especially the Art director.
It seems that while I was gone the account executive, a young woman named Beth (fake name to protect the innocent) said to the Art Director, “Oh I want to go, I love horses”.
One exposure, one frame, one click…shot on Kodachrome 25